On Easter, the Christian world commemorates Jesus’ death and resurrection. Israel, which is where the major events in his life is a central focus point on this holiday. The Christian communities in Israel mark the holiday of Easter for seven days to commemorate the last week of Jesus’s life. The many events taking place in Israel during this period attract thousands of Christian pilgrims who come to Israel in order to participate in the various ceremonies relating to Easter, to visit the holy places and to pray there. Although many ceremonies and events are held in Haifa, Nazareth and additional cities and towns in Israel, the central events naturally take place in Jerusalem.
During Holy Week or Easter Week, numerous events are held in Jerusalem. On the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Easter, devout Christians participate in a procession that starts from the Bethpage Church on the Mount of Olives and ends in the Church of St. Anne’s, located on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. The colorful procession passes before thousands of Christian faithful from different countries around the world who stand on the sidelines, welcoming the heads of the Catholic Patriarchate with blessings and song. As noted above, the procession ends at the Church of St. Anne’s where many bands play tunes to add to the joyous occasion. On Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Christians engage in a foot-washing ceremony. On that day, although the doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are open throughout the year, they are closed and are reopened clandestinely and only on four occasions. After the foot-washing ceremony, the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist is observed, in which the Christian faithful symbolically partake of the blood and flesh of Jesus. Following the Eucharist, members of the clergy participate in a breathtaking procession around Jesus’ empty tomb.
The Good Friday procession precedes Holy or Great Saturday when the Ceremony of the Holy Fire is held. According to Christian tradition, Good Friday marks the day on which Jesus was crucified. The procession in which thousands of Christians participate is held in Jerusalem; the participants, carrying huge crucifixes, reenact the path Jesus followed along the Via Dolorosa. They pass the 14 stations marking the final stages of Jesus’ life until they reach the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Ceremony of the Holy Fire is the most important event in the Christian Orthodox world. The ceremony begins in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In the early hours of the morning, many devout Christians gather in order to secure their place in line for entry into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, awaiting the sign that the doors will be opened. Within the church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch will at a certain moment enter the Holy Sepulcher by himself with an extinguished torch and will pray there. After the torch has been rekindled, he will show the torch to the representatives of the other denominations who will then light their torches from the torch he is holding and will carry them into the church, where the fire will be passed among those present from one to another. In recent years, the ceremony inside the church was broadcast live to the millions of Christians unable to attend it in person in Jerusalem.
In addition to Jerusalem, many events are held in connection with Easter in other cities and towns in Israel with a large Christian population, such as Haifa and Nazareth. Although there are various traditions among the different Christian communities in Israel regarding the date of Easter, visitors to Haifa on Palm Sunday will have the opportunity of seeing the traditional procession there in which Christians holding palm leaves pass by the various churches in Haifa. The procession begins at the Greek Orthodox Church, continues to the Catholic Church, where the Catholics join the procession, moves on to the Latin Church and the Maronite Church, finally ending at the new Orthodox Church. In Nazareth, visitors can march through the city’s alleyways on Palm Sunday together with the local residents and many other devout Christians in a procession marking a colorful grassroots religious festival as special musical compositions are played.