- Orthodox Christians, the world's third-largest Christian denomination, celebrate Easter this Sunday, a week after Catholics and Protestants.
- More than 260 million Orthodox Christians in several countries are celebrating Easter in their homes, aiming to curb the outbreak of the new Coronavirus.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the Easter Mass but went to a chapel located within his compound near Moscow.
Since necessity is the mother of innovation, many Orthodox Christians followed Easter resurrection services on the Internet or television. Others ignored the dangers of the virus and attended church ceremonies on the most important day on the Orthodox calendar. In Georgia, a few hundred people took part in the midnight mass at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi, after the government allowed public attendance, despite measures to ban a night walkthrough to contain the virus.
Orthodox Christians, the world’s third-largest Christian denomination, celebrate Easter this Sunday, a week after Catholics and Protestants, who follow a different calendar, celebrate the feast. Easter ceremonies for Catholics took place last week in empty churches. Pope Francis sent his traditional message via streaming broadcasts from the Vatican. Eastertide comes at a time when prayer gatherings pose great dangers, in light of the epidemic that has killed more than 160,000 people in the world.
The Russian Patriarch, Kirill of Moscow, whose church includes 150 million believers, presided over a ceremony in the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow without a public presence. In a televised speech, the patriarch focused on “the terrible disease that affected our people,” saying that the church is empty but “we are together – a large family of Orthodox believers.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the Easter Mass but went to a chapel located within his compound near Moscow. “This year is a holiday with restrictions imposed on us. It is necessary to fight the spread of the disease,” he said in a video message, sitting near a table on which the traditional dessert was placed.
In Moscow and its environs, where most of the cases of the COVID-19 epidemic are concentrated in Russia, churches held ceremonies behind closed doors that were broadcast on the Internet or TV. Some believers carried candles and followed the ceremonies from behind the church walls, while the priests revived the pilgrimage that takes place every year in its courtyards. The ceremony remained open in most parts of Russia, which recorded nearly 36,800 infections and more than 300 deaths.
In most of the wider Orthodox region, churches did not open their doors to the public. The Istanbul-based Patriarchate of Constantinople ordered the ceremonies to be held behind closed doors and broadcasted on the Internet. The same decision was taken in Cyprus, Greece, Serbia, and North Macedonia, as well as in Egypt, where the Orthodox Copts make up between 10 and 15 percent of the population.
The Old City of Jerusalem is Desolate
As for the Old City of Jerusalem, which is usually crowded on Orthodox Easter, it was almost desolate at the weekend, amid the strict closures imposed by the Israeli authorities. The annual holy flame ceremony was held behind closed doors at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The flame was later transferred to Orthodox countries around the world. According to beliefs, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built on the site where Christ was crucified and buried.
In Romania, as churches closed their doors, volunteers and clergy went to the homes of the people to distribute loaves of consecrated bread and the sacred fire of the torch. In Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church allowed everyone to attend the ceremonies but required worshipers to wear masks and stand at a set distance from each other.
Georgia bowed to pressure from the religious authorities and allowed the ceremonies to take place in the largest churches, despite a curfew and a general closure in the Black Sea border country. Some 385 385 confirmed infections have been recorded in Georgia.
In Ukraine, similar differences of opinion emerged. President Volodymyr Zelensky urged citizens to stay in their homes, while the Orthodox Church, loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate, encouraged worshipers to participate in the open-air ceremony. However, the Church recorded the infection of 93 people in the historic Kiev-Pechersk Monastery, where three people died of the virus.