The Holy Fire from Jerusalem arrived in Athens by airplane at 8 p.m. on Saturday, ahead of Easter celebrations in Greece.
The flame was received with the protocol reserved for heads of state after Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem had been handed it to a Greek delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Amanatidis.
“It is a victory of hope and optimism, and our responsibility, to transform this into a creative force in the struggle we are all mounting for the rebirth of our homeland,” said Amanatidis upon receiving the Holy Fire, which was due to be flown to more than a dozen points around the country after being brought to Athens on a special flight.
Earlier, thousands of Christians gathered in Jerusalem for the ancient fire ceremony, which celebrates Jesus' resurrection.
In a ritual dating back at least 1,200 years, they crowded Saturday into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
During the annual ceremony, top Eastern Orthodox clerics enter the Edicule, the small chamber marking the site of Jesus' tomb.
They then emerge to reveal candles said to be miraculously lit with "holy fire" as a message to the faithful from heaven. The details of the flame's source are a closely guarded secret.
Roman Catholics and Protestants marked Easter in March, in accordance with the Gregorian calendar. Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter this week using the older Julian calendar.
[Kathimerini & AP]