NOTE: The following article is taken from the newspaper Vema, April 21, 2006. The article is followed by quotes from contemporary Greek Orthodox clergymen and theologians who openly admit that the Sleepless Lantern (i.e. the sanctuary oil lamp, which is supposed to be extinguished on Good Saturday) is in fact left lit! These quotes are followed by an English translation of the Patriarch’s Prayer.
- “The Patriarch doesn’t pray to conduct the miracle.”
- “The Holy Light from heaven is nothing but a legend.”
- “The Patriarch lights his candle from the unsleeping oil lamp.”
The forthcoming feast of Pascha brought the issue of the Holy Light’s touch back to the limelight…
The happenings in Jerusalem and the risk of politicizing a basic liturgical act of our faith now gives the Church a unique opportunity to lift the veil of mystery that covers the Holy Light’s touch to this day; to enlighten the faithful regarding the theological background and symbolism of this beautiful an d delightful ceremony.
I will explain myself. For centuries now, there has been a widespread conviction among the pious, yet theologically and liturgically uneducated, orthodox faithful who search for “miracles” to fill a spiritual void: during the ceremony, the Holy Light descends miraculously “from heaven” to light the Patriarch’s candle.
However, as the eminent professor Constantine Kalokyres relates in his erudite book, The Architectural Complex of the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the Subject of the Holy Light, concerns a legend that has been cultivated in the Holy Land after the Crusaders’ invasion and within the framework of the Orthodox-Latin-Armenian conflict in which each one claimed the privilege of “receiving the eternal light from heaven” for themselves.
The prayer that the Patriarch offers inside the Holy Sepulcher is clear and not open to any misinterpretation. The Patriarch does not pray to conduct the miracle. He simply “recalls” Christ’s sacrifice and Resurrection on the 3rd day and addresses Him, saying: “We piously take from the light that diligently and eternally burns on Your light-bearing Sepulcher, we spread it among those who believe in You, who are the true light, and we pray and plead with You, oh Holiest Despota, so that You will elevate [the light] into a gift of sanctification and fill it with Your divine grace…” This means that the Patriarch lights the candle from the unsleeping oil lamp located in the Holy Sepulcher. Every Patriarch and cleric does precisely that on the day of Pascha when he takes Christ’s Light from the unsleeping oil lamp located upon the Holy Table symbolizing the Lord’s Tomb.
However, the mystery that has been cultivated around the Holy Light ritual and the vulgar perceptions about it nowadays contributed to the appropriation and exploitation of this highly symbolic and compunctionate liturgical practice of our Church from external religious circles. The reason for the mockery of the Holy Light’s organized air transportation to Greece—escorted by governmental actors, honorary detachments, lightly-armed infantrymen, and boy scouts (and, of course, TV crews!)—is the Modern Greek celebrates “the authentic Greek Pascha.” As if our ancestors did not celebrate Christ’s Resurrection before the airplane was invented! Or, as if the Orthodox from the ends of the earth didn’t celebrate the Lord’s Pascha since the Olympic didn’t “fly” in their countries!
Protpresbyter George Metallinos
Fr. George publicly admitted his reservations about the Holy Light phenomenon on [Greek] national television: “When a specific Patriarch has faith and the grace of God, then the miracle takes place. When faith is lacking, the lamp may be used…” Of course, if the Patriarch can use the sanctuary lamp in case he’s not worthy, that means it has not been extinguished! Fr. George was severely criticized after this revelation.
In his book, Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, Fr. George writes that the key to understanding the ceremony and the nature of the light (“natural or supernatural”) we must see what the prayer says and the unforced conclusion is that the light is lit in a perfectly natural manner, its purpose is purely symbolic and its sanctity is derived from the fact that it comes from the Holy Sepulchre!
In the prayer recited by the Patriarch, “[…] there is not even a mention (not even a hint) about an immaterial light descending from above at that moment, but it is implied that the light is only natural and is lit in memory of the Risen Christ” (p. 33).
