By NICOLE JANSEZIAN, TRAVELUJAH
Easter in Israel is unique in many ways, but probably the most significant tradition that occurs only in the Holy Land is the widely awaited tradition of the Holy Fire ceremony. The special ceremony takes place on the Saturday before Orthodox Easter, and captures center stage once again during this holiday’s season in Jerusalem for local Christians plus the thousands of believers who make a special pilgrimage to the Holy Land for Easter.
The Holy Fire Ceremony is the culmination of Lenten and Easter event, as it represents the moment when the spirit of Jesus fills the tomb site in the Holy Sepulchre. According to beliefs of many, a flame appears in the tomb, which is caught by the Greek patriarch and an Armenian Orthodox priest and is then shared with congregants holding candles in the church who then pass this flame from one person to another.
Because this event is specific to Jerusalem geographically, it is not celebrated anywhere else in the world. Many Orthodox pilgrims from Greece, Russia, Armenia, Eastern Europe and the United States line up as early as the day before. Even non-Christians as well as locals will often join in the celebrations in an effort to get inside the Holy Sepulchre for the very special ceremony.
All of the churches have a procession through the narrow Old City streets to the Holy Sepulchre on the morning of the Holy Fire Ceremony.
Holy Fire is celebrated on the Saturday before Easter Sunday (Orthodox Easter) and is referred to as Saturday of Light, or Sapt il-Noor.
The ceremony is observed only by the Eastern Orthodox churches, Syrian, Armenian, Russian and Greek Orthodox as well as Copts. Catholics and Protestants do not participate.
Eastern Orthodoxy religion considers Holy Fire a regularly occurring event as it has occurred at the same time in the same place annually for centuries. The first written account of the Holy Fire dates from the 4th century while accounts from 1106 and 1107 by the Russian Abbot Daniel describe a similar ceremony.
Matthew 28:3, makes note of the Holy Fire and says that at Jesus’ tomb, an angel of the Lord appeared whose appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
To enter the Holy Sepulchre or get anywhere close to it, be sure to secure passes from one of the Orthodox churches. Be prepared to wait at crowded checkpoints in the Old City and be faced with the possibility of not getting in at all despite having a pass.
The Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem’s Old City is claimed by about 14 denominations, making for crowded services at times. Most of the Orthodox and Coptic churches celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony on the Saturday of Light, April 14, 2012, at 1:00 p.m. and the entire Old City will be flooded with local and Christian pilgrims trying to get into the church for the service.
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Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.