Does the Holy Fire in Orthodox churches mean the Orthodox Church is the "True" Church?
We got an email that said:
I have only one question about eastern -some orthodox say that on the orthodox easter the bishop of Jerusalem (and only he) receives the holy fire on the Lord's grave, so based on that fact they claim that the orthodox church is the "right and only" church
Our friend Mark Bonocore, a specialist on Orthodox issues answers:
It is wonderful to hear from one of our Orthodox brothers who sees (as we do) that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are essentially united in one Apostolic Faith, and that we should not be divided. As the late Pope John Paul said, we are "two lungs within the same Body," and "we must learn to breathe with both lungs."
In regard to the Holy Fire in Jerusalem ... That is actually a local tradition of the Jerusalem church; and while it is very important to modern Eastern Orthodox, it is not recorded earlier than the 8th Century. No one mentions it before then, so we don't know if it took place in earlier times or not. It is not, and never has been, part of our Roman tradition; and other rites of the Church (Byzantines, Russians, Bulgarians, etc.) only adopted it in the later Middle Ages. To we Romans, it is considered a pious belief of Orthodox brothers, but we do not feel bound to believe in it. It is not a binding Apostolic Tradition. And while no Catholic of good will would criticize you for believing in it, there are many people (many of them Orthodox) who have claimed over the years that it is not a true miracle, but that the bishop of Jerusalem actually lights the fire himself. But, again, it is not for us to judge this. That is between the bishop and God. But, if you'd like to read more about the criticisms of the Holy Fire, which have even come from some faithful Orthodox, here is a wikipedia article on the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Fire
If the Holy Fire is a true miracle, then it would not necessarily mean that we Catholics do not possess the true Faith. Rather, it would merely mean that Christ is faithful to the Orthodox just as He is faithful to us Catholics, and that He gives this sign to the Orthodox bishop of Jerusalem because he is the Orthodox bishop of Jerusalem, and the Orthodox expect to see this sign every Pascha. We Romans, however, (as I said) do not expect to see that sign, since it is not part of our Western tradition.
Charis kai eirene (Grace and Peace)
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.
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