What is the “Holy Fire”?
Miracle of the Holy Fire occurs every single year at the tomb of
Christ. The first occurrence was at the moment of the resurrection
of Christ in AD 33 when an abundant light of incomparable
brightness flooded the area.
testimonies describe the annual occurrence as happening during the
Gregory of Nyssa (+395) and Saint John of Damáscus (+749) both
narrate how the Apostle Peter saw the Holy Light in the Holy
Sepulcher after Christ’s resurrection.
Eusébius of Caesarea Marítima (+339), the famous Greek
ecclesiastical historian of Christianity describes the event in
travel diaries of Holy Land pilgrims from the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and
6th centuries likewise attest to the Miracle of the Holy Fire
occurring annually on Holy Saturday, the day before Pascha
only Christian writers, but observers from other faiths have
recorded the event throughout history. Following the Moslem
conquest of Jerusalem in AD 637 there are many references to the
Holy Fire in diaries, letters, and official reports of Moslem
Caliphs, governors, and other civil officials.
the earliest days, there has been a continuing practice of
lighting a lamp, or lantern, from the Holy Fire on Great and Holy
Saturday in Jerusalem, and carrying that fire to village churches
village priest would then light the Paschal candle from this flame
at the midnight Resurrection Service, proclaiming, “Come
receive the Light!” – just as we sing every year here at our
Saint Nicholas parish and at every Orthodox Church worldwide.
more recent centuries, the Holy Fire was carried from Jerusalem
through the Orthodox world. It was brought by steamer to Odessa on
the Black Sea to light the icon lamps of Russia. It was carried on
mules to Damascus following the steps of Saint Paul. It was
carried by camel caravan to the churches of the Coptic Christians
of Egypt and to the Ethiopian Christians.
the end of the Cold War, it has become common practice to fly the
Holy Fire, carried in a lantern, to the capitols of Orthodox
nations: Athens, Greece; e.g., Moscow, Russia; Bucharest, Romania,
Sofia, Bulgaria; Kiev, Ukraine; and Belgrade, Serbia.
the main cathedrals in the capitol cities the Archbishops and
Patriarchs receive the Holy Fire, light their Paschal candles, and
proclaim, “Come, receive the light!” In the parish churches
of smaller cities, towns, and villages the Holy Fire is received
from the capitol cities, and the same practice is followed.
year, the Holy Fire was also flown here, to the United States.
And, since we are in the internet age, there is a Facebook page
dedicated to this effort and to assisting Orthodox parishes and
individuals throughout the country to receive the Holy Fire:
has long been a pious custom for Orthodox faithful to bring the
“Paschal Fire” home with them, following the Resurrection Service
and Liturgy. Whether on horseback, by sled, or on foot, a family
member carefully guards the lighted candle or lantern and brings
it into the house. As the family sings “Christ is risen!,” the
candle is carried through the house, and a cross is traced on the
doorpost of each room of the home. (It is typical to find these in
Orthodox countries...but doorways with smudges and burned-in
crosses are not too popular when we resell our houses here in
How does the Miracle of the “Holy Fire” occur?
the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of the “First Resurrection” (or,
“Resurrection from Hades”), at the Church of the Resurrection (or,
Church of the Holy Sepulcher) in Jerusalem, the Orthodox Patriarch
goes in procession to the “edicule,” a small chapel at the exact place
where the Body of Jesus Christ was laid by Saint Joseph of
Arimatheía and Saint Nikódimos.
entering the tomb, the Moslem family that has custody of the
church and holds the keys to its door, have searched and cleansed
the edicule of all flammable as well as incendiary substances, and
have secured the tomb with a large beeswax seal. The Patriarch is
then searched by Israeli soldiers and law enforcement officers
before being allowed into the tomb with a handful of 33 candles.
