“It was like every other day since mid-February. There was no family gathering and no mass. The only difference was we ate more,” said Rana Reda, describing this year’s Coptic Easter celebrations which fell on 19 April.
Reda, 28, told Al-Ahram Weekly that she, along with millions of other Coptic Christians, had missed the packed mass that usually accompanies Easter celebrations. Churches, and all other places of worship, have been closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“This is the first time in my life to mark Easter without a family gathering,” said Reda.
While Reda’s family tried to conjure a festive spirit, it was in vain.
“We all dressed up, loaded the table with delicious food, yet there was no festive feeling.”
The curfew and social distancing meant there was little chance of visiting relatives or spending the night celebrating with friends.
The 28 year-old brand manager said she had visited her mother briefly, and then returned home ahead of the curfew.
Easter follows 55 days of fasting when millions of Coptic Christians abstain from eating meat, poultry, fish and dairy products.
Holy Week — the week before Easter — is traditionally marked by multiple church visits. This year congregations watched recorded masses on TV rather than attending themselves.
The televised screening of Holy Week prayers may have been a consolation, but it could not replace physically attending services.
“Normally, I wouldn’t miss Holy Week prayers for the world. For Copts they are as significant as the taraweeh [Ramadan night prayers] are for Muslims,” said Marian Victor.
“It is through the Holy Week services that we feel most connected to God.”
“This epidemic is controlling the world, and like the rest of the world we need to adapt to it,” Bassilios Gerguis, a priest at Saint Mary Church in Moqattam, told the Weekly.
“The televised screenings allowed people to pray in their homes. It was the closest possible experience to being in church, which is impossible at the moment.”
Gerguis believes it was necessary for churches to close to save people’s lives.
Pope Tawadros II led a mass on Saturday night at the Monastery of Saint Bishoy in Wadi Al-Natroun. “Despite the circumstances that have not allowed us to fully celebrate in our churches, we have celebrated spiritually in our homes,” he said.
Pope Tawadros II prayed with a handful of priests behind him, each standing apart from his neighbour.
Abanoub Bishara, 25, found this year’s quiet Easter celebrations had given him a never felt before sense of religion.
“It was a chance for me to focus on Jesus, away from all of the other manifestations. It was all about prayers and connection to God. There were no family gatherings, no churches or social visits, but there was the connection with God.
“It hurt to be away from my church, but it provided me with a chance to focus on strengthening my relationship with God.”
Bishara said that difficult experiences bring out the core of religious belief.
“Members of my family gathered for prayers at home, and we followed the live broadcast of rituals from the church. This was a one-of-a-kind experience. It allowed us to bond together.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 23 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly