With Jerusalem under lockdown last year’s Holy Fire ceremony was held in the near-empty church that is revered by Christians as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
“Last year it was a sad year,” said Rosaline Manees, a pilgrim from Jaffa. “This year is better, though not like other years as pilgrims from all over the world are not visiting the country. Today it is only us who live in the country. But, sure, better than last year.”
Israel’s swift vaccination drive has largely beaten back the pandemic in the past few months, allowing for restrictions on gatherings to be greatly eased as officials plan a resumption of international tourism in the coming months.
The Holy Fire ceremony typically draws tens of thousands of worshippers to an imposing grey edicule in the Holy Sepulchre that is believed to contain the tomb where Jesus lay 2,000 years ago.
Sunbeams that pierce through a skylight in the church’s dome are believed by worshippers to ignite a flame deep inside the crypt, a mysterious act considered a Holy Saturday miracle each year before Orthodox Easter Sunday.
Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch then emerges from the crypt where Christians believe Jesus was buried, lights a candle with the Holy Fire and disperses it to the faithful.