Kolbe Report 5-25-19

“Whose heart is so stony, brethren, that it is not touched by so great a miracle?  Believe me, that man is bestial and senseless whose heart such divinely manifest grace does not move to faith!”  Blessed Pope Urban II on the Miracle of the Holy Fire

Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

In our last newsletter we reflected on the significance of the fact that Our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead after nightfall on Holy Saturday, which was the beginning of Sunday, the “first day of the week,” according to the Jewish way of keeping time. In this newsletter we will examine the oldest continual miracle in the world which points to the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the darkness of the first day of the week, thus establishing a parallel between the Creation of the heavens and the Earth in the darkness of the First Sunday of the world and the New Creation in Christ in the darkness of the night before Easter Sunday.

The oldest continual miracle in the world is the Miracle of the Holy Fire which miraculously ignites the candles of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and then of the rest of the assembled faithful in the tomb of Our Lord Jesus Christ each year on Holy Saturday. It is truly heartbreaking that so many Catholics either do not know about this miracle or regard it as a fraud, either because of hearsay to that effect or by logical reasoning from false premises. In this newsletter I will briefly recount the history of the Miracle of the Holy Fire, explain why Catholics ought to believe in its authenticity, and finally explain why it may contain an important message for our times, especially in relation to the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima and the Consecration of Russia requested by the Holy Theotokos. (If anyone would like the references for the many quotations cited in this newsletter, I will be happy to share them upon request.)

History of the Holy Fire

The Miracle of the Holy Fire signifies a fire that appears spontaneously at the tomb of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil, according to the Julian Calendar approved by the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325. The fire descends from above and arises from the tomb, lighting the candle of the local Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, who then uses it to light the candles of other bishops, clergy, and lay people who, in turn, use their candles to light the Easter candles of bishops and Patriarchs throughout the Christian world.

It is impossible to say with certitude when the Miracle of the Holy Fire began. In his History of the Armenians, Kirakos Ganjakets’s links the Holy Fire to an incident in the life of St. Gregory the Illuminator who evangelized the Armenian people and became the first Patriarch of the Church in Armenia at the beginning of the fourth century. St. Gregory lived for a time as an ascetic in the neighborhood of Our Lord’s tomb in Jerusalem. By order of St. Helena and the Emperor Constantine, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed over the tomb beginning in 326 A.D., and a lamp placed on the tomb by St. Gregory was miraculously illuminated around 330 A.D. According to Kirakos:

They say that St. Gregory placed a lamp over the tomb of Christ and beseeched God with his prayers that on the feast of Easter the place be lit with an immaterial light, something which occurs down to our own day.

Kiriakos goes on to relate that the Holy Fire settled a dispute between the Armenians and the Georgians over the date of Easter. He writes:

Now regarding Easter there was much dispute and argument with the Armenians among all peoples, especially the Georgians . . . The verdict was to be given by the radiant lamp on the Holy Sepulchre of Christ, which, they say, at the request of St. Gregory the Illuminator of the Armenians, with no assistance from human hands or tangible fire, is lit up by the command of God each Easter. It happens to this day.

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St. Gregory the Illuminator

The Jerusalem Typicon dates to between the fifth and the eighth century. This ancient lectionary proves that, in the words of Haris Skarlakidis, “the Church in Jerusalem proclaimed and celebrated the resurrection of Christ on Holy Saturday, immediately after the setting of the sun.” This tradition went hand in hand with the appearance of the Holy Fire during the Easter Vigil, as confirmed by the Pontificale of the Bishop of Poitiers. According to French liturgist and historian Edmon Martene (1654-1739):

In the very ancient Pontificale of the church of Poitiers, which dates back to around AD 800, one can read about the Easter vigil: “The same night, in Jerusalem, within the Lord’s tomb, the oil lamp receives the light from an angel, as is mentioned in the true report told by the people who have returned from Jerusalem in our own age.”

The Arab historian al-Masudi (c. 896-956) later testified to the fact that the “fire appears there on Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter.” Similarly, a manuscript in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, Codex F12, from the ninth century, recorded that it was already customary that:

in the great and sacred church of Jerusalem, the Holy Resurrection, every Holy Saturday a new and heavenly light comes and lights the oil lamps on the life giving and divine tomb . . . Suddenly, not only the interior of the sepulcher but the entire Church of the Resurrection glowed from the light. The Patriarch chanted this hymn [Joyous Light] aloud as a thanksgiving, and from that time until this day, each person repeats this hymn and chants to God: “O Joyous Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: We that come to the setting of the sun, when we behold the evening light, praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God.”

