Dearest Spiritual Ohana,
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
As we enter into the month of May, we continue to celebrate amidst the Glory and Joy of our Lord’s Resurrection. We conclude our yearly Paschal Greetings of “Christ is risen” on the eve of the Ascension on May 24th, then proceed to celebrate the Ascension and then make our way toward the celebration of Holy Pentecost. I pray that the light of the Resurrection continue to burn in your hearts always, throughout the year and ever-resoundingly illumine your everyday lives. The Resurrection of our Lord is so central in our lives as Orthodox Christians. It expresses the ultimate love of our Lord in that He conquers death by His Death and grants us the opportunity to live in and through Him forever. Even though we take leave us this Glorious Season, toward the end of the month, we continue to celebrate the Resurrection practically every Sunday throughout the entire year. “Sunday” in Greek (Kuriakh) means “the Lord’s Day.”
To keep the flame of the Resurrection ignited in your hearts, I share with you a few facts about “the Miracle of the Holy Fire” which takes every year at the Holy Sephulcre (the location of Christ’s Tomb) in Jerusalem, and has taken place for centuries upon centuries every year during the Celebration of Orthodox Holy Pascha.
1. General Description of the Miracle
On the appointed day at noon, the Greek Orthodox patriarch, followed by the Armenian archbishop, march in grand and solemn procession with their own clergies, while singing hymns. They march three times round the Church of the Holy Sephulcre. Once the procession has ended, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem or another Orthodox Archbishop recites a specific prayer, removes his robes and enters alone into the Sephulcre. Before entering the Tomb of Christ, the patriarch is examined by Jewish Israeli authorities to prove that he does not carry technical means to light the fire. This investigation used to be carried out by Muslim Turkish Ottoman soldiers.
The Armenian archbishops remain in the antechamber, where the angel was sitting when he appeared to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection of Jesus. The congregation subsequently chants Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy” in Greek) until the Holy Fire spontaneously descends on 33 white candles tied together by the Patriarch while he is alone inside the tomb chamber of Jesus. The patriarch then reveals himself from the tomb chamber and recites some prayers, before he lights either 33 or 12 candles and distributes them to the congregation. The fire is considered by believers to be the flame of the Resurrection power, as well as the fire of the Burning Bush of Mount Sinai.
2. In the Patriarch of Jerusalem’s Own Words
“I find my way through the darkness towards the inner chamber in which I fall on my knees. Here I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. 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.”
The Holy Fire is a great miracle that takes place every year, confirming our Lord’s Resurrection. There exist written accounts dated all the way back to the 4th Century by which authors write about the holy events occurring in the 1st Century. St. John Damascene and St. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, make accounts of how the Apostle Peter saw the Holy Light in the Holy Sephulcre after Christ’s Resurrection.
For us who have not seen and witnessed the Miracle of the Holy Fire, firsthand, there exists video footage of it on “YouTube.” Just type, for example, “Holy Fire/Light in Jerusalem,” and you can see for yourselves!
Of course, there are miracles that are before us, continuously, in our daily lives. Our every breath is a miracle!
Glory to God in all things!
With Love in Christ,
Polycarp the Holy Martyr & Bishop of Smyrna; Proterios, Archbishop of Alexandria; Gorgonia the Righteous, sister of Gregory the Theologian; Damian the New Martyr of Mount Athos; Boswell, Abbot of Melrose Abbey