April 2004 - The entire Christian community in Jerusalem today gathered to witness the greatest of all miracles-the Miracle of the Holy Fire. It was the first time I was not bothered by the soldiers, the police, the large crowds, the noise, the drums of the Boys Scouts and the Girl Scouts anxiously waiting to receive the Holy Fire from the Life Giving Tomb of Christ in the Holy Sepulchre.
It was an exciting day where representatives of many churches from all over the Holy Land come to receive the Holy Fire and carry it back in small lanterns to their particular churches for the Midnight Resurrection Service. Palestinians are not allowed to enter Jerusalem without a special permit thus this year many Christian Palestinians went to the extra trouble of getting permits in order to partake in this centuries old celebration that reflects our Christian heritage and deep roots in Palestine . Unfortunately there were three checkpoints inside the Old City so many people, although got a permit to enter Jerusalem , still got stuck outside the church of the Holy Sepulchre.
It is on this Great and Holy Saturday that the Holy Fire come down from Heaven and was received by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch as it has been done every year, on the same day, in the same manner, at the same time, at the same holy place of Christ's Life Giving Tomb. This is the miracle that allows us to know that Christ is in our midst. This is the miracle that allows us to feel that Christ is truly among us. This miracle is another way that God communicates to us. As we chant in our Midnight Resurrection Service: "Come ye and receive light from the unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, Who a rose from the dead."
My son Canaan was very careful to receive the Holy Fire by lighting his candle and keeping it in a lantern until we reached our small village of Taybeh . A wonderful parade was held to celebrate the Holy Fire entering our village. The priests of all three churches, Fr. Daoud, Fr. Raed and Fr. Jack led the faithful with the choir chanting to meet our cousins Ibrahim and Philip who traditionally go to the city of Ramallah to receive the Light from a patriarchate representative who brings it from Jerusalem to Ramallah for all the Palestinian Christian communities that cannot reach the Holy City including not just Taybeh, but Aboud, Birzeit, Jifna and Ein Arik. !
It is one of the most magnificent celebrations in the Holy Land that has been overshadowed and forgotten during the reoccupation of the Palestinian Territories . For the last three years the boy scouts have not carried on our regular tradition of receiving the Holy Fire to the beat of the drums due to the bloodshed and violence. However, living the cycle of death every day, it was refreshing for the Christian community to rejoice in receiving the Holy Fire and celebrate that for us all hope lies in Christ our Savior. Four years of killing, back and forth, surely we have been living in the darkness of all evil. "An! d the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:5)
Thus today we all received the Light that proceeded from the core of the stone that covers Christ's Life Giving Tomb and once again celebrated the oldest unbroken Christian ceremony that exists in the world. By the way, many people make fun of me for participating in the ceremony of the Holy Fire but since as Christians we are not of this world, I really do not except the world to comprehend the eternal love and presence of God. It takes faith.
In Luke 16:15 we read that Jesus said: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" We witness the truth and received the Holy Fire today so that all who are not blessed to live in the land of Christ's Holy Resurrection can believe that Christ is the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:9)
"And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem . And you are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24:47)
Our Christian community is small and diminishing but with God's help and your prayers can survive the terrible occupation, dreadful checkpoints, the collapsed economy, the segregation wall that is currently going up and the daily hardships that make life unbearable. Truly the Lord is Risen!