On Easter and the preceding Holy Week, Jerusalem fills with pilgrims from all over the world. For Orthodox and Catholic Christians, celebrations focus on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where six historic denominations have marked the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus since the fourth century.
On Palm Sunday pilgrims come streaming down the Mount of Olives singing hymns and bearing palm fronds, reenacting Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-10). Another highlight is Maundy Thursday, when the Patriarch washes the feet of his priests in imitation of Jesus (John 13:1-15).
On Good Friday, a procession of thousands along the Via Dolorosa mark the Stations of the Cross (Mark 15:16-37). On Saturday, Orthodox Christians celebrate the Ceremony of the Holy Fire, when thousands gather to await the miraculous lighting of the Patriarch’s candle from within the tomb. The crowds are tight and excitement runs high, but the sight of the flame jumping from taper to taper held by the chanting faithful inside the darkened church is unforgettable.
Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter later in the spring than Catholics and Protestants do, due to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by the Western churches. What’s more, Easter is celebrated on a different date each year because it coincides with Passover, which is determined according to the lunar calendar.
For Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Easter Sunday is marked by masses and solemn processions at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Protestants in Jerusalem flock to the Sunrise Service at the Garden Tomb.