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Holy Fire (JERUSALEM POST) 05/07/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1115434038706 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
In the darkened church, the light flashed up filling the recesses of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with flickering fire.

"Lord have mercy," interred Mona Hanna, 69, as she brought her hands close to the candle flame held by a priest, then stroked her cheeks and forehead with the warmth. "Lord have mercy."

Last Saturday, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Christians celebrated the annual Sabbath of Holy Light in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, when, according to tradition, a holy fire descends into the empty grave of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Greek soldiers in the uniforms of the Greek royal guard, traditional royal uniforms, Armenian priests in their distinctive black robes and Orthodox clergy in their colorful vestments intermingled with visitors with small lapel buttons and logo hats from Turkey, Greece, the Former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada, Great Britain, and Turkey and Greece.

Little known in the west, the Sabbath of Holy Light is one of the most sacred days in the calendar of both the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Churches, both of whom had obtained permission from the Ottomans to accept the Holy Fire in the Church.

It is also one of the most contentious days in their calendar. In past years, celebrations have been marked by violent riots between adherents from the two sects.

The traditional hostility, which dates back generations to issues of rights and authority in Church, has been heightened this year by accusations that the Greek Patriarch sold land in the area of the Jaffa Gate to Jewish investors from abroad. The day before, the Patriarch faced demonstrations by members of his own community, supported by Moslems and other Christians.

In preparation for the ceremony, thousands of police officers deployed throughout the Old City, ready for fire or tensions that might flare. The devout came to the church early, staking out their space near the holy crypt. According to police estimates, by 1:30 pm, more than ten thousand worshipers had crowded into the church and courtyard, and hundreds of border and regular police kept the Greeks and Armenians in their separate sections.

Gorges Pappavachous, an official representative of the Greek government and municipality of Athens, had come to Israel early that morning on a chartered plane from Greece, part of a 10-person delegation accompanied by the tall guards. The same plane would bring him home to Athens that night, carrying the flame, like the Olympic torch, to the main Greek Orthodox Church in Athens.

"This is a tremendous honor for me, to carry the miraculous light," he said humbly.

The ceremony began at 2 pm, as the Church leaders enter the crypt. The crowd waited patiently, then jeered over a minor uproar, as the Armenian and Greek Patriarchs jostled over who would enter the crypt first and who would exit first with the holy light in his hand to light the candles of the believers.

But as light spread from candle to candle, the believers were filled with wonder and rapturous belief.

After exiting the church, thousands of Greek Orthodox and Armenians returned to their respective compounds. Later in the day, the Boy and Girl Scouts would parade through the streets of the Old City, with wailing bagpipes and tapping drums.

Vago Avedissian, a 17-year-old Armenian teen, came to Jerusalem from Armenia at the age of seven. Marching in the Scouts´ procession, sweating from the heat and the excitement, he smiled, "I am proud to be marching to herald Jesus´ resurrection." (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 05/07/05)

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