Friday, January 7, 2011

It's Christmas for Orthodox Christians

*This post was revised and expanded on January 12th


Whereas the traditional Christmas greeting most of us are accustomed to hearing is "Merry Christmas," or in England, "Happy Christmas," I am told that those in the Orthodox branch of Christendom salute one another with, "Christ is Born: Rejoice!" I like that. It definitely contains more substance than simply "Merry Christmas," as it includes the reason to celebrate, or to "Rejoice." (It is also the title of a wonderful hymn.)

Another distinctive of the Eastern churches is that those who are on the "old calendar" celebrate the birth of Christ on a different day than those in the Western tradition. This is because their ecclesiastical year is based on the Gregorian, rather than the Julian, calendar. The Orthodox churches are generally classified into two categories, "Eastern" and "Oriental." Most of the divisions within these categories are along national lines,  thus we have Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and so on. The Oriental Orthodox Christmas Eve is on January 6th, and some Armenian churches will celebrate Christmas on January 19th. 

The Oriental churches are far fewer in number, but  include the historically significant Coptic church in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox church, said to be the two oldest churches on the African continent. The Coptic Church in Alexandria traces it's founding to St. Mark and and counts Dionysius, Clement, Origen and Athanasius among its "theological ancestors," while the church in Ethiopia traditionally traces it beginnings to the "Ethiopian eunuch"  (Acts 8:26-38) who brought the gospel that he heard from Philip the evangelist. However, it was not until the fourth century that the church was officially established after the country had been evangelized by Frumentius and Edesius of Tyre. They had first been taken as prisoners to Abyssinia, and later set at liberty, using their freedom to preach the Gospel.


Today the Coptic churches (in Europe, as well as in Egypt) are the targets of Radical Islamic jihadists, who have vowed to "destroy the cross" by blowing up churches, especially when they are full of worshippers during Christmas services. Some observers see this as part of a more extensive enterprise involving other Christian churches as well as Jews. The jihadists first want to see how the West reacts to the bombings. See the article on the Cranmer blog:

Here are some excerpts from that post:

[T]he strategy appears to be to intimidate the West through the targeting of this pre-Arab, pre-Islamic Christian group which has sought refuge from the Islamic world. The Islamists are essentially testing the soft underbelly of the beast. When apathy and indifference are established, they will doubtless escalate their jihad and turn on other Christian groups...

...[T]he Copts are not only being threatened in Germany: the inexorable Islamist jihad is also spreading through the Netherlands, with Coptic churches in Italy, France, Austria, Sweden and the UK also being targeted.

...To their credit, the three largest Muslim organisations in the Netherlands have called on Muslims to protect Coptic Churches in Eindhoven, Amsterdam and Utrecht.

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