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St. Sabbas Monastery, Overlooking the Kidron Valley in the Holy Land

The monastery of St. Sabbas has existed as a monastic center near to Jerusalem since the late 5th century. St. Theodore the Sabbaite (c. 776-856) entered the monastery at the age of 19 and after 41 years as a monk was ordained Bishop of Edessa. Two days after his consecration to the episcopate, St. Theodore witnessed the descent of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The incident was recorded by St. Theodore’s nephew, Basil, Bishop of Emesa, who stated that after:

[St. Theodore] dined with the patriarchs and spent Good Friday with them, on Holy Saturday, after the lighting of the lamps of the Holy Resurrection by the heavenly light, he co-celebrated the liturgy with the patriarchs, and performed the joyous celebration on sacred Sunday.

According to Bishop Auxentios of Photiki, who has made a thorough study of the subject, a clear reference to the miracle of the Holy Fire also appears in a ninth-century account by a Latin monk named Bernard who witnessed the Miracle in 870. Commenting on the main churches of Jerusalem, he writes:

Amongst the Churches inside the city there are four of special importance, and their walls adjoin each other. One is on the east, and inside it are Mount Calvary and the place where the Lord’s Cross was found; this one is called the “Basilica of Constantine.” There is another one on the south and a third on the west; this one [on the west] has the Lord’s Sepulchre in the middle of it. Round the sepulchre are nine columns, and the walls between them are made of excellent stone. Four of the nine columns are in front of the actual tomb, and these (with the walls behind them) surround the stone, placed by the tomb, which the angel rolled back, and on which he sat after the Lord had risen. It is unnecessary to write a great deal about this sepulchre because Bede says quite enough about it in his history [of the English Church]. But it is worth saying what happens on Holy Saturday, the Vigil of Easter. In the morning the office begins in this Church. Then, when it is over they go in singing Kyrie eleison till an angel comes and kindles light in the lamps which hang above the sepulchre. The patriarch passes some of this light to the bishops and the rest of the people, and each one has light where he is standing.

Blessed Pope Urban II and the “Yearly Miracle”

It should be apparent by now that by the dawn of the second millennium, the Miracle of the Holy Fire had been acknowledged throughout the Christian world. Indeed, the Holy Fire even played a part in motivating the Holy Father Blessed Urban II to call for a Crusade to free the Holy Land from the Muslims. Baldric (1050-1130), the abbot of Bourgueil Abbey in France, testified to this when he recorded Blessed Urban’s speech announcing the Crusade in his Historia Ierosolimitana. According to Baldric, Blessed Pope Urban II referred to the Holy Fire in his speech announcing the Crusade, exclaiming before the Council of Clermont:

How precious would be the longed for, incomparable place of the Lord’s burial, even if God failed there to perform the yearly miracle. For in the days of his Passion all the lights in the sepulcher and round about in the church, which have been extinguished, are relighted by divine command. Whose heart is so stony, brethren, that it is not touched by so great a miracle? Believe me, that man is bestial and senseless whose heart such divinely manifest grace does not move to faith! (p. 94)

Blessed Pope Urban II

Blessed Pope Urban II

These words of Blessed Pope Urban II will cut anyone to the quick who knows what took place in Jerusalem just a few years later. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and the mass slaughter of the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of the city, Baldwin I took possession of the city and attended the Holy Saturday services with his entourage of clergy and laity for the first time in the year 1100. The noted French historian Abbot Guibert de Nogent (c. 1053-1124) consulted numerous eyewitnesses soon after the First Crusade and described what took place on that occasion:

In that holy city of Jerusalem, an ancient miracle renewed itself, and I call it ancient because the Latin world does not know when it began . . . Every year, on the Sabbath of Easter, the lamp of the Lord’s tomb seemed to be kindled by divine power. . . I have heard from some old men who went there that the papyrus or wick, I don’t know which of them was used, was once removed by a pagan’s trick, and the metal remained empty, but, by means of a miracle from heaven, when light shone from the metal, he who wanted to defraud the heavenly powers learned that natural forces fight even against their own natures for their God.

In the year that Baldwin accepted the scepter from his predecessor, it is said that the miracle was obtained with such difficulty that night was almost upon them before their prayers and tears were answered. The priest mentioned above delivered a sermon to the people, asking for sinners to confess; the king and the priest urged them to make peace among themselves, and they promised to remedy whatever was contrary to faith and to virtue. Meanwhile, because of the urgency of the matter, so many hideous crimes were confessed that day, that if penitence did not follow, it would have seemed correct for the sacred light to have been removed without delay; however, soon after the reproof, the lamp was lit.

