The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem
- Great and Holy Saturday is the Saturday of Light. In Jerusalem it is known as 'Sabt An-Nour'. When the Resurrection of Christ is commemorated in the ceremony of the "Holy Fire" which takes place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, hundreds of pilgrims, mostly Cypriots, Greeks and Copts, sleep overnight by the Sepulchre to be among the first to receive the "Holy Fire". Locals start joining them in the early morning as the Church, its square and roofs become packed with crowds. All carry bundles of candles and glass lanterns.
At noon, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch proceeds with his entourage from his residence to the Holy Sepulchre through a staircase leading from the roof inside the Church. Meanwhile, Christian youths gather in one of the squares of the Christian Quarter and proceed through the narrow alleys to the Church. On their way, they alternately carry one of them on their shoulders as he leads them in shouting slogans. Among these, one can hear: " Oh Virgin (Mary) peace be unto you", and "We Christians and the candles in our hands - for St. Geries (St. George), As the youths enter the Church, they circle the Holy Sepulchre repeating: "This is the tomb of our Lord - our Lord is Jesus Christ - Christ has brought us - with his precious blood he has redeemed us - we are today happy." After circling the Sepulchre three times, they await for the official procession led by the Patriarch, with the participation of members of old Arab Orthodox families who carry embroidered banners and flags.
The procession finds its way from the Catholican Church, east of the Sepulchre, around the cupola of the Holy Sepulchre. At the end of the procession, the Patriarch is led into the chapel of the tomb and the crowd, which until now having shown excitement, falls silent in anticipation of the appearance of the "Holy Fire". The Patriarch stays for an hour or so in prayer and then around 1:30 pm, the light appears and is quickly passed from one bundle of candles to another. Glass lanterns are lit as well and the more faithful go over the blaze of the candles with their hands and then cross themselves. The light spreads instantly to the environs of the Church and the whole place, inside and out, is ablaze. Joyful ululations are heard, bells start ringing and the "Holy Fire" is already on its way to more distant places, in the country and beyond. Before the Communist Revolution, when the flame appeared through an aperture in the shrine, a priest took it to the Jaffa Gate, where it was shipped to Odessa to be distributed to churches throughout Russia.
The following links contain accounts of Holy Week and Paschal services in Jerusalem and of the miracle of the Holy Fire: http://users.otenet.gr/~styliant/orthodoxia/Holylight.htm.
For a description of the miracle in 1846 click on: www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPag/reading/holyfire.html.