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March 31, 2010March 31, 2010  6 comments  Uncategorized

The Orthodox Easter-date is fixed according to the Julian Calendar, and not the usual Western European Gregorian calendar, which means that their Easter normally falls on a different date than the Protestant and Catholic Easter.

Holy Fire

There is one day a year when Jerusalem’s Old City is teeming with so many people that anyone happening upon the city unawares would wonder what is happening.

Saturday of Light, or Sapt il-Noor, is the celebration of the holy fire. The event occurs the day before Easter Sunday and continues a centuries old tradition beckoning pilgrims from all around the world to the city, the very sight where the first Jesus rose again.

sepulchre, jerusalem, orthodoxhe ceremony takes place at the Holy Sepulchre and is always the first Saturday after Passover begins. It is observed only by the Eastern Orthodox churches, Syrian, Armenian, Russian and Greek Orthodox as well as Copts. Catholics and Protestants do not participate.

“The Holy Fire is the beginning of Easter Eve, a symbol of the resurrection,” Armenian Archbishop Aris Shirvanian told Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on learning about and traveling to the Holy Land. “I have witnessed people get excited during these ceremonies in the Holy Sepulchre when they see the holy fire coming out of the holy tomb.”

According to The Holy Fire website, the event is the most renowned and regularly occurring miracles in the Eastern Orthodoxy religion. It has taken place at the same time, in the same manner, in the same place every year for centuries, the website maintains.

Pilgrims, primarily from Greece, Russia, Armenia and Eastern Europe, begin lining up from the day before. Local Christians also join the throngs in an attempt to get into the Holy Sepulchre for the celebration.

In the late morning, Christian Arabs proceed to the church loudly chanting traditional hymns. These chants date back to the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem in the 13th century. At the time, Christians were only allowed to chant in churches, but in modern times they declare publicly, “We are Christians, we have been Christians for centuries, and we shall be forever and ever. Amen!”

All of the denominations have a procession through the narrow Old City streets to the church. Many of the processions involve marching bands with bagpipes and drums. The Syrian Christians comprise perhaps the loudest of the processions. Drummers sit on the shoulders of others who dance vigorously around the tomb when they enter the church.

The last denomination to enter is the Greek Orthodox processional. The Greek Patriarch is ushered into the church, and with pomp and circumstance, he circles the tomb three times. He is then stripped of his ornate liturgical robes and he enters the tomb in his white frock at approximately 1:45 p.m.

Silence finally overtakes the church as celebrants await the miracle of the Holy Light. A delegation of Israelis enters the tomb to check for any hidden source of fire and then seals the door.

The Greek Patriarch and an Armenian priest are sealed into the tomb where they pray and await the fire. What happens then, according to Eastern Orthodoxy, is that a flame leaps from the tomb of Jesus. The Greek Patriarch catches the flame with him candle and passes it to the Armenian priest. Then the two spread the flame to the candles of celebrants throughout the church.

The effect of the lit candles throughout the church and even to pilgrims waiting outside is stunning. Church bells ring in jubilation and resound throughout the Old City marking the end of the ceremony.


The first written account of the Holy Fire dates from the fourth century. Accounts by the Russian abbot Daniel in the years 1106-07 also describe a similar ceremony.

The Orthodox believe the fire’s emergence is based on Matthew 28:3, which says that at Jesus’ tomb, an angel  of the Lord appeared whose appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

Travelujah Tips

To enter the Holy Sepulchre or get anywhere close to it, be sure to secure passes from one of the Orthodox churches. Be prepared to wait at crowded checkpoints in the Old City and be faced with the possibility of not getting in at all despite having a pass.


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy  Land.


April 1, 2010April 1, 2010  0 comments  Uncategorized

The Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem's Old City is claimed by about 14 denominations, making for crowded services at times. Most of the Orthodox and Coptic churches celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony on the Saturday of Light, April 3 this year, and the entire Old City will be flooded with local and Christian pilgrims trying to get into the church for the service.


One of the perks of being in Jerusalem for Easter is seeing the plethora of different types of Christians all packed into one setting. The following are some of the Christian denominations observing the Easter week services.


easter, orthodox, holy saturdayGreek Orthodox


The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem considers itself to be the Mother Church of the city and the uninterrupted continuation of the first Christian community, beginning with James, the brother of Jesus. Though the church has had official leadership in Jerusalem since the 5th century, a permanent residence was established in 1845. The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher has sought to safeguard the status of the Orthodox Church in the Holy Places since 1662.


