Diritto e Religione nelle Società Multiculturali/ Law and Religion in Multicultural Societies/ Derecho y Religión en las Sociedades Multiculturales/ Droit et Religion dans les Sociétés Multiculturelles/ Recht und Religion in Multikulturellen Gesellschaften/ 多元化社会中的法与宗教 / القانون والدين في المجتمعات متعددة الثقافات

The sacred fire is taken out of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Saturday, April 18,2020. Emil Salman

The annual Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem’s Old City, which is marked a day before Sunday’s
observance of Easter among Eastern Orthodox denominations, was held on Saturday on a greatly
reduced scale due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Normally tens of thousands of pilgrims come from a large number of countries, including Russia,
Greece and Egypt for the occasion, but this year, in coordination with the Israeli police and Foreign
Ministry and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, a small group of clergy attended the ceremony at the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe is the site of the crucifixion and
resurrection of Jesus.
The Holy Fire, which for the faithful symbolizes the resurrection, was taken from the church
through the Old City’s Jaffa Gate and from there by motorcade, accompanied by a police escort, to
Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv. Ten aircrafts had landed at the airport earlier in
the day from ten different countries to carry the flame back home. The crews from the planes were
required to remain on board and diplomats stationed in Israel from the countries brought the Holy
Fire to the aircraft.
The Holy Fire rite in Jerusalem, which is observed on a day known as Holy Saturday or Great
Saturday, is one of the most important annual religious events in Israel. At the climax of the
ceremony, the Greek Orthodox patriarch enters the tomb, the edicule, and emerges with the Holy
Fire. It is then disseminated to the faithful in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond using oil lamps
and torches.
During normal times, the ceremony is attended by clergy, members of the diplomatic corps and tens
of thousands of pilgrims who crowd the narrow alleyways of the Old City awaiting the sight of the
flame. The custom has been observed for hundreds of years in accordance with a set procedure that
maintains the status quo among the various Christian denominations that have a presence at the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Following extensive consultations held by Israeli police and Foreign Ministry with the
denominations, an agreement was reached for the event to take place despite Israel’s restrictive
health regulations to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
It was agreed, for example, that the ceremony inside the church would only be attended by the
Greek Orthodox patriarch, the Armenian patriarch, the Coptic church archbishop and the Syriac
archbishop as well as four other members of the clergy. They were accompanied by two police
officers and a camera crew of two, who broadcast the ceremony live.
The Holy Fire is normally accompanied abroad by major church delegations to 11 countries in
Eastern and Central Europe. This year, however, the Foreign Ministry arranged for ten of the eleven
countries to dispatch an aircraft to bring the flame back home to awaiting masses of faithful.
(Uzbekistan, the 11th country, decided not to send a plane).
Instead of the usual church delegations, the countries’ diplomats accompanied the Holy Fire to Ben-
Gurion airport. Planes were sent from Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Georgia, Cyprus, Romania,
Moldova, Belarus, Poland and Kazakhstan. The flame was also transported over land to the West
Bank, Gaza and Jordan.
“We managed to maintain all of the frameworks of the formal ritual,” said Akiva Tor, who heads the
Foreign Ministry religious affairs division. Tor noted that the agreement with the churches included
arrangements to broadcast church masses to viewers abroad, while the usual large gatherings and
processions in the Old City were cancelled.
“We tried to adhere to the status quo to the greatest extent possible,” he said, adding that everyone
understood where departure from usual practice was necessary.


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