Each year, thousands of Christians gather at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to witness a miracle that sparks a flame of faith they share with believers around the world.
The members of St. Nino Equal to the Apostles Orthodox Christian Church in Stillwater are sharing in that miracle this year.
It begins in a unique church complex located in the Old City of Jerusalem that surrounds two of the holiest spots in Christianity: Golgotha, the hill where Jesus of Nazareth is said to have been crucified and the rock tomb where he was buried.
The Holy Fire is said to appear miraculously in the tomb of the resurrected Jesus each year on the Saturday before Pascha or Easter, as celebrated according to the Orthodox calendar.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem, one of the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church, enters the tomb, prays and waits until the Holy Fire manifests itself on the stone where the body of Jesus was wrapped.
The faithful light candles from the flame to carry to their homes and churches. They say the flame doesn’t burn when you touch it for about the first 30 minutes and photos taken in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher show smiling people holding their faces and hands in the flame.
The flame then begins its journey around the world.
The Holy Fire is coming to the U.S. for only the second time this year, Father Matthew Floyd of St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Christian Church in Claremore said. The last time was in the 1960s.
Its first stop was the Russian Orthodox cathedral in New York City and from there people carry it across the country, passing it from person to person and church to church.
“It’s kind of a nice pious labor,” Father Matthew said. “This is the first time most of us have experienced this … It just kind of bolsters my faith in the resurrection and the way it’s been passed gives me a sense of connection.”
It was already shared with St. Nino’s congregation but Father Matthew will be carrying the Holy Fire with him again when he comes to St. Nino on Sunday.
He thinks some members will carry it home and try to keep the flame burning.
Father Matthew says there isn’t a special ritual surrounding the fire and anyone is welcome to come light a flame from it.
Members of the congregation are looking forward to the experience because of what the Holy Fire symbolizes.
Leo Neufeld of Stillwater was raised Mennonite, became Baptist in college, then converted to Orthodox Christianity five years ago at the age of 77.
“The Holy Fire, that resurrection miracle that occurs every year in Jerusalem…I have now been privileged to share in the taste, in the flavor of that miracle,” Neufeld said.
This won’t be the first time for Kari Mallet, another St. Nino member. She got a flame from the Holy Fire when she lived in Bulgaria.
“Holy Fire is, to me, one of those ways that we keep in touch with the resurrection of Christ and the ancient newborn church,” Mallet said. “It’s hard to stay connected so far away, and having the Holy Fire come to us is a great reminder of our connection to Christians the world over…it’s nice to know that in times of everything going crazy, there are some traditions and concrete things you can depend on to not change and leave you wanting.”
SOURCE: Stillwater News Press