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Holy Fire in 2018

In Orthodox Christian belief, the Holy Fire (Greek: Ἃγιον Φῶς, "Holy Light", Armenian: Սուրբ Լոյս) is a ceremony that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday, the day before Orthodox Easter.

Description from within the Orthodox faith

Orthodox tradition holds that the Holy Fire happens annually on the day preceding Orthodox Pascha (Orthodox Easter). In the past, blue light was said to emit within Jesus' tomb, rising from the marble slab covering the stone bed believed to be that upon which Jesus' body is to have been placed for burial. The marble slab is now in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. Previously, the light was believed to form a column of fire, from which candles are lit. Today, a lighter or match is used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance.[1] The fire is also said to spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church.[2] Pilgrims and clergy say that the Holy Fire does not burn them.[3][4]

Before the fire is lit, the Patriarch kneels inside the chapel in front of the stone, with crowds gathered outside. When the fire is lit, the Patriarch comes out of the church with two lit candles.[5] Thousands of pilgrims as well as local Christians of all denominations gather in Jerusalem to partake and witness this annual event.[6][7]

The Holy Fire is taken to Greece by special flight,[8] and similarly to other Orthodox countries or countries with major Orthodox churches, such as Syria, Georgia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Romania, Egypt, Cyprus, North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, being received by church and state leaders.


Eusebius: burning water

The historian Eusebius writes in his Life of Constantine, which dates from around 328 AD, about an interesting occurrence in Jerusalem of Easter in the year 162. When the church wardens were about to fill the lamps to make them ready to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, they noticed that there was no more oil left to pour in the lamps. Upon this, Bishop Narcissus of Jerusalem ordered the lamps to be filled with water. He then told the wardens to ignite them, and every single lamp burned as if filled with pure oil.[9] Christian Orthodox tradition holds that this miracle, which predates the construction of the Holy Sepulchre in the 4th century, is related to the Miracle of the Holy Fire, though doctrine states differences between the two, as the former was a one-time occurrence while the Miracle of the Holy Fire occurs every year. However, they have in common the premise that God has produced fire where logically speaking there should have been none.

Egeria: light coming from the chapel

Around 385 AD, Egeria, a noble woman from Spain, traveled to Palestine. In the account of her journey, she speaks of a ceremony by the Holy Sepulchre of Christ, where a light comes forth (ejicitur) from the small chapel enclosing the tomb, by which the entire church is filled with an infinite light (lumen infinitum).[9]

First record (867)

Despite these previous instances, the Holy Fire is believed to have been first recorded by the Christian pilgrim, Bernard the Wise (Bernardus Monachus), in 867.[10][11][12]

Crusader period

Under Baldwin I, Latin clergy had taken over the Holy Sepulchre, and according to Christopher Tyerman, the Greek clergy were restored "after the fiasco of the failure of the regular Easter miracle of the Holy Fire under Latin auspices in 1101, the annual ritual on Easter eve when Holy Fire is supposed to descend from heaven to light the priests' candles in the edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. The newcomers evidently had not learnt the knack."[13]

Nevertheless, other sources describe that the Holy Fire appeared in the holy grave on Sunday (Easter day), when the Latin archbishop Daimbert was not in Holy Sepulchre and processing was carried over by Greeks and other Orthodox Christians. The holy grave was closed during this period by Daimbert. [14]

Ottoman period


In 1834, in the presence of governor Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt, the frantic pilgrims in the smoke-filled and overcrowded church created a stampede, aggravated by the guards of the pasha, who cut their way out through the masses. Four hundred lost their lives according to an eyewitness, according to the words of English Near East traveller, Robert Curzon.[15][16]

2002 scuffle

The ceremony was marred in 2002 when a disagreement between the Greek Patriarch and the accompanying Armenian bishop over who should emerge first with the Holy Fire led to a struggle between the factions. In the course of the scuffle, the Greek Patriarch twice blew the Armenian's candle out, while the Greek Patriarch was despoiled of one of his shoes. In the end the Israeli Police entered the premises to restore order.[17]

Criticism and opposition

In 1009, Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre and its associated buildings, apparently outraged by what he regarded as the fraud practiced by the monks in the "miraculous" descent of the Holy Fire. The chronicler Yahia said that "only those things that were too difficult to demolish were spared." Processions were prohibited, and a few years later all of the convents and churches in Palestine were said to have been destroyed or confiscated.[18] In 1238, Pope Gregory IX denounced the Holy Fire as a fraud and forbade Franciscans from participating in the ceremony.[19] Similarly, many Christians have remained unconvinced by the occurrence.[20] According to Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi, the 13th-century Ayyubid ruler Al-Muazzam Turanshah (r. 1249–1250) is mentioned as having discovered the fraudulence of the Holy Fire; however, he allowed the monks to continue their fraud in exchange for money.[21] The Ottoman traveller, Evliya Çelebi (1611–1682), said that a hidden zinc jar of naphtha was dripped down a chain by a hidden monk.[22] Edward Gibbon (1737–1794), wrote scathingly about the alleged phenomenon in the concluding volume of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

