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 7 2018, 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.
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. Protestants also do not recognise it as legitimate.
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 Bulgarian delegation to fetch the “holy fire” is led in 2018 by Antonii, Metropolitan of Western and Central Europe.
Ahead of the evening ritual, firefighters and police carried out safety inspections of churches throughout Bulgaria.
Local media in Plovdiv said that inspections had been carried out at 140 places of worship, including churches, chapels and monasteries, and had found 18 cases of shortcomings. In these cases, written orders had been issued at the places where these shortcomings were found. Fire department inspector Petar Toskov said that the infraction were minor ones and could be addressed quickly.
The fire department said that it would have fire engines on standby, including at Bachkovo Monastery, a popular location for fetching the “holy fire”.
The department issued a call to people to be careful when carrying the flames to their homes and not to leave candles unattended or close to combustible materials.
Meanwhile, for the first time, in Plovdiv the “holy fire” will be borne in the city by a seminary student, not by the diocese’s Metropolitan. Ivan Shtotov will travel to Sofia Airport to meet the delegation coming from Jerusalem. Rector Dobromir Kostov said that this was a great honour for the Plovdiv Seminary. Shtotov was chosen from among his classmates because of his excellent results during his five-year course of study at the seminary.