HOW DO CHRISTIANS IN EGYPT CELEBRATE EASTER?
Amid economic and social difficulties, Coptic Christians find their hope in the resurrection. Easter is the most important holiday for believers in Egypt, where festivities bring joy and spiritual anticipation to churches and homes.
Having a long history and presence in the region, Egyptian Christians – known as Copts – express their history in many traditions and customs.
During Lent and Easter, churches of all denominations organise spiritual conferences, charity activities, and prayers.
LENTEN JOURNEY IN PREPARATION FOR EASTER
Coptic Christians fast 55 days before Holy Week. They are divided into 40 days of fasting as Jesus did before His service, a week of preparation before the fast, and lastly the seven–day fast of the Holy Week.
During this fast the church encourages the congregation to avoid eating meat, fish, and dairy products. According to tradition, the aim of this vegan fast is to return to the pure original state of man before the Genesis flood.
Throughout Lent, churches across Egypt overflow with followers of Christ. They hold various services in the mornings and Bible studies in the evenings. All prayers are offered in both the Arabic and Coptic languages.
JOY AND HOPE IN CHRIST’S RESURRECTION
Holy Week is the highlight of Easter. Prayers are held daily in churches and Christians flock to their churches during this week. Many of them fast without food or water all day until 3pm.
On Palm Sunday, churches are decorated with white cloth and palm leaves to receive Jesus Christ, representing his celebrated entrance to Jerusalem.
Palm leaf sellers gather near churches weaving leaves into shapes such as crowns, donkeys, or rings. Children go to church holding their palm leaves and wearing white.
On Maundy Thursday, many churches celebrate by holding ceremonies where a priest washes the feet of select members of the congregation.
On Good Friday, churches hang black cloths as a sign of mourning Jesus Christ’s death and hold prayers all day. Most believers fast without food or water until sunset.
A special all-night vigil until dawn is held on Good Friday and ends with a mass on Saturday morning. During the vigil, pastors and believers read the book of Revelation. The vigil represents the church awaiting the second coming of Jesus Christ.
LIGHT AND HOPE FILL EGYPTIAN CHURCHES
Most Christian families are busy during Easter Eve cleaning their homes, purchasing new clothes, preparing food for the festivities, and following the live broadcast from Jerusalem showing the miracle of the Holy Fire.
Some Coptic Churches recreate the resurrection of Jesus using lights and sounds. Some members of the congregation follow the priest outside the church doors holding candles. The doors are closed, and the priest reads from Psalm 24. Then the doors are opened amid joyful clapping and the congregation follow the priest into the church.
As Easter approaches, Christians enjoy celebrating it, feeling hopeful and joyous because of Jesus’ resurrection. They express their joy by inviting family and friends over for Easter lunch, gathering in the church, or going on outings by the river Nile.
On Easter Eve and Easter Day, Christian homes are filled with people gathering around a big table full of sumptuous meals of meat, poultry, stuffed vegetables and the most favoured of all Molokheya (green soup).
Children receive presents, chocolate bunnies, ice cream and sweet pastries.
Easter Monday is a national holiday in Egypt, where all Egyptians celebrate a Pharaonic tradition called Sham-el-Nessim. This tradition dates back to the Pharaohs who celebrated the beginning of Spring on this day.
Families and friends go outside in parks to enjoy nature and eat coloured eggs, salted fish, and spring onions.
COPTIC CHRISTIAN HISTORY IN EGYPT
A majority of the Christian population in the Middle East is found in Egypt with an estimate of 15-18 percent.
Christianity in Egypt dates back to the first century when St Mark the apostle came to Egypt to spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
Since then it has continued to grow, leading the world in monasticism through Saint Anthony, the first Christian monk, and still sacrificing modern martyrs for the Christian faith.