Egypt's Copts Flock to Jerusalem Holy Fire Ceremony, Though Far Less Than Last Year

A sharp decline in the number of pilgrims has been put down to inflation however, not the recent terrorist attacks on the community in Egypt

Christian Orthodox worshipers hold up candles during the ceremony of the "Holy Fire" in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, on April 15, 2017.
GALI TIBBON/AFP

Thousands of Egyptian Coptic pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem to take part in the Ceremony of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City on Saturday.

The number of pilgrims arriving from Egypt declined sharply this year however, due to inflation and a decline in the value of the Egyptian currency over the past year.

The Ceremony of the Holy Fire is the most important event in the Orthodox Christian liturgical calendar. During the ceremony, the Greek Orthodox patriarch brings out a burning candle from the tomb of Jesus, which is believed to have been miraculously lit. The faithful waiting outside light their candles from the sacred flame.

According to figures from the Israel Airports Authority, on the week leading up to the Ceremony of the Holy Fire, approximately 4,142 tourists from Egypt landed in Israel in comparison to last year which, according to an official from the Coptic Patriarchate in Jerusalem, saw some 11,000 pilgrims make the journey.

According to the Coptic Patriarchate official, the decline in Egyptian pilgrims is not related to the two terror attacks at Coptic churches in Egypt 10 days ago. Inflation in Egypt has surged over the past year. One year ago the exchange rate was 7 Egyptian pounds to the dollar while this year it is 18 to the dollar.

Recent years have seen a major increase however in Russian pilgrims to the ceremony, while pilgrims from Greece, Ethiopia, Armenia and a range of other countries also made the journey.

Ethiopian Orthodox worshipers hold candles during the Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 15, 2017.
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Until 2012, pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Egypt's Copts was not permitted for fear that it would be perceived as normalization with Israel. The new pope, Theodoros II, changed this policy however, and the arrival of the pope himself to the funeral of Jerusalem Coptic Patriarch Anba Abraham in 2015 further legitimized pilgrimage to Jerusalem.