Hunt holy

The Miracle of the Holy Fire, by William Holman Hunt

The Holy Fire (Greek Ἃγιον Φῶς, "Holy Light") is described by Orthodox Christian believers as a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, the day preceding Orthodox Easter (Pascha). It is considered by many to be the longest-attested annual miracle in the Christian world. It has only been consecutively documented since 1106, previous references being sporadic.[1] The ceremony is broadcast live in Greece, Russia, Georgia, Cyprus, Lebanon and other Orthodox countries (like Egypt). Furthermore, in Russia, Greece, Georgia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Syria and Lebanon, the Holy Fire is brought to the countries every year by special flights, being received with honours by state leaders at the respective airports.


On the appointed day at noon "the Greek patriarch, with his clergy arrayed in their sacerdotal robes, and followed by the Armenian patriarch, with his clergy, and the bishop of the Copts, march in grand and solemn procession, and singing hymns, three times round the Holy Sepulchre."[1] The procession ended, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem or another Orthodox Archbishop recites a specific prayer, puts off his robes and enters alone into the sepulchre. The "Armenian and Coptic prelates remain in the antechamber, where they state that the angel was sitting when he appeared to the pious woman {Mary Magdalene} after the resurrection" of Jesus.[1] The congregants will then chant "Lord, have mercy" (Kyrie eleison in Greek) until the Holy Fire spontaneously descends on 33 white candles tied together by the Patriarch while he is alone in the tomb chamber of Jesus. The patriarch will then reveal himself from the tomb chamber and recite some prayers and light either 33 or 12 candles and distribute them to the congregants.

Pilgrims claim the Holy Fire will not burn their hair, faces, etc. in the first 33 minutes after it is ignited. One web site offers videos claiming to show worshippers having prolonged contact with the flames without discomfort or damage to skin or hair. Interpretation of alleged video documentation of the Holy Fire continues to be a matter of dispute (see below). Before entering the Lord's Tomb, the patriarch is examined by Israeli authorities to prove that he does not carry technical means to light the fire. This investigation used to be carried out by Turkish (Ottoman) soldiers.


The Holy Fire is first mentioned in the documents dating from the 4th century. A detailed description of this phenomenon is contained in the travelogue of the Russian hegumen Daniil (Daniel) who was present at the ceremony in 1106. Daniel mentions a blue incandescence descending from the dome to the edicula where the patriarch awaits the holy fire. Some claim to have witnessed this incandescence in modern times.

During the many centuries of this phenomenon's history, the holy fire is said not to have descended only on certain occasions, usually when heterodox priests attempted to obtain it. According to the tradition, in 1099, for example, the failure of Crusaders to obtain the fire led to street riots in Jerusalem. It is also claimed that in 1579, the Armenian patriarch Hovhannes I of Constantinople prayed day and night in order to obtain the holy fire, but the lightning miraculously struck a column near the entrance and lit a candle held by the Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius IV standing nearby. Upon entering the temple, the Orthodox Christians would embrace this column, which bears marks and a large crack that they attribute to the lightning-bolt.


As with all alleged miracles, many question the validity of the Holy Fire, noting, for instance, that cold-handed pilgrims generally withstand the fire for the same very brief periods of time as can be achieved with any fire.

Criticism dates at least to the days of Islamic rule of Jerusalem, but the pilgrims were never stopped, because of the significant revenue they brought to local governments even at the end of the first millennium. When the apparently uninitiated Crusaders took over the Orthodox clergy in charge of the fire, it failed to appear, increasing the scepticism among Western Christians. But feeling the lack of pilgrim revenues, Baldwin I of Jerusalem reinstated the Orthodox priests in charge, and the fire, as well as the stream of revenues, returned.

In 1238, Pope Gregory IX denounced the Holy Fire as a fraud.

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.[2]

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, Michael Kalopoulos, author and historian of religion, 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 knowledge of chemical reactions of this nature was 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.

See also this post by Mr. Kalopoulos for a brief summary of his views on the Holy Fire: The "Holy" Light of Jerusalem

Russian skeptic Igor Dobrokhotov has analysed the evidence for an alleged miracle at length at his website, including the ancient sources and contemporary photos and videos. 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, Dr. Aleksandr Musin of Sorbonne, and some Old Believers quote excerpts from the diaries of Bishop Porphyrius (Uspensky) (1804-1885) which told that the clergy in Jerusalem knew 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. Later, after his return to the Russian Empire, he was made a bishop in the diocese of Kiev.

Porphyrius recorded his impressions in his diaries, which were published as Kniga bytija moego (The Book Of My Being) in 8 volumes from 1894 to 1901 [13]. In the first volume Porphyrius writes, "A hierodeacon who penetrated into the shrine of the Tomb at the time when, as everyone believes, the holy fire descends, saw with horror that the fire is ignited from a mere icon-lamp which never goes out, and thus the holy fire isn't a miracle. He himself told me about this today" (Kniga bytija moego, vol. 1 (years 1841-1844), p. 671). It is not stated how this perpetual flame is supposed to be kept alight.

Porphyrius later relates a story told to him by a metropolitan in Jerusalem. According to this, when Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt was there he wanted to verify the authenticity of the miracle, so he told the Patriarch's deputies to allow him inside the shrine during the rites. If the miracle was authentic he would donate a large sum of money, but if it were a fraud he would confiscate all the money given by pilgrims and expose the fraud in all the European newspapers.

Deputies Metropolitan Misaеl of Petra, Metropolitan Daniel of Nazareth, and Bishop Dionysius of Philadelphia met to discuss the offer. Misael then admitted that he ignites the fire from an icon-lamp which is hidden behind the marble icon of Christ's Resurrection behind the burial couch. Thus they decided to beg Ibrahim not to interfere in religious business and not to expose the secrets of Christian rites, because the Russian Emperor Nicholas would be very unhappy if that were to happen. Ibrahim Pasha therefore decided not to press the matter. But from that time the clergy of the Tomb ceased to believe in the miraculous descent of the Holy Fire.

Porphyrius continues, "...the metropolitan added that only from God himself they await the cessation of (our) pious lie. As he is able, he will calm the people who now believe in the fiery miracle of the Great Sabbath. But we cannot even start this revolution in thought. We'd be torn apart near the very shrine of the Holy Tomb.

"We have informed the patriarch Athanasius, who then lived in Constantinople, about the blackmail of Ibrahim Pasha, but in our letter to him we wrote 'sacred fire' instead of 'holy light'. Surprised by this change the blessed elder asked us: 'Why are you calling the Holy Fire differently?' We told him the truth, but added that the fire, ignited on the Lord's Tomb from the concealed icon-lamp, is, after all, a sacred fire, since it comes from a sacred place." (Kniga bytija moego, vol. 3, pp. 299–301)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Thomas Tegg (1829). The London Encyclopaedia. N. Hailes. 
  2. Edward Gibbon. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. VI. Chapter LVII. Everyman's Library. p. 34.

External links

bg:Благодатен огънro:Lumina Sfântă

ru:Благодатный огонь uk:Благодатний вогонь

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