Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Thousands of pilgrims celebrate Orthodox Easter holy fire ceremony

Expand Messages
  • Fr John Brian
    Photo image at URL below: Surrounded by policemen, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Irineos I walks around the tomb where Jesus is traditionally believed
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2005
      Photo image at URL below: Surrounded by policemen, Greek Orthodox Patriarch
      of Jerusalem Irineos I walks around the tomb where Jesus is traditionally
      believed to have been buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in
      Jerusalem on Saturday. (AP)]
      Last update - 13:42 01/05/2005

      Thousands of pilgrims celebrate Orthodox Easter holy fire ceremony

      By Amiram Barkat and Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondents, and AP

      Clashes broke out Saturday between worshippers and police near the Church of
      the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Saturday as thousands of pilgrims took
      part Saturday in the holy fire ceremony, a key event in the Orthodox Easter

      The event passed peacefully despite plans by protesters to block the
      participation of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Irineos I. Demonstrators, who
      object to the Patriarch's alleged role in a controversial land deal, were
      kept away by the hundreds of Israeli police who set up barricades throughout
      the alleys leading to the Jerusalem holy site.

      The shrine, marking the site where tradition says Jesus was crucified and
      buried, was filled with thousands of pilgrims. Hundreds more waited outside
      for the holy flames to emerge.

      At the start of the ceremony, church leaders descended into the underground
      burial area. The faithful clutched their bundles of unlit candles and
      torches while waiting in the darkened church for a flame to emerge from the

      Some Christians believe the flame appears spontaneously, as a message from
      Jesus that he has not forgotten his followers.

      When church leaders, including Irineos, emerged with a lighted torch, a
      cheer arose, and the flames were passed around, illuminating the church
      within seconds.

      Tensions were high ahead of the ceremony.

      The Greek Orthodox Church is in turmoil over a deal in which the church
      reportedly leased prime property in disputed east Jerusalem to Jewish

      The alleged land deal is politically explosive because Israel claims all of
      Jerusalem, while Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a
      future state. Jewish land purchases in east Jerusalem are seen as bolstering
      Israel's claim to that section of the city.

      In the past the ceremony has also been a flashpoint between different
      Orthodox denominations, who have argued over protocol at the ceremony.

      Custody of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared by a number of
      denominations that jealously guard their responsibilities under a fragile
      network of agreements hammered out over the last millennia.

      "Every year there is always tight security, but maybe this year it is even
      tighter because of the land deal," said Matthew Doll, 30, a pilgrim who
      waited outside the church.

      Protesters had vowed to bar Irineos from the ceremony, but were kept away by
      the police, said Dimitri Diliani, the head of a Palestinian Christian
      coalition who have been spearheading the protests.

      The reported deal has stirred huge anger among Palestinians who feel
      betrayed by the church.

      At a rare news conference last month, Irineos told reporters he was unaware
      of the alleged transactions, and that he was not involved in any deal which
      was reportedly signed by Nikos Papadimas, the church financial officer who
      vanished three months ago.

      Papadimas is wanted in Greece after Greek Orthodox Church officials in
      Athens accused him of absconding with US $800,000 in church funds. His wife
      is wanted on separate charges of money laundering. Separately, a European
      arrest warrant has been issued against Papadimas, Greek officials said.

      But as the flames emerged from the tomb, church bells pealed and tensions
      melted away.

      "This is one of the most beautiful and spiritual experience of my life,"
      said Jonathan Parish,42, of Boston. "I have dreamt of being in the presence
      of the holy fire for a long time," he said.

    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.