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Millions of Coptic Christians, predominantly from the Middle East and Africa, gather on the eve of the 6th of January every year to celebrate Christmas Mass and break their 43-day fast.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is a church that services Africa and the Middle East. The head of the church is the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Apostolic See of St. Mark the Evangelist. The church has approximately 25 million members worldwide and is Egypt’s largest Christian denomination.
His Holiness Pope Tawadros II is the 118th Pope of Alexandria and is the current leader of the church.
The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on the 7th of January. The difference is that it follows the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar used by Catholics and Protestants. The celebration follows a fast of 43 days where Coptic Christians abstain from eating anything except plant- and fish-based foods.
Before the start of mass, the church is in celebration. The Pope then wears a crown as the highest authority of the Coptic Church. Once mass starts, the Pope becomes a servant of the church and changes into simple clothes to denote that.
The Pope prepares for the Holy Communion through prayers. The Christians believe that the lightly fermented grape juice then becomes the blood of Jesus Christ. After the Pope prepares the Holy Communion, it is split into two golden chalices.
In the past, men received Communion before women. This has changed in modern times. Now, men and women form two parallel lines and receive Communion at the same time from the two separate chalices.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians flock to churches across Egypt for the mass on the evening of the 6th of January. Some people travel long distances to their nearest church or go to the mass held by the Pope of Alexandria.
On the 6th of January 2023, the Christmas Mass was held in the new church built in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital.
Pope Tawadros II and Bishop Daniel lead Communion by putting bread and wine, which signify the body and blood of Jesus Christ, directly into the mouths of worshippers. This includes men, women and children from all walks of life.
Visitors to the cathedral during Mass engage in different prayers led by the Pope, or by priests in other churches. Women would often be seen wearing a scarf covering their hair. This is not mandatory, but many women choose to do it out of modesty when entering a place of worship.
Men and women traditionally sit on separate sides, with men on the left and women on the right. But during the Christmas Mass, the church is usually full beyond capacity so they sometimes get mixed.
Coptic Christians in Egypt would often kiss their hands during prayer. This is a cultural habit, where people in the region often signify thankfulness by kissing both sides of their hands.