Orthodox Christians in Israel mark holiday as war in Gaza rages on

Some 62,000 Orthodox Christians in Israel are celebrating a quiet Christmas on Sunday as the war in Gaza rages on.While most other Christians celebrate the holiday on December 25, the Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar and this year marks the holiday on Sunday, January 7 instead.

Armenian Christians celebrate the holiday on January 6. However, Armenians in Jerusalem will celebrate Christmas from January 18-19.

Israel is home to around 187,900 Christians, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) said last month, composing 1.9% of the population. According to a previous Foreign Ministry report, about a third of Israel’s Christians are Orthodox.

Some 800-1,000 Christians are living in Gaza, according to various reports. However, it is unclear how many of them are Orthodox. A report released over the weekend by National Public Radio (NPR) said that “about 250 people are sheltering in the Greek Orthodox church in Gaza, and say they’re too afraid to do anything but pray for peace.”

Christmas in Israel

“I’m going to say that I feel desperate to be happy,” 23-year-old Maryan Saba told NPR from St. Porphyrius Orthodox Church in Gaza City, where she is sheltering.

The service of the Royal Hours of Christmas at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem on Friday, January 5, 2024. (credit: Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and throughout other parts of Israel were generally subdued this year, as Christians in the area showed solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Israel and Gaza.

“Our hearts are broken because of the war,” Jerusalem spiritual leader Father Benny Dibitonto told The Jerusalem Post.

“Our parishioners are at war. Our brothers and sisters in Gaza are suffering. We pray for them all – for both sides, of course.”

On Friday, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem shared photos of the “Royal Hours of Christmas” reading at the monastic and patriarchal Church of Saints Constantine and Helen.

The service was presided over by Jerusalem Patriarch Theophilos III and included the participation of the Holy Sepulchre Fathers, the church’s secretariat-general said. 





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