With the recent news reports about the skirmish at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, I have been thinking about my visit to the church in 1997. My question today is about the Miracle of the Holy Fire. What is the Church’s position on this?
The Miracle of the Holy Fire is a tradition of the Eastern Orthodox church. On the Orthodox church’s Easter Saturday, the Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem enters the sepulchre of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (called the Church of the Resurrection in Orthodoxy). Within a few minutes, the patriarch emerges with lighted candles that are said to be lighted from a holy fire that appears in the sepulchre every year on this date.
I do not know of any Catholic investigations into this occurrence, perhaps because of the tensions between the ecclesial communities that share the church’s premises and perhaps because it would not be appropriate for the Church to investigate this occurrence without the patriarch’s invitation to do so. It is doubtful that the Orthodox church would consider an investigation by the Catholic Church to be authoritative.
Absent a pronouncement by the Catholic Church for Catholics that the Miracle of the Holy Fire is a miracle worthy of human belief, a Catholic need not believe that the occurrence is of divine origin. Even if such a pronouncement did occur, a Catholic would not be bound in conscience to believe. But, given that there is nothing inherently wrong with believing that such a miracle occurs, out of courtesy toward Orthodox Christians a Catholic should be careful not to scandalize pious believers in the miracle.
For an Orthodox perspective on the Miracle of the Holy Fire, click here.