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Easter in Israel is essentially centered on one specific tradition, the Holy Fire ceremony, which takes place on the Saturday before Easter, and is the hallmark of this holiday's season in Jerusalem for local Christians plus the thousands of faithful who make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land for this special occasion.

All of Lenten and Easter events culminate in that moment, when the spirit of Jesus fills the tomb site in the Holy Sepulchre. According to their belief, a flame appears in the tomb and is caught by the Greek patriarch and an Armenian Orthodox priest and is shared with congregants holding candles in the church.

Because this event is specific to Jerusalem geographically, it can be celebrated nowhere else in the world. Pilgrims, many from Greece, Russia, Armenia, Eastern Europe and the United States, begin lining up from the day before. Local Christians also join the throngs in an attempt to get into the Holy Sepulchre for the celebration.

On that morning, all of the churches have a procession through the narrow Old City streets to the Holy Sepulchre.

The day is referred to as Saturday of Light, or Sapt il-Noor and occurs the day before Easter Sunday.
The ceremony is observed only by the Eastern Orthodox churches, Syrian, Armenian, Russian and Greek Orthodox as well as Copts. Catholics and Protestants do not participate.

History of the Holy Fire

The event is considered a regularly occurring miracle in the Eastern Orthodoxy religion that has taken place at the same time annually in the same place for centuries, the holy fire website says. The first written account of the Holy Fire dates from the 4th century while accounts from 1106 and 1107 by the Russian Abbot Daniel describe a similar ceremony.

The belief of the holy fire is based on Matthew 28:3, which says that at Jesus’ tomb, an angel  of the Lord appeared whose appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

Travelujah Tips

To enter the Holy Sepulchre or get anywhere close to it, be sure to secure passes from one of the Orthodox churches. Be prepared to wait at crowded checkpoints in the Old City and be faced with the possibility of not getting in at all despite having a pass.

The Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem's Old City is claimed by about 14 denominations, making for crowded services at times. Most of the Orthodox and Coptic churches celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony on the Saturday of Light, April 23, 2011, and the entire Old City will be flooded with local and Christian pilgrims trying to get into the church for the service.

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

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