'Holy Fire' Ceremony Held in Jerusalem
Monday, Apr. 24, 2006 Posted: 7:55:56AM EST
Pilgrims celebrated the Orthodox Easter ''holy fire'' rite Saturday as a
flame believed by some to be miraculously ignited illuminated thousands of
torches and candles at Christianity's holiest site.
Security was tight as visitors from around the world flocked to the
Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Jesus was crucified and
Tempers flared as thousands of worshippers waited to pass through security
barricades into Jerusalem's Old City. Some priests and pilgrims shoved and
punched police. Inside the church, people scuffled with each other and with
officers as they waited for the ceremony to begin.
The Greek and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs in the Holy Land descended into
the church's underground tomb to bring out the flame. Worshippers clutching
bundles of unlit tapers and torches waited in the darkened church for the
church leaders to emerge.
When they reappeared with lighted torches, church bells pealed. Worshippers
cheered, shrieked "Christ, Christ," and ululated. The flames were passed
around to the thousands of faithful and light and smoke filled the
cavernous church within seconds.
The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years. The precise details of the
flame's source are a closely guarded secret, but some believe it appears
spontaneously from Christ's burial area as a message from Jesus on the eve
of the Orthodox Easter that he has not forgotten his followers.
"My connection to Jesus is stronger, my connection to Jerusalem is stronger
now," said Jeanette Gennetian, 66, of Watertown, Mass, a member of the
Armenian Apostolic church.
Religious observations historically have touched off clashes over protocol
among the different Orthodox denominations. Groups of people Saturday
shouted, "Armenia, Armenia" in Armenian, and "Greece, Greece" in English.
On Friday, screaming Coptic priests threw punches over where and how long
different sects would stand during the Good Friday service.
In Istanbul, Turkey, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I delivered an Easter
message decrying the trivialization of life and the destruction of nature.
Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world's more than 200 million
Orthodox Christians, said the same fanaticism that once called for the
crucifixion of Jesus was still calling for death and destruction, and said
cowardly leaders still denied their responsibility to stop it.
"We call for an end to the killing of one another, and we denounce the
violence and fanaticism that threatens life," Bartholomew said. "The
victory of the resurrection must be experienced as a victory of life, of
brotherhood, of the future, of hope."
The holy fire ceremony in Israel took place without serious incident
despite talk that the ousted Greek Orthodox patriarch of the Holy Land,
Irineos I, might put in an appearance in an attempt to challenge the
authority of his successor, Theofilos III.
Church officials deposed Irineos last year over accusations he leased prime
church properties in east Jerusalem to Jews seeking to bolster Israel's
claim to that largely Arab section of the city. Irineos has refused to
recognize his dismissal and still commands a band of loyalists.
Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and the
church's mostly Palestinian flock in the Holy Land denounced the leases as
weakening the Arab presence in the disputed city.
Israeli security was heightened last year because of showdowns over the
land deal. This year, police said the heavy security was standard practice
at large public events.
Dimitri Diliani, who leads a coalition of Palestinian Christians, said
Israeli police blocked Palestinian Christians from entering the Old City,
allowing in only foreign worshippers.
Orthodox churches use a different calendar from Roman Catholics and
Protestants, who celebrated Easter last week.
Associated Press writer Benjamin Harvey in Istanbul, Turkey contributed to
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.