May 7, 2019

A Description of Greek Orthodox Easter in Jerusalem in 1915

Easter procession of the Greek Patriarch, Jerusalem. C. H. Graves. Ca. 11 November 1903.


By Estelle Blyth*

In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem there is a spot which guides point out as the centre of the world, and which the Russian pilgrims, and probably a good many others too, believe implicitly to be the exact spot. The first time you are told this you are inclined to smile at the simple but audacious statement; each successive visit to the church shows you the curious truth of it. For Jerusalem is not only the capital of Christendom, she is the centre of the religious world. To her go up year by year all the nations of the earth, no matter by what creed or name they call themselves — Christian, Moslem, and Jew, all turn in hither as to a common home; and so it is that within her narrow limits are found all the elements of that unity which must one day transfigure the city that was built to be at unity within herself.

The most beautiful place in the city, and by far the most reverently kept, is the Mosque of Omar, the Dome of the Rock: but for Christians of every description the Church of the Holy Sepulchre remains the centre of interest. Though we may not believe in its authenticity (and there are many of us who cannot bear to associate such an event with all the unseemly strife and bitterness that rage around it), yet is it hallowed by the tradition of centuries, and even more by the devotion, the belief, the love, and the self-sacrifice, of countless thousands of worshippers. Almost every Christian Communion has its chapel, shrine, or holding within the compass of this wonderful church. We of England have laid a worthy offering at its door, where lies buried Sir Philip d'Aublgny, one of those invincible men who procured for us, and signed, the Great Charter of English liberty: "To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice." Of your gratitude pray for the soul of Philip d'Aublgny.

The interest of the Greek Easter centres in three great ceremonies of the Holy Week: the Washing of the Feet on Thursday, the Holy Fire on Saturday at noon, and the Easter Mass at midnight. Easter comes at the end of a long and very severe fast of forty days, during which oil, milk, butter, and eggs are forbidden. The pilgrims keep it rigorously, also many of the poor; and no doubt the physical unbracing that must follow on such abstention from nourishing foods is a big factor in the wild and uncontrollable excitement displayed at these ceremonies. The upper classes, and those whose work taxes the brain and mental powers, observe the first and last weeks of Lent.

The Washing of the Feet takes place on Maundy Thursday at eight A.M., in the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre. It is supremely interesting as a lingering survival of the miracle play. We were in our places by seven o'clock, in a high window of the Greek Convent, directly overlooking the stand where the feet-washing would take place. The Patriarch was in the church, we were told, at a service which had begun at five; he would fast until it was all ended. A light drizzle was falling, and the air was clear and keen. Already the crowds were rolling together, in a way that was hardly perceptible except by the gathering hum of voices, but owing to the War1 there were barely half as many pilgrims this year as there are as a rule. Lemonade vendors, and sellers of cakes and sweets, did good business in a crowd that had been on the go since dawn, and had no immediate prospect of returning home. Every window, balcony, roof, and ledge rapidly filled up; babies (some crying, others dazed beyond the relief of tears) were everywhere; pilgrims, excited and emotional, but always devout, made a solid wall of humanity behind the double line of soldiers; photographers were perched precariously in boxes hanging by cords from balconies, adventuring their lives in the pursuit of duty. On the south side of the courtyard, facing the raised stand, was a small balcony, and near it, overhead, a young olive-tree was suspended by cords from an upper window; this was to represent the Tree of the Agony in Gethsemane. The crowd became so dense as time wore on that it could only move in a mass, swaying like a cornfield in the wind; the lines of soldiers kept a clear space round the stand.

And here I may make a brief digression to deny emphatically a charge that is often brought against the Turkish soldiers—that they strike and otherwise ill-treat the crowds at these services. Having grown up in Jerusalem, and having been present at every kind of service, ceremony, and gathering, I can only say that I have never seen a soldier ill-treating anyone in any way on any of these occasions, even when excited "worshippers" have used fists upon them with more zeal and effect than piety; and I have seen many little acts of consideration, and a uniform good-temper and patience. For instance, at this very service, two little children, who were in danger of being crushed, or at least badly hustled and frightened, were lifted shoulder-high by soldiers out of harm's way; an officer held up a little Christian boy so that he might get a good view of the Patriarch; and another officer, seeing the soldiers push back a vociferating old pilgrim-woman, interfered on her behalf, and himself showed her to the place for which she held a ticket.

