Orthodox Easter 2023: ‘Holy Fire’ heads from Jerusalem to Bulgaria

In an annual ceremony revered by Orthodox Christians as a key part of Easter celebrations, the “Holy Fire” appeared in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on April 15, with a Bulgarian Orthodox Church delegation present to bear the flame to Sofia and churches throughout Bulgaria.

Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that the “Holy Fire” appears at Easter in the church in Jerusalem as a result of a Divine intervention, and regard the event as miraculous.

Israeli police imposed stricter measures regarding the Orthodox Easter 2023 ceremony, announcing in advance that while last year no more than 10 000 people would be admitted to the ceremony, this year the limit would be 1800. Police cited security and safety concerns.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church began participating in fetching the flame from Jerusalem in 2006, customarily using a state aircraft to do so.

However, in 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church delegation trip being cancelled.

In 2021, because of measures in Israel against Covid-19, the delegation did not go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but waited in a Bulgarian government aircraft at the airport and the flame was brought to them by Bulgaria’s ambassador to Israel.

In 2022, the church used the flame from 2021. No church delegation travelled to Israel for the “Holy Fire”, citing the government’s offer of the use of an aircraft as too belated to arrange the trip.

The April 15 2023 Bulgarian government aircraft flight was expected to land at Sofia Airport by 7.30pm, with the delegation scheduled to convey the “Holy Fire” – borne in four special lanterns – to the headquarters of the Holy Synod and then to Alexander Nevsky cathedral.

The Easter service on Saturday evening is to be presided over by Bulgarian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Neofit and attended by head of state President Roumen Radev and caretaker Prime Minister Gulub Donev. Bulgaria’s National Protection Service said that strict security measures would be in place at the cathedral.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity is alone in recognising the validity of the “Holy Fire”.

The event is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church, with a Pope several centuries ago having dismissed it as a fraud. The world’s second-largest group of Christians, Protestants, also do not recognise it as legitimate.

(Screenshot: Bulgarian National Television’s live broadcast of the April 2023 event)

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