This weekend Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate Easter, with many churches across the Orthodox world, from the Balkans to Russia, doing so in the presence of the “Holy Fire”, which, following tradition, is lit at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
For the Holy Fire to arrive from Jerusalem in time for the Easter evening services at churches all over the Orthodox world, a whole airlift operation takes place, involving multiple aircraft of different types, from regular airliners to private and government jets.
Easter 2023 was no different and on the evening of April, 15 2023, a long line of aircraft departed Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion aircraft with samplings of the Holy Fire onboard.
Most of these aircraft headed towards multiple cities in Russia, with planespotters identifying at least five such flights, involving executive jets, specially chartered aircraft and, reportedly, two Gazprom Superjet SSJ100s.
The Russian aviation authority issued special authorizations to a handful of airlines (including Aeroflot, S7, Gazpromavia, KrasAvia, LukoilAvia, NordStar, Rossiya, Turukhan Airlines, Yakutia and Yamal) to carry samplings of the fire from Moscow to further destinations within the country.
Ukraine received also the Holy Fire, although due to the ongoing war and airspace restrictions it had to be flown to Warsaw first.
A Dassault Falcon 2000EX of the government of Bulgaria carried the flame to Sofia, while a government of North Macedonia Bombardier Learjet 60 delivered it to Skopje.
In Romania at least a privately-owned Austrian-registered Bombardier Challenger 350 participated in the airlift. Another executive jet, a Russian-registered Hawker 800XP, flew it from Tel Aviv to Erevan, Armenia.
The flame arrived in Athens on a special Aegean Airlines flight, operated by an Airbus A320neo (registration SX-NEO) and from there, a whole fleet of regional aircraft operated by Aegean’s Olympic Air regional subsidiary carried the fire to cities and islands throughout Greece, as did aircraft of Sky Express, another Greek airline with an extensive domestic network.
Cyprus Airways, in turn, flew the Holy Fire to Larnaca on one of the airline’s two Airbus A320s, which was received at the airport with full military honours.