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Crusaders taking possession of Jerusalem. The number 1 stands over
the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Abbot Guibert goes on to describe what happened on Holy Saturday the following year:

That day, when the miracle did not happen, everyone returned home; there was a double night, with bitter sadness tormenting their breasts. The next day they decided to make a procession, with appropriate mourning, to the Temple of the Lord [ the Temple Mount.] They went, without the joy of Easter, dressed no differently from the day before, when suddenly, behind them, the keepers of the Temple proclaimed that the lamp of the sacred monument was lit. Why do I delay? On that day such grace shone, augmented abundantly by the delay, that the brilliance of God illuminated, although not simultaneously, but sequentially, approximately fifty lamps. Not only during the sacred mysteries, but even when the king, after services were over, ate in the palace, messengers came frequently to summon him to leave the table to see the lights newly lit.

The German monk Ekkehard, the Abbot of the monastery of Aura, independently confirmed this account of Abbot Guibert, citing the testimony of a holy priest named Hermann.

The respected cleric Hermann who then lived on the Mount of Olives . . . expressed himself in the following manner: “On the day of Holy Saturday,” he said, “according to the old attribution of the Lord’s grace, once the Liturgy of the Presanctified had finished, we waited until nightfall with devotion and patience to be given the light from the heavens. We were focused on the customary prayers but then, because of our sins, we were punished with the non-descent of the desirable heavenly gift, which the Christians say they always received, even in the presence of the heathens. We spent the night of the Sunday of the Resurrection sad and disheartened, without any service of the celebratory liturgy. Early the next day we continued with naked feet singing the psalms of the burial of the Lord, and entered the Temple of the lord at that place at the hill Moria . . . Once we prayed and mourned, immediately afterwards, Christ did not wish to abandon us, so as not to cause blasphemy against him from the heathens. And behold, we had not yet exited from that famous court, we heard resounding voices singing eulogies. They were coming toward us [the individuals who had been sent] on behalf of those who had remained [at the Holy Sepulchre]. We entered the aforementioned church and saw with boundless joy two lamps that had been lit in a divine manner.”

Just one generation after the events of 1100, another remarkable event took place involving the selection of a new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. In the spring of 1130, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem died, and a Flemish priest named William, in Jerusalem on pilgrimage, attended the Holy Saturday liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In an account written some years later by a French abbot named Peregrinus, the abbot relates that:

When the time arrived for the service of Holy Saturday before Easter, [William] moved towards the Lord’s tomb with the other faithful, desiring to participate in the accustomed miracle, during which the light that is sent by God on that day brought joy every year to those gathered together. And before the eyes of all those present, who were full of joy and amazement, a candle held by a person there lit through the intervention of this divine virtue, and it began to shine. Nevertheless, since the authorities asked the person who he was and where he was from, he did not decline to answer. And he said that he was of French descent and that he had come from Tours and that he was a hermit from Fontaines. And since at around that time the [Latin] Patriarch had died and the throne of Jerusalem was still empty, the clergy and the people, moved by such a great miracle, immediately and unanimously elected him patriarch.

In this way, the Miracle of the Holy Fire resulted in the appointment of an obscure Flemish hermit to the office of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem!

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jlascar/ [CC BY 2.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Second Millennium Catholic Witnesses to the Miracle of the Holy Fire

In light of the long history of Catholic devotion to the Miracle of the Holy Fire, it is a great shame that Pope Gregory IX appears to have written a letter ordering Catholics to stay away from the Miracle during his pontificate. It appears that his decision reflected his understanding that the Miracle was being exploited for financial gain, rather than from any conclusive evidence that the Miracle itself was false. There is no doubt that Catholics continued to be numbered among the witnesses to the Holy Fire down through the centuries, just as there is no doubt that the Franciscans in charge of Catholic sites in the Holy Land today participate in the liturgical services surrounding the Miracle of the Holy Fire each year.

In the Chronicle of Erfurt written by a German monk and completed in 1355, the author records the testimony of German Catholic pilgrims who witnessed the Miracle of the Holy Fire in 1267 AD. He writes:

On Holy Saturday, during the consecration of the Easter candle, a fire came down from heaven in a visible way and lit three of the oil lamps that were closed and guarded with the Holy Sepulchre, all the while many Franciscan monks, many Christians, Syrian faithful, and even Muslims were present, even though inside the church there was previously no sign of fire. And for this reason, there was great joy and amazement from those who saw it.

