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The heart of Christianity and Orthodoxy beats in Jerusalem every Easter!
We have been blessed to bear witness in the troubled and holy land of the Middle East, where our Messiah was martyred, crucified, buried, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.
The biblical places of Jericho, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem where Christians, Jews and Muslims are constantly competing with each other to claim the Holy Land as their own, are brought into the spotlight as the great acts of our Lord are reenacted for Pascha.
On Holy Saturday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as the acts unfolded, the silent grief that resides in the sacred pages holy scripture could be heard… transforming the dark background of the Crucifixion into a spirit of enthusiasm and devotion – and the glory of the Resurrection.
Greek Orthodox Christians believe that the candle through which the Holy Light is transmitted to the faithful every year just before the celebration of the Resurrection is miraculously lit in the Holy Sepulchre and that the miracle only occurs in the presence of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem describes it on its website as a “miracle, which cannot be doubted,” and it is there reported that the place is monitored by the non-Orthodox jurisdictions “to certify that there is no lit candle or other source of ignition.”
However, today, several people, including hierarchs who we have been fortunate enough to meet and who are prominent in the ceremony, argue that the annual appearance of the Holy Light in Jerusalem does not happen through the lighting of the candles held by the Patriarch in a miraculous manner, but that the believed miracle lies in the sanctification of the natural flames on the chandelier that is found inside the Holy Sepulchre.
There are different versions among the Orthodox about how the miracle occurs, but that does not in any way negate the holiness of the place. This is something one must see, feel, and experience!
For nine whole hours, and in spite of the measures taken due to the pandemic, from 6 AM until 2:30 PM, thousands of pilgrims, including us, in the presence of numerous military personnel who there to prevent any incidents, waited on their feet to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient Church of the Resurrection, where the Resurrection Liturgy was to take place.
The ceremony of the Unveiling, which is the sole privilege of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, takes place at noon on Holy Saturday during the Liturgy of the Resurrection at the Holy Sepulchre of Christ and consists of three stages: The Procession, The entrance of the Patriarch into the Holy Sepulchre, and The Litany for the coming forth of the Holy Light.
On Holy Saturday morning, before the Unveiling, the Holy Sepulchre is thoroughly inspected and immediately sealed with beeswax.
The inspection is done in order to confirm that there is nothing in the Holy Sepulchre that could produce a flame. Once put in place, the authorities place their seals on the wax.
Other denominations, which have acquired rights to the Holy Sepulchre, are also very interested in the inspection. This interest is not accidental, since if it happens that one year the Orthodox Patriarch cannot bring out the Holy Light, then others will take the lead in the Holy Light ceremony.
This particular inspection begins at 10 AM on Holy Saturday morning and ends at 11 AM, during which time Orthodox Arab youths demonstrate inside the church in support of Orthodox Christian rights.
The inspection of the Holy Sepulchre is attended by representatives of other denominations, like the Armenian church.
According to tradition, at noon on Holy Saturday, the Orthodox Patriarch, with his entourage (bishops, priests, and deacons), and the Armenian Patriarch enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, while the bells toll mournfully.
From the inner entrance of the Chapel of St. Jacob, the Patriarch mounts the Holy Step of the Katholikon and sits on the patriarchal throne. The representatives of the Armenians, Arabs, Copts, and others pass by and embrace the Patriarch’s hand, so that they can later be given the Holy Light. According to the rules of privilege, if they do not embrace the hand of the Orthodox Patriarch, they do not have the right to receive the Holy Light from his hands.
Immediately afterwards, the Holy Litany begins, which circles the Holy Sepulchre three times, and then the Patriarch stops in front of the Holy Sepulchre, where the officials are.
After the Litany the Holy Sepulchre is unsealed and the Patriarch takes off his high priestly robes and remains only in his white ‘sticharion’.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem then receives the extinguished candles and enters the Holy Sepulchre to pray, accompanied by the Dragoman of the Armenians. All the candles are out and supposedly nothing is lit in the Holy Church.
It is worth noting that there is no electricity or electric lighting in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Thousands of eyes are turned towards the Holy Sepulchre. The sounding of drums evokes a strong sense of anticipation. Countless voices are eagerly crying out. Hands are raised vertically towards God…
The Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III exits the Holy Sepulchre holding in each hand 33 lit candles (as many as the years of the life of our Christ), distributing the Holy Light to the pilgrims who approach for the invocation to “Come Receive the Light,” as well as the message of the Resurrection for humanity.
All of a sudden everything becomes a celebration!
Shouts, the sound of musical instruments, candles multiplying the Holy Light with the speed of the wind, one hand next to another – one cannot perceive individuals but only masses of people! Groups of people united in the Light! People becoming one in welcoming the Resurrection of the God-Man!
Christians from all denominations and even non-believers stand amazed at this source of this invisible and yet so powerful presence of energy. The space is filled with blue-white horizontal streaks of lightning-like light, rotating glints of color and moving flames – no one knows where they come from – enthralling each and every one of us who are there!
Witnesses report that many worshippers’ candles and lamps light up spontaneously, while the flame does not burn them for the first few minutes. Among these testimonies is our own broadcast, since during the filming we captured on video a monk who was continuously passing the Holy light over himself – but it does not burn…
After the Unveiling, Patriarch Theophilos III will hand over the ever-burning Light to the representative of the Greek state, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Andreas Katsaniotis, in a ceremony that will take place at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, before the Exarch of the Holy Sepulchre carries it to Athens in a special lantern.
The aircraft that will carry the Holy Light is expected to arrive at Athens’s Eleftherios Venizelos airport at 18:00 and afterwards the distribution of the Holy Light throughout the Greek territory commences.
The transportation of the Holy Light from Israel is carried out by a special flight of a Greek airline at no cost to the Greek state.
And Just like that…within 24 hours…between sunrise and sunset on the day of the Holy Saturday…the Holy Light is everywhere.
The most powerful moment of Orthodoxy, the omnipresent Resurrection of the God-Man, becomes every year the occasion for the transition from the cave of our corruption to the gardens of Eden of our eternity!
Easter Sunday was celebrated by the National Herald’s New York team via a beautiful excursion to the ‘Miami of the Mediterranean’…Tel Aviv! It is Israel’s most modern and liberal metropolis, the so-called white city in recognition of its popular Bauhaus architecture along with its vast coastline of golden Mediterranean beaches, palm trees, and skyscrapers. The city’s southern and oldest part, Jaffa – with its countless art galleries – rank Tel Aviv as one of the most cosmopolitan places in the Eastern Mediterranean, combining the most modern with the most ancient and traditional in a unique harmony!
And of course…there is a Greek element…the Greek Taverna on the golden sands of Tel Aviv beach dominates the Israeli paths with a crown of blue and white and traditional flavors, sounds, and… colors!
Christ is Risen!
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Special Thanks to: The travel agency Travel Bizz, SEAJETS, RentPhotoVideo, Peugeot Hellas, Mikelina Boutique, Shop&Trade, Cozybox, and Saucony
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