© Reuters. Orthodox Christian worshipers attend the Holy Fire ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Orthodox Christians flocked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Saturday to celebrate the Holy Fire ceremony. They gathered in far larger numbers than last year as coronavirus restrictions have eased.
This season’s religious holidays in the Holy Land, home to religious sites sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims, were overshadowed by tragedy as Israel mourns the deaths of 45 Jewish believers who attended overnight between Thursday and Friday were killed a religious festival in the north of the country. Children were among the victims.
“I was listening to the radio when the parents were talking, I was crying because I had a young son. I was crying for the children,” said Zaira Didmanidze, 40, one of the 2,500 people who attended the sacred fire ceremony.
The ceremony, which symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus, is one of the most colorful spectacles of the Orthodox Easter season, which is usually attended by many pilgrims.
After Jerusalem was under lock and key, the Holy Fire ceremony took place last year in the almost empty church, venerated by Christians as the place of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
“Last year was a sad year,” said Rosaline Manees, a pilgrim from Jaffa. “This year is better, if not like in other years, because pilgrims from all over the world do not visit the country. Today only we live in the country. But certainly better than last year.”
Israel’s swift vaccination campaign has largely knocked back the pandemic in recent months, allowing the restrictions on gatherings to be eased significantly as officials plan to resume international tourism in the coming months.
The Holy Fire ceremony usually draws tens of thousands of worshipers to an imposing gray building in the Holy Sepulcher that is believed to contain the tomb where Jesus lay 2,000 years ago.
Rays of sunshine penetrating through a skylight in the church’s dome are viewed by believers as igniting a flame deep in the crypt, a mysterious act viewed as a miracle on Good Friday every year before Orthodox Easter Sunday.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem then emerges from the crypt where Christians believe Jesus was buried, lights a candle with the Holy Fire and distributes it to the faithful.
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