Good Friday and other Easter processions have been cancelled in Syria as a result of violent street unrest.
The country's Christian minority has been forced to abandon its usually colourful commemorations because of the number of "martyrs" who have died and the "bad situation", a senior church official said.
Syria is braced for more protests today, despite an announcement that President Bashir al-Assad had lifted the 48-year state of emergency, a key demand.
Government promises of reform combined with violence by armed plain-clothes security forces have only served to bolster the opposition, who plan demonstrations after regular Muslim Friday prayers.
These will clash with Good Friday services, which would normally see processions and public gatherings by Syria's Christians, who make up around 5pc of the population.
"We are not receiving official congratulations," said Bishop Philoxenos Mattias, Assistant to the Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarchate in Damascus, the country's biggest Christian denomination.
"All of the Syrian churches have decided this together because of the bad situation and because of the martyrs who have died in recent days, out of respect for them." He said services would still take place inside the churches.
President Assad signed the decree lifting the state of emergency yesterday, allowing licensed demonstrations and abolishing the state security court in which dissidents were tried. It follows a month of demonstrations in which more than 200 people have died. (© Daily Telegraph, London)