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Blog - The Feast of the Nativity

The Feast of the Nativity

by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

The feast of the Nativity, one of the major feasts in the Coptic Orthodox Church, is a time at which the faithful gather to commemorate the receiving of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, and His gift of salvation to all humanity. Though for many this season becomes overshadowed by frantic preparation for a number of gatherings and festivities, for the Coptic Orthodox faithful there is a variety of deeply rooted traditional practices that enable all, regardless of age or circumstance, to fully engage in the true meaning and significance of the Virgin Birth.

As the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East, the Coptic Orthodox Church dates back to the first century, founded by St Mark the Apostle and writer of the second Gospel. The Middle East was a place of refuge for our Lord in His childhood, and it is poignant to realise during this season that the birthplace of Christianity is now a place most in need of the hope of the Nativity, being more commonly identified as a region overtaken by conflict.
Having said that, however, the Coptic Orthodox Church, among other Christian denominations within Egypt and the Middle East, continues to testify to the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, providing a source of light and hope for all despite the various challenges faced.

Along with other Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, the feast of the Nativity is celebrated on January 7 every year, differing from the western celebration on December 25. This difference is due to the use of the Julian calendar in Coptic Orthodox practice, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar used by the western Church, this day always coincides with the 29th day of the Coptic month of Kiahk. Regardless of this distinction, however, the core of the celebration is fundamentally the same, serving as a joyous reminder to the arrival of the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour to all who accept Him into their lives.

As part of their preparatory and ascetic practice Coptic Orthodox Christians, both in Egypt and around the world, begin to prepare for the feast of the Nativity with a dedicated fast 43 days prior. Fasting is a principal foundation in the life of the Church, and of the 365 days of the year Copts fast for more than 210. Of the 43 days of the Advent fast, 40 signify the period of time that Moses waited to receive the word of God in the form of the Ten Commandments, and three commemorates those days fasted by Christians in Egypt which led to the miraculous moving of Muqattam mountain. Likewise, Coptic Christians fast in preparation to receive the Word of God.

Hymnology is also a core element in the Church, and is used to celebrate the various seasons in the Church calendar. The feast of the Nativity falls at the end of the Coptic month of Kiahk, and throughout this month, all liturgical and worship hymnology is focused on the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Liturgical script is seasonal, used to focus on the holy virginal Birth and the good news of the arrival of Our Lord. There are also extended praise and worship sessions with seasonal hymnology which focus on God’s deliverance in the Old Testament with stories such as Moses’s crossing of the Red Sea and the three young men in the book of Daniel who were delivered from the fiery furnace. Hymnology, along with other spiritual components, seeks to help worshippers focus on the deliverance of salvation through our Saviour Jesus Christ.

For the Coptic Orthodox community in the United Kingdom during this season, and alongside traditional hymnology, carol services are also incorporated into the calendar as a means of modern-day worship, merging ancient practices with the contemporary. All the praise and worship sessions during this month are often considered as the most joyous and widely celebrated among Copts. Churches are often at full capacity and the praise sessions extend until the early hours of the morning concluding with the Eucharistic Liturgy.

The days of preparation, spent in liturgical practice and worship sessions, draw to a close with the climax of the feast of the Nativity itself, which is celebrated with a midnight Eucharistic Liturgy on the evening of January 6. Family and friends congregate around the Eucharist, the most tangible manifestation of our Lord’s sacrifice to, and love for, mankind to fully appreciate and receive the Word Himself.

The liturgical service is then followed by a fellowship meal where the faithful break their fast and continue to rejoice in the Nativity in a spirit of joy and love.

As we celebrate these festive days, and approach this joyous feast, let us remember our brethren in the Middle East, acknowledging that for many millions of Christians in the region, these days commemorate the Birth of the Incarnate Word, Who is still the source of the hope and courage with which they live till today. Let us also remember all those who are in need of the love and hope that the Nativity brings, seeking to be a window into the heart of God, who gave Himself to us all so that we can in turn share that love and spirit of reconciliation with all who we encounter.

His Grace Bishop Angaelos is General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

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