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'Holy Fire' Ceremony Held in Jerusalem

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.christianpost.com/article/middleeast/530/section/middleeast/1.htm Holy Fire Ceremony Held in Jerusalem Monday, Apr. 24, 2006 Posted: 7:55:56AM EST
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 24, 2006

      '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
      this report.

      Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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