THRONGS of Orthodox Christians have filled Jerusalem’s ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre and surrounding streets for the “Holy Fire” ceremony on the eve of Orthodox Easter.
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 AD symbolising the resurrection of Christ.
Israeli police deployed in large numbers to secure an estimated 10,000 faithful packed into the church, with a similar number in the streets around the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
The event, the highlight of the Eastern Christian calendar, was attended by pilgrims from around the world – predominantly Eastern Europe – as well as Arab Israelis, all carrying unlit candles.
Greek Patriarch Theophilos III made his traditional grand entry on Saturday at the head of a procession of monks, chanters and dignitaries with red and gold banners bearing icons.
After circling the shrine in the heart of the church three times, he entered along with the Armenian Patriarch what Orthodox, Roman Catholics and many other Christians believe is Jesus’s burial site, emerging minutes later with a lit candle.
The holy flame was swiftly passed from candle to candle between ecstatic believers, most of whom had waited for several hours for the ceremony which filled the air with light and smoke.
While the Church of the Sepulchre is one of Christianity’s holiest sites, it is shared uneasily by six denominations – the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.
Roman Catholics in Jerusalem and Bethlehem celebrated Easter on March 31, according to the Gregorian calendar.
But this year other Catholics in the Holy Land, including those from Nazareth, decided for the first time to mark Easter this Sunday under the Orthodox calendar, in an act of ecumenical unity.
The Torah is the Jewish name for the first five books of the Jewish Bible. In Hebrew the five books are named by the first phrase in the text: Bereshit (“In the beginning,” Book of Genesis), Shemot (“Names,” Exodus), Vayikra (“He called”, Leviticus),Bamidbar (“In the desert,” Numbers) and Devarim (“Words,” Deuteronomy). In rabbinic literature the word Torah denotes both these five books, Torah Shebichtav(תורה שבכתב, “Torah that is written”), and an Oral Torah, Torah Shebe’al Peh (תורה שבעל פה, “Torah that is spoken”). The Oral Torah consists of the traditional interpretations and amplifications handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation and now embodied in the Talmud (תַּלְמוּד) and Midrash (מדרש) .
According to Jewish tradition, all of the laws found in the Torah, both written and oral, were given by God to Moses, some of them at Mount Sinai and most of them at the Tabernacle, and all the teachings were later compiled and written down by Moses, which resulted in the Torah we have today. According to medieval Jewish mysticism the Torah was created prior to the creation of the world, and was used as the blueprint for Creation. Most Modern biblical scholars believe that the written books were a product of the Babylonian exilic period (c.600 BCE) and that it was completed by the Persian period (c.400 BCE).
The priestly blessing or priestly benediction, (Hebrew: ברכת כהנים; translit. birkat kohanim), also known as raising of the hands (Hebrew nesiat kapayim), or Dukhanen (from the Yiddish word dukhan - platform – because the blessing is given from a raised rostrum), is a Jewish prayer recited by Kohanim during certain Jewish services (included Passover). It is based on a scriptural verse: “They shall place My name upon the children of Israel, and I Myself shall bless them.” It consists of the following Biblical verses (Numbers 6:24–26):
May the LORD (YHWH) bless you and guard you -
- יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
- (“Yivorekhekhaw Adonai v’yishm’rekhaw …)
May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you -
- יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
- (“Yo’ayr Adonai pawnawv aylekhaw vikhoonekhaw …)
May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace -
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם
(“Yisaw Adonai pawnav aylekhaw v’yasaym l’khaw shalom.“)