Millions of Egypt’s Copts have been forced to watch Christmas Mass from their homes amid strict precautionary measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Coptic Orthodox churches celebrated Christmas on Wednesday night, but a ban on public attendance at religious festivals meant that Egypt’s streets failed to witness the usual celebrations.
The church also adopted stringent preventive measures to ensure the safety of worshippers after many priests became infected with the virus.
The latest curbs follow a dramatic rise in cases amid end-of-year festivals, which led to a ban on public attendance at Mass and limits on the number of religious officials performing ceremonies.
Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Saint Mark Episcopate, presided over the Christmas Mass from the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in Wadi El Natrun, Beheira Governorate, while the Evangelical Church organized its own official Christmas celebration with prayers.
Coptic satellite channels and Egyptian TV broadcast the Mass live, giving Copts the chance to witness the event from home following the cancelation of the Easter Day celebrations last April.
However, the usual well-wishers’ reception was dropped, public attendance was halted at all churches in Cairo and Alexandria, and the role of priests limited elsewhere.
Several monasteries canceled visits, while prayers were restricted to monks. Coptic church cemeteries also prohibited visits during Christmas.
A number of Coptic monasteries, including the Monastery of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Assiut Governorate in Upper Egypt, closed their doors to visitors.
The Monastery of Saint Anthony in the Red Sea mountains said that it will refuse visitors until further notice.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi congratulated Pope Tawadros II and the entire Egyptian population on the occasion of Christmas.
“I enjoy being present at the celebration in the cathedral every year to congratulate the Coptic brothers, but the coronavirus prevented us from attending the Christmas Mass this year,” El-Sisi said.