Fr. George distanced himself from the logic of the purposeful cover-up by the Church, characteristically stating that he prefers ‘the atheists’ who downright reject any possibility of a miracle, concerning the Holy Light to the concealment of the truth, […] for any reason. A truth indirectly confessed by the church through the prayer read during the Good Saturday ceremony.
In his book, The Architectural Complex of the Temple of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the Subject of the Holy Light, Constantine quotes and analyzes the Patriarch’s prayer in depth. He reaches the same conclusion that Fr. George Metallinos himself accepted in his 2001 study; i.e., that the light is lit in a perfectly natural manner, its purpose is purely symbolic and its sanctity is derived from the fact that it comes from the Holy Sepulcher!
As Mr. Kalokyres notes “the prayer is very illuminating.” Indeed, there is no mention of a miraculously appearing light, but “it is implied that the light is natural and lit in remembrance of the Risen Christ, the only true light of the World.” So the Patriarch himself produces the light, in remembrance of that miracle, symbolically reproducing Christ’s Theophany. “And the Prayer […] goes on to explain where the light used to light the candles and then passed on to the faithful comes from. And the place is the Holy Sepulcher and the source of the light, which the Patriarch piously receives, is the holy lantern that CONTINUOUSLY burns and is always kept lit there.”
Completing his analysis, Mr. Kalokyres particularly stresses the word “elevate” (ἀναδείξῃς) which “clearly states that the light (not only isn’t being sent down from heaven, but) hasn’t yet been turned into a special ‘gift of sanctification’ […] However, if the light had been sent from heaven, then the Patriarch wouldn’t be asking for it to be elevated. And how will this elevation become possible? The prayer explains it: Through the grace of the Holy Sepulcher.”
In support of his interpretation Mr. Kalokyres points to the blessings of the Great Sanctification of the Waters during Theophany (which prays for the water to become ‘an apotropaic gift of sanctification’ (‘‘ὕδωρ ἁγιασμοῦ δῶρον καί … ἀναδειχθῆναι αὐτό ἀποτρόπαιον…”), and the transubstantiation prayer offered during the St. Basil’s Eucharist [the priest requests that God ‘bless, sanctify and elevate’ (‘‘εὐλογῆσαι, ἁγιάσαι και ἀναδεῖξαι”) the Holy Gifts. In both these prayers we have ‘sanctification’ and ‘elevation,’ just like in the Holy Light prayer.
On the matter of the body search that the Patriarch is (supposedly) subjected to, Mr. Kalokyres says that it is “a legend, the product of the lower, pious naivety of the people […] which degrades [the Patriarch’s] honest and flawless behavior and renders him as an accomplice to the production of a false miracle […].” For, “the removal of the vestments and his appearance with the sticharion alone is part of this ceremony of the Church. The process is meant to signify that the Patriarch, expressing humility and deep piety, before even approaching and crossing into the Most Holy Inner Sanctum is disrobed of all vestments that reveal his rank as a bishop” remaining with “the sticharium alone (the simplest and common vestment of all ranks of the clergy)!” There is a large gap between the process of voluntarily disrobing of all external vestments and an ‘exhaustive body search!’
Mr. Kalokyres gently ‘chastises’ the Church for its choice to “silently bypass the underlying religious enthusiasm and holy fervor” of the faithful (“perhaps not willing to shake the beliefs of the simple folk”). In the end he declares the Church free of any responsibility, since “the Church of Jerusalem has officially, with a special ceremony (i.e. the special prayer) expressed the whole truth about the Holy Light and its nature.” (Κ. Δ. Καλοκύρης, Το αρχιτεκτονικό συγκρότημα τού Ναού της Αναστάσεως Ιεροσολύμων και το θέμα του Αγίου Φωτός, University Studio Press, 1999, pp.164-165; 218-220)
Even though this theologian clearly wrote in his book, The Holy Light (Άγιο Φως), that all flames are extinguished, during a talk show on Good Thursday he repeatedly claimed that there is a flame in the Chamber, but it just is not used!
