The Friends of the Holy Land team in Bethlehem are working with the Greek Orthodox Community to help them celebrate the ‘Holy Fire’ this year despite the lockdown conditions. As the specialised bakeries in the city are closed, they have opened St Martha’s House to use the small bakery there to make 500 loaves of this traditional bread.
This traditional baking process requires a special purity of ingredients and an understanding of spiritual significance by the baker with incense, icons and candles present during the process.This is the first time the bread has been distributed in this way as it is not generally available as usual.
The bread will be blessed by the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Bethlehem, Bishop Theophilctus, in the Church of the Nativity; traditionally the Holy Fire will be received by the Bishop at the entrance to the Church from Jerusalem on Holy Saturday (celebrated in the Orthodox tradition this Saturday.)
The blessed bread will then be distributed with the Holy Fire to families of all denominations.
The Holy Fire occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in the evening of Holy Saturday, the day preceding Orthodox Easter. The Holy Fire is taken to the churches and houses of the Greek Orthodox and also to Greece by special flight, and similarly to other Orthodox countries, such as Georgia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, being received by church and state leaders. In normal times, thousands of pilgrims as well as local Christians of all denominations gather in Jerusalem to partake and witness this annual event.
This year because of the virus pandemic, the ceremony will be limited to about 10 religious leaders from various Orthodox denominations. They have also developed a creative way to deliver the flame to overseas communities. Because anyone entering Israel must go into quarantine, foreign dignitaries coming to pick up the flame will receive it on their plane and immediately return home.