Holy Sepulchre Resources
The Holy Fire Ceremony is centuries old. It happens annually at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Holy Saturday, the day before the Orthodox Church celebrates Easter. The ceremony commemorates a miracle that is said to occur in the same place, at the same time, in the same manner ever since its humble beginnings long ago. The ceremony that has awed and inspired countless Christians over the years, takes place at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered to be the site where Jesus Christ was buried and rose from the dead. The ceremony draws thousands to Jerusalem every year, and for years has been a source controversy—even within factions of the Christian Church. What then, is the Holy Fire Ceremony?
According to Orthodox tradition, at midday on the Saturday before the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, a blue light glows from the stone slab (the “Stone of Anointing) where Jesus’ body was said to have been placed after being taken down from the cross. The light reportedly behaves different from year to year, but there is one constant—it will not burn one’s clothes or skin. The Holy Fire rises and forms a column, perhaps similar to the pillar of fire noted in Exodus 13:21. Two candles are lit from this fire, which are in turn used to light the candles of the many who gathered inside and outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There are reports of the Holy Fire moving about the area before departing.
Accounts of the Holy Fire date back to the fourth century. Some attest it is one of the most beautiful, impactful, and holy traditions in the history of the New Testament Church. Unfortunately, many are unaware of the spectacular happening that happens in Jerusalem every year. Perhaps, the main reasons there is limited awareness of the Holy Fire ceremony is that it was a guarded ceremony within the Eastern Orthodox Church for centuries, and Jerusalem has, in the long view of history, only been a true welcoming site for tourist in recent decades. With the growth of tours to Jerusalem, a grow- ing appreciation for history, and a beautiful openness for local church leaders to share the wonders of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we hope that many more will be touched and inspired in the years to come.
It seems that most accounts of miraculous events (even those of Jesus) are disputed. Skeptics of the Holy Fire ceremony ague there is no video evidence of the 'miracle.’ Others suggest the lighting of the first two candles is accomplished via some kind of high-tech device and is not a supernatural event. Defenders of the ceremony note that the Holy Fire service is an ancient celebration that predates advanced technology, and has been heavily scrutinized for centuries with no conclusive repudiation. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, no one can dispute the fact that the Holy Fire ceremony has impacted countless lives and strengthened the faith of many.