Each Saturday before Easter, tens of thousands of pilgrims from Christian-Orthodox communities in Russia, Greece, and other countries descend on Jerusalem’s Old City to attend the miracle that is the Holy Fire ceremony.
Blue light is said to emit [from] within Jesus Christ’s tomb, rising from the marble slab covering the stone bed believed to be that upon which Jesus’ body [had] been placed for burial… The light is believed to form a column of fire, from which candles are lit. This fire is then used to light the candles [and torches and oil lamps, TF] of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance.
The coronavirus made that mass ritual ill-advised this year, so prelates of the Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe and Central Asia came up with a lofty idea: airplanes! Jets would be dispatched to Israel from the respective capitals; and there, church officials from each country would take possession of oil lanterns that had been lit with this year’s holy fire. The burning lanterns would be carried aboard, and kept lit until the dignitaries could deplane with them and distribute the precious flame to waiting worshipers.
And that’s exactly what happened. Ten jets departed from Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Georgia, Cyprus, Romania, Moldova, Belarus, Poland, and Kazakhstan on Saturday — destination Tel Aviv.
Thanks to Avi Scharf, a journalist at Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, we know which aircraft were involved in the mission. I looked up the models (Embraer Legacies, Cessna Citationjets, Bombardier BD100s, etc.); figured out how much they rent for; and estimated the combined time of all 10 roundtrip flights, allowing for an hour on the ground in Tel Aviv. By my count, that’s 108 hours at an hourly rate of about $7,100, so $766,800. Factor in ground transportation between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and security, and a few other expenses, and we’re surely getting close to a cool million.
Now, I suppose that money could have been used to bring a lifelong supply of safe, clean water to 29,000 people, or to restore eyesight to more than 3,000 blind children. Then again, it’s hard to put a price on a flame. Or is it?
Kudos, by the way, to the Jerusalem Post for ending its coverage with the voice of a skeptic.
While impressed by the ceremony, Mike Ney — a material science engineer with Boeing Aircraft in Seattle currently stationed on contract in Tel Aviv — was skeptical of its miraculous nature. “It’s an easy trick we used to do in grade eight chemistry,” he explained. “You mix phosphorus with an organic compound. As the organic solution evaporates, it leaves the phosphorus behind which spontaneously combusts with water vapor in the air. I’d imagine that someone in the 13th century didn’t know that. They didn’t know chemistry like we do today. They would have thought it was a miracle.”
P.S.: This is possibly the LOL’est paragraph on all of Wikipedia:
The ceremony was marred in 2002 when a disagreement between the Armenian and Greek bishops over who should emerge first with the Holy Fire led to a struggle between the factions. In the course of the scuffle, the Greek Patriarch twice blew the Armenian’s candle out, forcing him to reignite his “Holy Fire” using a cigarette lighter, while the Greek Patriarch was despoiled of one of his shoes. In the end the Israeli Police entered the premises to restore order.