Soon after eight, the great bells of the Holy Sepulchre clanging out announced the Patriarch's approach, and while their wild clamor filled the air, the procession emerged from the gloom of the church into the bright sunshine in the courtyard. First the Archimandrites, two and two, splendid in robes of red and gold brocade, carrying tapers, and chanting; then, alone, the double snake-headed staff in his hand, came the Patriarch. He was in striking contrast to the procession of which he was the last; they were all in such vivid colors, chanting so lustily as they went; he was alone, clad all in gleaming white brocade and silver, with flowing hair and beard of white, while the sun's rays turned to points of fire the diamond settings of the icons and cross upon his breast, and the jewels in his crown. Full of dignity, silent amid much sound, yet pathetic, too, in the weariness that could not be hidden, the white figure paced slowly through the crowds and ascended the platform. The twelve Archimandrites took their places on cushioned seats; and now the Patriarch's outer robe of white, his jewels, and crown were removed, and he was seen in a plain, straight garment of shell-pink satin, delicately outlined in gold. A large rough towel was girded round his waist, another slung over his shoulder, and a handsome ewer and basin of embossed silver and gold were brought forward. All this time an old priest in the little balcony opposite was reading out the story of the first Holy Thursday and the last addresses of our Lord to His disciples, in a very lusty, sing-song voice, without any apparent pause for breath. The Archimandrites, each of whom, of course, represented an Apostle, bared one foot, which the Patriarch, kneeling down, washed, dried, and kissed, his hand being kissed as he rose by each in turn. When it came to the turn of St. Peter (whose part is taken by the Russian Archimandrite), the Gospel scene was enacted literally, and this being ended, the Patriarch resumed his robes and crown. He then descended into the crowd, where a small square platform placed under the hanging olive-tree represented Gethsemane. Three of the Archimandrites grouped themselves in attitudes of sleep upon the steps of the big stand. Here again the whole scene of the Gospel story was portrayed; and watching the earnest faces of the Russian pilgrims, as they bowed and crossed themselves and followed every movement with rapt and devotional interest, you could only feel that to their simple and uncultivated intelligences these scenes from Scripture made real the Agony and Passion of the Saviour. There is a stage in every life, whether of nations, Churches, or individuals, when men must be taught by means of pictures; the fault is not in those who find happiness and good in such things, but in the grown minds which refuse to let the flock be taught. The service ended with this, and the procession reformed, returning to the Patriarchate. As he passed along, the Patriarch dipped a bunch of flowers in the water that had been used for the washing of the feet, and sprinkled the crowds. The pilgrims liked it very much, the troops evinced less pleasure — judging from the faces of both. A double line of soldiers formed up immediately behind the Patriarch, the crowds broke order and surged after them, and so, swaying to and fro, some following the gleaming processional cross, others scattering to their homes, the throng melted away out of the courtyard. One great ceremony of the Holy Week was over.

The chief event of the week, however, is the Holy Fire, which takes place on Easter Eve at noon. Places had been reserved for us in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and we had to be in them by ten o'clock. We were in a kind of balcony in what is known as the Greek Cathedral, exactly opposite the Sepulchre. Already the cathedral was full of Russian pilgrims, while the rotunda was rapidly filling up with noisy, excited people, pilgrims and others belonging to all the Eastern Churches. On either side of the Sepulchre are two large holes, through which the fire, when kindled, is thrust out; one hole belongs to the Armenians and one to the Greeks, and any intruder of another creed found near either hole would have short shrift. Every place was crowded—the galleries in the dome, the balconies (of which each foreign Consul has one, like a box at the theatre), ledges, corners, and recesses, all showed spectators clustered thick together; and in the deep archways of the rotunda small wooden platforms had been nailed up, accommodating so many persons at a good price. Many of these, with sleeping rugs and carpets, babies, food, and even umbrellas, were sleeping here for the three nights of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and numbers of the Russian pilgrims, too, were rolled up doglike on the floor of the church. It was a wonderfully interesting crowd, alive with emotion, excitement, and color; men dancing on each other's shoulders, clapping, and shouting catches from one to the other, until the whole church rang again:

The Fire has shone, and we have feasted:
We have visited the Sepulchre of our Lord.
Our Lord is Jesus Christ.
Christ came to us,
And with His Blood He bought us.
We are rejoicing to-day, And the Jews are sad! O Jews! O Jews! Your feast is the feast of monkeys. Our feast is the feast of Christ! There is no religion but the religion of Christ! Hurrah!