On the Saturday of Light, thousands of Orthodox faithful carry bundles of candles signifying the 33 years of Jesus' life, packed into Christianity's holiest shrine on Saturday to celebrate Easter's holy fire ritual. The Greek Patriarch passes the flame from inside the tomb to believers inside the church's main hall who light their own candles and torches.


The parishes are predominantly Arabic-speaking, and are served by Arab married priests as well as by members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. The community numbers about 120,000 in Jerusalem, the Galilee, Judea, Samaria and Gaza.


Ethiopian Orthodox


The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has had a community in Jerusalem since at least the Middle Ages, but pilgrims from Ethiopia reportedly began visiting Jerusalem as early as the 4th century. An archbishop leads a community of a few dozen monks and nuns who live here today. This monastery has been home to a Ethiopian monks since 1808.


The  Ethiopian community in Jerusalem conducts its own Holy Fire ceremony later on Saturday evening in the courtyard of the Deir Al-Sultan monastery on the rooftop of the Church. It is an elaborate ceremony that many visitors make the effort to go see. Priests carry brightly colored umbrellas with tassels and fringes and follow the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church, with a candle carrying the Holy Fire, in a dance around the dome of the Chapel of Saint Helena. Drums accompany the singing and chanting.


Syrian Orthodox


The Syrian Orthodox Church is the only church to still use Aramaic in its liturgy and prayer. The church is a successor to the Church of Antioch and is one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. The Syrian patriarch resides in Damascus while the local Church has been headed by a bishop in Jerusalem since 1471.


The monastery, St. Mark, located in the Armenian Quarter, was built in the 7th century. The community numbers about 2,000, most of whom live in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.




The Coptic Orthodox Church originated in Egypt during the first centuries. Copts claim to have arrived in Jerusalem with Helena, mother of Constantine. This church had an early influence on the development of desert monasticism in the wilderness of Judea. Since the 13th century the church has had a bishop in Jerusalem representing the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria.


In Israel today the community numbers just over 1,000 members in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.




Maronites are Christian followers of a priest named Maron, who spent his time in the mountains of modern day Syria or Lebanon and died in the year 410. The Maronite Church is Catholic, having been in  communion with the Roman Catholic Church since 1182, but it is the only Eastern church that is entirely Catholic. It retains, however, its own language, rites, canon law and liturgy. Most Maronites today live in Lebanon.


The Maronite community in Israel numbers some 6,700, most of whom live in the Galilee. Jerusalem's Maronite Patriarchal Vicariate dates back to 1895. The church has a guest house, Mar Maroun House on Maronite Convent Street near Jaffa Gate.

April 4, 2010April 4, 2010  0 comments  Uncategorized

Jerusalem's Old City was awash with thousands of Christians on Easter Sunday on hand to cap off a week of ceremonies marking the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, his last supper, trial, death and resurrection.


easter, good friday, holy sepulchre, jerusalemMost of the pilgrims converged at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for services there. Another highlight on Sunday was the sunrise service at the Garden Tomb geared toward Evangelical Christians. The sunrise service was followed by services in different languages all morning.


This year, the Orthodox date for Easter, on the Julian calendar, and the Catholic and Protestant Easter, on the Gregorian calendar, coincided along with the Jewish Passover making for a busier than usual holiday season in Jerusalem.


On Saturday afternoon, bells peeled across the Old City marking the Holy Fire ceremony, an annual Orthodox observance of a flame emanating from Jesus' tomb in the Holy Sepulchre. Thousands of Christian pilgrims from Russia, Armenia, Greece, Egypt and America were on hand for the ceremony, each lighting their own candle from the flame in the tomb.


Later on Saturday, the Ethiopian church held its own holy fire ceremony. Dressed in white linen, Ethiopian local Christians and pilgrims participated in festive African praise songs accompanied by drums.


easter, jerusalem, ethioppiansThe Ethiopians celebrate on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre and the annual event draws many non-Ethiopian locals and foreigners to observe the joyous occasion.


It was Kornelius Heering's first time at the ceremony.


"It was very different from Europe and not what I expected to see here in Jerusalem," the German theology student told Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on traveling to the Holy Land. "It was more reminiscent of Africa."


The Ethiopian archbishop of Jerusalem walks around the dome on the roof three times under an elaborately decorated umbrella. He is led and followed by priests, drummers and other worshippers.


Connie Saeger-Proctor, an American from Vermont, was there to see the ceremony, and it was her first trip to the Holy Land. She saw the candle from the holy fire ceremony in Jerusalem being brought to Ramallah for the churches there.


"There's such a connection here with the light of Christ coming into our midst after the Lenten season," she told Travelujah.


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy  Land.

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