Going through hell to get to Holy Fire


I’ve experienced the Holy Fire (or Saturday of Light) previous Easter seasons in Jerusalem, but always in the streets, and never inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This year I was able to get a special pass through a connection in the Armenian Orthodox Church.

But for those without a special pass as I had, both Palestinian Christians and international pilgrims face Israeli barriers and harsh treatment by officers as they attempt to celebrate the Easter season in Jerusalem. In scenes similar to previous years, thousands of worshipers were denied entry to the Old City by police barricades as a heavy presence of security forces controlled access to the city–including a UN envoy whose mistreatment was highly publicized. See my full essay on +972.

For an explanation of the Holy Fire, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia:

On the appointed day at noon, the Greek Orthodox patriarch, followed by the Armenian archbishop, march in grand and solemn procession with their own clergies, while singing hymns. They march three times round the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Once the procession has ended, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem or another Orthodox Archbishop recites a specific prayer, removes his robes and enters alone into the sepulchre. Before entering the Tomb of Christ, the patriarch is examined by Jewish Israeli authorities to prove that he does not carry technical means to light the fire. … The congregation subsequently chants Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy” in Greek) until the Holy Fire spontaneously descends on 33 white candles tied together by the Patriarch while he is alone inside the tomb chamber of Jesus. The patriarch then reveals himself from the tomb chamber and recites some prayers, before he lights either 33 or 12 candles and distributes them to the congregation.