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‘Holy Fire’ documentary on Holy Sepulchre features Arab Christian communities

J-P Mauro - published on 05/27/20

The short film comes during the Holy Sepulchre's first closing since the Black Plague.

A new documentary explores the ancient tradition of the Holy Fire ceremony, which has been conducted on Holy Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for over 1,000 years. The short film, Holy Fire: Celebrate Easter in Jerusalem, introduces viewers to the local Christian communities of Jerusalem, who faithfully fill their roles as custodians of this holy site.

Although the Holy Sepulchre is beginning to reopen their doors, thousands of pilgrims and local Christians were prevented from attending the Holy Fire ceremony in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus. It was, perhaps, providence that filmmaker siblings Brittany and Reuben Browning had been preparing the documentary, for they were able to release it on April 1, just in time for the Easter season, and a few weeks before the Holy Fire Ceremony, which was held before the smallest crowd since the Holy Sepulchre was last closed, during the medieval Black Plague pandemic.

In the film’s description, Reuben Browning writes:

The Holy Sepulchre encapsulates and displays Christianity in its entirety like no other place on earth. To walk through its doors is to be reminded that we are part of over two thousand years of history and a faith that spans the globe. The church is shared by six Christian denominations and situated at the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian minority. This film takes us to the Holy Fire ceremony at the Holy Sepulchre, introducing us to the local Christian communities who serve and worship there.

The 27-minute film takes viewers through the ceremony, offering gorgeous HD views of the Holy Sepulchre, along with the momentous celebration which brings all the Christian communities of Jerusalem together. In an interview with Renee Ghert-Zand, of The Times of Israel, Reuben Browning explained that the documentary was meant to include a history of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but it was cut down to focus primarily on the Holy Fire ceremony. He said:

“We wanted to emphasize that Christianity is rooted in the Middle East. Americans don’t realize there is a local, indigenous Arab Christian community. I wanted to tell their story.”

The Holy Fire ceremony is an annual event that takes place on the day before Orthodox Easter. It is described as a miraculous occurrence, where a blue column of fire is said to erupt from behind a marble slab, which covers the bed where it is believed Christ was laid after the Crucifixion. Candles are lit by this fire, which are distributed to the faithful in the room and also taken out of the Holy Sepulchre to be brought to the four corners of the world.

Holy Fire is available to rent and stream on Amazon and Vimeo. Watch the trailer here.

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