Cornelius, Metropolitan of Petra, twice the locum tenens of the Jerusalem Patriarchal Throne
“The prayers have the power to sanctify the natural light and here we’re speaking about a natural light. But the prayers that are read by the Patriarch also consecrate the natural light and therefore it has the grace of the holy light. The invocation or prayer of the priest is the miracle and the light is sanctified. It is the natural light that is lit from the sleepless oil lamp which is kept in the sacristy of the Church of the Resurrection” Watch the 6:50 mark of the following video:
One of the biggest religious lies is—as it seems—the ‘miracle’ of the Holy Light, which every Pascha ‘miraculously’ illuminates the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem. I. Kardasis, a correspondent of the newspaper “Orthodox Press” (01/05/25), wrote on the subject of ‘Holy Fire’ and raised major questions that should be asked and answered by every sincere Christian. Let us pay attention to what he writes about the non-miraculous elements of the ‘Holy Fire’:
- On Great Wednesday (04.11.2001), Metropolitan Cornelius was interviewed about the Holy Fire on the “Mega” channel show “Grey Zones.” If the four of us heard and understood well, the above Prelate, who will be given the Holy Light in three days, said among other things, the following:
- a) The Patriarch divests himself of every stole and remains in his white esoraso not to check for any flammable materials, but to remain in the white robe symbolizing the angels’ robe.
- b) The Patriarch enters the Tomb with candle and prays saying a special prayer and lights up the Light from the light Sleepless Oil Lamp. The natural light of the oil lamp is transformed into Holy Light with this special prayer. So natural light is sanctified and transformed into the Holy Light. Then he exits the tomb and delivers the Holy Light to the crowd in the Holy Church and thereby to the whole world. (…)
MEGA Channel on 11/4/2001 http://www.tyxikos.gr/01-78-6.html
Makarios III (Mouskos), Archbishop of Cyprus (1950-1977)
“These days we host the sacred archbishopric echelon by the metropolitans from the Jerusalem Patriarchate. One night after supper, Archbishop Makarios proposed we take our coffee in the great Synodicon. So we were discussing various issues there. Makarios asked the visiting Metropolitans: ‘Holy brothers, now that you’re here, it is an opportunity for you to solve a question I have.’ They told him, ‘we are at your disposal Makarios if we can, why not’. And Makarios said to them: ‘Holy brothers, please tell me what happens with the miracle of the Holy Fire. Is it indeed a miracle?’
“The Metropolitans from Jerusalem smirked and told him: ‘Makarios, we’re fooling the people, it is our shame to fool you also.’ Makarios said: ‘Are you saying that it’s not a miracle?’ They replied, ‘No, it is not a miracle!’ Makarios asked, ‘Well, what is it, then?’ They responded, ‘Beatitude, it is a ceremony that takes place every Great Saturday in the Church of the Resurrection.’ Makarios aksed them: ‘Why don’t you tell people the truth?’ And they replied: ‘Beatitude who would dare to tell the truth to the people? They would lynch us!’ This was the Archpriest’s story” (Told by a Cypriot Hieromonk; see video below)
Benedict, Patriarch of Jersualem (1957-1980)
“Once the pilgrim sets foot in Jerusalem, there is a clique, a gang, which is authorized by the Patriarchate to receive pilgrims upon their arrival. Indeed, they have a way to pester, daze, and blind them, to se and not to see…The Patriarchate’s clappers tell them, ‘Now we will give you the so-called indulgence…and they pay a pound!’ All these things occurred under Patriarch Benedict.” (Told by Haralmabos Katenidis, Archdeacon of the Jerusalem Patriarchate)
Haralmabos Katenidis, Archdeacon of the Jerusalem Patriarchate
In a video documentary interview with ecclesiastical writer, Stylianos Charlampakis, the Archdeacon reveals the Holy Light fraud! (September 7, 1965)
“Details about the so-called miracle of the holy light cannot be communicated because of scandal. But happily, since you asked me, I will tell you in summary how the ceremony happens and how you receive the ‘holy’ light. On Great Friday, after the procession of the Epitaph around the Holy Sepulchre, the Patriarch puts the Epitaph on the Tomb. After this, they extinguish all the oil lamps inside and outside the Tomb. The following day, Great Saturday, the Sacristan carries a special lit oil lamp—veiled with silver cover—which is placed in the Holy Sepulchre. Then the governor of Jerusalem seals the Sepulchre. While all the lights and oil lamps are always extinguished, the special oil lamp within the tomb remains lit. At the 10th hour, after the relative litanies around the Holy Sepulchre during which they chant the “O Joyous Light” (φως ιλαρόν), the gates of the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre are opened and the people enter. Simultaneously, the gate of the Kouvouklion where the tomb is located opens and the Patriarch enters, after typically he removes his sacerdotal vestments and remains only with sticharion. After a relative typical prayer, he takes the ‘holy’ light, certainly not miraculously, to be honest, but he lights his torch from the lit special oil lamp that the sacristan had previously transferred. This, in short, is the procedure for the ‘holy’ light.”
