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Orthodox Christians mark ‘Holy Fire’ rite in Jerusalem

Thousands gather in Old City’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher on eve of Orthodox Easter to mark resurrection of Jesus

Christian Orthodox worshipers light candles from the "Holy Fire" as thousands gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed to be built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Thomas Coex)
Christian Orthodox worshipers light candles from the "Holy Fire" as thousands gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, traditionally believed to be built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Thomas Coex)

Thousands of Christian pilgrims filled Jerusalem’s ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Saturday for the “Holy Fire” ceremony on the eve of Orthodox Easter.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said tens of thousands of Orthodox Christians flocked to the church and surrounding streets in east Jerusalem’s Old City for the ceremony, held under a heavy police presence.

The pilgrims, mostly from eastern Europe but also Christian Arabs living in the Holy Land, swiftly passed the light on from candle to candle as it emerged from the church.

The flame is also flown out to Greece and other Orthodox countries.

Christian Orthodox worshipers hold up candles lit from the "Holy Fire" as thousands gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Christian Orthodox worshipers hold up candles lit from the “Holy Fire” as thousands gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Believers hold that a divine fire from heaven ignites candles held by the Greek Orthodox patriarch, in an annual rite dating back to the 4th century symbolizing the resurrection of Jesus.

The Holy Sepulcher church is built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected, and the event is the highlight of the Eastern Christian calendar.

Non-Orthodox Christians this year celebrated Easter a week earlier.

Christian Orthodox priests look through a hole in the main door of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, before the Holy Fire ceremony around Jesus' tomb, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Thomas Coex)
Christian Orthodox priests look through a hole in the main door of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, before the Holy Fire ceremony around Jesus’ tomb, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 11, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Thomas Coex)
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