Christian communities following the Orthodox tradition are celebrating Christmas today Sunday, 7 January. They include Churches in Georgia, Russia, Greece, Serbia, Moldova, Egypt, and a dozen or so other countries.
In Armenia, Christmas was celebrated on 6 January.
Orthodox Christians celebrate Chritmas later than other Christian churches because they follow the Julian Calander, created by Julius Caesar in 35AD, for religious festivals, whilst the rest of the Christian churches follow the Gregorian calander. The Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar after Pope Gregory of Rome developed it in 1582. The Julian calendar miscalculated the length of a solar year, creating an 11-minute discrepancy each year, which built up over time and caused it to fall out of sync. However, while the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar many countries retained the historic Julian calendar dates to mark certain religious festivals including Christmas.
The Christmas celebration had particular significance this year in Egypt, where the Coptic Church has been under sustained terrorist attacks from Islamic fundamentalists. About 10% of Egypt's population are reported to be Coptic Christians, and there are around 20 million copts worldwide, although figures are disputed.
In a sign of solidarity with the Coptic Community, Egypt's president Sisi attended the Christmas service at the Coptic cathedral in Egypt's new administrative capital. This was the first Christmas Mass at the recently constructed Nativity of Christ Cathedral and it was led by Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of Saint Mark's Diocese. The new Church is reported to be the largest one in the middle east with a capacity of 7,500 people.
Photo: Celebration of Christmas Mass at the Coptic Cathedral of the Nativity in Egypt on 7 January 2018 (picture courtesy of the Xinhua news agency)
The European Union condemned in the strongest possible terms the recent attack in Salisbury. EU leaders agreed with the UK government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation.