ASIA/HOLY LAND - Jerusalem churches: the “unreasonable restrictions” by Israeli police for the Holy Fire ceremony

Thursday, 13 April 2023 middle east   oriental churches   ecumenicalism   jerusalem   holy places  

Afif Amira/Wafa

Jerusalem (Agenzia Fides) - The "Holy Fire ceremony", a key moment of the Easter liturgies celebrated at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem by the Orthodox Church, this year risks being disrupted by "unreasonable restrictive measures" imposed by the Israeli police forces. For this reason, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem is calling the Israeli authorities into question and asking for their intervention to allow Christians to celebrate the Easter liturgies "freely".
Churches that follow the Julian Calendar this year celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 16. And normally, on Easter eve, thousands of Christians crowd the Basilica built where according to tradition Jesus Christ was buried and rose again, to participate in the pre-Easter rite of the "Holy Fire", which is still an event much loved by the communities of the Orthodox Churches and the ancient Eastern Churches of the whole world. In the years marked by the pandemic, the rite of the Holy Fire was also celebrated respecting the health measures that prevented crowd gatherings. This year, the Israeli police have ordered that only 1800 Orthodox and Armenian Christians, as well as 200 security force officers, can participate in the rite. Measures defined as "unreasonable restrictions" in a statement released by the "Status Quo Committee" of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and shared by the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. "After many attempts made in goodwill" - reads the statement - we are not able to coordinate with the Israeli authorities, as they are enforcing unreasonable, and unprecedented, restrictions on access to the Holy Sepulcher, more so than last year". The statement reiterates the intention to celebrate the rite according to "the customs of the status quo" (the customary rules that regulate coexistence between the different faith communities in the Holy City). Therefore, "all who wish to worship with us are invited to attend. With that made clear, we will leave the authorities to act as they will".
During the celebration of the Holy Fire, according to tradition, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem makes his way through the crowds gathered in the Holy Sepulcher and enters the Aedicule which houses the remains of a cave venerated at least since the 4th century after Christ as the tomb of Jesus. There, the Head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem prays alone, holding a lamp burning all year round, which is extinguished before the rite, and then comes out with the flame of the lamp lit again, according to tradition, by the "Holy Fire" descended from heaven. The faithful rush to light their candles with the flame of the lamp brought by the Patriarch, and the flames taken from the same source are sent by air to the communities of the Orthodox and Oriental Churches around the world. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 13/4/2023)