Greek Church says police unfairly limiting worshipers at Holy Fire ritual

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Holy Land says it will not cooperate with Israeli police orders to limit the number of people attending the Holy Fire ceremony a day before Easter Sunday, which this year falls on April 24 for the Eastern Orthodox Church.

According to a statement from the church, police are allowing only 1,000 people to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on April 23, along with another 500 who can view the ceremony from outside the church.

“The Patriarchate believes that there is no justification for these additional unjust restrictions, and affirms its explicit, clear and complete rejection of all restrictions,” it says in a statement. “The Patriarchate is fed up with police restrictions on freedom to worship and with its unacceptable methods of dealing with the God given rights of Christians to practice rituals and have to access their holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.”

The church alleges that after attempts to work with police in the past, “promises were great and what actually took place on the ground was not even remotely close to those promises.”

Christian Orthodox worshipers hold up candles lit from the Holy Fire as they gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 27, 2019 during the Orthodox Easter. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

“Accordingly, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has decided, by the power of the Lord, that it will not compromise its right to provide spiritual services in all churches and squares. It also announces that prayers will be held as usual by the Patriarchate and its priests, hoping that believers are able to participate,” the church says, calling on followers to flock to the church to attend the ceremony in person.

The annual ceremony, in which believers believe a holy fire descends from heaven, lighting candles which are then taken around the world, is normally attended by large crowds, and scuffles are common, as worshipers fight for access to the candles.

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