One of the most poignant accounts of a Catholic bishop who participated in the Miracle of the Holy Fire after the pontificate of Pope Gregory IX involved the Chaldean Catholic Bishop John Sulaka who witnessed the Miracle of the Holy Fire with seventy members of his Church in 1552, shortly before his appointment as first Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church by Pope Julius III in 1553. According to an account written by his successor Abdisho Maron IV, while within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Holy Saturday:

Sulaka saw the “form of an indescribable light” . . . “the prototype of which never goes out” . . . When he says “prototype,” he means the source of the light. Sulaka saw the indescribable light “emerging” (oritur) from inside the tomb. The word oritur comes from orior, which means “come up, emerge” as well as “be born.” The source of the light is that which was born and emerges by itself inside the tomb. And since this light is uncreated and incorruptible, no one is able to destroy it or extinguish it. The account says that someone came into the tomb with a lit torch, likely a Muslim, and tried to put out the source of the light. However, he only managed to extinguish his own torch.

It is significant that Patriarch Sulaka described the light as emerging from the tomb because the testimonies of witnesses down through the centuries confirm that the Holy Fire descends from above and fills the church of the Holy Sepulchre at the same time as it rises up from the tomb. In this way, it commemorates the moment of Our Lord’s Glorious Resurrection when He rose up from Hades and the Holy Ghost descended upon His resurrected Body. The grace of beholding the Miracle seems to have strengthened the soon-to-be Patriarch for his own participation in the Passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In 1555, on the orders of an Ottoman pasha, he was tortured for five months in a Turkish prison before being confined in a barrel and drowned in a lake.

The Holy Fire and the Muslims

It is significant that the Miracle of the Holy Fire continued to take place year after year for centuries after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 638 A.D. in spite of deliberate efforts by some of the Muslim authorities to prevent it from occurring. According to Bishop Auxentios, a leading authority on the history of the Holy Fire, a “brief account of the fire can be found in a letter from Arethas, Metropolitan of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, to the Emir [or ruler] of Damascus. This document dates to the beginning of the tenth century”:

…Every year until now on the day of His holy Resurrection His holy and precious tomb works miracles…. [All lights in Jerusalem having been extinguished, and] …with the door [of the Holy Sepulchre] being sealed …and the Christians standing outside it in the nave of the Anastasis [the rotunda Church that housed the edicule] crying Kyrie eleison, there being a sudden flash the lamp alights, and again all the inhabitants [of] Jerusalem take from this light and light [their] flame.

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Miracle of the Holy Fire in 2018
Benoit Soubeyran from Montpellier, France [CC BY 2.0]

Bishop Auxentios notes that “the author of this account emphasizes that the manifestation of the Holy Fire has a continuous history, taking place ‘every year.’ The sealing of the tomb and the brilliant flash that accompanies the kindling of the light are also details that we should note with care.” He goes on to relate how a Muslim amir, or ruler, attempted to stop the Miracle from happening:

In the year 947, a cleric of the imperial court of Constantine VII Porphyrigenitu[o]s, a certain Niketas, sent a letter to the emperor recounting the attempt of an enraged amir to put an end to the rite of the Holy Fire. This letter provides rich data about the fire. The amir had demanded the outright termination of all future celebrations on Great Saturday, “since,” as Niketas reports the amir’s demand to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, “in performing your celebrated miracle with magic articles, you have filled all of Syria with the religion of the Christians and you have all but destroyed all of our customs; you have made of it a ‘Romania.'”

Thwarted in his first attempt to stop the celebration by the clever response of the Patriarch’s supporters – that a cessation of Paschal celebration in Jerusalem would jeopardize the hefty revenues collected by the Islamic authorities -, the amir concocted another scheme to end the ritual. Niketas continues his report to the emperor:

[The amir] …demanded of the Patriarch, under the threat of prohibiting the popular feast of the Resurrection of Christ, a payment of 7,000 gold pieces. This payment would not have been made except for an immediate disbursement by the secretaries of 2,000 gold pieces with a guarantee of the remaining 5,000. While the patriarch was being held in custody in the Praetorium, the God of miracles filled two of the lamps of the triple lamp suspended at the place where they said the body of Christ was taken down from the cross to be washed. When the news of the wonder came to the Praetorium, Christians and Muslims ran pell-mell to the church. But the Muslims came filled with bloody thoughts and murderous designs, armed and ready to slay every Christian carrying a lighted lamp. The Patriarch arrived, followed by the clergy, and having determined that the illumination of the sacred fire had not yet taken place, with the help of the Muslims had the Holy Sepulcher closed and began to pray with the Christians.