the Patriarch is inside, the doors of the edicule-chapel are
closed, sealed, and guarded by Moslem and Israeli security
personnel. All the lights in the church are extinguished and the
tens of thousands of faithful pilgrims wait for the Holy Fire to
Patriarch prays for the Orthodox Church and for the world as he
also waits for the Holy Fire to spontaneously ignite the wicks on
his bunch of 33 candles. Not only these, but the kandília (hanging
oil lamps) and the candles of the faithful also ignite
spontaneously. A bluish light is typically seen appearing at the
top of the church, and jumping from lamp to lamp, candle to
candle, as the miracles repeats itself, year after year, century
for the first few minutes this “fire” is not hot at first, but is
cool enough for people to put their hands, faces, hair, beards in
those first minutes, it is like any other flame or fire: hot and
Does the Miracle only occur for the Orthodox Christians?
and Jewish officials have attested to the phenomenon throughout
history, and in the present day.
only occurs, however, when the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem
enters the sealed and inspected edicule.
AD 1549 the Armenian Orthodox bribed Jerusalem Sultan Moúrat to
give them permission to go in the church of the Holy Sepulcher and
perform the ceremony. The sultan did so and the Armenians entered
the Temple and locked out the Orthodox. The Orthodox Patriarch of
Jerusalem simply stood outside the doors of the church, kneeled,
and prayed. Suddenly the column next to the main was split by a
kind of lightning, and the Patriarch’s candles were lit, along
with those of the faithful Orthodox gathered with him.
Murat was watching all these events from a minaret across the
street. When he saw what happened he cried out, “The faith of
the Christians is great! One is the real God, the God of
Christians! I believe in Christ the resurrected from the dead. I
kneel to him as my God.” After this he jumped from the minaret
to the street but was not hurt. Of course, for his apostasy from
the Moslem faith, the sultan was seized and decapitated. His
relics are kept to this day at the Monastery of the Great Virgin
Could this “Miracle” be a hoax?
course; it could be a hoax. As with anything else.
scientists and magicians have been able to artificially replicate
the phenomenon in a variety of ways. Self-igniting candles are not
hard to manufacture, and the methods have been known for
millennia, using phosphorus or naphtha.
“Is it likely to be a hoax?” You and I must answer
this for ourselves.
2,000 years, is it possible that such a hoax could be maintained
and continued without anyone ever betraying the “secret” or
finding out? Scientifically, we could conclude: “Possibly, but
very unlikely.” Scientifically – logically – we must also state
(a) simply because it is possible to replicate the
external aspects of a cool, bluish, fire,
(b) this fact alone does not mean that the “Holy Fire” on
Holy Saturday in Jerusalem is produced by one of these
Is the “Holy Fire” something we are obligated to believe in?
are not obligated to believe anything in the
Orthodox Church, not even the dogmas and doctrines of the faith.
are free to accept or reject whatever we wish. Free will is a
prerequisite to love and to faith in a God Who is Love.
is identified as an Orthodox Christian:
(a) if one fully accepts the dogmas of the faith
(summarized succinctly in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan
Creed, the Symbol of the Faith), and
(b) if one lives their life according to doctrines,
teachings, of the faith.
tradition of the Miracle of the Holy Fire is something that pious
Orthodox Christians have experienced for themselves, and attested
to freely, over 2,000 years. It would be consistent with our
Orthodox doctrines that we simply respect these experiences of our
fellow Orthodox Christians, and accept that through them they have
grown closer to Christ and become more God-like in their lives.
That’s simply all.
Can I take “Holy Fire” to my house?
course. That is why it is here for the faithful Orthodox
parishioners of our Saint Nicholas parish!
with any fire, or lit candle be very careful not to cause anyone
to burn themselves or to catch anything on fire in your home!
Where can I read more about this “Holy Fire”?
best book is:
The Paschal Fire in Jerusalem: A Study of the Rite of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
by Bishop Auxentios of Photiki
Publisher: St.John Chrysostom Press, 1999, Paperback
excellent book is:
Holy Fire: The Miracle of Holy Saturday at the Tomb of Christ, 45 historical accounts (9th to16thc.)
by Skarlakidis, Haris
ISBN 10: 9609925545
ISBN 13: 9789609925549
Published by Elaia Editions, Athens, 2011