The Queen has sent a message of support to Coptic Christians at the annual Coptic New Year service in London.
In a statement read at St Margaret's Church in Westminster, the Queen said it was an "opportunity to remember all those around the world who suffer hardship on account of their faith, especially in recent times. They remain in our thoughts and prayers."
The service, to celebrate the Feast of Nayrouz, the beginning of the Coptic New Year, drew attention to the persecution of people for their faith and the importance of standing firm for the right to freedom of religion and belief.
The Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prime Minister also sent messages to the service which was attended by members of government as well as humanitarian organisations and ecumenical and inter-religious guests. The service was held later than usual because of the pandemic.
Prince Charles' message reflected the importance of gathering together as "an essential part of religious and community life. It helps us feel connected, not just at an individual level but, importantly, to something larger than ourselves".
He said: "As communities around the world continue to face persecution and endure dreadful hardship for their faith, I join you today in prayer for all those who continue to suffer injustice and religious persecution."
The Queen's message was addressed to Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church:
"Occasions such as this provide an opportunity to remember all those around the world who suffer hardship on account of their faith, especially in recent times. They remain in our thoughts and prayers.
"At this time of reflection as you remember and honour the faithful witness and resilience of Coptic Christians throughout the ages, I wish all in the Coptic community a peaceful and blessed year ahead."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby wrote:
"Nayrouz, or New Year, which takes place when normally the waters of the Nile rise, is a good time both to think of transitions and of the martyrs whose transition from death to life has so richly nourished the Church. Water can deal death and wash away dirt, and at the same time it gives new life, just as it does in baptism. The grace of this great sacrament is what we see displayed in the lives of the martyrs who inspire us to live out that same grace in our lives."
"This is why our friendship is so important. It is not just a human friendship but a coming together in Christ. Not only does each growth in friendship take a step towards a more united world, but it increases Christ's influence in the world.
"May all of us, united in our faith in Jesus Christ, increase in the relationship of love He wants us to have with each other. Our prayers will be strengthened and our witness more effective."
In his message, the Prime Minister said the Government was committed to respecting religious freedom and belief:
"As you commemorate the lives of so many Christians and people of all faiths and none who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith or belief, it is important for us all to remember that faith and minority groups continue to suffer persecution around the world. Respect for people of faiths is of fundamental importance to Her Majesty's Government."
"I hope that these celebrations usher in a blessed and peaceful year for the Coptic Orthodox Church community both here in Britain and worldwide."
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon gave a concluding address, raising awareness of a number of religious freedom issues around the world. He said the greatest test of anyone's faith is the willingness and conviction to safeguard the faith of others.