Romanian nuns celebrate Easter among the skulls of their dead sisters as Orthodox Christians pack churches around the world

By ROSIE TAYLOR – 5/5/13

  • Around 300million Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter Sunday 
  • Nuns at the Pasarea monastery in Romania marked the holy event in room of skulls
  • Thousands attended Holy Fire ceremony and Easter service at Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

As thousands of Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter Sunday today with services around the world, worshippers in Romania visited an underground room of skulls to mark Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

The ossuary at Pasarea monastery near Bucharest contains mainly the remains of nuns who lived there.

A Romanian Orthodox priest led a service as nuns held candles and sang, while visitors looked on.

More than 85 per cent of Romanians are Orthodox Christian. They celebrate the resurrection of Christ on the evening before Easter Sunday, when a holy flame originating in Jerusalem is passed between churches.

Worshippers visit their local church with candles and take the flame – which is seen as a light from God – back into their homes for Easter Sunday.

 The flame is brought from Jerusalem by members of the Romanian Orthodox clergy after an event called the Holy Fire ceremony at one of Christianity’s holiest churches.

The Holy Fire ceremony took place at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City with last night.

The event takes place at the church on the eve of every Easter Sunday and is seen as a miracle.

During the ceremony, a blue fire is mysteriously lit and ignites a candle held by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem

The faithful share the fire among themselves using candles and touch the flames, believing the Holy Fire will not burn them. The flame symbolises Christ rising from the dead.

Orthodox Christians believe the Holy Flame is lit by a sunbeam shining into the church in a form of divine intervention.

Clergymen from other countries who share the church attended and took candles lit by the flame back to their homelands. Candles were also taken to Nazareth, the birthplace of Jesus.

The Holy Fire ceremony is one of the longest-running Orthodox traditions and is thought to date from the 9th century.

Other Christian denominations have previously dismissed the ‘miracle’, although a Catholic priest took part this year as a gesture of unity.

During the Easter Sunday service today Orthodox Christians gathered around the Unction Stone – also known as the Stone of Anointing – which is believed to have been used to wash Jesus’ body after he was taken down from the cross.

Worshippers touched the stone and placed crosses made from olive wood, candles and rosaries on it as a mark of respect.

Around 5,000 crammed into the church for the Easter Service or watched on big screens outside.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. There is a ‘tomb’ of Jesus within the church.

It was built in the 4th century CE by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine I after his mother Saint Helena identified the land as the site where Jesus was crucified.

The church was rebuilt by Crusaders in the 12th century and has been renovated and modified a number of times since then.

As it is considered the world’s most holy site for a number of Christian sects, it is largely divided between the Greek-Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian denominations, with some rights also for Coptic Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox believers.

There are around 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world, including up to 100million in Russia alone.