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It is almost Easter, which means Holy Fire Saturday for the Orthodox Church!  You may not know that the Orthodox Church has a different day upon which it celebrates Easter than the Protestant and Catholic churches.  However, this is one of those years when Easter falls on the same day for all Christendom.  That made today “Holy Fire” Saturday.  I referenced this day in a previous post and inserted a link to some information about it.

The fire is supposed to spring from a light which rises from the slab of stone covering the spot where Jesus’ body lay.  The Greek Orthodox patriarch takes two candles into the tomb where they are lit by the flame.  He then passes the flame to others outside the tomb and when it appears a great roar goes up from the crowd and people start dancing and celebrating because of the miracle God just did.  Supposedly this “holy flame” references back to Luke 24:4 when two men “in clothes that gleamed like lightning” appeared beside the women at the empty tomb.  This “lightning” is thought to be the same light which rises from the stone “like a mist” at 2pm every year on Orthodox Easter.

Bundles of 33 candles symbolizing the years of Jesus' life

Bundles of 33 candles symbolizing the years of Jesus’ life.

Following the occurrence of the miracle, whether you believe it or not, the patriarch passes the fire out and the thousands in the church press forward to get their candles lit.  Then several make a dash for the door with their lighted candles and race to exit the city first.  The idea is to spread the light around the world.

I couldn’t get into the Old City today.  The military was doing crowd control by simply preventing crowds from entering the Old City.  It was very efficient.  They had set up a giant TV screen and speakers outside Jaffa Gate for us to watch the holy fire ceremony.  I thought that was pretty nice.  We avoided the suffocating crowds in and around the Holy Sepulcher and were still going to get to watch the goings on in the church.  Unfortunately, there was some issue with the video and the ceremony never materialized on screen.  So, I and the other JUC’ers I was with were left wondering if it had happened until men running with fire came dashing through the gate.  They came flying over to all of us behind the barriers and everyone behind the barriers came smashing forward to get their candles lit as fast as possible.  It was insanity!  There were people screaming, yelling, laughing, and dancing.  There was fire and smoke everywhere.

It is believed by some that the fire will not burn a righteous person.  So, many people hold their hands and faces in the flames.  They also move their hands through the flames and then wipe them all over their face.  This is all very interesting.  Someone thrust their candles, flames and all, into my face, and as of this moment fire continues to burn whenever my skin comes into contact with it.  Within about 30 seconds of all the candles being lit they had all been blown out!  Almost everyone had a bundle or bundles of  33 long, thin candles which represent the years of Christ’s life.  Some of the people struggled to open lanterns which looked to be at least a century old. In these lanterns they’ll keep the fire going the entire trip back to wherever their home is.  They’ll use it there to light other candles and keep them lit until next year’s miracle.