Jerusalem holy fire ceremony draws thousands

JERUSALEM — The dark hall inside Christianity’s holiest shrine was illuminated with the flames from thousands of candles on Saturday as worshippers participated in the holy fire ceremony, a momentous spiritual event in Orthodox Easter rites.

Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected at the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands in the Old City of Jerusalem. While the source of the holy fire is a closely guarded secret, believers say the flame appears spontaneously from his tomb on the day before Easter to show Jesus has not forgotten his followers.

The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years.

Thousands of Christians waited outside the church for it to open Saturday. Custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by a number of denominations that jealously guard their responsibilities under a fragile network of agreements hammered out over the last millennia. In accordance with tradition, the church’s doors were unlocked by a member of a Muslim family, who for centuries has been the keeper of the ancient key that is passed on within the family from generation to generation.

Once inside, clergymen from the various Orthodox denominations in robes and hoods jostled for space with local worshippers and pilgrims from around the world.

Top Orthodox clergymen descended into the small chamber marking the site of Jesus’ tomb as worshippers eagerly waited in the dim church clutching bundles of unlit candles and torches.

After a while, candles emerged lit with “holy fire” — said to have been lit by a miracle as a message to the faithful from heaven.

Bells rang as worshippers rushed to use the flames to ignite their own candles.

In mere seconds, the bursts of light spread throughout the cavernous church as flames jumped from one candle to another. Clouds of smoke wafted through the crammed hall as flashes from cameras and mobile phones documented what is for many, the spiritual event of a lifetime.

Some held light from the “holy fire” to their faces to bask in the glow while others dripped wax on their bodies. Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said tens of thousands of worshippers participated in the ceremony.

Many couldn’t fit inside the church and the narrow winding streets of the Old City were lined with pilgrims.

The “holy fire” was passed among worshippers outside the Church and then taken to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where tradition holds Jesus was born, and from there to other Christian communities in Israel and the West Bank.

Later it is taken aboard special flights to Athens and other cities, linking many of the 200 million Orthodox worldwide.

More in Local News

District takes steps to secure school campuses

Safety measures have been enhanced at Hawthorne and Silver Firs elementary schools in Everett.

Hard work is paying off for Mariner High senior

Mey Ly has excelled in school since moving here from Cambodia; she also serves as an intrepreter.

County under flood watch; back-to-back storms promise heavy rain

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch Monday for… Continue reading

1 arrested after SWAT team moves in on Marysville house

The incident was connected to an earlier robbery.

Yes to turn signal — eventually

Adding a right-turn signal at 112th St. and 7th Ave. is turning out to be a bit more complicated.

Cleaning up after other people’s messes

Snohomish County program recycles derelict RVs abandoned on roadsides and in homeless encampments.

The Lake Washington view from the “Greatest Setting in College Football” is behind the sign that says it is so. The setting is lost in the blackness, so folks visiting from Salt Lake City to support their Utes last Saturday night had to take our word for it. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Huskies are a victim of their own success

They’re a favorite to feature on nighttime national broadcasts, meaning most games are in the dark.

No easy exit from Smokey Point shopping complex

There’s just no easy exit on this one. A reader called in… Continue reading

Most Read