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The Miracle of the Holy Fire

by Niels Christian Hvidt

The view from inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as light spreads the Tomb of Christ on April 23, 2011. (Photo Credit: Abir Sultan / EPA via

“The Miracle of the Holy Fire” (in Orthodox Churches) is known as “the greatest of all Christian miracles.” It takes place every single year, on the same time, in the same manner, and on the same spot. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and for such an extensive period of time. The miracle happens in Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth for millions of believers. Theologians, historians and archaeologists consider this church to contain both Golgotha, the little hill on which Jesus was crucified, as well as the “new tomb” close to Golgotha that received his dead body, and the same spot from which he rose from the dead…

The ceremony surrounding the “Holy Fire” is one of the oldest unbroken Christian ceremonies in the world. From the Fourth Century to our own time, sources recall this awe-inspiring event. From these sources it becomes clear that the miracle has been celebrated on the same spot, on the same feast day, and in the same liturgical way.

The miracle occurs every year on the Orthodox “Holy and Great Sabbath-Saturday”… Pilgrims camp around the tomb, waiting from Holy Friday afternoon in anticipation of the wonder on Holy Saturday… It is not possible to follow the events inside the tomb, so I asked the [late] patriarch [Diodorus of Jerusalem (†2000)], about [it]:

I believe it to be no coincidence that the Holy Fire comes on exactly this spot. In Matthew 28:3, it says that when Christ rose from the dead, an angel came, dressed all in a fearful light. I believe that the striking light that enveloped the angel at the Lord’s Resurrection is the same light that appears miraculously. Christ wants to remind us that His Resurrection is a reality and not just a myth; He really came to the world in order to give the necessary sacrifice through His Death and Resurrection so that man could be re-united with his Creator.

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… 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…give the flame to all people present in the Church…

“The miracle touches me just as deeply every single year. Every time it is another step towards conversion for me. For me personally it is of great comfort to consider Christ’s faithfulness towards us, which he displays by giving us the holy flame every year in spite of our human frailties and failures… It makes the resurrection of Christ present to us as if he had died only a few years ago.”

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 shinning brightly in the darkness, a roar of jubilee resounds in the Church, comparable only to a goal at a soccer-match.

The miracle is not confined to what actually happens inside the little tomb, where the Patriarch prays. What may be even more significant, is that the blue light is reported to appear and be active outside the tomb. Every year many believers claim that this miraculous light ignites candles, which they hold in their hands, of its own initiative. All in the church wait with candles in the hope that they may ignite spontaneously. Often closed oil lamps take fire by themselves before the eyes of the pilgrims. The blue flame is seen to move in different places in the Church. A number of signed testimonies by pilgrims, whose candles lit spontaneously, attest to the validity of these ignitions. The person who experiences the miracle from a close distance by having the fire on the candle or seeing the blue light usually leaves Jerusalem changed, and for everyone having attended the ceremony, there is always a “before and after” the miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem.

Editor’s Note: Niels Christian Hvidt, born 1969, is Associate Professor at the Research Unit of Health, Man and Society at the Institute of Public Health at the University of Southern Denmark.

Christina Semon Begins Second Term of Missionary Service

MOLDOVA – Following the successful completion of her first term in Romania, OCMC missionary Christina Semon began the next phase of her missionary service in the Republic of Moldova last month. Building on the experiences and skills she acquired during two years of working with children and teens (organizing summer camps and working with abandoned children at the Protection of the Theotokos Family Center in Cluj-Napoca), Christina will partner with Fr. Ioan Cristea to establish an Moldovan youth program.

Christina expressed heartfelt thanks to Holy Trinity and all the parishes she had an opportunity to visit while preparing for her prior assignment.

Orthodox Camp Seeks Staff and Counselors for Summer Season

JEWELL, NEW YORKSaint Andrew’s Camp here is seeking talented Orthodox Christians of all ages (18+) for paid staff roles for the 2011 season. Male and female counselors with varying skill sets, including lifeguarding, sports, art or music instruction, and religious education. Positions are for the entire duration of the camping program (July 10-August 6), plus one preparation week before the opening of camp, for a total of 5 weeks.  Applications are available for download at


Annual Summer Conference to Explore Women’s Vocations

YONKERS, NEW YORK – “Women Disciples of the Lord” is the theme for St. Vladimir’s Seminary’s annual summer conference to be held June 17-19. The gathering—which seeks to foster a creative, and inspiring encounter through lectures, panel discussions, and workshops—is especially for women, laity, and clergy interested in broadening lay vocations and ministries in the Church. Email for more information.

In Japan, Clergy Safe; Most Churches Miraculously Still Standing

TOHOKU, JAPAN – The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting 30-foot tsunami that struck northeast Japan on March 11 ravaged an active Orthodox community here. One bishop, five priests, and two deacons serve an Orthodox population numbering more than 1,500 in this region. As of March 25, all but four parishioners have been accounted for including all of the clergy. According to the Eastern Japan Diocese, five Orthodox reposed in the Lord from the tragedy. May their memories be eternal!

Of the five churches in the region that were located along the coast, miraculously all but one were spared: Two churches escaped damage from the tsunami, the waters stopping within meters of the temple; two other churches were flooded but experienced no structural damage. Only Annunci-ation Chapel in Yamada was completely destroyed.

International Orthodox Christian Charities (iocc) and the Orthodox Church in Japan continue to serve an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people who have been displaced by the earthquake and tsunami in coastal areas that remain largely inaccessible because of the damage and lack of fuel.


Muslim Extremists Torch Orthodox Christian Churches, Homes

ETHIOPIA – Thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes in Western Ethiopia after Muslim extremists set fire to roughly 50 churches and dozens of Christian homes.

At least one Christian has been killed, many more have been injured and anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 have been displaced in the attacks that began March 2 after a Christian in the community of Asendabo was accused of desecrating the Koran.

The violence escalated to the point that federal police forces sent to the area two weeks ago were initially overwhelmed by the mobs.

The string of attacks comes on the heels of several reports of growing anti-Christian tension and violence around the country where Muslims make up roughly one-third of the total population but more than 90 percent of the population in certain areas, 2007 Census data shows.

One of those areas is Besheno where, on November 9, all the Christians in the city woke up to find notes on their doors warning them to convert to Islam, leave the city or face death, a Christian from Besheno told on condition of anonymity…

Later that month three Christians in Besheno were assaulted in religiously-motivated attacks and three others were forced to flee the city after being told that Muslim leaders had commissioned hit men to kill them, one of the exiled Christians told

— Diane Macedo,

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