I recently heard of an astonishing religious experience that has been occurring regularly for thousands of years. I'm still scratching my head over how I had never before heard of this astounding occurrence but am so grateful to now be in the loop.
Each year on Holy Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Orthodox Patriarch enters the tomb of Christ where a mysterious fire ignites from the slab of the tomb and quickly is shared among the thousands of faithful both in and outside of the church. The church becomes alive with fire, excitement and joy! The flame is said to be warm, not hot, for the first thirty-three minutes (one minute for each year of Christ's life on earth). Men are shown holding the fire directly in their faces and yet their beards don't scorch. But, after thirty-three minutes the fire becomes naturally hot like any other fire.
But here's something even more miraculous. The fire isn't contained in the church building alone but it's shared around the world asking only for prayers for peace in Jerusalem in return. For the first time this year it came to America on board a Russian Airline. There is a facebook page, Come Receive the Holy Fire!, that tracks the flames arrival in each destination, whether that be a church or a private home. Those posting share pictures and practical details such as how to safely travel with the fire and how to keep it burning in the home. The excitement of those posting the receipt of the Fire is palpable. This is truly a grace-filled gift of faith!
While there is much speculation that this annual ancient fire is a fraud and the fire could be produced with phosphorus, I believe that anything that comes from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, from the very place where Jesus was buried and rose from the dead, and is shared with the world, is miraculous in itself.
When my friend, Mary Anne, and her daughter Evanka, shared facebook posts about the Holy Fire that they had received from Abouna Moses, a monk at Holy Resurrection Monastery in St. Nazainz, Wisconsin, I was enthralled and eager to learn more about it. Mary Anne generously offered to share the flame with us so my daughter, Mary and I, took her up on that offer and drove out to her house where we very carefully transferred the fire in a lantern and in a Seven Day Our Lady of Guadalupe Candle that Mary Anne shared with us. I knew that I would only be able to keep the fire burning for that one evening in my home and would need to snuff it out for safety before bedtime so I decided to light every candle I had in the house with the Holy Fire. Now each time I re-light my candles I will remember that the wicks had burned with the Holy Fire and I will enjoy the graces all over again.
Imagine! Flames from the tomb of Christ burning in my humble home! If that isn't a miracle I don't know what is!
My family used this opportunity of having the Holy Fire in our home to relight our children's baptism candles and to renew our baptismal vows with this special Easter Holy Fire. Although not all of our children could be there, we lit all of their candles and prayed for them just as we did at their baptism. We found a beautiful handout with scripture readings, prayers and vows tucked inside each candle box and used those for our prayer.
I am so filled with excitement and joy over this grace-filled blessing from God. What a wonderful opportunity to learn something new, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to grow more deeply into the faith! Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
I highly recommend that you spend a few minutes reading about and watching a video of the Holy Fire. You will be entranced! It is so amazing! Perhaps you can search out a source of the Holy Fire where you live and can bring the Flame to your own home. You can learn more about the Holy Fire at these links:
Here's the prayer format that we used for our Baptismal Vow Renewal:
A Renewal Celebration of Baptismal Vows
A Renewal Celebration of Baptismal Vows by Rev. Joseph Champlin
Prior to the actual renewal of baptismal vows, parents or godparents might read one or two biblical passages to remind participants of the meaning of baptism and of God’s presence through these inspired words.
Here are two excerpts which are commonly used at baptism:
A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans:
Are you not aware that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. If we have been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection. (Romans 6:3-5).
A reading from the Gospel according to Mark:
One of the scribes came up, and when he heard them arguing he realized how skillfully Jesus answered the. He decided to ask him, “Which is the first of all the commandments”
Jesus replied: “This is the first: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone: Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
This is the second: ‘‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him: “Excellent teacher! You are right in saying, ‘He is the One, there is no other than He.’ Yes,‘to love Him with all our heart, with all our thoughts and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves’ is worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice.” Jesus approved the insight of this answer and told him, “You are not far from the reign of God.” And no one had the courage to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)
After a period of silent reflection or group discussion on the readings, a parent or someone from the family next could explain the meaning of baptism for this child in these, or similar words, and lead all present in the renewal rite which follows.
Some time ago we presented N…. for baptism. By water and the Holy Spirit he (she) received the gift of new life from God, who is love. On our part we have made it our constant care to bring N...up in the practice of the faith. We have tried to see that the divine life which God gave be kept from the poison of sin and might grow always stronger in N….’s heart. We share a common faith, the faith of the Church, and it was in this faith N….was baptized. At that time we rejected sin and professed our faith in Christ Jesus. Now that you, N...are older and your faith makes you ready to accept this responsibility, we ask you to renew the vows of your own baptism.
Leader: Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children?
Child: I do.
Leader: Do you reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?
Child: I do.
Leader: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty,, creator of heaven and earth?
Child: I do.
Leader: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
Child: I do.
Leader: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
Child: I do.
Leader: This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Leader: You have renewed the vows of your baptism. You are called a child of God, for so you are. In confirmation you will receive the fullness of God’s spirit. In holy communion you will share the banquet of Christ’s sacrifice calling God your Father in the midst of the Church. In your name, all of us, sharing a common sonship, now pray together in the words our Lord gave us.
All: Lord’s Prayer
Leader: May God the almighty Father, who filled the world with joy by giving us the only Son, bless N...May he (she) grow to be more fully like Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Leader: May almighty God, who gives life on earth and in heaven, bless the parents of N...May they always show their gratitude for the gift of life and grace in N….by loving and caring for this child.
Leader: May almighty God, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, generously bless all of us who are his faithful children. May we always live as God’s people, and may the Lord bless all here present with his peace.
Leader: May almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless us.