May 7, 2022

Shedding Light on a False Historical Rumor Against the Holy Light of Jerusalem from the 18th Century

Patriarch Ephraim II of Jerusalem

Did Patriarch Ephraim II of Jerusalem (1766-1771) 
ever describe the appearance of the Holy Light 
as a "handmade mechanism"?

1. The Reason Behind the Disbelief of Some

It is striking that those who deny the miracle of the Holy Light, while doubting millions of witnesses who have seen and experienced this miracle for so many centuries, have the naiveté to base their disbelief on the completely unproven and arbitrary testimony of Neophytos Kavsokalyvites, who stated that allegedly Patriarch Ephraim II of Jerusalem (1766-1771) described the appearance of the Holy Light as a "handmade mechanism" and, knowing from his personal experience the mechanism behind its appearance, described it as "that handmade light, the dramaturgy of which I detected with my own eyes."

Regarding this testimony, which the opponents of the Holy Light consider important, Konstantinos Sathas (Modern Greek Philology, Athens 1869, p. 512)  informs us that Neophytos Kavsokalyvites wrote "about the light from the tomb" and that the manuscript was saved by Sophocles Oikonomos. It is, in fact, in manuscript #1457 of the National Library of Greece and the text is preserved on pages 1648-1664 (George D. Metallinos, Photomachika-Antiphotomachika, Katoptro-Istoritis, Athens 2001, p. 92).

Even if this unproven testimony was proven to be a true statement, however, it only impresses the trust of the unbelievers, who pass over the testimonies of so many Patriarchs and priests who experienced the miracle of the Holy Light, to stick to this one testimony. Especially when the statement does not belong to the Patriarch himself, but to a monk, who informs us about the alleged statement of the Patriarch.

Neophytos Kavsokalyvites

2. The Unreliability of the Testimony of Neophytos

According to Fr. George Metallinos, there is a question of credibility regarding the testimony of Neophytos, since there is neither a written statement of Patriarch Ephraim about the abolition of the ceremony, nor general support from the literature:

"Neophytos ... mentions an oral response of the Patriarch of Jerusalem Ephraim (1766-1771), in which he declared (1769) that he abolished the 'handmade mechanism of the Holy Light', as a non-miraculous act, and indeed a fraud, which aimed to 'market the light'. There is no written statement of Ephraim, so its preservation is due to Neophytos, not a reliable author at all. It is necessary to investigate the case that Ephraim abolished the custom of the 'Holy Light', and why his successors restored it, because the literature known to us does not address this issue" (George D. Metallinos, Ibid., pp. 92-93, footnote 201).

The same testimony, that of Neophytos, regarding the confession of the truth by the Patriarch to an anonymous person in Bucharest, is treated with irony by Konstantinos Oikonomos, and he rebukes Korais who adopted it, and even hid his source, in order to show, as he says, that he was the first to reveal the alleged fraud (George D. Metallinos, Ibid., p. 399).

3. Patriarch Ephraim Actually Promoted This Pilgrimage Site

Nikolaos Logadis, one of the great Greek educators of the early 19th century, offers us another testimony regarding Patriarch Ephraim:

"In 1766, Parthenios resigned his position to Ephraim ... He printed the Manual of Chrysanthos, wrote a good Prologue in it and also printed the 'Encyclical Synodal Letter' written to offer aid to the All-Holy Sepulchre, by His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Paisios, which was proclaimed to all Orthodox in 1727. In this Encyclical is also the following excommunication: 'As many Christians ... due to impiety and disbelief ... are prevented and cut off due to idle talking chatter and frigid phraseology or any other satanic deception of the Christians from coming to venerate the Holy Sepulcher, [...] such, if they do not cease, are to be excommunicated' etc. After this Encyclical, Ephraim added a brief Christian teaching, in both Greek and Turkish, for the benefit of those to whom it appealed" (George D. Metallinos, Ibid., p. 312).

In other words, we have Patriarch Ephraim himself reprinting the Manual of Chrysanthos with the addition of the encyclical about the excommunication of those who with words or deeds prevent the pilgrimage of the faithful to the Holy Land, and Kavsokalyvites wants to convince us that this man abolished the ceremony of the Holy Light as a "handmade mechanism"! (cf. George D. Metallinos, Ibid., p. 435).

"The question is, how after these things did Ephraim turn against the miracle of the 'Holy Light', if indeed the testimony of Neophytos Kavsokalyvites is correct?" (George D. Metallinos, Ibid.).


A. The supposed statement of the Patriarch was NOT written.

B. ONLY Kavsokalyvites delivers it and Korais takes it from him.

C. That this Kavsokalyvites learned that the Patriarch supposedly spoke to an ANONYMOUS person in Bucharest and told him that he supposedly interrupted or abolished the ceremony of the Holy Light because it was a mockery, in fact has no corroboration, since this supposed interruption is nowhere mentioned in any of the literature.

D. And all this comes at a time when Ephraim excommunicates anyone who dares to prevent with words or deeds the pilgrimage of the faithful to the Holy Land.

Something is not going well here at all with the testimony of Kavsokalyvites!

4. Who was Neophytos Kavsokalyvites?

Neophytos Kavsokalyvites was a monk and ecclesiastical writer. He was born in Patras and became a monk in the Monastery of Kavsokalyva on Mount Athos (hence his name). In 1749 he was director of the Athoniada School, later he taught in Chios, Wallachia and Transylvania. He wrote many theological and philosophical works. He stayed in Wallachia for many years with his uncle, who was a hierarch in Bucharest. He died in Bucharest in 1780.

Konstantinos Oikonomos

5. The Motive of the "Crime"

The question that arises from all this is: "What reasons did Neophytos Kavsokalyvites (a faithful Orthodox monk) have for spreading false rumors against the Holy Light and the Patriarch of Jerusalem Ephraim II?"

There is indeed motivation! It is what Konstantinos Oikonomos attributes to him. Oikonomos addresses one of his spiritual children, who wrote a letter against Adamantios Korais about the alleged inappropriateness of the believers' visit to the Holy Land. At the same time, however, he unpleasantly surprises Oikonomos because he agrees with Korais about the "unreal" miracle of the Holy Light.

Thus, in this letter, Oikonomos writes sharply:

"I have seen how your critical and well-educated prudence condescends towards the Sophist from Chios [this is what he calls Korais], that although he silently borrowed from the melancholic and multi-faceted Jew, Neophytos Kavsokalyvites of the Peloponnese [Kavsokalyvites had Jewish parents], he says he heard the first things against Holy Light on the island of Patmos, from a pseudo-hatzis, who was also from Chios! As an Athonite, he habitually persecuted the monks of the Holy Sepulchre" (George D. Metallinos, Ibid., p. 397).

The "rivalry" that existed at that time between the monks of these two holy places of pilgrimage is well known. There was a similar rivalry between the monks of the Holy Sepulchre and the monks of the Monastery of Sinai. And here we have the motivation!

Though tragic, it is true. Neophytos, even if he does not really believe in the miracle of the Holy Light, prefers to join the unbelievers who completely reject Christ, instead of keeping silent, since he himself does not mention any particular testimony in his letter as an eyewitness, but opposes with assumptions the Holy Light just like Korais.

Konstantinos Oikonomos clarifies the issue, knowing even the man from whom Neophytos Kavsokalyvitis heard this false rumor that he reproduced. He heard it from a man from Chios, who falsely said that he was a "Hatzis", that is, that he went to the shrines of Jerusalem! And Neophytos, biased as he was from the "rivalry" that existed between Mount Athos and Jerusalem at that time, not only indiscriminately accepted this false rumor, but reproduced it and even spread it!

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.