Saturday, April 18, 2009

Holy Fire.

In preparation for tomorrow's celebration of Pascha according to the Julian Calendar, tens of thousands of Orthodox Christians descended on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today for the ceremony of the Holy Fire. Attested in written accounts going back as early as the 4th century, the sharing of light that begins at the Tomb of Christ offers a powerful statement of Christian faith in the Resurrection.

An AP report on today's ceremony suggests that Greek, Russian and Ukrainian pilgrims dominated this year's celebration. This doesn't surprise me, as I noticed similar demographics last year when I celebrated Pentecost in Jerusalem. In a larger way, the increased visibility of Russian pilgrims struck me as notable when I made my second visit to the Holy Land; not only did I see a lot more Russians on this trip than I had when I visited Jerusalem eight years earlier, but I also noticed an increased number of Russian signs in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. I also met some Palestinian merchants who had evidently taken the time to learn a bit of Russian so as to better serve the pilgrims who come into their shops to buy candles, crosses, icons and incense. All of this suggests to me that Russian pilgrims (who flocked to Jerusalem in droves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the First World War and the Russian Revolution made pilgrim travel virtually impossible) are once again an important constituency in the Holy Land.

My prayers are with those who are celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection this weekend. I also hope and pray that someday I will be able to attend the ceremony of the Holy Fire myself, joining the faithful who celebrate Christ's presence among us by sharing his holy light at his tomb. AMDG.


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