Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On the Saturday before Orthodox Easter, which falls a week later than in the Western churches, typically 10,000 worshipers gather at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, waiting for the holy fire [to phos) to emerge. It is said to derive from the tomb in which Jesus was initially buried before his resurrection and ascension. Priests descend and bring the fire up, and candles are lit from it. The fire is flown to Greece and other Eastern Orthodox countries, where it is taken around to various churches
Israeli authorities have announced that they will allow only 1,800 worshipers inside the church this year, though it is permitting some 1,200 to assemble outside.
Most Palestinian Christians are Eastern Orthodox, belonging to the same church as Greece, Russia and Ukraine. Archbishop Atallah Hanna of Sebastia near Nablus has denounced the measures taken by the Israeli government, saying that they “target” Christians and Muslims in Occupied Jerusalem and are racist, intended to undermine the Palestinian, Muslim and Christian presence in the holy city.
Church leaders slam Israel’s restrictions on Orthodox Easter | Al Jazeera Newsfeed
He added in a statement to the al-Mamlakah newspaper in Jordan on Thursday that the Palestinian people are being targeted with regard to those things they hold holy, and with regard to their endowments, their commitments and even their holy days.
The Palestinian minister of foreign affairs and expatriates warned in a communique on Thursday that Israel is imposing limits preventing Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and attempting to cut down on the number of people celebrating in honor of the Saturday Festival of Light.
Archbishop Hanna observed that Christians are fasting in preparation for ushering in Orthodox Easter this coming Sunday. Hanna said he rejected the Israeli measures root and branch. He continued, “It is incumbent on Occupied Christians on Easter to enjoy their ability freely to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is considered one of the most important Christian religious edifices,” adding “we call on Christians, whether they are local Palestinians residing in Jerusalem and its environs, or in the areas of the 1948 Palestinians and the occupied West Bank, to travel to the city of Jerusalem on these holy days, whether Good Friday, Light Saturday, or the Glorious Feast of Resurrection [Easter], in order to say To the whole world, and our message is that we belong to Jerusalem and the Church of the Resurrection belongs to us.”
Meanwhile, channel 24 in the United Arab Emirates says that the Christians of Jerusalem feel under a big threat, given their continued humiliation at the hands of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land. They report many attacks on their churches and cemeteries by the Israeli squatters, while regular police did almost nothing to intervene.