Toward the sixth hour, fixing his gaze on the Holy Sepulcher, he saw the supernatural appearance of the light. He entered the Holy Sepulcher whose entrance was shown to him by an angel. At the moment when he took a taper to give of the divine fire to all of those in the church who had torches, scarcely had he come out of the tomb, when he saw the church suddenly filled with a divine light. The faithful were standing on the right and the left, some near the door, some by Calvary, others near the cruciform chain suspended from the ceiling and all around which they had hung their lamps, the chain, that is, which passes for representing the center of the world and which is there as a sign, so that all men might be astonished at the apparition of the divine fire. The Muslims themselves were filled with astonishment since up to that point the apparition of the light annually occurred only at one of the lamps inside the Holy Sepulcher, while on this day the entire church was filled with light. The amir, who was looking on from above on one of the tribunes, was witness to an even greater miracle. The largest of the lamps suspended in front of him let escape the oil and water which it contained and was suddenly filled with a divine fire even though it had no wick at all.

According to Bishop Auxentios, Muslim sources testify to the reality of the miracle and its popularity even within the Muslim community in Jerusalem:

A Moslem source, al-Biruni, writing in the early eleventh century and drawing on a tenth-century source, gives further testimony about attempted interventions of the Islamics in the ritual and to their frustration at the supernatural characteristics of the Holy Fire. He also contends that the particular time of the descent of the Holy Fire – which was unpredictable – presaged, according to popular lore, events during the following year. His testimony, coming as it does from an unsympathetic if not hostile witness, affords definite corroboration of Neketas’ claim, in the foregoing passage, that the annual miracle in the tomb enjoyed widespread popularity even within the Moslem community. More importantly, it represents an objective report of the phenomenon from a non-Christian source with little or no reason to believe in such a phenomenon. The passage is from al-Biruni’s work on the festivals of the various religious populations in the Islamic world.

A story is told in connection with the Saturday of the Resurrection that astonishes the investigator of the physical sciences and whose basis is impossible to uncover. If it were not for the agreement on the phenomenon of persons with differing views who report that it is based on eyewitness testimony and has been perpetuated by excellent scholars and other people in their books, one would give it no credence. I have learned of it in books and heard of it from al-Faraj ibn Salih of Baghdad…. A report is made on the subject which is sent to the capital of the caliphs as soon as the fire has descended. They say that if the fire comes down quickly and at a time close to midday, that presages a fertile year and that, on the contrary, the occurrence is delayed until the evening or afterwards, that that presages a year of famine. The one who told me of this said that some of the [Muslim] authorities had the wick of the lamp replaced by a copper wire to the end that it would not take light and the ceremony thus be disrupted. But when the fire descended it was lit nonetheless.

We should draw attention, here, to the fact that it was also in the early eleventh century that al-Hakim destroyed the entire complex of Golgotha. At least for the Syrian historian Ibn al-Qalanisi, who in the mid-twelfth century wrote the most detailed account of al-Hakim’s actions, the destruction was indeed the direct result of the caliph’s reaction to reports of the manifestation of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem. The extreme violence of al Hakim’s campaign attests to the fact that his intentions were not merely political, and it well may be that the widespread popularity of and belief in the annual miracle of the Holy Fire provoked in him a fit of religious intolerance and destructive fury. Certainly, the sources which we have cited evidence popular interest in the phenomenon during his time.

The Miracle of 1579

One of the most dramatic attempts by Muslim authorities to prevent the Miracle of the Holy Fire from taking place occurred on Holy Saturday 1579. According to the Church chronicles of the city of Jerusalem:

Turkish governors forbad[e] the Greek patriarch and the Orthodox faithful to enter the Church of the Resurrection for the customary rite of the Holy Fire.

The works that make reference to this event do not specify the exact date, but they mention that at the time the patriarch of Jerusalem was Sophronius IV, the patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch were, respectively, Jeremiah, Silvester and Joachim, and the sultan of the Ottoman Empire was Murad III.

If we look at the official lists of these four patriarchates we shall find that the four Greek Orthodox patriarchs were indeed in office in the second half of the sixteenth century, and if we examine the exact period of each patriarch’s reign and that of Sultan Murad III, we discover that the only common year in which the leadership of the five men coincided was the year 1579. 

According to written sources, on Holy Saturday of that year, a group of Turkish soldiers forbad the Orthodox entry into the Church of the Resurrection. The crowd of the faithful remained in the church courtyard throughout the entire day, and even after the sun had set.

The Greek Patriarch Sophronius IV was in the first year of his reign. It was the first time he would perform the most important rite of the year, but the Turks deprived him of his legal right. The patriarch stood in prayer at the left side of the church doorway, near a column. And suddenly, when night had already fallen, the column split and the Holy Fire leapt from its interior.

The patriarch immediately lit his candle and passed the Holy Fire to the faithful. Within a few minutes the sacred flame had spread to all those present and the courtyard of the church was illuminated. The awestruck Turkish guards then opened the doors of the church and the patriarch along with the rejoicing faithful poured in towards the Holy Sepulchre.

