This year the Holy Light will arrive in Greece from the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem under very strict measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Easter in Greece will be like no other Easter in history, with the churches closed and people quarantined in their homes. The holiest and most important Greek Orthodox feast will take place at home with close family and friends.
The ceremonial carrying of the Holy Light from the Church of the Resurrection (or Church of the Holy Sepulchre) in Old Jerusalem to Athens by aircraft this year will be no exception.
Despite draconian security measures against the coronavirus and the universal ban on Jewish and Easter holidays in Jerusalem, including closing the doors of the Church of the Resurrection, Israeli authorities finally permitted the Holy Light (or Holy Fire) to be transported to Greece and other Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe.
After days of consultations between diplomats from Athens and Tel Aviv, as well as officials from Jerusalem, the plan to transfer the Holy Light to Greece after taking all possible health precautions has finally been approved.
It should be noted that the last time the Church of the Resurrection has had its doors sealed was in the year 1349, when the plague known as the Black Death killed 100-200 million people in Europe and Asia.
This Easter, only 10-15 high priests will conduct the liturgy and receive the Holy Fire from the tomb of Jesus Christ inside the Church of the Resurrection. It has been agreed that immediately after the liturgy, the Holy Light will be passed on to the faithful, in a ceremony that has been carried out since the year 867.
The Holy Light will then be transported inside a lantern and have a special police escort to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.
The only stop in the human chain of air transport of the Holy Light to the Orthodox world is the Jaffa Gate, where representatives of the Jerusalem Patriarchate will deliver the Light to the Consul General of Greece in Israel, Christos Sofianopoulos. It will then be passed on to the Greek delegation, which will have departed from Athens on Saturday morning for Tel Aviv.
At the Jaffa Gate, one of the eight oldest gates in the old city of Jerusalem, representatives of the rest of the Orthodox Church – Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania – will also receive some of the Holy Light to transport it to their homelands in time for Paschal services.
At the same time, aircraft from the Greek Air Force will be waiting on the runway, as its crew is prohibited from personally setting foot on Israeli soil due to the quarantine.
The Greek Consul General will hand over the Holy Light to the Exarch of the Holy Sepulcher, Archimandrite Damianos, who will board the Greek aircraft.
Once the Holy Light lands on Greek soil, the reception ceremony will be very austere due to the pandemic this year. A minimal number of military staff, including a band, will be present to give the Holy Light the appropriate honors due to a head of state. Only 18 army and band members will be present, compared to a total of 80 last year.
There will additionally be no red carpet on the runway this year, and a very limited number of state officials will be there. Only Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister, the Exarch of the Holy Sepulchre and the Representative of the Church of Greece, and Nikolaos, the Metropolitan of Mesogeia, will be present to welcome the arrival of the Holy Light.