This post is an update of a post from a few years ago with added information
Tomorrow is Easter (Pascha) by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church calendar (Sunday, April 24th). By the same calendar, on the day before, Holy Saturday, a miracle has occurred every year in Jerusalem for centuries. That is the miracle of the Holy Fire, which occurs at the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem.
This church, also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is the place which contains both Golgatha, the hill on which Jesus Christ was crucified, as well as the tomb close to Golgatha that received Jesus’ dead body, and is same spot from which he rose from the dead.
The ceremony surrounding “The Miracle of the Holy Fire” appears to be one of the oldest recurring Christian ceremonies in the world. From the fourth century all the way up to our own time, sources recall the ceremony.
The tomb of Jesus is searched and sealed, formerly by the Muslim Turks, but now by the Israeli police. The ritual begins when the the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem (or another Orthodox archbishop) is similarly searched. Wearing a simple white robe and carrying two bunches of unlit candles, he enters the tomb and prays while the congregation chants “Lord have mercy.” Later in this post we have added the description of what happens by someone who actually performed the ceremony.
What is the Holy Fire?
The Holy Fire originates as a divine light which manifests on the marble slab covering the stone bed upon which Jesus’ body was placed for burial, though there are various experiences by different people at various times in history. It then changes to a fire that that does not behave as normal fire, though it can be transferred from candle to candle, but for a time will not burn/damage what it touches. (In videos you can see people washing their faces, beards, and clothes with the flames from the Holy Fire in the first fifteen to thirty minutes after the initial appearance of the Fire.)
Other phenomena which have been witnessed before the manifestation of the Holy Fire include lightning-like flashes above the shrine of the tomb of Christ and swiftly moving balls of light.
This blog post is meant to be a simple introduction to the miracle, and we encourage to read more on the subject, and to watch videos on Youtube showing the event (See below). An excellent book on the subject, entitled HOLY FIRE: The Miracle of the Light of the Resurrection at the Tomb of Jesus, by Haris Skarlakidis, recounts the experiences of over seventy people from the 4th century to the present day from around the world and of different religious backgrounds regarding the Holy Fire.
The testimony of the Patriarch of Jerusalem
Here is the description of what happened to Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem, in his own words at Pascha in 1998:
“After all the lights are extinguished, I bow down and enter the first chamber of the tomb. From here I find my way through the darkness to the inner room of the tomb where Christ was buried. Here, I kneel in holy fear and… I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait.
“Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus had lain an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the color may change and assume many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms.
“The light rises out of the stone as mist rises out of a lake; it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light.
“The light does not burn; I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency from normal fire that burns in an oil lamp. At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it.
“When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian patriarch and then to the Coptic. Thereafter, I give the flame to all people present in the church… We experience many miracles in our churches, and miracles are nothing strange to us… But none of these miracles have such a penetrating and symbolic meaning for us as the miracle of the Holy Fire.
“The miracle is almost like a sacrament. It makes the resurrection of Christ as real to us as if it occurred just a few years ago… I have been in Jerusalem since 1939 when I came to the city at the age of fifteen. I have attended the ceremony of the Holy Fire for all these years, and have thus been a witness to the miracle sixty-one times. For me it is not a question of whether I believe in the miracle or not. I know it is true.”
Below is a video of testimonies regarding the Holy Fire (Those who get this blog post in our emails may not see it embedded, so you can view it here.)
You can watch this year’s 2022 Holy Fire ceremony here. The emergence of the Holy Fire occurs near the 1:30 hour point.
Footnote: Our visit to the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre)
In May and June of 2016, Father Seraphim and Brother Simeon of Light of the Spirit Monastery were fortunate to make their first pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine. They spent much of the trip visiting (and revisiting) The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, properly called the Church of the Resurrection (See our blog post on the Holy Sepulchre).
This is the holiest place in Christendom, for the large complex houses many important sites of Jesus’ life. It was built by the Emperor Constantine at the behest of his mother, the Empress Helena, and was destroyed and rebuilt several times during its long history.
Most importantly, inside is the hill of Golgotha, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, as well as the Tomb of Jesus, where he was buried and from which he arose from the dead. Recently the “Edicule,” the 18th century shrine built over the tomb of Jesus was restored in a nearly year long project, to address safety concerns and for archaelogical study. It has recently been re-opened to the public.
During our visits we took many photos (some of which can be seen in our Holy Land photo albums), and during this Holy Week and Easter season, we would like to share a few of these photos with captions below each one with our readers.
We posted a brief video of the Church of the Resurrection on YouTube, which we share below. (If you don’t see the video below in your email, here is the YouTube link.)
- What Does the Aquarian Gospel Say About the Resurrection?
- Our visit to the Holy Sepulchre (and more)