NOTE: There is also a second way to get this fake light. Spread the Tomb plate with phosphorus the day before and then the Patriarch rubs the plate with cotton and the light emerges.
Archbishop Nikeforos Theotokes
In 1880, the Archbishop stated that the light doesn’t miraculously descend from heaven, but is rather lit by the Patriarch and then distributed sanctified to the faithful, with the church being unable to cure ‘the people’s vulgar perception’ (Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, pp. 29-30)
“The Patriarch produces fire over the Life-giving Sepulchre by striking a flint”
In his unpublished work, Objection (Αντίρρησις 1832-1836), Spyros criticizes Koraes for his polemic against the Jerusalem Patriarchs but leaves no margin for misinterpretation on the matter of the ‘Holy Light:’
- “[…]it became customary to ignite light over the Holy Sepulchre and from that other festive lights[…]””
- Concerning the Holy Light of Jerusalem, none of the patriarchs, bishops, priests and those with [decent] ecclesiastical background believe it to be miraculous […]”
- “But why do they call it ‘Holy Light’? Yes! Holy Light! Because it is lit on the Holy Sepulchre and the faithful piously receive it, but this piety has degenerated into superstition, because of the ignorance of the many, and made stronger amongst the naivest of our brothers the belief, which the papal priests always spread, that the light is lit miraculously.”
- “Therefore, the light is blessed for no other reason than for the fact that it is lit on the Lord’s Sepulchre, on the day the great mystery of the resurrection transpired […]”
Archimandrite Prokopios Dendrinos of Mount Athos
In his unpublished treatise On the Holy Light (Τα περί του Αγίου φωτός) [ca. 1833], Fr. Prokopios heavily criticizes all the secrecy surrounding the ‘miracle,’ calling it directly suspicious and misleading. He even directs an incredible challenge to the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulcher:
“Let them leave the lanterns of the Temple unprepared, without oil and wicks, the Chamber doors open, so anyone can see the plaque over the tomb, so everything is visible, as was the case with prophet Elijah. Let the doormen step away, or even better, conduct a diligent search of the Tomb and clean the entire plaque with clear water and then pour an entire amphorae over it. Have them even restrict entry even to the representative of the Patriarch from Good Thursday morning till Sunday morning. And then let the “light-producer” enter and receive the Light! All this secrecy is suspicious and is not meant to prevent the introduction of man-made light -since this is impossible- but so that the preparations, i.e. the fraud, won’t become obvious. For, the candles are prepared by the Patriarchal Warden and not the laymen who do the temple chores as usual. The candles are covered with a flammable material and no one else is allowed to receive the light; not even the most prestigious clerics and pilgrims. Everything suggests that this is a downright human fabrication and this is even whispered among the Sepulcher Fraternity.” (Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, pp. 128, 361)
Bishop Porphyrius Uspensky (1804-1885)
In his diaries, the Bishop wrote that the clergy in Jerusalem knew that the Holy Fire was fraudulent.
First, Bishop Porphyrius quotes a certain Hierodeacon Gregory, who “upon entering the chapel of the Sepulcher at the time when, according to common belief, the Holy Fire descends, saw with horror that the fire was being lit simply from a lampada which is always [kept] burning; and so the Holy Fire is not a miracle. He himself [Hierodeacon Gregory] told me about it today.”