O Virgin! peace be to thee!
We have visited the Sepulchre and the Church.
Respond, O ye Brethren!
Let not our enemies rejoice!

O St. George! we have prayed at the Sepulchre!
We are Christians, and the candles are carried in our hands!
While the pilgrims were praying
The Sepulchre was opened, and the Holy Fire came forth!

There were also cries of "Long life to our lord" (the Patriarch); and so it went on, thrown from voice to voice, until the frenzy of excitement spread like fire among stubble. Here and there water-sellers threaded their way in and out, and the soldiers goodhumoredly pushed the crowd back within some bounds. A wonderful crowd it was, such as you would see nowhere else in the world probably— only it was hard to remember that you were in church! But to turn your head for one moment was to receive a totally different impression. Just behind, in the Greek Cathedral, the Russian pilgrims were still silently gathering. It was all intensely real to them; there was no shouting here, no pushing, no derisive songs and snatches, but such earnest, watchful eyes, such rapt faces, lips moving in silent prayer, frequent bowing and crossing, and here and there, perhaps, a still figure fallen prone upon the floor in worship. Nothing could have been more arresting than the contrast to us in that balcony; in front the seething, noisy crowd deliberately working up its emotions to a fever pitch; and behind, that dim, silent cathedral full of prayerful watchers.

Shortly before twelve the door of the Sepulchre was closed and sealed by a Greek, an Armenian, and a Syrian priest, and one of the Moslem guardians of the church. A Franciscan monk was also there, to show by his presence that the Latins, too, have rights in the Sepulchre of Christ. The sense of expectation grew in everyone.

The sudden outburst of the great bells overhead at twelve was the climax to the seething excitement of the crowd. Even to a Western imagination those deep throbbing notes, so wild and harsh, so persistent and compelling, are stimulating and suggestive in an extraordinary degree; to such a crowd as this, whose emotions were already strung up to the highest pitch, it was the last straw. Back in the dim cathedral the golden doors of the Ikonostasis were thrown open, and a procession forming in its depths came slowly into view. First banners, long, narrow, three-pointed ones, each portraying in paint or needlework some scene in the life of our Lord. There are some very old and valuable banners belonging to the church, which are generally used, but because of the split between the Greek and Arab members of the Orthodox Church these were not used this year; they belong to the Arabs and are really ancient, and the right of carrying them belongs to certain of the oldest families. This year four of the banners used were carried by Christian soldiers in uniform, which was nice to see. A procession followed, of choir boys, priests, and bishops, ending with the Patriarch wearing the crown and jewels of his office, and went three times round the Sepulchre; after which, standing outside the sealed-up door, the Patriarch was divested of his outer robe, his crown, and jewels, in none too gentle a fashion by the deacons. Then the seals on the door were broken, and the Patriarch entered alone. A few minutes' breathless suspense — then lighted bunches of candles were thrust through the holes on either side, and a scene of the wildest confusion followed, while the great bells raced and jangled overhead. A priest from the Greek side of the Sepulchre broke through the crowd, waving two great bunches of candles all aflame; he went to light the lamp before the altar in the Greek Cathedral. Runners fought their way through, carrying lanterns, one for the Armenian Church, one for Jaffa. A man is sent from Jaffa every year to bring the Holy Fire back; on his arrival he delivers it up to the priests, who light all the lamps and candles from it. In past years the Holy Fire used to be taken out to Bethlehem by specially selected members of certain families, who conveyed it out with great rejoicings, while the priests, with crosses, banners, and candles, came out as far as the Bethlehem Serai to meet it; but owing to jealousy and quarrels amongst these families, which resulted in the fire being extinguished more than once upon the road, the privilege was taken away from the natives, and now a Greek monk is charged with the duty. He drives out to Bethlehem in a special carriage, escorted by three mounted police, and on his arrival is met by the priests and taken in procession to the church.

