Egypt's Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Mass in new capital

President El Sisi delivers a message of Muslim-Christian unity in customary visit to Coptic cathedral

The spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, led Christmas Mass on Thursday night in the cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in Egypt’s new capital, in the desert east of Cairo.

As his habit since taking office seven years ago, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi dropped by to greet the Coptic pontiff and the congregation at the cathedral shortly before the service began.

Mr El Sisi delivered a message of unity between the country's Muslim majority and the Christian community, which accounts for 10 per cent of Egypt’s 102 million people.

Bishop Dawoud Makram leads the Coptic Orthodox midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at the Church of St George in Cairo, Egypt, on January  6, 2022.  AP

“Don’t let anyone come between us or sow sedition,” he said. “May God help me to be an honest and trustworthy servant for the nation and you. Let me tell you this: this country is ours and it’s big enough for all of us.”

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Friday, nearly two weeks after most of Christendom’s other denominations.

Of the world’s Christian communities, the orthodox churches in Russia, Ethiopia, Serbia and Ukraine are the major ones that join Egypt’s in celebrating Christmas on January 7.

epa06188962 Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (R), the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, is greeted on his arrival at the Diocesan Headquarters in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 07 September 2017. The Coptic Pope is in Australia for a 10-day tour to schools and churches in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.  EPA/LUIS ASCUI  AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

The Coptic Orthodox Church traces its origins to the first century AD when the apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. Mark is regarded by Egypt’s Christians as the first Pope of Alexandria.

Early Christians in Egypt suffered persecution under Roman rule and continued to face systematic, albeit intermittent, persecution for centuries afterward.

Mr El Sisi is particularly popular among Egypt’s Christians because he led the military’s removal in 2013 of president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed as a terrorist group by Egypt.

Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians attending midnight Mass on  Christmas Eve at the Church of St.  George in Cairo, Egypt, late Thursday, Jan.  6, 2022.  AP

Morsi’s one year in office was a source of serious concern for the Christians, who feared persecution under his rule.

Militants attacked Christians and scores of their places of worship in the days and weeks that followed Morsi’s removal.

There have also been attacks in recent years against Christians in northern Sinai, where militants have for years been fighting government forces.

Christian pilgrims have also been killed while travelling to remote desert monasteries south-west of Cairo.

Updated: January 7th 2022, 7:43 AM