Holy Fire

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Holy Fire in 2018

The Holy Fire (Greek Ἃγιον Φῶς, "Holy Light") is described by Orthodox Christians as a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday, or Holy Saturday, the day preceding Orthodox Easter. However, many dispute the alleged miraculous descent of the Fire.[1]

Description from within the Orthodox faith[edit]

Orthodox tradition holds that the Holy Fire happens annually on the day preceding Orthodox Pascha (Orthodox Easter). During this time, blue light is said to emit within Jesus Christ's 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. The light is believed to form a column of fire, from which candles are lit. This fire is then used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. The fire is also said to spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church.[2][3] Pilgrims and clergy say that the Holy Fire does not burn them.[4][5]

While the Patriarch is inside the chapel kneeling in front of the stone, there is darkness but far from silence outside. One hears a rather loud mumbling, and the atmosphere is very tense. When the Patriarch comes out with the two candles lit and shining brightly in the darkness, a roar of jubilation resounds in the Church.[6]

Thousands of pilgrims as well as local Christians of all denominations gather in Jerusalem to partake and witness this annual event.[7][8]

The Holy Fire is taken to Greece by special flight,[9] and similarly to other Orthodox countries or countries with major Orthodox churches, such as Georgia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Romania, Egypt, Cyprus, North Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, being received by church and state leaders.


The historian Eusebius writes in his Vita Constantini, which dates from around 328, 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 Christ, they suddenly noticed that there was no more oil left to pour in the lamps. Upon this, Bishop Narcissus of Jerusalem ordered the candles to be filled with water. He then told the wardens to ignite them. In front of the eyes of all present every single lamp burned as if filled with pure oil.[10] Christian Orthodox tradition holds that this miracle, which predates the construction of the Holy Sepulchre in the fourth century, is related to the Miracle of the Holy Fire. They admit that the two differ, 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 there, logically speaking, should have been none.

Around 385 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).[10]

Despite these previous instances, the Holy Fire is believed to have been first recorded by the Christian pilgrim, Bernard the Wise (Bernardus Monachus), in 876.[11][12][13]

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."[14]

The ceremony was marred in 2002 when a disagreement between the Armenian and Greek bishops 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, forcing him to reignite his "Holy Fire" using a cigarette lighter, while the Greek Patriarch was despoiled of one of his shoes. In the end the Israeli Police entered the premises to restore order.[15]

Criticism and opposition[edit]

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.[16] In 1238, Pope Gregory IX denounced the Holy Fire as a fraud and forbade Franciscans from participating in the ceremony.[17] Similarly, many Christians have remained unconvinced by the occurrence.[18] 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.[19] The Ottoman traveller, Evliya Celebi (1611–1682), said that a hidden zinc jar of naphtha was dripped down a chain by a hidden monk.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

Some Greeks have been critical of the Holy Fire, such as Adamantios Korais, 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,[23] 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.[24]

Russian skeptic Igor Dobrokhotov[25] has analysed the evidence for an alleged miracle at length on his website, including the ancient sources[26] and contemporary photos and videos.[27] 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),[28] 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 former 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[29][30] 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 unfortunately was later continued by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.[31][32] 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 in 23 June 2018, with the commandment of the Patriarch Theofilos III.[1]:29–47

One of the Armenian torchbearers, a task that's usually passed down from father to son (or other male member of a torchbearer's family), has admitted that his father revealed to him the truth, that the source of the fire is 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."[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Alikakos, Dimitris (2019). Λύτρωση - Περί του Αγίου Φωτός. Athens. ISBN 9786185076276.
  2. ^ "Description of the Miracle of Holy Fire that happens every year in Jerusalem". holyfire.org.
  3. ^ Bishop Auxentios of Photiki (1999). The Paschal Fire in Jerusalem (Third ed.). Berkeley, CA: Saint John Chrysostom Press. ISBN 0-9634692-0-7.
  4. ^ Niels Christian Hvidt (1998). "The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem". Orthodox Christian Information Center.
  5. ^ "Photos and videos of the Holy Fire miracle". holyfire.org.
  6. ^ 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)
  7. ^ http://www.timesofisrael.com/christian-pilgrims-gather-in-jerusalem-for-holy-fire-ritual/
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 March 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ The Holy Fire Arrives in Athens From Jerusalem By Areti Kotseli on 14 April 2012 in News. Greek Reporter. http://greece.greekreporter.com/2012/04/14/the-holy-fire-arrives-in-athens-directly-from-jerusalem/
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Guy Le Strange (1 January 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.
  12. ^ Hunt Janin (1 January 2002). Four Paths to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Secular Pilgrimages, 1000 BCE to 2001 CE (illustrated ed.). McFarland. p. 77. ISBN 9780786412648.
  13. ^ Christopher Macevitt (10 September 2009). The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (illustrated ed.). University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 212. ISBN 9780812220834.
  14. ^ Tyerman, Christopher. God's War: A New History of the Crusades, Harvard University Press, 2006, p. 231 ISBN 9780674023871
  15. ^ Clark, Victoria (25 April 2003). "Holy Fire sets Orthodox rivalry ablaze in Jerusalem". Retrieved 11 August 2018 – via telegraph.co.uk.
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ "Sparks from the Holy Fire". 3 May 2003. Archived from the original on 14 February 2012.
  18. ^ Hunt Janin (1 January 2002). Four Paths to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Secular Pilgrimages, 1000 BCE to 2001 CE (illustrated ed.). McFarland. p. 77. ISBN 9780786412648.
  19. ^ Diego R. Sarrió Cucarella (8 January 2015). Muslim-Christian Polemics across the Mediterranean: The Splendid Replies of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī, Parts 684-1285. BRILL. p. 61. ISBN 9789004285606.
  20. ^ Jerusalem: The Biography, page 305, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011. ISBN 978-0-297-85265-0
  21. ^ Edward Gibbon. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. VI. Chapter LVII. Everyman's Library. p. 34.
  22. ^ Thomas Tegg (1829). London Encyclopaedia Volume 16, page 449, in the article on Palestine. N. Hailes.
  23. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S66f87b05oM
  24. ^ "The "Holy" Light of Jerusalem". Archived from the original on 10 April 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2009.
  25. ^ "Igor Dobrokhotov" (in Russian).
  26. ^ "ИСТОРИЯ БЛАГОДАТНОГО ОГНЯ" (in Russian).
  28. ^ "Епископ Порфирий" (in Russian).
  29. ^ "ANT1 NEWS 20-03-2019 ΣΤΙΣ 19:30". antenna.gr (in Greek). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  30. ^ IEFIMERIDA.GR, NEWSROOM (19 March 2019). "Σάλος με το Αγιο Φως -"Ποιο θαύμα; Το ανάβω με αναπτήρα" λέει σκευοφύλακας του Πανάγιου Τάφου [βίντεο] | ΕΛΛΑΔΑ". iefimerida.gr (in Greek). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  31. ^ "ANT1 NEWS 20-03-2019 ΣΤΙΣ 19:30". antenna.gr (in Greek). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  32. ^ "Κύμα αντιδράσεων από τις μαρτυρίες για την Αφή του Αγίου Φωτός -ΒΙΝΤΕΟ". enikos.gr (in Greek). Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  33. ^ "Jerusalem's Holy Fire comes to light".

External links[edit]