The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was opened on Saturday to worshippers eager to participate in the Holy Fire ceremony, one of the highlights of the Orthodox Easter.
Huge crowds of pilgrims on Saturday marked the “Holy Fire” ceremony at Christianity’s holiest site in Jerusalem’s Old City on the eve of Orthodox Easter.
Some 10,000 believers holding candles squeezed into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Thousands more crammed the square outside and surrounding streets to receive the flame, representing the resurrection of Christ, which passed from candle to candle and will be taken back to Orthodox churches worldwide.
The ceremony at the church — built on the site where according to Christian tradition Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected — is the holiest event for Orthodox Christianity.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the rest of the Old City lies in east Jerusalem, occupied and later annexed by Israel following the Six-Day War of 1967.
The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations share custody of the church.
Christians made up more than 18 percent of the population of the Holy Land when Israel was founded in 1948, but now form less than two percent, mostly Orthodox.
The church stands on the site where Jesus’s tomb is believed to have been located and the event attracts thousands of pilgrims each year.
At precisely two in the afternoon local time on Orthodox Easter Saturday, sun rays are said to shine on the tomb. The traditions says the rays light a candle whose flame is then shared among worshippers.
The ceremony can be traced back to at least the early ninth century.