Pilgrims celebrated the Orthodox Easter ”holy fire” rite Saturday as a flame believed by some to be miraculously ignited illuminated thousands of torches and candles at Christianity’s holiest site.
Security was tight as visitors from around the world flocked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried. . . .
The Greek and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs in the Holy Land descended into the church’s underground tomb to bring out the flame. Worshippers clutching bundles of unlit tapers and torches waited in the darkened church for the church leaders to emerge.
When they reappeared with lighted torches, church bells pealed. Worshippers cheered, shrieked “Christ, Christ,” and ululated. The flames were passed around to the thousands of faithful and light and smoke filled the cavernous church within seconds.
The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years. The precise details of the flame’s source are a closely guarded secret, but some believe it appears spontaneously from Christ’s burial area as a message from Jesus on the eve of the Orthodox Easter that he has not forgotten his followers.
“My connection to Jesus is stronger, my connection to Jerusalem is stronger now,” said Jeanette Gennetian, 66, of Watertown, Mass, a member of the Armenian Apostolic church.