In Jerusalem during Pascha, the greatest miracle in the world happens by the Godman Christ.The Ceremony of the Holy Light
Indescribable and worth of admiration is the event of the ceremony of the Holy Light. The religious sensitivities of the Christians especially of the Greek Orthodox reach their peak and the unutterable joy that the Lord gives is the result of their pious participation in this ceremony.
We ourselves in front of the unique event in the world, the sending and receiving of the Light from the All Holy and Lifebearing Tomb of the Saviour. The day of Great Saturday from the morning hours no convention is kept for the different places of the Church of the Resurrection. The nave (catholicon) the bishopric and pews are full of the faithful of both sexes. Through the Royal Doors enters somebody while inside the sanctuary and around the Holy Altar men, women and children wait patiently for the appearance of the Holy Light.
In an earlier age, the day of the Holy and Great Saturday, the local Orthodox, thrilled and joyful walked around the Holy Burial Cabin sometimes singing the “Lord have mercy” and other times wishing the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem a long life and reciting loudly in Arabic verses declaring their joy.
To day this custom, to avoid creating a lot of noise and disturbance, is allowed only shortly before the ceremony and during its duration.
At around 12 noon, His Sacred Blessedness, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Holy Hierarchs together with all the clergy, descend in magnificent vestments from the Patriarchate, for the Resurrection and according to their rank they assume their place on the Holy Step of the Catholicon (Nave) area while the bells peal joyously. Directly after, the representatives of the Armenians, Syrians and Copts enter on the Holy Step embrace the right of the Patriarch or of the Hierarch who will perform the ceremony, to have time and participate in the ceremony of the Holy Light according with the preserved conditions of the Sultan that confess the exclusive domination of the Greek Nation on the All Holy Church of the Resurrection and the All Holy and Lifebearing Tomb.
At this point it is necessary to note that from the previous night when the service of the Holy Bier ended, the Church remained dark without even one candle lit. And this Holy Burial Cabin namely the Tomb of the Lord, having been carefully examined and with objective internal criteria, the total lack of light or source of light is certified, its door is then closed and sealed on the outside with a special seal of the “Cabasid” guards of the Sepulchre.
All the Holy Clergy headed by the Patriarch and with the representatives of the Armenians, Copts and Syrians, dressed in Hierarchal vestments and other uniforms according to their clerical rank, exit from the Sacred Step, following the Byzantine Standards, the crowd cheer and the choir sings the familiar troparion “Your Resurrection Christ Saviour, the angels sing in the Heavens and us who are on earth, make us worthy of a pure heart. We glorify You”. A procession follows three times around the Holy Cabin. On the second round, according with an old tradition, the Armenian delegate enters the procession and on the third round enters the representative of the Coptic “Church”.
After the end of the Holy Litany and after singing the Epilychnion hymn “O Gladsome Light……” all the Clergy and the choir enter the Nave, while the Patriarch undresses his vestments, the omophorion, the saccon and the mitre and wears only the pure white under vestment, epitrahilion and belt. The head guard in front of the crowd frisks the Patriarch, if perhaps he has something that could produce the Light and removes the seals that are on the doors of the burial cabin (the Sepulchre).
The most Blessed obtains from the Deacons bunches of unlit candles and with devoutness, agony and humility he enters into the All Holy Sepulchre while the Armenian Patriarch with the Elder Draguman remains in the lobby (place of the Holy Stone) and the door is shut.
Complete silence, emotion and deep piety take hold of the present crowd, holding their breath, sending prayers and deep emotion overtakes everyone, their sights turned to the Holy Sepulchre and the heavenly place, while their hearts beat with faith, admiration and hope.
The Patriarch kneeling in front of the Life giving Tomb prays to the Crucified for us, that He send through His Power the Holy Light and show it “as the redemption of sins” pronouncing the following blessing: “May Your infinite mercy pour out of You and the light of the awareness of You fully illumine the Nations that walk in darkness and through the heavenly descent to Hades both the worldly and the darkness be filled with light, that from Your light bearing tomb the light given to the Faithful may prove a gift of sanctification, a redemption of sins and a shield against sickness and bless and sanctify those that piously touch it, that they may walk in the light of Your commandments as children of light”.
After the passing of a few minutes the deathly silence is followed by a hum of loud voices, capable of tearing the veil of Heaven and shake its high domes “the Holy Light, the Holy Light”.
It is an awe inspiring moment when the Patriarch exits from the cabin of the Holy Sepulchre deeply moved, obviously tired from the agony, offering the lit torches with the Holy Light.
They are the torches, made by man which received the uncreated Godly Light like eternal witness of the Divine Creation, of the Divine Providence and the infinite love of God. The Holy Light is first received, according to custom, by a privileged Arabic family, which almost instantaneously transfers it to the Holy Step where it is received by the Sacristan of the All Holy Tomb, who then passes it to the rest of the Christians.
The Armenians, Copts and the Syrians receive the Holy Light from an opening in the cabin of the Holy Sepulchre that is located on the left side facing it and they pass it on to their participating people.
Those who are inside the Most Holy Church of the Resurrection receive the risen Holy Light from the Tomb of the Lord under the rhythmic pealing of the bells and the heavy thuds of the cymbals and in a flash the Church is transformed in a sea of light and the darkness in the Church is transformed in an greatly illumined splendour, like the darkness of ignorance disappears in a man who accepts the light of salvific faith.
The Patriarch is seized by the crowd and is triumphantly transported to the Holy Step, while the choir sings the: “Resurrected is God, judging the Earth, for You shall inherit all the Nations”.
Straight after the Patriarch the chosen Hierarch performs the Divine Liturgy of Great Basil in the Catholicon (Nave) of the Church while assigned monks wash with the essence of flowers the marble of the All Holy Sepulchre. The crowd scatters with lit candles in their hands and the Orthodox Arabs from the neighbouring villages accept them with cheers and applause and wild cries. From this moment all the unlit candles of the Churches in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, light up and keep the Holy Light until the following year.
From the book “The Uncreated and Divine Holy Light of the Most Holy and life giving Tomb of Christ”
Hieromonk Fr. Tryphon S. Katsaros