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Holy Fire

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For the fire that burned in Southern California in August and September 2018, see Holy Fire (2018).

For other uses, see Holy Fire (disambiguation).


The Miracle of the Holy Fire, by William Holman Hunt

The Holy Fire (Greek Ἃγιον Φῶς, "Holy Light") is described by Orthodox Christians as a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday, or Holy Saturday, the day preceding Orthodox Easter.




Description from within the Orthodox faith


Holy Fire in 2018

Orthodox tradition holds that the Holy Fire happens annually on the day preceding Orthodox Easter, in which a blue light emanates within Jesus Christ's tomb (usually rising from the marble slab covering the stone bed believed by some to be where Jesus' body was placed for burial) now in the Holy Sepulchre, which eventually forms a column containing a form of fire, from which candles are lit, which are then used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. The fire is also said to spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church.[1][2] Pilgrims and clergy claim that the Holy Fire does not burn them.[3][4]

While the Patriarch is inside the chapel kneeling in front of the stone, there is darkness but far from silence outside. One hears a rather loud mumbling, and the atmosphere is very tense. When the Patriarch comes out with the two candles lit and shining brightly in the darkness, a roar of jubilation resounds in the Church.[5]

Thousands of pilgrims as well as local Christians of all denominations gather in Jerusalem to partake and witness this annual event.[6][7] The Holy Fire is taken to certain Orthodox countries, such as GreeceBulgaria and Serbia by special flights, being received by church and state leaders.[8]



The historian Eusebius writes in his Vita Constantini, which dates from around 328 A.D., about an interesting occurrence in Jerusalem of Easter in the year 162 A.D. When the church wardens were about to fill the lamps to make them ready to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, they suddenly noticed that there was no more oil left to pour in the lamps. Upon this, Bishop Narcissus of Jerusalem ordered the candles to be filled with water. He then told the wardens to ignite them. In front of the eyes of all present every single lamp burned as if filled with pure oil.[9] Christian Orthodox tradition holds that this miracle, which predates the construction of the Holy Sepulchre in the fourth century, is related to the Miracle of the Holy Fire. They admit that the two differ, as the former was a one-time occurrence while the Miracle of the Holy Fire occurs every year. However, they have in common the premise that God has produced fire where there, logically speaking, should have been none.

Around 385 AD Egeria, a noble woman from Spain, traveled to Palestine. In the account of her journey, she speaks of a ceremony by the Holy Sepulchre of Christ, where a light comes forth (ejicitur) from the small chapel enclosing the tomb, by which the entire church is filled with an infinite light (lumen infinitum).[9]

Despite these previous instances, the Holy Fire is believed to have been first recorded by the Christian pilgrim, Bernard the Wise (Bernardus Monachus), in 876.[10][11][12]

Under Baldwin I, Latin clergy had taken over the Holy Sepulchre, and according to Christopher Tyerman, the Greek clergy were restored "after the fiasco of the failure of the regular Easter miracle of the Holy Fire under Latin auspices in 1101, the annual ritual on Easter eve when Holy Fire is supposed to descend from heaven to light the priests' candles in the edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. The newcomers evidently had not learnt the knack."[13]

The ceremony was marred in 2002 when a disagreement between the Armenian and Greek bishops over who should emerge first with the Holy Fire led to a struggle between the factions. In the course of the scuffle the Armenian's candle was blown out, forcing him to reignite his "Holy Fire" using a cigarette lighter, while the Greek Patriarch was despoiled of one of his shoes. In the end the Israeli Police entered the premises to restore order. [14]



According to Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi, the 13th century Ayyubid ruler Al-Muazzam Turanshah is mentioned as having discovered the fraudulence of the Holy Fire; however, he allowed the monks to continue their fraud in exchange for money. This is written in al-Qarafi's work al-Ajwiba, one of many polemic works exchanged between Christians and Muslims of that period.[15]

In 1238, Pope Gregory IX denounced the Holy Fire as a fraud and forbade Franciscans from participating in the ceremony.[16] Similarly, many Christians have remained unconvinced by the occurrence.[11]

The Ottoman traveller, Evliya Celebi, claimed that a hidden zinc jar of naphtha was dripped down a chain by a hidden monk.[17]

Edward Gibbon wrote scathingly about the alleged phenomenon in the concluding volume of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

This pious fraud, first devised in the ninth century, was devoutly cherished by the Latin crusaders, and is annually repeated by the clergy of the Greek, Armenian, and Coptic sects, who impose on the credulous spectators for their own benefit and that of their tyrants.[18]

Thomas Tegg, a 19th-century Englishman, included a deflationary account of the event in The London Encyclopaedia, published in 1828, speculating that the event is purely natural and motivated by pecuniary interest.[19]

Some Greeks have been critical of the Holy Fire, such as Adamantios Korais, who condemned what he considered to be religious fraud in his treatise "On the Holy Light of Jerusalem." He referred to the event as "machinations of fraudulent priests" and to the "unholy" light of Jerusalem as "a profiteers' miracle".