Second is the following story, which he says he heard directly from Metropolitan Dionysius:
In the same year that the famous Ibrahim, Pasha of Egypt and lord of Syria and Palestine, was in Jerusalem, it was found to be that the fire received at the Lord’s Sepulcher on Holy Saturday is a ‘not-holy fire’ [lit.: not grace-filled] but is kindled in the way that all flames are kindled. How? The Pasha wanted to see for himself if the fire really does suddenly and miraculously appear on the roof of the Sepulcher of Christ or if it is lit by an ordinary sulfur match. What did he do? He announced to the Patriarch’s representative hierarchs that it would be his pleasure to sit in the chapel itself during the receiving of the fire and watch vigilantly to see how it appears; and he added that if the miracle proved to be true, he would give [to the Church] 5000 poungs (2.5 million piasters); and if it turned out to be a lie, then they would [be forced to] give him all the money collected from the deceived worshippers, and he would print about the dirty fraud in all the newspapers of Europe. The Patriarchal representatives—Archbishop Misail of Petroaravisk, Metropolitan Daniel of Nazareth and Bishop Dionysius then of Philadelphia [in Asia Minor], now of Bethlehem—gathered to decide what to do. During the meeting, Misail admitted that in the inner-chapel he lights the fire from a lampada concealed behind the marble icon of the Resurrection of Christ located near the very Sepulcher. After this admission, it was decided to humble request Ibrahim not to meddle with religious affairs; and to the Pasha was sent the dragoman [interpreter] of the Holy Sepulcher Monastery, who informed the Pasha that there would be no benefit for His Radiance to get to know the sacraments and mysteries of Christian church-services and that the Russian Emperor Nicholas [I] would be greatly displeased if he started learning about these sacraments. Pasha Ibrahim heard the dragoman out, made a giving-up-the-idea gesture with his hand, and fell silent. But from that time on, the Holy-Sepulcher clerics no longer believe in the miraculous appearance of the fire. Having said all this, the metropolitan added that only from God can be expected the discontinuance of (our) pious lie. As He knows and is able, he soothes the people, who believe now in the miraculous fire of Holy Saturday. And for us is forbidden even to consider such a revolutionary act [of revealing the lie]; they would tear us pieces at the very chapel of the Holy Sepulcher.”
The Book of My Life: Diaries and Notes of Bishop Porphyrius Uspensky, St Petersburg, 1894 Part 1, p.671 and The Book of My Life, St Petersburg, 1896 Part 3, pp.299-301.
Ephraim II, Patriarch of Jerusalem (1766-1771)
This absurdity and supernatural perception of churchmen and theologians who claim the ‘holy light’ is not only a miracle but God-given (θεόδοτο) is unacceptable. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Efraim, who died in 1771, recounts his personal experience and describes the whole ceremony, characterizing it as “handmade engineering” and those involved as “light-makers.”
Γ. Καμπούρογλου, Μνημεία της ιστορίας των Αθηναίων
Hierodeacon Neophytos of Kavsokalyvia (1713-1784)
The author of The 1777 Anonymous Manual on Continuous Reception of the Holy Communion, made statements about a “sleight of hand” regarding the Holy Fire.
Νικηφόρου Θεοτόκη, στὸ Κ.᾿Ι. Δυοβουνιώτου, «Περὶ τοῦ ἐν ῾Ιεροσολύμοις ῾Αγίου Φωτός», «᾿Επετηρὶς ῾Εταιρείας Βυζαντινῶν Σπουδῶν», ἔτος ΙΒʹ, ᾿Αθῆναι 1936, σελ. 5.
From the official Website of the Jerusalem Patriarchate:
At 12pm, midday…It is necessary for us to stress that the heterodox have in advance searched the entire interior of the Holy Sepulcher, in order to certify that there is no lit vigil lamp or some other source of light” [They don’t mention that the monk Metrophanes hid twice in the Sepulcher without anyone seeing him! http://www.holyfire.org/eng/AchileousISawHolyLight.htm ]
At 12am…the lamp/candlestick [They don’t mention if it is extinguished or lit], if it becomes useful [they don’t mention what its use is] in the holy ceremony, is transferred…to the Holy Sepulcher for a prompter path.
