(Photo: Reuters/Ints Kalnins)
Thousands of Christians from around the world gathered in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher Saturday to witness a flame that is believed to emerge miraculously from the tomb of Jesus a day before Easter, according the older Julian calendar, each year.
The special ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built at a site where Jesus was crucified and buried, was attended by Christian pilgrims and clerics wearing their robes amid the presence of Israeli police, riot-prevention forces and border security guards.
"I am here because I would like to see the Easter Week from the Holy Land, because I think it is a very unique experience," The Associated Press quoted Nerea Craditotto, a Spanish pilgrim, as saying. Eastern Orthodox churches and others will celebrate Easter on Sunday.
The Christians and clergy standing close to the tomb area lit their candles first and then passed on the flames to others queuing in alleys outside the ancient church. The Holy Fire is revered by many as the power of Resurrection of Jesus and the fire of the Burning Bush of Mount Sinai as mentioned in the Old Testament.
Orthodox Christians say the Holy Fire miracle occurs every year on the day before their Easter. The miracle has been documented each year for over 1,000 years. Christians in many countries, including Georgia, Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt, watch the ceremony live on television each year. After the ceremony, the Holy Fire is brought to some of these countries.
The Holy Fire ceremony typically begins at noon with a procession involving singing of hymns by the clergy who take three rounds of the church. The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem or another Orthodox Archbishop then offers a prayer, removes his robe and enters alone into the sepulcher after being examined by Jewish Israeli authorities to prove he has nothing to light the fire.
Awaiting the Holy Fire, the congregation chants Kyrie Eleison, or "Lord, have mercy." When the patriarch comes out of the tomb, he offers prayers and distributed the flames to the congregation.
Some pilgrims have claimed that flames received from the Holy Fire do not burn their hair, faces or clothes during the first 33 minutes of its appearance.
On Sunday, the Latin Patriarch of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem will lead Easter mass at Holy Sepulcher. Protestants will attend a morning service in the Garden Tomb outside Jerusalem's walled Old City.