Christians in Jerusalem celebrate the Holy Fire despite Israeli police restrictions.
Despite Israeli police restrictions, thousands of Christians filled Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday for an important Orthodox Easter ritual.
The Holy Fire ceremony drew large crowds to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in occupied East Jerusalem, where Israeli police patrol.
It stands where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
Due to safety concerns, police had limited attendance to 1,800 persons inside and 1,200 outdoors.
Church leaders urged Christians to disregard the limitations and criticized the presence of police at the gathering.
The Holy Fire rite dates back centuries and is usually performed in front of a large crowd at Christianity’s holiest site. Christian pilgrims from all over the world travel to attend the celebration, which commemorates Jesus’ resurrection.
After hours of waiting, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch emerged from the sealed empty tomb on Saturday with a lit candle – an annual miracle before Orthodox Easter Sunday.
The fires were passed from person to person surrounding the church, as well as between local Christians and international pilgrims waiting in the nearby small alleys.
In previous years, up to 10,000 attendees crammed into the church, with many more overflowing into the Old City’s surrounding alleyways.
However, for the second year in a row, church leaders were advised that entry would be severely restricted due to safety concerns.
“We have also sat with external engineers who have told us there is a limit to the crowd size that is allowed inside of the church, and due to these statements by the engineers, we are limiting the crowds,” police spokesperson Master Sergeant Dean Elsdunne previously stated.
Churches deny that limitations were required.
Thousands of people were also reportedly unable to enter the church on Saturday due to Israeli police setting up checkpoints at the entrance and across the walled Old City.