Easter celebrated by increasingly persecuted Middle East Orthodox Christians

(JNS.org) The Middle East's Orthodox Christians, who are facing growing persecution and uncertainty over their future, celebrated the Easter holiday on Sunday.

Pope Tawadros II of Egypt, pictured, held his first Easter Mass as pope at the historic St. Mark’s Church in central Cairo. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In Egypt, Pope Tawadros II held his first Easter Mass as pope at the historic St. Mark’s Church in central Cairo. The very same church was the site of an unprecedented attack by Muslim extremists and rioters early last month.

Pope Tawadros, after the attack, slammed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for his failure to protect the church. Egypt’s Coptic Christian population, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s 90 million people, has come under increasing persecution since the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolution.

In Jerusalem, more than 10,000 people on Saturday attended the Holy Fire ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. According to Orthodox Christian tradition, the Holy Fire is a miracle of spontaneous fire that occurs every year inside of the church on the day preceding Easter. The Holy Fire is then quickly transported to other Orthodox communities across the world.

“The Holy Fire gives us confidence as Christians,” Maha Nacacche, a woman from Nazareth in northern Israel, told Global Post. “But it’s hard to feel confident every day. As Christians in the Holy Land, we feel that our people are struggling to survive.”

While Israel has seen a small boost in its Christian population, which rose to 158,000 in 2012, Christians in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas such as Bethlehem—the birthplace of Jesus—has shrunk to a third of the town’s residents, down from 75 percent only a few decades ago.

Posted on May 6, 2013 .