JERUSALEM – Eastern Orthodox Christian pilgrims marched Friday through the stone alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City to commemorate Jesus' crucifixion some 2,000 years ago.
Roman Catholics and Protestants marked Good Friday last week, according to the Gregorian calendar. Eastern Orthodox churches follow the older, Julian calendar, and they are marking the holy day this week.
Pilgrims are visiting from Cyprus, Greece, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and other eastern European countries. About 2,500 Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt are also in the Holy Land this year, according to figures from Israel's Interior Ministry. For decades, their recently deceased pope prevented pilgrimages to the Holy Land to protest Israeli policies toward Palestinians.
The pilgrims attended services at their respective churches, then snaked through the labyrinthine Old City in groups led by monks and clerics, some robed in black and others wearing white cotton. They sang prayers and carried large olive wood crosses carved with figurines of a suffering Jesus on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site believed to be Jesus' tomb.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews were also among the mix of faithful, the men wearing round fur hats and prayer shawls to mark the last day of Passover. They made their way among the throngs of Christian pilgrims to synagogues and the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site nearby.
The Orthodox Christian Holy Week reaches a climax on Saturday, when worshippers will crowd around the inner sanctum in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, waiting for clergymen to emerge holding a large flame believed to be miraculously lit.
The Holy Fire ceremony has been practiced for at least the last 1,200 years on the day before Easter, which marks the resurrection of Jesus.