Europe: As Western Orthodoxy celebrates the octave day of our celebration of Easter, so our brethren in the East, like a continuous relay, begin to celebrate holy Pascha. In Jerusalem yesterday the “Holy Fire” originating from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to a great cheer from the 3,000 faithful, was passed from candle to candle around the church and through the narrow streets to Christian homes in the Old City. In past centuries, the Holy Fire was carried from Jerusalem all through the Orthodox world – by steamer to Odessa on the Black Sea to light the icon lamps of Russia, on mules to Damascus in the steps of St Paul, and by camel caravan to the churches of the Coptic Christians of Egypt.
According to tradition the fire comes from a lamp that has been kept perpetually aflame for 1’500 years upon the believed tomb of Christ. The Patriarch of Jerusalem recites the following beautiful prayer while taking light from the lamp which is then passed out from the church to the faithful around…
Lord Jesus Christ, the originally shining wisdom of the without beginning Father. You who dwells in the unapproachable Light;* You who commanded that Light shine forth from the darkness, who said let it be Light and there was Light. Oh Lord provider of Light who took us out of the delusion of darkness and led us to the miraculous Light of Your awareness. You filled with light and joy the earth through Your incarnate presence and the underworld through Your descent to Hades and after these through Your Apostles You announced the light to all nations.
We thank You because through pious faith, you brought us from darkness to light and we became sons through holy baptism, seeing your glory full of grace and truth. However, oh light-giver Lord, oh great light, who said the people living in darkness.* Despota, Lord, the true light that illumines every man who comes in the world. The only light of the world and light of the lives of people, through whose glory the universe was filled, you brought the light to the world through Your economy of incarnation even though people loved the darkness rather than the light.
You Lord, giver of light, listen to us sinners and unworthy servants who, at this moment stand by this Your Most Holy and light bearing Tomb, and accept us who honour Your Holy Passion, Your most holy Crucifixion, Your voluntary death, the laying of Your divine body in this holy tomb, Your burial and Your resurrection after three days, which we joyfully have already started celebrating, remembering Your descent to Hades, through which the souls of the righteous You freed in a kingly manner with the lightning of Your divine light filling the underworld.
So with happy heart and spiritual joy, on this most blessed Saturday, Your most salvific mysteries which You divinely executed on earth and under the earth we celebrate, and remembering You, the exhilarating and appealing light which You divinely shone in the underworld, we produce this light, as an icon of Your congenial divine appearance to us.Because during the salvific and bright night everything was filled with light, the heaven, the earth and the underworld through the supernatural mystery of Your descent to Hades and Your resurrection from the tomb after three days.
For this reason, we piously take from the light that diligently and eternally burns on Your light-bearing Sepulchre, we spread it among those who believe in You, who are the true light, and we pray and plead with You, oh Holiest Despota, so that You will elevate [the light] into a gift of sanctification and fill it with Your divine grace, through the grace of Your Most holy and light-bearing Sepulchre. And those who touch it with piety, bless and sanctify them, free them from the darkness of passions and make them worthy of Your brightest dwellings, where the unsetting light of Your divinity shines. Lord, grant them health and good life and fill their homes with everything good.
Yes, Lord, the Light-giver, listen to me the sinner at this moment, and grant to me and to them to walk in Your light and remain in it as long as we have the light of this temporary life. Lord grant us that the light of our good works shine in front of the people together with Your without beginning Father and the Holy Spirit. You appointed us to be the light to the nations that we shine to those walking in the darkness. But we have loved the darkness rather than the light, committing evil works.
Anyone who does evil works hates the light according to Your faultless word. For this we stumble every day due to our sinning because we walk in the darkness. But make us worthy to live the rest of our life with the eyes of our minds enlightened. Grant us to live as sons of light and walk in the light of Your commandments. The bright garment of our baptism which we have blackened by our evil works, whiten it like the light, you who wears the light like a garment. Grant us to dress ourselves with the weapons of light, that we may overcome the lord of darkness, who transforms himself into an angel of light.
Yes, Lord, as You shone the light to those who are in darkness and under the shadow of death, likewise, today, shine in our hearts with Your pure light, so that becoming illumined and warmed up in faith, glorify You the one and only originally shining light, exhilarating light to everlasting ages. Amen.
While many euphorically hail the appearance of the Holy Fire from outside the church as a miracle and others as a hoax, as can be seen from the prayer of the Patriarch no deception is intended of anyone at all! The flame is “holy” because it comes from the lamp constantly burning on the tomb, the place of the resurrection and its constant burning testifies to the faithfulness and hope of centuries of Christians. May we all, both faithful of East and West, continue ourselves to perpetuate the one eternal flame of the light of the risen Christ in our hearts and for our world!
“Χριστός ἀνέστη!” – Khristós Anésti! – “Christ is Risen!”
“Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!” – Alithós Anésti! – “He is Risen indeed!”