In 2005, in a live demonstration on Greek television,[20] author Michael Kalopoulos, dipped three candles in white phosphorus. The candles spontaneously ignited after approximately 20 minutes due to the self-ignition properties of white phosphorus when in contact with air. According to Kalopoulos' website:

If phosphorus is dissolved in an appropriate organic solvent, self-ignition is delayed until the solvent has almost completely evaporated. Repeated experiments showed that the ignition can be delayed for half an hour or more, depending on the density of the solution and the solvent employed.

Kalopoulos also points out that chemical reactions of this nature were well known in ancient times, quoting Strabo, who states: "In Babylon there are two kinds of naphtha springs, a white and a black. The white naphtha is the one that ignites with fire." (Strabon Geographica He further states that phosphorus was used by Chaldean magicians in the early fifth century BC, and by the ancient Greeks, in a way similar to its supposed use today by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Russian skeptic Igor Dobrokhotov[21] has analysed the evidence for an alleged miracle at length on his website, including the ancient sources[22] and contemporary photos and videos.[23] He has also reproduced fire-bathing and has uncovered contradictions in the story of the "column split by lightning."

Dobrokhotov and other critics, including Russian Orthodox researcher Nikolay Uspensky,[24] Aleksandr Musin of Sorbonne, and some Old Believers quote excerpts from the diaries of Bishop Porphyrius (Uspensky) (1804–1885),[25] which told that the clergy in Jerusalem also thought that the Holy Fire was fraudulent. Porphyrius was a Russian Orthodox archimandrite who was sent on the official Church-related research mission to Jerusalem and other places (Egypt, Mount Athos). While in Jerusalem, he founded the Russian Mission there.


See also


  1. Jump up^ "Description of the Miracle of Holy Fire that happens every year in Jerusalem".

  2. Jump up^ Bishop Auxentios of Photiki (1999). The Paschal Fire in Jerusalem (Third ed.). Berkeley, CA: Saint John Chrysostom Press. ISBN 0-9634692-0-7.

  3. Jump up^ Niels Christian Hvidt (1998). "The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem". Orthodox Christian Information Center.

  4. Jump up^ "Photos and videos of the Holy Fire miracle".

  5. Jump up^ Light at the Holy Sepulchre, Great Miracle Given by God, Only to the Orthodox Church // The Christian Life. 1 January - 31 March 1999 (Vol. 42 / No. 1-3)

  6. Jump up^ "Christian pilgrims gather in Jerusalem for 'holy fire' ritual". Retrieved 11 August 2018.

  7. Jump up^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 March 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2017.

  8. Jump up^ The Holy Fire Arrives in Athens From Jerusalem By Areti Kotseli on April 14, 2012 In News. Greek Reporter.

  9. Jump up to:a b Meinardus, Otto. The Ceremony of the Holy Fire in the Middle Ages and to-day. Bulletin de la Société d'Archéologie Copte, 16, 1961-2. Page 242-253

  10. Jump up^ Guy Le Strange (1 Jan 2010). Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A. D. 650 To 1500 (reprint ed.). Cosimo, Inc. p. 202. ISBN 9781616405212.

  11. Jump up to:a b Hunt Janin (1 Jan 2002). Four Paths to Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Secular Pilgrimages, 1000 BCE to 2001 CE (illustrated ed.). McFarland. p. 77. ISBN 9780786412648.

  12. Jump up^ Christopher Macevitt (10 Sep 2009). The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance (illustrated ed.). University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 212. ISBN 9780812220834.

  13. Jump up^ Tyerman, Christopher. God's War: A New History of the Crusades, Harvard University Press, 2006, p. 231 ISBN 9780674023871

  14. Jump up^ Clark, Victoria (25 April 2003). "Holy Fire sets Orthodox rivalry ablaze in Jerusalem". Retrieved 11 August 2018 – via

  15. Jump up^ Diego R. Sarrió Cucarella (8 Jan 2015). Muslim-Christian Polemics across the Mediterranean: The Splendid Replies of Shihāb al-Dīn al-Qarāfī, Parts 684-1285. BRILL. p. 61. ISBN 9789004285606.

  16. Jump up^ "Sparks from the Holy Fire". 3 May 2003. Archived from the original on 14 February 2012.

  17. Jump up^ Jerusalem: The Biography, page 305, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011. ISBN 978-0-297-85265-0

  18. Jump up^ Edward GibbonThe History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. VI. Chapter LVII. Everyman's Library. p. 34.

  19. Jump up^ Thomas Tegg (1829). London Encyclopaedia Volume 16, page 449, in the article on Palestine. N. Hailes.

  20. Jump up^ astronio82 (26 June 2007). "Μιχάλης Καλόπουλος πείραμα - Άγιο Φως". Retrieved 11 August 2018 – via YouTube.

  21. Jump up^ "Igor Dobrokhotov" (in Russian).

  22. Jump up^ "ИСТОРИЯ БЛАГОДАТНОГО ОГНЯ" (in Russian).

  23. Jump up^ "ОБСУЖДЕНИЕ ФОТОСВИДЕТЕЛЬСТВ" (in Russian).

  24. Jump up^ "Uspensky Nicholas".

  25. Jump up^ "Епископ Порфирий" (in Russian).

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Holy Fire.


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