Thursday, June 30, 2011

Holy Saturday

Once every four years the Orthodox observed Easter lands on the same date as the one marked by the Gregorian calendar.  2011 is one such year, adding more celebrations over one weekend in Jerusalem. In addition to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the Orthodox also celebrate what is known as Holy Saturday. On that day, Greek and Armenian Patriarchs follow huge processions into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to participate in what is known as the Miracle of the Holy Fire.

Hundreds of people fill the church with bundles of long thin unlit candles.  The sepulcher (which is widely believed to be where Christ was laid to rest) and the patriarch chosen to enter it are both checked by guards to verify that neither have hidden a way to start a fire.  Around 1pm the patriarch enters the sepulcher with two unlit candles, the door is shut behind him, and he kneels on the alter to pray.  Soon afterwards a pillar of light pours down from the sky and sets aglow a rock the patriarch is kneeling before.  The light changes to a fire that is cold to the touch and has a radiance that is different than all others.

The patriarch lights the candles with the fire, exits the sepulcher, and shares the flame to those closest to him.  The fire from that one flame is passed from person to person until the entire church is illuminated.

Due to our Saturday tour of Nazareth and Galilee, we missed the event.  But when we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher later that evening it was still filled with people.  Lit candles lined the wall around the sepulcher, and crowds crammed in line waiting to enter it.

In a moment of insanity we decided to join the crowd for a chance to see the inside of the sepulcher as well. We were pushed, we were shoved, and we were used as arm rests.  When we had enough it was too late to turn back; a wall of people blocked us in every direction.

45 minutes of waiting ended abruptly when the door to the sepulcher, which was a mere 10 feet in front of us, closed.

Maybe, just maybe, the light went out.

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