The Great Miracle of Orthodoxy Through the Centuries: Holy Fire or Light (Gk. ΄Αγιον Φώς)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



The Holy Fire (Greek ΄Αγιον Φώς) is a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem on Holy and Great Saturday, the day preceding Holy Pascha. It is considered by many to be the longest-attested annual miracle in the Christian world, though the event has only been documented consecutively since 1106. In many Orthodox countries around the world, the miracle is televised live.

The ceremony begins at noon when the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem recites a specific prayer. The faithful gathered will then chant "Lord, have mercy" (Kyrie eleison in Greek) until the Holy Fire descends on a lamp of olive oil held by the Patriarch while he is alone in the tomb chamber of Jesus Christ. The Patriarch will then emerge from the tomb chamber, offer additional prayers, and light either 33 or 12 candles to distribute to the faithful.

The Holy Fire is also spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church. Orthodox Christian pilgrims say the Holy Fire is blue in color and will not burn hair, faces, etc., in the first 33 minutes after it appears. Before entering the Lord's Tomb, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch is inspected by Israeli authorities to prove that he does not carry the technical means to light the lamp. This investigation used to be carried out by Turkish soldiers. After the tomb of Christ is sealed the authorities affix the wax with their seals.

The ceremony of the Holy Fire or Light is as follows: a) The Litany, b) the entry of the Patriarch in the Holy Sepulchre and c) The prayers of the Patriarch in order for the Holy Light to appear.

Following the tradition, at noon of Holy Saturday the Greek Orthodox Patriarch with his escort - archpriests, priests and deacons and the Armenian Patriarch - enter the Holy Sepulchre, while the bells strike mournfully. Before the entry of the Patriarch, the keeper of the Sacristy of the Holy Temple carries the unsleeping oil lamp, (it is put out that day in order to turn on with the Holy Light). From the interior entry of the Church of the Apostle Jacob, the Patriarch enters in the sanctuary and seats on the Patriarchal throne. Then the representatives of the Armenians, the Arabs, the Copts, and others pass and kiss the hand of the Patriarch so that they will have the right to receive the Holy Light. Immediately afterward begins the Holy Litany that goes three times around the Holy Sepulchre and then it stops in front of the Holy Sepulchre where the officials stand. After the Litany, the Holy Sepulchre is unsealed and the Patriarch takes off his Hierarchical vestments and remains only with a white priest's tunic. Then the governor of Jerusalem and the police director examine the Patriarch in front of all.

Inside the Holy Sepulchre, the Patriarch prays kneeling and reading the special petitions requesting our Lord Jesus Christ to send His Holy Light as a gift of sanctification for the people. And in the absolute quietness at the hour when the Patriarch prays a wheeze is heard and almost simultaneously blue and white lightning of Holy Light penetrate from everywhere, as though millions of photographic flashes turn on embracing the walls and all the lamps light miraculously. In the Holy Sepulchre, the candles the Patriarch holds while he prays are lit also by the Holy Light. The faithful Orthodox Christians and others burst out in cheers while teardrops of joy and faith run from the eyes of the believers.

For a few minutes, the Holy Light doesn't have the attributes of fire. This happens the first minutes after the Patriarch comes out of the Holy Sepulchre and gives the Holy Light to the people. Anyone can touch the fire of the 33 candles and it does not burn. After 33 minutes the flame is normal. 

The Holy Fire is first mentioned in the documents dating from the 4th century. A detailed description of the miracle is contained in the travelogue of the Russian Igumenos Daniel, who was present at the ceremony in 1106. Father Daniel mentions blue incandescence descending from the dome to the edicula where the Patriarch awaits the Holy Fire. Some claim to have witnessed this incandescence in modern times.

According to the tradition, in 1099, the failure of Crusaders to obtain the fire led to street riots in Jerusalem. It is also claimed that in 1579, the Armenian patriarch prayed day and night in order to obtain the Holy Fire, but the Fire miraculously struck a column near the entrance and lit a candle held by the Greek Orthodox patriarch standing nearby. Upon entering the church, many Orthodox Christians venerate this column, which bears marks and a large crack attributed to the bolt of lightning from the Holy Fire.

The Holy Light or Fire symbolizes and reminds us in a miraculous way the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a Godsend miracle throughout the centuries to strengthen our faith in Christ Who is the True Light of the world.


In Christ's service,

+Father George