The fire was passed from one to the other until in a few minutes the whole church was thick with smoke, out of which the flames shone and leaped like living things. Every person was provided with a bundle of tapers, which were lit, and the pilgrims extinguished theirs with round caps specially provided for the purpose, and which are then put by, to be used in time for their burial. It was rather alarming to see the people bathing their faces and beards in the flame, and passing their clothes through it: "It is Holy Fire," they say, "it can never burn us!" Truth compels me to add that we have never heard of a case of burning, and if a fire were once started in that dense throng it could hardly be stamped out. Those who were up in the dome, or in high places, let down their candles by strings to be lighted, and then drew them up again; showers of candle-grease fell everywhere, but no one seemed to mind that in the least. But the most wonderful sight of all was the Greek Cathedral, where the Russian pilgrims, their solid immobility absolutely melted by the fierce ardor of their religious zeal, swayed and pushed and panted in the struggle to get their tapers lighted. The whole cathedral was like a scene out of Dante's Inferno — rolling clouds of smoke, white straining faces and eager shining eyes of men possessed, lit up by the hungry leaping flames which they seemed as if they would press to their very hearts in the excess of ungovernable emotion. It was through this scene (which I can only describe as appalling in all that it expressed and all that it suggested of human feelings stirred to the very depths) that the Patriarch was presently hurried, holding aloft two flaming candles, and was half carried, half propelled, up the steps into the Ikonostasis. We were glad to think that his part in the ceremony was over, and that he could now rest and take a little nourishment before the long but very beautiful midnight Mass, which begins about eleven and ends some time after three.

Straightway upon the Patriarch's departure followed a triple procession of Armenians, Copts, and Syrians, all wearing very rich and beautiful copes and crowns and jewels, and walking in such close rank that they seemed like one long procession. In the midst of this there suddenly flared up one of those nasty little quarrels whose possibility makes the presence of soldiers at every ceremony a necessity, though it is true that these quarrels are becoming rarer and less serious every year with the spread of education. A chair was brought out for the old Syrian Bishop, who was very tired, and the Armenians, following on, found the way blocked, and tried to remove both chair and Bishop, whereupon the irate Syrians seized the Armenian Bishop's staff and tried to break it upon the stone floor. In a moment a furious little quarrel had blown up; the soldiers ran together to the spot, anxious officers parted combatants, whistles were blown, the bugler unslung his bugle ready for orders, and an agitated young recruit just behind us started loading with ball-cartridge, until his musket was taken away from him by a more level-headed companion. An Armenian priest was seen to leap upon the shoulders of a Syrian confrere, bear him to earth with the weight and suddenness of the attack, and bang his head hard upon the stone floor; while another Syrian gave an Armenian some very shrewd blows over the head and nose with a thick candle. And it all died away in a very few minutes; a few of the most furious combatants on either side were expelled by the soldiers, and the procession calmly went on its third round. A great deal might have happened, of course, but nothing did. Except those immediately concerned, and the soldiers, no one seemed to pay very much attention; the tumult did not disturb the devotions of the Russians behind us in the very least.

Do the people believe in the Holy Fire? The pilgrims and the unlettered masses do, most certainly. They say that the Patriarch rubs the tomb with consecrated oil and prays, while it grows warmer under his hand, and then suddenly the flame leaps forth. This is the story the Crusaders told and believed — perhaps invented in the first instance. Says Geoffrey de Vinsauf (1192):

"On Easter Eve Saladin with his retinue, paid a visit to the Holy Sepulchre of our Lord, to assure himself of the truth of a certain fact — namely, the coming down from Heaven of fire once a year to light the lamp. After he had watched for some time, with great attention, the devotion and contrition of many Christian captives, who were praying for the mercy of God, he and all the other Turks suddenly saw the divine fire descend, and light the lamp, so that they were vehemently moved, while the Christians rejoiced, and with loud voices praised the mighty works of God. But the Saracens disbelieved this manifest and wonderful miracle, though they witnessed it with their own eyes, and asserted that it was a fraudulent contrivance. To assure himself of this, Saladin ordered the lamp to be extinguished; which, however, was instantly rekindled by the divine power; and when the infidel ordered it to be extinguished a second time, it was lighted the second time; and so likewise a third time. . . . Saladin, wondering at the miraculous vision, and the faith and devotion of the Christians, and exceedingly moved, asserted by the spirit of prophecy, that he should either die or lose possession of the city of Jerusalem. And his prophecy was fulfilled, for he died the Lent following."2