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The split marble column to the left of the main entrance to the Church of the Resurrection

An Arab emir [or regional governor] named Tunom . . . at the time of the miracle was in the church courtyard. When he saw the igniting of the column he realized the truth of the miracle of the Holy Fire and confessed to his co-religionists the power of Jesus Christ. After he quarreled with them, his confession became the cause of the order for his execution, and subsequently for his body to be burnt. Today he is venerated as an official holy martyr of the Orthodox Church. His memory is celebrated on 18 April and his relics are kept at the monastery of the Virgin Mary, the Megali Panagia, in Jerusalem.

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The holy martyr Tunom and, in the background, the column which ignited, illustrated in an icon at the Greek Orthodox monastery of Megali Panagia in Jerusalem

Before leaving this topic, it is worth remarking on the fact that it is not only Muslims who have proven the necessity of receiving the Holy Fire on Holy Saturday evening according to the Julian Calendar. Recently, when the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem attempted to celebrate the Liturgy of Holy Saturday according to the “New Julian Calendar,” the Holy Fire did not appear. Archimandrite Sergius Iazadjiev described the event in a paper on the calendar controversy in the Orthodox world:

In August of 1971, Nikolai [now Hieromonk Theophan] and I were coming back from rest and medical treatment at Narechen. Passing through the town of Plovdiv, we called in at the Metochion of Zographou to venerate the tomb of the Holy King Boris [906]. Schema-monk Seraphim of Zographou was in attendance at the tomb. He told us that recently (1969-70), under pressure from the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, the Jerusalem Patriarchate had introduced the ‘New Julian’ Calendar (as had the Bulgarian, Macedonian, and other Patriarchates, since there was overwhelming pressure at the time to introduce the New Calendar). That same year, on Great Saturday, when from time immemorial the Holy Fire descends on the Lord’s Sepulchre, this year the Fire did not appear. Shocked, Patriarch Benedict of Jerusalem commanded that the Old Calendar, which had been in use until then, be restored immediately in the jurisdiction of his Patriarchate. The next year, the Holy Fire once again descended on the Lord’s Sepulchre on Great Saturday; the same occurs even until the present.

Christians united by the Holy Fire

The Miracle of the Holy Fire unites all Christians because it calls them back to the fundamental dogmas of creation, redemption and sanctification, each of which is linked to a literal historical Sunday. The creation began in darkness on the first Sunday of the world; the new creation in Christ the Redeemer through His glorious Resurrection shone in the darkness of Easter Sunday eve; and the fire of the Holy Spirit that descended upon the glorious Body of our Risen Lord descended once again on Our Lady and the Holy Apostles on Pentecost Sunday.   Even now, this unity is symbolized by the 43 lamps which hang above the tomb of Our Lord in Jerusalem, all of which are lit from the Holy Fire each year.

The following is the testimony of Savva Achileos, a fairly recent eyewitness to the Holy Fire:

From 10 o’ clock in the morning of Holy Saturday until 11 o’clock, a rigorous search for any instrument or device for igniting is made inside the Holy Sepulchre. Above this most holy monument of Orthodoxy hang 43 golden vigil lights which are lit day and night.

13 belong to the Orthodox 13 belong to the Latins

13 belong to the Armenians and 4 to the Coptic Monophysites

All of these lights form a golden curtain. They are like torchbearing Heavenly Orders suspended over the Tomb of Christ. Inside the Holy Sepulchre, at the last hour, only authorized representatives of the Armenians, the Latins, and the Copts, together with the Orthodox enter the Tomb with the purpose to put out the 43 vigil lights. Precautions are taken so that at no time, either by error or intentionally, a vigil light remains lit or that anything suspect is present.

After a complete and thorough search is made in the Holy Sepulchre, a second and a third search follow to make certain that neither a person nor anything forbidden, exists inside the Tomb. Only then do the inspectors come out.

At that time, 11 o’clock, procedures for the sealing of the Tomb are ready to begin. The blessed and softened beeswax now will be used to secure two pure white ribbons in the shape of an “X” over the door of the Holy Sepulchre.

It is the after the wax has been put on the four ends of the ribbons, then at the exact center where the ribbons cross, more wax will be deposited. The rest of it will be placed all around the door. Finally, every point is to be stamped by the official seal of the Patriarchate.

When the Holy Fire rises up from Our Lord’s tomb and descends from above, it directly or indirectly ignites the Easter candles of representatives of the major ancient Christian communities, all of whom were united under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome at the Council of Nicea when the universal rules for Easter observance were established. I will now explain why it is possible to see in this annual event a symbolic foreshadowing of the future outpouring of grace that will move the Holy Father to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, thus ushering in the conversion of Russia, the return of the Orthodox to full communion with the Church of Rome, and the greatest evangelization the world has ever seen.

