Thousands of Orthodox Christians converged on Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Saturday to witness what they believe is the miraculous appearance of "holy fire" on the eve of Orthodox Easter.
The Old City was jammed with pilgrims from the Eastern Orthodox faiths including Greeks, Copts, Russians and Assyrians, seeking to reach the church, one of Christianity's holiest sites.
Secretive real estate deals, hostility to priests, fist fights over Christ's tomb, a power struggle between patriarchs - one of the oldest churches in the Holy Land is struggling to get through a moral and financial crisis, its leader says.
In a rare interview with The Associated Press, Patriarch Theofilos III says his Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem is in "the position of an acrobat," faced by challenges on all sides.
Pascha (Greek: Πάσχα), also called Easter, is the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. Pascha is a transliteration of the Greek word, which is itself a transliteration of the Hebrew pesach, both words meaning Passover. (A minority of English-speaking Orthodox prefer the English word 'Pasch.')
Pascha normally falls either one or five weeks later than the feast as observed by Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar. However, occasionally the two observances coincide, and some years they can be two, four, or six weeks apart (but never three). The reason for the difference is that the older Julian Calendar uses a different paschalion, the formula for calculating the date of Pascha. This formula was determined by the First Ecumenical Council.
While many Christians have long celebrated Easter, this year Orthodox Easter takes place on Sunday, April 27 - much later than normally, as a result of ancient calendar calculations and regulations requiring the prior celebration of the Jewish Passover, in accordance with their traditional interpretation of scriptural record. Thus, at midnight on Saturday April 26, the night that is said to be brighter than any sunlit day, some 300 million Orthodox Christians will crowd churches to hear the words: "Come, receive the light!" Throughout the world, entire congregations, previously waiting in darkness and anticipation, will light up in splendor and people's faces will shine with joy and hope. All of them will chant the familiar hymn of triumph: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and granting life to those in the tombs." For Orthodox faithful, Easter is the feast of feasts.
This Sunday, on April 27, Orthodox Russians will celebrate Easter. The days when celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was forbidden are over. Today's Russia is re-establishing Orthodox traditions and re-shaping them.Originally the celebration of Easter in Russia was introduced in the late 10th century. Orthodox Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the vernal equinox, and so Easter is something of a spring festival. For this day Russians bake special Easter cakes (kulich), make curd cake (paskha; this dish bears the original name of the holiday in Russian), and paint eggs (krashenki).
Holy Saturday is the day after Good Friday. It is the day before Easter and the last day of the Holy Week, in which Christians prepare for Easter. On this day the church commemorates the time that Jesus Christ lay in the tomb and that he descended into hell.