The Russian Abbot Daniel, who was a pilgrim in the year 1106-7, describes how the crowd waited for over three hours, chanting "Kyrie Eleison," and "each one, searching the innermost depths of his soul, thinks of his sins and says secretly to himself 'Will my sins prevent the descent of the Holy Light?'" The Bishop looked through the grille into the tomb, "but seeing no light returned." "At the end of the ninth hour ... a small cloud, coming suddenly from the east, rested above the open dome of the church; fine rain fell on the Holy Sepulchre. It was at this moment that the Holy Light suddenly illuminated the Holy Sepulchre, shining with an awe-inspiring and splendid brightness. . . . The Holy Light," explains Abbot Daniel, "is like no ordinary flame, for it burns in a marvellous way with indescribable brightness, and a ruddy color like that of cinnabar. . . . Man can experience no joy like that which every Christian feels at the moment when he sees the Holy Light of God. He who has not taken part in the glory of that day will not believe the record of all that I have seen." Early on Easter morning the Abbot went to the Holy Sepulchre, where "we breathed with ecstasy the perfume which the presence of the Holy Ghost had left; and we gazed in admiration on the lamps, which still burned with a bright and marvellous splendor. . . . The five other lamps suspended above (the tomb) were also burning, but their light was different from that of the three first, and had not that marvellous brightness." Later, when the Abbot paid his farewell visit to the church, "the keeper of the keys, seeing my love for the Holy Sepulchre, pushed back the slab that covers the part of the sacred tomb on which Christ's Head lay, and broke off a morsel of the sacred rock; this he gave me as a blessed memorial, begging me at the same time not to say anything about it at Jerusalem." No doubt!

"Why do the Greek clergy not tell the people that it is only a beautiful symbol?" an English lady once asked a Greek bishop. "Madam," he replied, "if we did they would tear us to pieces — and still they would believe in it!" Some years ago the then Patriarch, with a fine courage not to be over-estimated, did preach about it during Lent. Furious anger was the result, and on Easter Eve the people locked him out of the church. "God will punish him!" they said, accounting him a blasphemer; and when he died before the next Lent these people, iron-bound in narrowness and prejudice, said that God had struck him down. The Armenians do not believe in the actual descent of the fire from heaven, for every year their Patriarch explains the service to them. The cult is rooted in centuries of tradition, and to the unenlightened but passionate belief of limited minds it represents much of the beauty and the mystery of religion, but it is one of the main obstacles in the way of reform. I suppose the chief upholders of it are the Russian pilgrims, whose religion seems to an outsider to centre in the Dead and Buried Christ rather than in the Risen One. "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the Sepulchre?"

When we again found ourselves at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the scene was very different. The church was almost empty save for a few Russian pilgrims, and for some men who were busy lighting the countless lamps and candles in every part of it. This is the one night in all the year when everything is lighted, but it takes some time to do, and meanwhile we went up on to the roof of the Chapel of St. Helena, which is included in the Abyssinian Convent, and where their Eve service was in progress. A small crowd was here, waiting for the procession to issue from a long tent which had been erected at one side. Standing outside in the clear starlight, we could hear the rise and fall of voices chanting in melancholy cadence, and from time to time the deep booming note of a drum that spoke to a Western imagination of the hidden recesses of primeval forests, and rites more strange and ancient than hallowed. Presently we managed to squeeze inside the tent, where, in a space designed for, say, forty, at least a hundred persons were amicably herded together. The dragoman of the Abyssinian Convent (discovering our connection with the English Bishop3) interrupted the officiating priest to introduce us, and also wrested chairs from others of the clergy for our accommodation near the Abbot. All look the interruption very placidly and quite as a matter of course; the embarrassment was entirely on our part. To our uninformed minds the service proceeding was rather pointless; it seemed to consist solely in reading out of a large and ancient volume, thrumming on a bell-shaped drum, and occasional outbursts of chanting in a very dolorous key. Some of the clergy had curious silver sistra, which they shook monotonously to and fro. The chief interest for us lay in watching the faces before us, stamped as they were with the weariness of centuries, faces that could only belong to the scions of a very ancient race. They are a strange people, the Abyssinians; they are probably the oldest Christian nation extant, dating from the fourth century, when Greek missionaries from Alexandria converted them. They have preserved through ages and through generations the form and tradition of a somewhat crude and barbaric Christianity; they allow polygamy, and forbid the eating of swine's flesh; both baptism and circumcision are practised; controversies on the Nature of Christ, long since forgotten, still excite their orthodoxy; Pilate is accounted a saint for his words "I am innocent of the Blood of this just Man," and their devils are all most artistically white.

