Orthodox Easter services hit by virus as many stay at home
More than 260 million Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter Sunday, including the Orthodox community in Turkey, with church leaders urging worshippers to stay at home to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus.
While many watched services online or on television, some sidestepped virus fears to attend churches on the most important date in the Orthodox calendar.
In the historical Mor Behnam (Kırklar) Church in the southeastern province of Mardin, where people of different languages and religions have lived together peacefully for centuries, the clergy organized a ritual for the Easter.
Hymns in Turkish, Arabic, Hebrew and Syriac were read in the ritual held with a limited number of participants.
After the ceremony, the clergy celebrated the participants in accordance with the rules of social distance, lit a candle and prayed.
The officials broadcast the ritual live on social media, allowing Syriac citizens to watch at their homes.
However, in Istanbul, where thousands of Orthodox live, Fener Greek Patriarch ordered services to be closed to the public and broadcast online.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on April 12 released a message marking Easter.
Erdoğan extended his best wishes to “all Christian citizens and the Christian community on the occasion of Easter.”
Officials versus clerics
In Georgia, several hundred took part in a midnight mass at Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral after the government allowed public attendance despite a nightly curfew aimed at curbing the virus.
Jerusalem’s Old City is normally packed for Orthodox Easter but was almost deserted at the weekend under Israel’s strict lockdown measures.
In Russia, the Patriarch Kirill, who leads 150 million believers, held a service in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Church, with no worshippers attending.
In a televised address, the Patriarch focused on “the terrible illness that has touched our people” saying the church was empty but “we are together — one big family of Orthodox believers.”
In Romania, while churches closed their doors, volunteers and priests went to people’s homes handing out loaves of consecrated bread and sharing the holy flame.
A number of Orthodox churches opposed the imposition of lockdown measures on their most important holiday.
In Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church kept services open to all, but worshippers have to wear masks and stand at a minimum distance from each other.
Greek Cyprus saw also a similar divergence of views with Archbishop Chrysostomos II, urging people to stay at home while the Metropolitan Neophytos held a service in bulk despite the rules.
Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı wished all Christians in Cyprus a happy Easter, sending a hopeful message that the coronavirus pandemic will be overcome with the least damage possible.