Orthodox Christians mark 'Holy Fire' Easter ceremony in Jerusalem
Huge crowds of pilgrims on Saturday marked the "Holy Fire" ceremony at Christianity's holiest site in Jerusalem's Old City on the eve of Orthodox Easter.
Some 10,000 believers holding candles squeezed into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Thousands more crammed the square outside and surrounding streets to receive the flame, representing the resurrection of Christ, which passed from candle to candle and will be taken back to Orthodox churches worldwide.
According to Orthodox tradition, on Holy Saturday - the day before Easter - a fire appears spontaneously from what is believed to be Jesus' tomb, as a reminder to followers that he has not forgotten them.
The ceremony at the church - built on the site where according to Christian tradition Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected - is the holiest event for Orthodox Christianity.
The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years, and the precise details of the flame's source are a closely guarded secret.
The fire is then taken past an Israeli military barrier into Bethlehem, where it is received at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus' birthplace.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the rest of the Old City lies in east Jerusalem, occupied and later annexed by Israel following the Six-Day War of 1967.
The Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations share custody of the church.
Christians made up more than 18 percent of the population when Israel was created in 1948, but now form less than two percent, mostly Orthodox.