By ZENIT Staff

The prohibition to hold religious celebrations and gatherings in recent weeks by the Israeli government to curb the spread of the epidemic is also affecting the Holy Week rites of the Eastern Churches that follow the Julian Calendar, and that celebrate the Easter of the Resurrection on Sunday, April 19. But the Israeli authorities have nevertheless allowed the ceremony of the “Sacred Fire” to be held in the Holy Sepulcher, albeit in an unusual form, celebrated on the eve of Easter in the Holy Sepulcher, an event awaited by the communities of the Orthodox Churches and the ancient Eastern Churches scattered throughout the world, reported Fides News Agency.

Usually, on the eve of Easter, thousands of Orthodox Christians gather in the Basilica built in the place where according to tradition Jesus Christ was buried and rose to participate in the pre-Easter rite: the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, making his way through the crowd, enters the Edicule, the newly restored structure which, inside the Sanctuary, contains the remains of a cave venerated at least from the fourth century after Christ as the tomb of Jesus. There the Head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem prays alone, holding a lamp powered all year round, which is turned off before the rite, and then comes out with the flame of the lamp rekindled according to tradition by the “Sacred Fire” descended from heaven. The faithful rush to light their candles.

This year, at the disposal of the Israeli government, the faithful are not present at the Sacred Fire ceremony. Only ten people attended the ritual in the Holy Sepulcher, starting from 1 pm on Saturday 18 April: Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos, the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Nuhran Manougian, Anba Antonius, Coptic Orthodox bishop of Jerusalem, and Archbishop Gabriel Dahho, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Vicar for the Holy City, together with four assistants and two Israeli policemen. After the ceremony, the flames drawn from the “Sacred Fire” will be brought with the escort of Israeli security forces to Ben Gurion airport to be loaded onto 10 empty planes bound for Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Georgia, Cyprus, Romania, Moldova, Belarus, Poland, Kazakhstan.

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