The Holy Fire and the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima

In light of all that we have learned, it is worth reflecting that something very much like the Miracle of the Holy Fire occurred on an even larger scale before 70,000 witnesses in Fatima, Portugal, on October 13, 1917. Known as the Miracle of the Sun, it was the greatest public miracle since the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. What distinguished it from most other public miracles in the history of the Church – including most of the miracles of Jesus Himself – was the fact that it was predicted months in advance. As author John Haffert explains:

Three months in advance, three children had predicted that a miracle would take place, on that spot, at that particular time, “so that everyone would believe,” in a message which they had received from Heaven . . . To put it in a few simple words – the official words used by the Bishop of Fatima in his Pastoral Letter on the Miracle:

Thousands upon thousands of persons . . . saw all the manifestations of the sun . . . a phenomenon which no astronomical observatory registered and thus was not natural . . . persons of every category and social class, believers and unbelievers, journalists of the principal Portuguese newspapers, and even persons some miles away.

John Haffert described the miracle in this way:

A light was seen in the sky which looked like the sun. It was visible within a radius of more than twenty miles, clearly defined (hence not something seen through a fog or mist), whirled in the sky like a wheel of fire, threw off shafts of colored light which colored objects on the ground. After several minutes, it seemed suddenly to loose itself from the sky and to plummet toward the earth, causing the crowd to believe that the world was about to end. It was over in twelve minutes.

Fatima O Seculo

By Judah Ruah, photograph for the news paper O Seculo, published the 1917-09-29 on the news paper Illustracao Portugueza – Illustracao Portugueza 1917-09-29 Reporter de Cristo website

We have seen that the light that kindles the Holy Fire in Jerusalem both descends from above and simultaneously rises up from Our Lord’s tomb.   During the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, the sun appeared to descend upon the crowds, but at the same time warmth rose up from the Earth drying the ground as well as the clothes and bodies of 70,000 people instantaneously. Just as the Holy Fire can touch any part of the body without burning for a short time after the Miracle takes place, so the warmth that rose up from the Earth at Fatima dried the ground, the clothing and the bodies of the 70,000 witnesses instantaneously – although the amount of heat required to remove so much moisture so rapidly in a natural way would have incinerated the crowd and all of their clothing.

Is this parallelism a mere coincidence, or is it somehow related to the purpose of the miracle of the Sun and the long-awaited Consecration of Russia?

It is impossible for us to know the answer to this question with certainty, but it is possible to formulate a reasonable hypothesis. In the first place, it would seem that by maintaining the Miracle of the Holy Fire on the date of Easter according to the Julian Calendar, Our Lord has indicated His preference for that observance. And this interpretation finds support in certain actions that the Pope and the Bishops have undertaken during and after the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. In God’s Providence, as reported on the official website of the Custody of the Holy Land, two days after the 95th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land published a directive stating that within two years:

all Latin and Eastern Rite Catholics of the diocese of the Holy Land will adopt the Julian calendar (followed by the Orthodox), after the preparation of the final decree and its approval by the Holy See. The directive leaves to the Bishops of the various Catholic Churches the freedom to choose whether to start the experience in 2013 or begin in 2015.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in the person of the Patriarch His Beatitude Fouad Twal, has invited all priests of the Diocese of the Holy Land (i.e., Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Cyprus) to adopt the Orthodox calendar . . . In the past, several Catholic parishes in the Diocese of the Holy Land have experienced the unification of Western and Eastern Easter with much success, considering that many families are made up of mixed marriages between Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. The difference in the calendars used by the Catholic Church (which follows the Gregorian calendar) and the Orthodox Church (which follows the Julian calendar) prevents members of mixed families to celebrate Easter on the same day. The difference dates back to the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.), at which time the Churches agreed that the Easter was to be celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon (14 Nisan) after the vernal equinox. As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Because of different methods of calculating the 14th day of the month of Nisan, the date of Easter in the Western and Eastern Churches is not always the same. For this reason, the Churches are currently seeking an agreement in order once again to celebrate the day of the Lord’s Resurrection on a common date” (Cf. CCC 1170).

To explore all of the reasons why Our Lord might want the Pope and the Bishops to return to the Nicene Easter date lies beyond the scope of this newsletter, but I hope that the facts related here suffice to show that Divine Providence has pointed in that direction. All that I would like to do here is to point out two more similarities between the Miracle of the Holy Fire and the Miracle of the Sun in relation to the consecration and conversion of Russia and the overthrow of Islam.