This pious fraud, first devised in the ninth century, was devoutly cherished by the Latin crusaders, and is annually repeated by the clergy of the Greek, Armenian, and Coptic sects, who impose on the credulous spectators for their own benefit and that of their tyrants.[23]

Thomas Tegg, a 19th-century Englishman, included an account of the event in The London Encyclopaedia, published in 1828, speculating that the event is purely natural and motivated by pecuniary interest.[24]

Some Greeks have been critical of the Holy Fire, such as the scholar Adamantios Korais (1748–1833), who condemned what he considered to be religious fraud in his treatise "On the Holy Light of Jerusalem." He referred to the event as "machinations of fraudulent priests" and to the "unholy" light of Jerusalem as "a profiteers' miracle". In 2005, in a live demonstration on Greek television,[25] Michael Kalopoulos, author and historian of religion, dipped three candles in white phosphorus. The candles spontaneously ignited after approximately 20 minutes due to the self-ignition properties of white phosphorus when in contact with air. According to Kalopoulos' website:

If phosphorus is dissolved in an appropriate organic solvent, self-ignition is delayed until the solvent has almost completely evaporated. Repeated experiments showed that the ignition can be delayed for half an hour or more, depending on the density of the solution and the solvent employed.

Kalopoulos also says that chemical reactions of this nature were well known in ancient times, quoting Strabo, who states: "In Babylon there are two kinds of naphtha springs, a white and a black. The white naphtha is the one that ignites with fire." (Strabon Geographica He further states that phosphorus was used by Chaldean magicians in the early fifth century BC, and by the ancient Greeks, in a way similar to its supposed use today by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.[26]

Russian skeptic Igor Dobrokhotov[27] has analysed the evidence for an alleged miracle at length on his website, including the ancient sources[28] and contemporary photos and videos.[29] Dobrokhotov and other critics, including Russian Orthodox researcher Nikolay Uspensky,[citation needed] Dr. Aleksandr Musin of Sorbonne, and some Old Believers quote excerpts from the diaries of Bishop Porphyrius (Uspensky) (1804–1885),[30] which told that the clergy in Jerusalem knew that the Holy Fire was fraudulent.

In his book, the journalist Dimitris Alikakos presents an interview with the skeuophylax Archbishop Isidoros of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in which the latter admits that the "Sleepless Candle", which he, himself, puts into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the morning of the Holy Saturday, is ignited by him with a lighter.[1]: 75 [31][32] The former (1984–1988) skeuophylax Archbishop Nikiforos makes the same acknowledgement, except that he was using matches.[1]: 89  In the same book, Archbishop Gerason Theofanis states that the Holy Fire does not light up in a miraculous, but in a natural way, and it is then blessed by the Patriarch. He adds: "we deceive the believers letting them believe that it is a miracle. This is unacceptable, and does not reflect well on us".[1]: 86  According to Theofanis, the fraud of the "miracle" was invented by Catholic crusaders a few centuries ago, and was later continued by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.[31][33] In addition, the Metropolitan Bishop Kornilios of Petras, surrogate of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in 2001, confirmed an older interview, saying that he also had ignited the candles of the Holy Fire with a natural candle, and he described in full detail what he saw when he entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.[1]: 101–106  Lastly, in his book, the journalist mentions the chronicle of the deletion of the word "miracle" from the official website of the Patriarchate on 23 June 2018, with the commandment of the Patriarch Theofilos III.[1]: 29–47 

Lighting the fire

One of the Armenian torchbearers, a task that is usually passed down from father to son (or other male member of a torchbearer's family), has admitted that his father revealed to him that the source of the fire was ancient and symbolic but not a miracle. He said: "The Greek priests bring in a lamp - one that has been kept burning for 1,500 years - to produce the Holy Fire. For pilgrims full of faith who come from abroad, it is a fire from Heaven, a true miracle. But not for us."[34]