Presently they all struggled to their feet, and strayed out upon the roof in a somewhat disorderly procession, bearing lighted tapers. The effect was both weird and picturesque—the dark melancholy faces and bright rolling eyes, the ancient robes and gleaming jewels, the monotonous thrumming of the drum pierced by the sharper note of the sistrum, and the never-ceasing roll of that guttural minor chant. This year (we could not find out why) they did not use either the curious silver crowns or the large velvet and goldembroidered umbrellas that usually adorn the procession. We watched it go its round three times, seeming more like a train of melancholy ghosts let loose upon earth for a space than part of a Christian service in the twentieth century; then we went back into the church.

The sound of sweetest chanting drew us on willing feet up the narrow slippery steps to Calvary, where, amid the subdued shimmer of silver lamps, a Russian service was in act. There is nothing sweeter, more harmonious, or more peaceful than Russian Church music unaccompanied; every Russian seems a natural musician, and the Russian voice can express tones and depths of sound that are beyond the compass of ordinary throats. These strains were as sweet and as haunting as the Pilgrims' Chorus from Tannhauser.

Passing quietly out of Calvary we climbed many steps, broad and narrow, steep and uneven, and trod dusty passage-ways, till we came out upon a narrow gallery very high up in the roof of the Greek Cathedral. Looking down, our eyes picked out of the gloom of that dim place the few worshippers who are never absent, and the soldiers beginning to form up already for the Midnight Mass. From the distance came the solemn chanting of the Russians in Calvary. But the wonder of it all lay in the lights—the countless lights that patient hands had awakened in every corner and recess of this wonderful church, lights that shone and twinkled in starry clusters, lights that burned dim and steady in silver lamps, crowns and circles and constellations of light, light everywhere, soft, brilliant, searching, festal. Far down below were faint sounds of moving feet, and the passing of shadow-like forms, and the murmur of voices; but we were in another world up in that gallery, wrapped round in an extraordinary sense of peace and remoteness quite indescribable. It was the climax to the experiences of a wonderful day—which had been, perhaps, an analogy in brief of life, the noise and clamor and unrest of the earlier part, followed by the calm and quiet of this starlit hour. It quickened the imagination and spoke through it to some deeper feeling, of which the imagination was only the expression. For here some faint realization of the true life of the church touched you; the glare and glamour, the strife and pettiness, that mar the wonderful building, had no power to break the utter peace of this remote solitude. It was as if the prayers of all the countless worshippers had gathered in a brooding calm up here, in this dim place above the piercing lights. It was an influence not to be resisted, even if you had the will.

With slow reluctant feet we retraced our way downstairs, paused one moment in the place of Calvary, and so into the body of the church below. Already it was filling for the great Midnight Mass, though it was barely ten o'clock when we took our places. Through the kindness of the Patriarch we were well in front, just near the entrance to the Sepulchre itself, where His Beatitude was to be, while the double row of soldiers behind kept off the ever-swelling crowd of Russian and other pilgrims. The Mass began with a splendid procession of clergy, Archimandrites, and Bishops, with banners and censers. The Patriarch walked alone at the end, all in Easter white, afire with jewelled orders and icons; two deacons, walking just in front, turned every few moments to swing their censers towards him, bowing reverently each time. The slow rise and fall of the chanting, the magnificent robes and jewels, the sweet breath of incense, all combined to make the scene a striking one as the procession thrice wound slowly round the shrine. A young Turkish officer went first of all to clear a way (for a congregation cannot very well be orderly in ranks, where there are no seats or bounds of any kind); we were struck by his gentleness and good-temper with the crowd, and it was a shock to learn next day that when he went home after the service, receiving no answer to his knock, he had to break in, only to find his bride of three weeks had been robbed and murdered by her black servant during his absence, presumably for lust of her wedding-jewels. Splendid as the service was in scenic effect and color, there was about it also a soberness and restraint which reminded us that it was still the Vigil of Easter. The hush of expectation lay upon that massed crowd, and grew upon us all as the hour drew on to midnight. The service was long, and a little wearying to those who could not understand Greek, but it was really a service, not merely a ceremony, as so many of the Eastern rites seem to us. Presently the Patriarch went into the Greek Cathedral of the Resurrection, and the Litany of Peace was sung, the slow rhythmic beat of the chant fitting most harmoniously the beautiful words of the Litany.

