I am so very sad that after our terrible experiences the last few years with the army and the police, my husband refuses to use his permit to enter Jerusalem on Holy Saturday and join the entire Christian community in witnessing the greatest of all miracles-the Miracle of the Holy Fire. You need deep faith not to be 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. We live so close, just twenty-five minutes away from Jerusalem but even though my husband had a permit to enter the Holy City, there were so many other checkpoints inside the Old City that we got stuck outside the church of the Holy Sepulchre too many times begging our way to pass without the basic freedom to worship. One year, I especially felt sorry for this lovely elderly Australian-Greek lady that probably had paid more than $3,000 to get to Jerusalem for this once in a life time pilgrimage and I was begging the soldiers in English, Arabic, and any little Hebrew that I know to let her pass since she only spoke Greek and got lost from her group and stuck at one of the many pointless checkpoints.
Before Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, Holy Saturday was an exciting day where representatives of many churches from all over the Holy Land came 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 again many Palestinian Christians will go 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, in recent years, Israel has encouraged more police in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre than faithful. Can you imagine in one of the most holiest days of the year to see over one thousand unfriendly police officers in the very area where Christ was resurrected? Pray for Israel to see the Light and end the occupation. For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light…” (Eph 5:8)
The Miracle of the Holy Fire is one of the most magnificent celebrations in the Holy Land that has been overshadowed during the reoccupation of the Palestinian Territories. In the early 2000’s for several years, the boy scouts had not carried on our regular tradition of receiving the Holy Fire to the beat of the drums due to the bloodshed and violence. In the last few years it was refreshing for the Christian community to rejoice in public by receiving the Holy Fire and celebrate widely that for us, all hope lies in Christ our Savior.
It is on Great and Holy Saturday that the Holy Fire comes down from Heaven and is 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 His love for humanity. As we chant in our Midnight Resurrection Service: “Come ye and receive light from the unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, Who arose from the dead.”
This Holy Saturday, we will wait until Philip our young cousin who is taking over the tradition of receiving the Miracle of the Holy Fire from his dad, Ibrahim, will bring the flame for us by 4pm or 5pm to the village of Taybeh. Since it’s so difficult to get into Jerusalem, a patriarchate representative will bring the flame 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. There will be an amazing celebration of the entire small Christian community in Ramallah marching the main streets until they get to the Orthodox Church of Holy Transfiguration in the old center of Ramallah where the celebration will conclude for the afternoon. But continue at the Midnight Resurrection service for all the faithful.
A wonderful ecumenical parade will celebrate the Holy Fire entering Taybeh. The priests of all three churches, Fr. Daoud, Fr. Raed and Fr. Jack will lead the faithful with the choir chanting to meet ten year old Philip. I will be running in the crowd to catch up to my husband David who is still the mayor and walks in front but women in the Middle East always have last place.
On Holy Saturday, all faithful will receive the Light that proceeded from the core of the stone that covers Christ’s Life Giving Tomb and once again will celebrate 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 which in 2004 I personally experienced in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre 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. Great faith to fight the good fight! Christ Himself said blessed are those who do not see yet believe. When I was fighting my way to be upfront where only the diplomats are allowed, the Greek monk said to me in Greek “my child, it is not only with the eyes that we see.” It is a sentence that I cannot seem to forget as I promote nonviolence, a just peace, love for neighbor, coexistence and tolerance among people that cannot see the Light.
Furthermore, with the ongoing violence, back and forth, between Palestinians and Israelis and all of the bloodshed currently happening in the Middle East, surely we are still living in the darkness of all evil. In Egypt they said during the current revolution it was Egyptian against Egyptian for freedom. Well, for over two thousand years, it is still, human being against human being because people refuse to see the true Light of Christ. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:5) God says “I love you with an everlasting love” and the Miracle of the Holy Fire is an annual powerful reminder. It is a remarkable way to find the truth and walk by the true Light of Christ.
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 every year on Holy Saturday so that all who are not suffering 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 shameful segregation wall and the daily hardships that make life unbearable. In the last eleven years, nothing has changed on the ground, the situation is worse than ever especially with new illegal Israel settlements. However, in the Holy Land, we must keep the undying hope and one must say every day, Truly the Lord is Risen!