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre's Armenian Bishop, Samuel Agoyan, has participated in the Holy Fire ceremony alongside the Greek Patriarch on three occasions. In a news segment aired on Israeli Channel 12 on March 10, 2018, Agoyan shared that during his involvement, the Greek Patriarch ignited the fire with the assistance of a lamp.[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Alikakos, Dimitris (2019). Λύτρωση - Περί του Αγίου Φωτός. Athens. ISBN 9786185076276.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ "Description of the Miracle of Holy Fire that happens every year in Jerusalem".
  3. ^ Niels Christian Hvidt (1998). "The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem". Orthodox Christian Information Center.
  4. ^ "Photos and videos of the Holy Fire miracle".
  5. ^ "Light at the Holy Sepulchre, Great Miracle Given by God, Only to the Orthodox Church", The Christian Life. 1 January – 31 March 1999 (Vol. 42 / No. 1-3)
  6. ^ "Christian pilgrims gather in Jerusalem for 'holy fire' ritual". The Times of Israel.
  7. ^ "Holy Fire Rite Brings Thousands to Jerusalem - Jerusalem Articles". Archived from the original on 14 March 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
  8. ^ The Holy Fire Arrives in Athens From Jerusalem By Areti Kotseli on 14 April 2012 in News. Greek Reporter.
  9. ^ a b Meinardus, Otto. The Ceremony of the Holy Fire in the Middle Ages and to-day. Bulletin de la Société d'Archéologie Copte, 16, 1961-2. Page 242-253
  10. ^ Guy Le Strange (2010). Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 To 1500 (reprint ed.). Cosimo, Inc. p. 202. ISBN 9781616405212.
  11. ^ Hunt Janin (2002). Four Paths to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Secular Pilgrimages, 1000 BCE to 2001 CE (illustrated ed.). McFarland. p. 77. ISBN 9780786412648.
  12. ^ Christopher Macevitt (2009). The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (illustrated ed.). University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 212. ISBN 9780812220834.
  13. ^ Tyerman, Christopher (2006). God's War: A New History of the Crusades. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674023871 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Marcel Picaud; C W Wilson (1888). The pilgrimage of the Russian abbot Daniel in the Holy Land, 1106-1107 A.D. London: [Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society].((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Sebag Montefiore, Simon (2011). Jerusalem: The Biography, chapter The Albanian Conquest 1830–40: Ibrahim the Red. Accessed 15 April 2023.
  16. ^ Igniting Holy Fires, David Rapp for Haaretz, 29 April 2005. Accessed 15 April 2023.
  17. ^ Clark, Victoria (25 April 2003). "Holy Fire sets Orthodox rivalry ablaze in Jerusalem". Retrieved 11 August 2018 – via
  18. ^ Robert Ousterhout, "Rebuilding the Temple: Constantine Monomachus and the Holy Sepulchre" in The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 48, No. 1 (March, 1989), pp. 66–78
  19. ^ "Sparks from the Holy Fire". 3 May 2003. Archived from the original on 14 February 2012.
  20. ^ Hunt Janin (2002). Four Paths to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Secular Pilgrimages, 1000 BCE to 2001 CE (illustrated ed.). McFarland. p. 77. ISBN 9780786412648.
  21. ^ Diego R. Sarrió Cucarella (2015). Muslim-Christian Polemics across the Mediterranean: The Splendid Replies of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī, Parts 684-1285. Brill. p. 61. ISBN 9789004285606.
  22. ^ Jerusalem: The Biography, page 305, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011. ISBN 978-0297852650
  23. ^ Edward Gibbon. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. VI. Chapter LVII. Everyman's Library. p. 34.
  24. ^ Thomas Tegg (1829). London Encyclopaedia Volume 16, page 449, in the article on Palestine. N. Hailes.
  25. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Μιχάλης Καλόπουλος πείραμα - Άγιο Φως". YouTube.
  26. ^ "The "Holy" Light of Jerusalem". Archived from the original on 10 April 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
  27. ^ "Igor Dobrokhotov" (in Russian).
  28. ^ "ИСТОРИЯ БЛАГОДАТНОГО ОГНЯ" (in Russian).
  30. ^ "Епископ Порфирий" (in Russian).
  31. ^ a b "ANT1 NEWS 20-03-2019 ΣΤΙΣ 19:30". (in Greek). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  32. ^, Newsroom (19 March 2019). "Σάλος με το Αγιο Φως -"Ποιο θαύμα; Το ανάβω με αναπτήρα" λέει σκευοφύλακας του Πανάγιου Τάφου [βίντεο] | ΕΛΛΑΔΑ". (in Greek). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  33. ^ "Κύμα αντιδράσεων από τις μαρτυρίες για την Αφή του Αγίου Φωτός – Binteo". (in Greek). 20 March 2019. Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  34. ^ "Mystery of Jerusalem's Holy Fire comes to light". 16 April 2001.
  35. ^ Source