For the peace from above, and the salvation of our souls . . .
For the peace from above, and the salvation of our souls . . .
For the peace of the whole world . . .
For this Holy House, and those that with faith, reverence, and fear of GOD enter therein..
For this Holy City . . .
Let us beseech the LORD.

What a fitting preparation for the Divine Oblation on Easter Eve! So with prayer, and chant, and much stately ritual, the hours wore on to midnight. And then, with most impressive effect, the Patriarch, standing before the Sepulchre, lifted up both arms and cried aloud:

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! He is risen indeed!

that great waiting, rustling crowd made answer in one glad shout. The great bells rushed together in tumult overhead; banners and tapers were raised and lowered thrice, like a flag in salute; the pilgrims, some with tears of joy, embraced each other, saying "Christ is risen!" What a tremendous force the words had for them, uttered in the very city itself, and, as they so ardently believe, at Christ's own Sepulchre! The wave of rejoicing caught us too, for who could be there and not share in anything so heartfelt and sincere? It was all most lovely.

Following upon this wonderful scene came the administration of the Holy Communion. The Patriarch first received himself from two Archbishops; then he communicated them all, each one by name, and each one, before returning to his place, kissed the Patriarch's hand. It was all very reverent and impressive. After the Bishops and clergy had received, the Orthodox Consular staffs came forward; and then the Russian pilgrims began to press up, their rugged faces shining with emotion and joy. To them this was the climax of all — to receive the Holy Sacrament at the very spot where faith assured them the Body of Christ had lain. But in their ecstatic devotion there is something a little alarming to the outside spectator; perhaps it is that absolute heedlessness of anything but the object in view. If you give way before their forward movement, well and good; if not, you must take your chance, for you do not exist for the Russian pilgrim; he will walk over you as soon as not if you fall, for that is your concern, not his. It is not that he is unkind or willfully rough, only that he is so enthralled by the fullness of the moment that outside considerations simply do not touch him; he neither sees nor hears apart from his service. Mindful of this somewhat terrific power of concentration, we gave way before that solid forward move; the soldiers made place for us, and somehow we were passed through the crowd and gained the courtyard outside. It was cool and fresh and quiet, flooded with the glorious light of the Easter moon—a great contrast to the heat, the quivering lights and tapers, the overwrought throngs in the church behind us, whence the chanting reached our ears in receding waves of sound.

It was nearly three, and as we passed through the silent streets the Holy Sepulchre bells once more clashed out, announcing the close of the service. We breathed a hope that it meant also some rest for the weary, fasting Patriarch. We had brought away a harvest of thoughts and impressions, too deep to be lost; but we had left behind us the power to express them. The peace of Easter was abroad, as well as in that wonderful church and haunted dome above the lights. As the bells rang out their jubilant welcome to the dawn of Easter, all unbidden there sprang to mind the words of the old Mozarabic collect: "Behold, O Lord, how Thy faithful Jerusalem rejoices in the triumph of the Cross and in the power of the Saviour!"

Estelle Blyth. Jerusalem.


* (Estelle Blyth was the daughter of the Anglican Bishop George Blyth, who died in 1914 and had a mission in Jerusalem mainly aimed towards the Jews and Muslims as opposed to the Orthodox Christians, like his predecessors.)

1 The writer is, of course, referring to the Balkan War.

2 "Itinerary of Richard I." Book V. chap. xvi.

3 Bishop Blyth.

Source: The Nineteenth Century and After, Vol 77, 1915.