The Holy Fire in Israel which is also known as the Holy Light, is described by Orthodox Christians as a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday, or Holy Saturday, the day preceding Orthodox Easter. Even for non-Orthodox and even if you’re not a faithful Christian it’s a real joy and a unique exprience to witness the Holy Fire.
More About the Holy Fire in Israel
So the Orthodox tradition says that the Holy Fire happens each year on the day preceding Orthodox Pascha (Orthodox Easter). During this time, blue light is said to emit within Jesus’ tomb, rising from the marble slab covering the stone bed believed to be that upon which Jesus’ body is to have been placed for burial.
The marble slab is now in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. The light is believed to form a column of fire, from which candles are lit. This fire is then used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. The fire is also said to spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church. Pilgrims and clergy say that the Holy Fire does not burn them. But I am not sure I recommend you to try that!
Before the fire is lit, the Patriarch kneels inside the chapel in front of the stone, with crowds gathered outside. When the fire is lit, the Patriarch comes out of the church with two lit candles. Thousands of pilgrims, as well as local Christians of all denominations, gather in Jerusalem to partake and witness this annual event.
Then Holy Fire is going by plane to Greece by a special flight, and similarly to other Orthodox countries, such as Ukraine, and Russia, being received by the church and state leaders.
The History of the Holy Fire in Israel
Indeed many Christians believe that the ceremony dates back to the founding days of the Christian Church. But the historical evidence is actually much later. Codexes from the fifth to the eighth century describe special rituals for the night of the resurrection that include the burning of lamps.
But only in the ninth century, it is really documented that the ceremony is essentially a miracle – the fire appears, and no human hand lights it. This perception is expressed in the writings of the monk Bernard, who attended the ceremony in 870 CE, and described the events during the ninth hour: an angel lights the oil lamps over the shrine, while the crowd outside reads: “Lord Have Mercy”. While the patriarch is staying in the tomb. This is done till this day.
Early Christian Traditions of the Holy Fire in Israel
Christian Orthodox tradition holds that this miracle, which predates the construction of the Holy Sepulchre in the 4th century, is related to the Miracle of the Holy Fire, though doctrine states differences between the two, as the former was a one-time occurrence while the Miracle of the Holy Fire occurs every year. However, they have in common the premise that God has produced fire where there should, logically speaking, have been none.
The historian Eusebius writes in his Vita Constantini, which dates from around 328, about an interesting occurrence in Jerusalem of Easter in the year 162. When the churchwardens were about to fill the lamps to make them ready to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, they suddenly noticed that there was no more oil left to pour in the lamps. Upon this, Bishop Narcissus of Jerusalem ordered the candles to be filled with water. He then told the wardens to ignite them. In front of the eyes of all present, every single lamp burned as if filled with pure oil.
Early Records by Plgrims to the Holy Land
Around 385, Egeria, a noblewoman from Spain, traveled to Palestine. In the account of her journey, she speaks of a ceremony by the Holy Sepulchre of Christ, where a light comes forth (ejicitur) from the small chapel enclosing the tomb, by which the entire church is filled with an infinite light (lumen Infinitum).
Despite these previous instances, the Holy Fire is believed to have been first recorded by the Christian pilgrim, Bernard the Wise (Bernardus Monachus), in 870.