In an annual Easter ritual sacred to Orthodox Christians, the “holy fire” was distributed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on April 30 2016, Great Saturday in the Eastern Orthodox calendar.
Regarded as a miracle by believers, the appearance of the “holy fire” is a key event in Orthodox Christian celebrations of Easter. This year’s ritual was attended by heightened security and a request by Israeli authorities to limit the number of worshippers in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the sake of safety and security.
Occurences of miraculous flames are recorded in texts dating back to the fourth century CE, though the “holy fire” ritual became formalised later.
The event is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church, with a Pope several centuries ago having dismissed it as a fraud.
From Jerusalem, the “holy fire” is distributed to several Orthodox Christian countries, including Bulgaria. Special flights convey the flame to ensure that it arrives in time for late-night liturgies on the eve of Easter Sunday.
The distribution of the “holy fire” in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was shown live on public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television. Orthodox Christianity is the majority religion in Bulgaria, which has vastly smaller Protestant and Roman Catholic minorities, respectively.
As has become customary, Bulgaria’s government provided a government Falcon aircraft to ferry the Bulgarian Orthodox Church delegation to and from Israel.
The church delegation, this year headed by Bishop Grigorii, vicar to Bulgarian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Neofit, was expected to reach Sofia by 8pm. The “holy fire” – this year conveyed in four containers as a precaution after one of the lanterns broke at Easter 2015 – was to be received at Sofia’s landmark Alexander Nevsky cathedral, and distributed to the faithful there at the height of the Easter service, while it would also be distributed to all Bulgarian Orthodox Church dioceses and the church’s monastery on Mount Athos in Greece.