The important thing is that the holy light for a few minutes [it doesn’t mention how much] does not have fire. Namely, if you rest the holy light on your hands, it will not burn [They don’t mention any time span whatsoever for non-burning, nor let it be for 30 seconds in a motionless hand!]
The ‘Secret Prayer’ of the Patriarch
Wondrous myths and legends have been woven around the special prayer chanted by the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch; the common denominator being that it is a special prayer that only he knows! This is in no way true. The prayer was first published in 1933 by Archimandrite Kallistos Meliaras (professor of the University of Athens) and published again in 1967 in the “New Zion” (Νέα Σιών) magazine, official publication of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. It is obvious that we’re not talking about a big secret, to which no one has access other than the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch, but a text that has been in circulation for more than 80 years! (π. Γ. Δ. Μεταλληνός, Φωτομαχικά-Αντιφωτομαχικά, εκδ. Κάτοπτρο-Ιστορητής, 2001, p.33)
Despota Lord Jesus Christ, the originally shining wisdom of the without beginning Father. You who dwells in the unapproachable Light;* You who commanded that Light shine forth from the darkness, who said let it be Light and there was Light. Oh Lord provider of Light who took us out of the delusion of darkness and led us to the miraculous Light of Your awareness. You filled with light and joy the earth through Your incarnate presence and the underworld through Your descent to Hades and after these through Your Apostles You announced the light to all nations.
We thank You because through pious faith, you brought us from darkness to light and we became sons through holy baptism, seeing your glory full of grace and truth. However, oh light-giver Lord, oh great light, who said the people living in darkness.* Despota, Lord, the true light that illumines every man who comes in the world. The only light of the world and light of the lives of people, through whose glory the universe was filled, you brought the light to the world through Your economy of incarnation even though people loved the darkness rather than the light.
You Lord, giver of light, listen to us sinners and unworthy servants who, at this moment stand by this Your Most Holy and light bearing Tomb, and accept us who honour Your Holy Passion, Your most holy Crucifixion, Your voluntary death, the laying of Your divine body in this holy tomb, Your burial and Your resurrection after three days, which we joyfully have already started celebrating, remembering Your descent to Hades, through which the souls of the righteous You freed in a kingly manner with the lightning of Your divine light filling the underworld.
So with happy heart and spiritual joy, on this most blessed Saturday, Your most salvific mysteries which You divinely executed on earth and under the earth we celebrate, and remembering You, the exhilarating and appealing light which You divinely shone in the underworld, we produce this light, as an icon of Your congenial divine appearance to us.Because during the salvific and bright night everything was filled with light, the heaven, the earth and the underworld through the supernatural mystery of Your descent to Hades and Your resurrection from the tomb after three days.
For this reason, we piously take from the light that diligently and eternally burns on Your light-bearing Sepulchre, we spread it among those who believe in You, who are the true light, and we pray and plead with You, oh Holiest Despota, so that You will elevate [the light] into a gift of sanctification and fill it with Your divine grace, through the grace of Your Most holy and light-bearing Sepulchre. And those who touch it with piety, bless and sanctify them, free them from the darkness of passions and make them worthy of Your brightest dwellings, where the unsetting light of Your divinity shines. Lord, grant them health and good life and fill their homes with everything good.
Yes, Lord, the Light-giver, listen to me the sinner at this moment, and grant to me and to them to walk in Your light and remain in it as long as we have the light of this temporary life. Lord grant us that the light of our good works shine in front of the people together with Your without beginning Father and the Holy Spirit. You appointed us to be the light to the nations that we shine to those walking in the darkness. But we have loved the darkness rather than the light, committing evil works.
