The Miracle of the Holy Light in Jerusalem
Fr. Hector Firoglanis
For at least seventeen centuries an annual event has taken place at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday (according to the Orthodox Christian calendar) that is today reported by media outlets around the world and hailed by tens of millions as one of Christianity's greatest miracles. The event is known to non-Orthodox Christian as the ceremony of the "Holy Fire", while the Orthodox faithful prefer to call it the "Holy Light" because we believe the phenomenon has a divine origin and supernatural qualities beyond that of natural fire. The miracle takes place at the same time, in the same manner, in the same place every single year. At around 1:00pm on Holy Saturday a delegation from the local authorities comes into the church through the crowd of pilgrims. At the time of the Turkish occupation of Palestine the authorities were Muslim Turks; today they are Israelis. Their function is to portray the Roman soldiers during the time of Christ as they ceremonially seal the tomb with wax. Before they seal the door, they follow a custom of patting down the Patriarch of Jerusalem and checking the tomb itself for any hidden source of fire.
The Patriarch finds his way through the darkness into the inner chamber of the tomb of Christ. He falls on his knees, prays the prayers that have been handed down for centuries, and he waits. Sometimes the wait is a few minutes, but normally the miracle takes place immediately after the prayers are read. Diodoros was Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1981-2000, and describes the miracle with fascinating detail:
From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the color may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake — it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light. The light does not burn — I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp... At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church."
As Metropolitan Maximos related to campers years ago from his personal experience, the flame of the Holy Light — for about 10 minutes after it exits the tomb of Christ — does not burn one's skin and hair when it comes into contact with your body. Rather, it is a warm and soothing light that transfers God's grace before transitioning to the qualities of a normal flame.
Each year representatives from Greece, Russia, and Orthodox countries from around the world receive the Holy Light from the Patriarch of Jerusalem and transfer it by airplane to the churches of their local countries in time for the Resurrectional Paschal service. The miracle of the Holy Light is a reminder that the Resurrection is not merely an historical event that took place long ago. Rather, the Resurrection of Christ is a living reality, the grace of which we may experience most intimately on the night of Pascha and carry with us every day of our lives.
Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!