The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, hosted a dinner in honor of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and First Lady Shiranthi Wickremasinghe Rajapaksa Monday evening (Jan 6) on the Eve of Eastern Christmas Celebrations.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, First Lady Shiranthi Wickremasinghe Rajapaksa, Palestinian President Dr. Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and local and foreign dignitaries were present at the dinner hosted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, celebrates the Eastern Orthodox Christmas on Jan 7. Most Eastern Orthodox Christian denominations celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Jan 7, in contrast to the Western Christian tradition of celebrating on Dec 25.
The Church of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Site, and was the first to be listed under Palestine by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The site is also on UNESCO's List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. Due to its cultural and geographical history, the site holds a prominent religious significance to those of both the Christian and Islamic faiths.
Special prayer blessings were conducted at the holy site, known as the Grotto, at the Church by the orthodox priests.
Later in the evening, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, First Lady Shiranthi Wickremasinghe Rajapaksa, Palestinian President Dr. Mahmoud Abbas attended the midnight Mass for the Orthodox Christmas Eve at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem conducted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.