Waiting for the Miracle
by Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.
from the Holy Land
Every year during Holy Saturday, for many centuries, there is a most magnificent miracle that continues to take place in Jerusalem since the time we were allowed as Christians to celebrate ceremonies in public.
Pilgrims from all over the world gather in Jerusalem to witness the greatest of all miracles--the Miracle of the Holy Fire. The miracle has turned into a glorious cultural event, but many simply cannot get anywhere near the Holy Sepulchre Church. The soldiers, the police, the large crowds, the noise, the drums of the Boys Scouts and the Girl Scouts anxiously waiting to receive the Holy Fire from the Life Giving Tomb of Christ, is a day long adventure. But it always happens at approximately 2 pm on Holy Saturday.
One year, it was a miracle in itself that finally after twenty years waiting, because of the Second Uprising and the height of the violence there was a lack of pilgrims in the Holy Land, I got inside the church myself.
It is an exciting celebration with the sound of many languages at the same time. Representatives of many churches from all over the Holy Land and beyond, come to receive the Holy Fire and carry the flame back in small lanterns to their particular churches for the Midnight Resurrection Service. Special permits must be issued for Christians from Gaza and the West Bank to enter Jerusalem. Furthermore, as an added bureaucracy, you need another ticket/pass to enter the Holy Sepulchre.
It is on this Great and Holy Saturday that the Holy Fire will be received from God, not human hands, by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, His Beatitude Theopilus III, as it has been done every year, on the same day, in the same manner, at the same time, at the same holy place of Christ's Life Giving Tomb. This is the miracle that allows us to believe that Christ is alive and offers eternal life. This is the miracle that tells us that Christ is truly among us. This powerful miracle is another way that God communicates that we do believe in the Living God. As we chant in our Midnight Resurrection Service: "Come ye and receive light from the unwaning Light, and glorify Christ, Who arose from the dead."
A spectacular parade to receive the Holy Fire is held in every town and city where small numbers of Christians live. For example, we anxiously wait at the outskirts entering our village of Taybeh by five in the evening. The priests of all three churches, Fr. Daoud, Fr. Raed and Fr. Jack, with the mayor of the village (my husband David), usually lead the faithful with the choir chanting. They meet our cousin Ibrahim with his seven year old son Philip who in turn traditionally go to the city of Ramallah to receive the Light from a patriarchate representative, who in turn brings it from Jerusalem to Ramallah for all the Palestinian Christian communities that cannot reach the Holy City. Philip made his dad put a sign on their little white car last year that read "Light of Christ," and wanted to ride on top but was forced to patiently sit with the flame until he said "Christ is Risen" and gave it to the adults.
It has been nine years of violence in the Holy Land, back and forth. Surely we have been living in the darkness of all evil where children do not even have a childhood-- especially following the latest devastating war in Gaza. "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:5) The strong Christian message during this Holy Week is that our hope lies in Christ. The streets will simply be filled on Holy Saturday with faithful who came to witness in Christ's love. Be this Light for Christ no matter where you live in the world.
For us who live behind the ugly Wall, this Holy Saturday we await this glorious miracle of the Light that proceeds from the core of the stone that covers Christ's Life Giving Tomb and once again we hope to celebrate the oldest unbroken Christian ceremony that exists in the world.
In Luke 16:15 we read that Jesus said: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." We witness the truth and receive the Holy Fire on Holy Saturday in Jerusalem so that all who are not living in the land of Christ's Holy Resurrection can believe that "Christ is the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. "(John 1:9)
"And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24:47)
Our Christian community is small and diminishing, but with God's help we can survive the daily hardships that make life unbearable. We await the miracle of a free Palestine and human rights for all people. We are waiting for a miracle of peace with justice, stability and genuine democracy to happen. In the Holy Land, in the hearts of Christians, every day one says, "Truly the Lord is Risen!"