At the historic monastery of the Virgin Mary in Durunka on the Mountain of Assiut in Upper Egypt, hundreds of Egyptian Copts, Orthodox Ethiopians and many others from around the world celebrated on Tuesday the end of their 15-day fast ahead of the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on Wednesday.
The celebration included lively processions, prayers and hymn recitals by worshippers, with the participation of deacons and priests.
During the 15 days of the fast, Coptic churches all around the world organise daily “Nahda” prayers for two hours, which involve hailing the Virgin Mary, her life and service as the Theotokos – which translates to ‘The Mother of God’ in the Coptic language.
The Assumption feast, which is also known as the Dormition of Theotokos (the sleep of the bearer of God), is commemorated by Copts on 16 Masarra on the Coptic calendar, which fell this year on 22 August.
Tuesday’s Assumption celebration coincided with the first day of the four days of the Islamic Eid Al-Adha holiday, which was celebrated by millions of Muslims in Egypt and worldwide.
The Virgin of Mary monastery in Assiut, which is located in the town of Durunka on Assiut mountain – 100 metres above sea level and 7km west of Assiut City – is home to the largest annual festival for this occasion in Egypt.
The monastery, which was built in the first century AD, is believed to be the last stop on the historic trail of the Holy Family in Upper Egypt.
The Coptic Orthodox Church teaches that Mary’s body was carried to heaven by God at the end of her life.
For Copts, the Theotokos is seen as a great and powerful intercessor in heaven.
Worshipers pray to the Virgin Mary during the Assumption feast as a way of paying tribute and glorification for the blessings that they believe she has granted them.
Near the end of the two-hour Nahda prayers during the 15-day fast, a huge procession takes place daily.
During the procession, deacons tour the interior of the Durunka monastery, holding flowers and pictures of the Virgin Mary and reciting prayer hymns hailing the Virgin.
Christian denominations in other parts of the world also celebrate the feast.
Roman Catholics mark the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15 August.