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The Shepherd's Guild

Holy Week around the World, 2012

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Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theofilos III  leads  Palm Sunday liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad 

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Women attend a religious service prior to an orthodox Palm Sunday pilgrimage passing by several churches in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday afternoon, April 7, 2012. Thousands marched, according to local media, across Romania and attended religious services ahead of Palm Sunday. This year the country's Orthodox majority celebrates Easter a week later than the Catholics on April 15. 

photo: VADIM GHIRDA/AP

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A member of the Orthodox clergy takes part in a Palm Sunday mass at the Saint Porfirios church in Gaza City April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

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A lit candle is seen on a cross of a grave during Orthodox Palm Sunday in Heresti cemetery, 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Bucharest April 8, 2012. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, a week before his crucifixion. Romania's Christian Orthodox majority will celebrate Easter on April 15, a week after the Catholics. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

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Palm Sunday in Russia ... Orthodox peoples who live in areas without palms, including the Russian Orthodox, use pussy willow branches rather than palms in the celebration of this event. Palm Sunday is known as Willow Sunday in Russia.

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Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Metropolitan Theophilos (3rd L) sits as members of the clergy surround him during the Washing of the Feet ceremony outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 12, 2012, ahead of Orthodox Easter. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (JERUSALEM - Tags: RELIGION)

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Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theofilos III, right, uses flowers to sprinkle worshippers with water after the Washing of the Feet ceremony outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by many to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem's Old City, Thursday, April 12, 2012. (AP / Sebastian Scheiner)

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Orthodox Christian worshippers gather during Good Friday processions towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed to be the burial site of Jesus Christ, in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday, April 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

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Orthodox Christian pilgrims hold wooden crosses as they take part in the Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's old city on April 13, 2012 ahead of Orthodox Easter. Thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world have flocked to the Holy City to mark Good Friday and pray along the traditional route Jesus Christ took to his crucifixion, leading up to his resurrection on Easter. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

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Georgian Orthodox Christians hold wooden crosses as they take part in the Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's old city on April 13, 2012 ahead of Orthodox Easter. Thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world have flocked to the Holy City to mark Good Friday and pray along the traditional route Jesus Christ took to his crucifixion, leading up to his resurrection on Easter. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

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Orthodox Christian pilgrims hold wooden crosses as they take part in the Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa ahead of Orthodox Easter in Jerusalem's old city, Israel. Orthodox christians are celebrating Easter a week after Roman Catholics as dictated by the Julian calendar. Pilgrims are taking part in processions along the route that Jesus is believed to have taken in his last days as he carried the cross. photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

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Holy Friday in Safita 2012 (Syria)

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Orthodox Christians hold a wooden cross as they take part in the Good Friday procession along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's old city on April 13, 2012 ahead of Orthodox Easter. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

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The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Krill on Holy Friday carrys the Epitaphios (plashchanitsa).

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Holy Friday @ St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Greenville, SC... photo by Benjamin Slayton

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Holy Friday @ St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Greenville, SC... photo by Benjamin Slayton

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George Gildasis carries the cross during the Procession of Epitaphios during Good Friday service at Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church on April 13, 2012. The church as well as others Eastern Orthodox churches celebrates Easter according to the Julian Calendar not the Gregorian Calendar like Western Christianity.

GAVIN JACKSON/MORNING NEWS

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Father Athanasios Haros prays with his congregation outside of the church after the Procession of the Epitaphios around the church during Good Friday service at Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church on April 13, 2012. The church as well as others Eastern Orthodox churches celebrates Easter according to the Julian Calendar not the Gregorian Calendar like Western Christianity.

GAVIN JACKSON/MORNING NEWS

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A general view is seen of the Church of Holy Sepulchre during a Christian Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem’s Ancient City.

Image by: NIR ELIAS / Reuters / Reuters

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Thousands of Orthodox Christians filled Jerusalem’s ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre and spilled out into the narrow streets on Saturday for the “Holy Fire” ceremony on the eve of Orthodox Easter.

Believers hold that the fire is miraculously sent from heaven to ignite candles held by the Greek Orthodox patriarch in an annual rite dating back to the 4th century that symbolises the resurrection of Jesus.

Israeli public radio said around 10,000 faithful attended this year’s ceremony, fewer than in recent years, as police were deployed around the church and in the streets of the surrounding Old City to keep the jubilation from getting out of hand.

Patriarch Theophilos III traditionally makes his grand entry at the head of a procession of monks, chanters, dignitaries and red and gold banners bearing icons.

After circling an ornate shrine in the heart of the church three times amid chants of “Axios” (“He is worthy”), he enters what Orthodox, Roman Catholics and many other Christians believe is Jesus’s burial site, emerging minutes later with several lit candles.

The patriarch is always searched beforehand to ensure that he is carrying nothing, such as matches or a lighter, that could be used to light the candles.

As joyous people press in on him, the patriarch passes on the flames to their outstretched candles. The fire makes its way through the crowd, casting a flickering orange glow on the grey walls and towering stone columns, and filling the air with smoke.

Pilgrims claim the Holy Fire does not burn their hair, faces, clothes or anything else during the first 33 minutes of its appearance, and one web site (http://www.holyfire.org) offers videos claiming to show worshippers in prolonged contact with the flames without being hurt.

The Holy Fire, which quickly makes its way outside to the crowds waiting there, is also carried to nearby Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Jesus is believed to have been born, and also much farther afield.

It will be flown to Athens and to the capitals of other predominantly Orthodox countries to be shared.

The church, which the Orthodox call the Church of Resurrection, also encloses what is widely believed to be Calvary, the site on which Jesus was crucified.

While it is therefore one of Christianity’s holiest sites, it is shared uneasily by six denominations — the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Egyptian Copts, Syrian Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox.

Past ceremonies have been marred by violence, with fist fights breaking out among monks from the different denominations over perceived changes to a status quo hammered out over several centuries.

The date of Orthodox Easter is calculated differently than by the Roman Catholics and other churches, so the most important feast of the Christian year is frequently celebrated on different Sundays. ASSOCIATED PRESS

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The Holy Fire descended again upon Jerusalem on Great Saturday - Photo by Reuters DarikNews 

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Holy Pascha in the Republic of Georgia, 2012

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Holy Pascha @ St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Greenville, SC -- photo by Benjamin Slayton