Anyone who does evil works hates the light according to Your faultless word. For this we stumble every day due to our sinning because we walk in the darkness. But make us worthy to live the rest of our life with the eyes of our minds enlightened. Grant us to live as sons of light and walk in the light of Your commandments. The bright garment of our baptism which we have blackened by our evil works, whiten it like the light, you who wears the light like a garment. Grant us to dress ourselves with the weapons of light, that we may overcome the lord of darkness, who transforms himself into an angel of light.
Yes, Lord, as You shone the light to those who are in darkness and under the shadow of death, likewise, today, shine in our hearts with Your pure light, so that becoming illumined and warmed up in faith, glorify You the one and only originally shining light, exhilarating light to everlasting ages. Amen.
From the Greek Wikipedia Page
There is a viewpoint that the Holy Light is an occult implementation organized by the Jerusalem Patriarchate clergy for centuries. One version proposes that the candles are previously immersed in phosphorus, which has the property of self-ignition after some time. Phosphorus as a chemical element was discovered in the 17th century and is not found free in nature. For the proponents of this view, some “miracle substances” or “fountains” (sources) exhibiting such phenomena were nevertheless known long before in the Middle East. This in turn can mean that either the entire Holy Sepulchre is located in such an area that either used such an ancient “miracle substance” (compound) whose name and composition are preserved today as a “closely guarded” sacerdotal secret. However, the view supported by the faithful is the flame from the Holy Light is brought to illuminate but not to cause combustion within the first 33 minutes, in contrast to the natural action of the fire. Of course, in this case it is obvious that the comparison is made with reference not to the light, but the fire.
The author Michael Kalopoulos has published research indicating that the self-igniting materials and religious pyrotechnics that were known in ancient times are sufficient to produce the effect described as the “holy light.” Of course this estimate ignores the fact that the candles not self-ignite unexpectedly, although the supply is made by open spaces or stores, which have the goods exposed to air, and even the supply of candles, often several days before the Resurrection, while in other cases, the faithful remain in the Church of the Resurrection of the evening of Great Friday.
Note: There are many narratives from Jerusalem about candles self-igniting completely unexpectedly. But there is a way to ignite after a long time.
From the English Wikipedia Page
In 2005, in a live demonstration on Greek television, Michael Kalopoulos, author and historian of religion, dipped three candles in white phosphorus. The candles spontaneously ignited after approximately 20 minutes due to the self-ignition properties of white phosphorus when in contact with air. According to Kalopoulos’ website:
If phosphorus is dissolved in an appropriate organic solvent, self-ignition is delayed until the solvent has almost completely evaporated. Repeated experiments showed that the ignition can be delayed for half an hour or more, depending on the density of the solution and the solvent employed.
Kalopoulos also points out that chemical reactions of this nature were well known in ancient times, quoting Strabo, who states: “In Babylon there are two kinds of naphtha springs, a white and a black. The white naphtha is the one that ignites with fire.” (Strabon Geographica 188.8.131.52-24) He further states that phosphorus was used by Chaldean magicians in the early fifth century BC, and by the ancient Greeks, in a way similar to its supposed use today by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The famous Greek intellectual of the Age of Enlightenment, Adamantios Korais (1748-1833), denounced the ‘Holy Light’ as a fraud and urged the Eastern Orthodox Church to discontinue the practice, arguing that “no true religion is in need of such false miracles.” In his treatise On the Holy Light of Jerusalem, Korais was adamant against religious fraud and theurgy. He referred to the recurring ‘miracle’ as “machinations of fraudulent priests” and to the unholy light of Jerusalem as “a profiteers’ miracle.” With deep sorrow, the Greek sage contemplated in his writings that “while Greeks are content to have the ‘Holy Light,’ people in Europe of his time are living among people of objective knowledge, surrounded by Academies, and Lyceums, and schools of every kind of art and science. Europeans have open, splendid public libraries, and their print presses buzz with activity daily and without pause.”
One can read his entire treatise in the Greek language here: http://greatlie.com/index.php/el/xristianismos/agio-fos/790-adamantiou-korai-qperi-tou-en-ierousolumis-agiou-fotosq-olokliro-to-biblio