Where the Holy Fire goes

  • Ever wondered what happens to the Holy Fire after it miraculously lights up the night at the Holy Sepulchre? This year, I was reminded that it doesn’t just bless the faithful in Jerusalem. It travels around, both to nearby villages and countries hundreds of miles away. And we Orthodox quite literally help it make the trip.

    On the closer and more personal side, there’s this blogpost of Maria Khoury, who lives in Taybeh, about 12 miles away from Jerusalem.

    Fr. Daoud carrying the Holy Fire in procession. Credit: Maria Khoury

    Fr. Daoud carrying the Holy Fire in procession. Credit: Maria Khoury

    “The local priests, Fr. Daoud, Fr. Jack and Fr. Aziz, of all three churches and Fr. Peter who came from Jerusalem with the choir chanting, and the Taybeh Scouts beating the drums marched again this year to meet our cousin Ibrahim with his son Philip, who went to the city of Ramallah, where the faithful brought the flame from Jerusalem for the Palestinian Christian s who cannot reach the Holy City due to lack of permits. Many residents of Taybeh were in the streets for the ecumenical procession, which was simply glorious although a bit cloudy with a sprinkle of rain.”

    But I was pleased to see a very good article in The Economist about the Holy Fire. They didn’t try and argue for or against its authenticity (thank you, Economist!), but just gave the basics and then gave the rest of the story that I didn’t know — namely, what happens to the Fire after it has lit all the candles at the celebration. Did you know it is taken to nearby towns and airlifted to other Orthodox countries? I didn’t. You learn something new every year.

    Chariot of fire: The flame enters Bethlehem. Credit: The Economist

    Chariot of fire: The flame enters Bethlehem. Credit: The Economist

    To bring the flame the few miles to his native Bethlehem, the region’s largest concentration of Christians, Father Issa Muslieh  has to negotiate a wall and an Israeli checkpoint; not many other Bethlehemites get permits to attend the ceremony in Jerusalem (pictured at right). Once the flame reaches their town, it is marched through the streets by scouts playing bagpipes and received with exuberance in local churches. …

    As in all recent years, the flame was whisked by air to Russia by an organisation with close presidential ties; this year it is also being taken to Crimea in celebration of its annexation.  In Athens, a row broke out after a sceptical writer, Nikos Dimou, complained over the public funds that are used to air-lift the flame to Greece “with honours befitting a head of state”, escorted by a government minister. … But Mr Dimou resigned from a newly founded political movement after his words earned him a rebuke….

    It seems to me that there has been increasing interest every year in the annual miracle of the Holy Fire that comes to the Holy Sepulchre at Pascha. That seems only natural. Goodness knows, there are enough things that Christians claim that make the “show me” types skeptical. But this particular miracle, which has happened every year, ought to at least make them curious, don’t you think? And increasingly, it seems, it has. The Economist ends with this look at some Orthodox Pascha services around the world where the Holy Fire reaches hearts.

    Meanwhile, in other places where the Jerusalem flame cannot easily be air-lifted, there were equally impressive celebrations as candle light cascaded through darkened churches and exhausted but eager choirs sang hymns like “Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” In Damascus, Easter ceremonies were decently attended despite the muffled shell-fire in the background. In Kiev, Easter messages were mingled in some cases with denunciations of Moscow. In the Turkish-controlled Cypriot port of Famagusta, the holding of a Good Friday ceremony for the first time in over half a century offered a glimmer of inter-communal hope. And in the Ulster Protestant stronghold of Ballymena, Erasmus can report, about 200 Romanian migrants lit one another’s candles at midnight with nostalgic pleasure. The flame remains the same, but the world it touches keeps changing.

    Amen! May it light your Bright Week and mine.

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