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Church News

Tensions caused as restrictions put in place for Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem

by Alex Collett

As Christians, Muslims and Jews celebrated the Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem at the weekend, the new restrictions imposed caused unwanted friction between faiths.

The ceremony took place on Saturday evening at the Holy Sepulchre in Israel.

However, the usually-joyous service was met with tension, as there were restrictions on attendance for  safety reasons.

Israeli authorities imparted the rules following devastation at another religious cermoney last year, when 45 people were killed in a crowd stampede at the packed Holy site.

The event had been attended by 100,000 people - mainly Orthodox Jews. 

This year, Jerusalem is bursting with tourists, as the three Abrahamic religions mark Holy events - Ramadan, Passover and Easter - within the same period of time. 

Many Christian leaders said there was no need to alter the ceremony that has been held for centuries.

In a statement released earlier this month, the Greek Patriarchate said it was fed up with police restrictions on freedom to worship.

However - despite the outcry - Israel applied the safety law that that limited the crowd size.

Authorities said this year they would allow a total of 4,000 people to attend the Holy Fire ceremony, including 1,800 inside the church itself.

Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that on the Saturday before Easter a miraculous flame appears inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a sprawling 12th century basilica built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

The Holy Fire ceremony sees Christians light torches using the flames lit inside Jesus' tomb, taking them back to their villages, where people would use the torch to light candles - the aim is to spread the light of Christ on the day of his resurrection. 

Two years ago, the church was nearly empty because of a coronavirus lockdown, but Israel made special arrangements for the flame to be carried abroad. 
Hundreds attended last year, despite travel restrictions, and that the ceremony was limited to the fully-vaccinated.

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