ABC News’ Meredith Mandell reports:
Jerusalem’s Old City was illuminated with tens of thousands of candles this weekend as pilgrims celebrated a 1,200 year old holy fire ceremony during Orthodox Easter.
On Saturday, raucous crowds inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were held in check by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police, as the pilgrims waited for what they believe to be holy fire igniting supernaturally from Jesus’ tomb.
When the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem emerged from tomb of the Sepulcher with a single flame, the crowds erupted in cheers and whistles.
The fire spread from candle to candle as the faithful waved their hands through the flame, insisting it didn’t burn them.
Angelo Bartzas, 39, and his new bride Elpida Papakonstantinou, 30, Eastern Orthodox pilgrims from Melbourne Australia, traveled for 36 hours to get to Israel for the holy fire ceremony on their honeymoon.
“It’s unexplained except for the power of God, except for the power of God, Bartzas said. “It’s just a miracle that happens every year continuously.”
Many of the onlookers were members of the clergy draped in simple black garments. Thirty-eight-year-old Sister Nicolaida Gojan of the Romanian Orthodox Church said she was eagerly awaiting the fire with a lantern in hand.
“It’s a big grace for me because I keep in my hands the candles who will bring holy light for all of the Romanian people,” she said.
The flame will be sent out from Jerusalem to Orthodox populations across the Middle East and Eastern European countries on specially chartered flights.
Religious fervor is blanketing the city this week.
Israel’s Ministry of Tourism estimates that one hundred and 25,000 Christian pilgrims that the Israeli Tourism ministry estimates have flocked to Jerusalem for Orthodox Easter.
Zhenik Hovsepian, 45, a born-again Christian from Los Angeles was overcome while being interviewed.
“Are you kidding me? Of course I’m excited. The moment that we arrived here I was very emotional and I wrote to my family in Christ, I wrote them that I’m so excited to be here in the land where he walked and talked, and played and taught,” Hovsepian said.
The majority of the pilgrims are from eastern European countries along with about 2,500 Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt.