Reflecting on Easter in Egypt as COVID continues
As I turned around to watch the procession of deacons and priests entering the church in celebration of Palm Sunday, it struck me how empty the church looked. With only a limited number allowed to attend the service, the church was at a quarter of its usual capacity.
Two years ago, the very same church was crowded with people filling its pews to the point of sitting on the edges of seats. The air would be filled with smothered bickering between ushers and attendees over booking places for delayed relatives, among whispers of greetings between friends. Rows of girls in long white dresses, hair adorned with white garlands, and boys in white garments holding palm branches would enter the church in a procession, as the choir chanted, and take up the two first pews – all the time giggling, smiling and shy as they celebrated Palm Sunday.
This year there were no children and I sat in a long pew at the front with two other women over a metre away from me. Even the candle procession at the end of the service was cancelled to avoid crowding.
There was no annual family tradition of visiting the church village of my grandparents, where we usually attend mass and share a traditional meal of red lentil fetta, green onions, and oranges with the residents. This had to be canceled because the church closed.
Lent and Easter week are very special times for Christians in Egypt and in countries in the Middle East. Churches are busy with special daily prayer times, additional spiritual meetings, confessions, collecting donations in all forms, providing services for needy families and special spiritual care for children from disadvantaged families, and trips around governorates in the north and south of Egypt visiting village churches.
With the third wave of COVID-19 spreading wildly in Egypt, prompting schools to close earlier this year, more people are getting infected, although vaccination numbers are slowly picking up. However, this hasn’t prevented people from gathering in groups and organising family dinners and parties indoors and outdoors.
It is a daily challenge – to take precautions – dodging as much as possible causes of infection while living under normal conditions.
If not for online spiritual support, it would have been a lot harder.
This Easter, it will be all about online church services and programs, much as it will be for many of our viewers across the region.
SAT-7 is broadcasting live church services throughout the Holy Week and has created special programs for Easter. A special Easter program called One Thing is Needed explains the importance of salvation and why Jesus died on the cross, featuring leaders from the Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical churches – the three main churches.
SAT-7’s worship program Keep on Singing is also dedicating a special episode for Easter.
These online services allow us to interact digitally, yet gathering at church for praise and worship is needed and the fellowship of the body of the Church is sorely missed.
I for one, look forward to returning to churches full of children and ceremony as well-celebrated together.