Fatima, Russia and the Defeat of Islam

At the time of the Miracle of the Sun, the Tsar of Russia had emerged as a strong protector of the rights of Christians in the Middle East and the Russian Orthodox Church remained the most prominent of the traditional Christian communities to maintain the Julian Calendar mandated by the Council of Nicea. When the Bolshevik Revolution took place, weeks after the Miracle of the Sun, one of the first actions of the new regime was to jettison the Old Calendar and to mandate the new calendar for all of Russia. In spite of the tremendous pressure brought to bear on the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Tikhon, he ultimately resisted the change, and the Russian Orthodox Church remains the most powerful champion of the Julian Calendar in the world to this day. Not coincidentally, the Russians do more to promote the Miracle of the Holy Fire than any other group of people, even broadcasting the Miracle of the Holy Fire on their state television network every year.

But that is not all.

Another parallel between the Miracle of the Holy Fire and the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima concerns the conversion of the Muslims. We have seen how the Miracle of the Sun has borne witness to the truth of the Gospel to the Muslims down through the centuries, overcoming every attempt by Muslim authorities to suppress or even eradicate the Miracle. By associating the Miracle of the Sun with the name of Fatima, the Holy Theotokos seems also to have linked her Miracle at Fatima with the defeat of Islam and the conversion of many Muslims. One of the most revered elders of Orthodoxy in modern times is Elder Paisios of Mount Athos – a man who, please God, may one day be honored as a saint of the Catholic Church after the return of the Orthodox to full communion with the Pope in the era of peace. In one of his prophetic statements, Elder Paisios predicted a future world war in which Russia would fight against Turkey and restore the Hagia Sophia to her rightful place as a Christian cathedral. He wrote:

Events will start that will culminate with us taking back Constantinople. Constantinople will be given to us. There will be war between Russia and Turkey. In the beginning the Turks will believe they are winning, but this will lead to their destruction. The Russians, eventually, will win and take over Constantinople . . . (The Turks) will be destroyed. They will be eradicated because they are a nation that was built without God’s blessing. One third of the Turks will go back to where they came from, the depths of Turkey. One third will be saved because they will become Christians, and the other third will be killed in this war.

Cathedral of Hagia Sophia

Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in the former Constantinople Arild VÃ¥gen [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Those of us who have traveled in the Middle East in recent years have seen how Russia has come to be viewed as the foremost protector of traditional Christian communities in the region by many Church leaders. When Dr. Thomas Seiler, Greg Clovis and I were in Egypt at the invitation of the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut a few years ago, we heard the Russians spoken of as “saviors” by the leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church. In Syria, it was the Russians who prevented the overthrow of the elected president, whose ouster would almost certainly have resulted in the further destruction of the traditional Christian communities and other religious minorities in Syria. Sad to say, it is the Russians who do more to protect the rights of Christians in the Middle East than any other group of people today, including the government of the United States.

Taking all of the evidence together, it is worth pondering the Miracle of the Sun in relation to the history of the Holy Fire. When viewed in that light, the Miracle of the Sun seems to warn both of a divine judgment to come and of an outpouring of grace from above that will confirm the faith of people of good will in the dogmas linked to the three most important Sunday’s in the history of the world: the first Sunday of the world, the “first day” of Creation; the Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection; and the Sunday of Sanctification on Pentecost. If this interpretation is correct, as a result of this divine judgment and outpouring of grace, the Holy Father will consecrate Russia with all the Bishops, Russia will be converted and return to full communion with the Catholic Church, the advance of Islam will be halted, and many Muslims will be won over to the Catholic Faith in a world-wide explosion of evangelization.

Let us pray that, through the prayers of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Holy Ghost will raise up champions of the true doctrine of creation, restore the foundations of the Faith, and usher in the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the consecration and conversion of Russia, and the greatest evangelization the world has ever seen!

Yours in Christ through the Holy Theotokos,

Hugh Owen

P.S. We have been granted a new permit for our outreach to the public near the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, July 28, to expose the evolution fraud and to proclaim the truth of Creation and of Our Lord’s Life-giving Passion, Death and Resurrection. If any of our readers would be willing and able to come to Washington, D.C. to participate in this project, please send me an email at howen@shentel.net

P.P.S. Our seventh annual leadership retreat will take place at St. Anne Retreat Center in Melbourne, Kentucky, from June 16 to June 22. The retreat is open to all Catholics (and their families) who are committed to advancing the mission of the Kolbe Center in their spheres of influence. If you would like more information about the schedule, facilities, and suggested donations for the retreat, please email me as soon as possible at howen@shentel.net