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Easter in Jerusalem

A few soulful days of Easter lie behind the Christians in Jerusalem. They began here with an evening service on Holy Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane, with its centuries-old olive trees. I rode my bicycle through the city to the foot of the Mount of Olives. There was a special atmosphere in the air. In the Garden of Gethsemane, like many of the visitors there, I sat down on the stone path around the trees and asked myself? God, are you there? Even after more than 2,000 years? There are so many people suffering, facing the ruins of their lives, losing families and health. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was also afraid. He knew that he was going to die. We are standing next to Jesus on the cross and he says: I was there. I am there. I will not leave you alone. I will raise you up again. 

After the service, regional Christians began their traditional procession with candles and singing from the Garden of Gethsemane to St. Peter in Gallicantur Church. (from Latin "galli cantu", meaning "where the rooster has crowed") is built on the Eastern slopes of the Mount Zion. This spot is believed to be the location of Caiaphas' palace. Here Jesus was summoned before the high priest Caiaphas and Peter denied him three times before the cock crowed. The procession goes through the Kidron valley up to the church. It is a special atmosphere that marks the beginning of the Easter holidays. 

On Easter Sunday I meet Hanan the assistant from the Central office in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to watch the Easter procession. The Old City is filled with tourists from all over the world. A colorful hustle and bustle fills the old streets, especially in the Christian Quarter next to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Church of the Resurrection. Pilgrims of all ages and nationalities merge to one central destination, the Most-Holy Church of the Resurrection. Reaching the barricades set by the police, the pilgrims are steadily thronged. Some wait in front of the barricades until the Church gate opens. At the church entrance, I see many pilgrims kissing and touching the slab on which Jesus lay. We sit down on a bench in the rotunda and watch the activities. The glorious Easter and Resurrection celebration begins in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with Fathers, priests, monks, deacons and a large crowd of believers and a large congregation of faithful, worshipers and pilgrims. After the solemn procession, Hanan takes photos with the Coptic bishop and the priest. Then we drift through the old city. A scout group marches through the alleys with their traditional Palestinian drums, we listen to the music. Easter in Jerusalem is definitely special. And so we wish the whole world peace and "kul Am wa intum bechier". Damaris, DSPR CO

A week later, the Orthodox gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to celebrate the ancient ritual of the Holy Fire. In the annual ceremony, a flame miraculously lit in the heart of Jesus' tomb is used to light the candles of faithful people. The ritual starts with a priest entering the dim tomb and lighting his candle. The faithful then pass the light to each other and light the candles of their neighbours. One by one, the dark church begins to glow as the tiny sparks of light coalesce and ultimately enlighten the entire church hall. Bells ring out. "Christ is risen!", "He truly rises!"

Israel has limited the ritual to 1,800 people, and Israeli police say they must be strict because they are responsible for maintaining public safety. But Jerusalem's Christian minority fears Israel is using the extra security measures to change their status in the Old City, allowing access to Jews while limiting the number of Christian worshippers.

After the ceremony, Palestinian Christians will carry the Holy Fire through the streets and light the candles of worshippers waiting outside. Chartered planes take the flickering lanterns to Russia, Greece and beyond.

"Happy Easter to the Orthodox Family members. I just watched the arrival of the light at the airport and the reception it got as the accompanying priests proceeded to take the blessed candles to the Orthodox Churches. They said all on the plane wanted to light candles from the light. May our Lord Jesus Christ insert this light into the hearts and minds of our leaders." Sylvia Haddad, Executive Director DSPR JCC Lebanon

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