The Church of Greece will hold liturgies during Easter Week behind closed doors and Greeks will “celebrate” Resurrection in the churches on May 26, 2020, the Holy Synod decided late on Wednesday. The country’s top clergy urged the faithful to follow safety instructions concerning the coronavirus, to stay at home and pray more in order to protech fellow human beings.
The Holy Synod met under the leadership of Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos via teleconference due to lockdown.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the Holy Synod spoke of “unprecedented circumstances” the force the faithful to stay away from churches and the Holy communions and of decisions taken with a “bleeding heart.”
“All must obey the instructions of the health authorities and to not be carried away by those promoting disobedience, which under the present circumstances is inexcusable, even in the name of the Christian faith,” the Holy Synod said.
The Holy Synod decided that:
Divine Liturgies during the Easter Week and the liturgy of Resurrection will take place behind closed doors only weith the participation of the minimum number of clergy and chanters.
The liturgies will be broadcast online and/or on television and radio.
No people will be allowed to attend these services.
Priests will perform the liturgies simple, without loudspeakers and solemn bells.
On the controversial issue of whether the virus can be transmitted with the spoon of the Holy Communion, the Holy Synod said remained adamant. The claim that “transmission of sickness through the Holy communion undermines the dogmatic truth, is unacceptable and condemned.”
There will be a festive celebration of the Resurrection on the night of May 26 to May 27 in the country ‘s churches if the circumstances allow it. On that date, forty days after Easter is the last time the “Christ has risen!” is chanted, temples, which ends on a regular Saturday night. “It will not be a celebration of Easter but the celebration of the ceremony,” the statement clarified.
The Holy Synod said further that 150,000 euros will be donated to the Greek Health system for the fight against the coronavirus. and that Bishops and priests will deposit one month salary to the special coronavirus account.
The decisions of the country’s top clergy have yet to be approved by the state and the health authorities.
Unclear is still what will happen with the Epitaphios processions on Holy Friday and the Holy Fire on Resurrection Saturday, April 18.
The Holy Synod did not take position on Epitaphios but some clerics told media that the Epitaphios processions could take place strictly around the churches and under limited participation of the faithful. The priests on TV could not explain according to which criteria “a few chosen faithful” would be allowed to attend the ceremony.
It is worth nothing that the Greek Orthodox rituals on Holy Thursday and Friday require the participation of several people who will work closely together to set up and down the Body of Christ from the huge Cross, decorate the Epitaphios, carry it around and then bringing it back to the Church.
Under the lockdown restrictions gatherings of more than 10 people are forbidden, “church going” is not included in the options on the movement Permits.
But the bigger question among the clergy and the faithful is what will happen with the Miracle of the Holy Fire and its transport to Greece on Resurrection Saturday.
Israel will allow the Holy Fire ceremony under a limited number of priests, however, it will not allow foreign delegations to disembark from the airplanes.
“There will likely be 10-15 people in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher representing the different Eastern Orthodox churches, who will transport the fire to Ben-Gurion Airport with a police escort. The religious delegations from the different countries will not disembark from their planes, in order to avoid Israel’s quarantine requirements. They will receive the fire on the planes,” Jerusalem Post writes citing foreign ministry sources.
Bishop of Dimitriadas Ignatios expressed hope that the Holy Fire will arrive in Greece, “but this should be done with absolute safety. And it should be considered how it will reach every home.”
Despite the pandemic and the high contamination risks, the decisions of the Greek government and the instructions of the Holy Synod, some priests follow their own defiant way. One of them was arrested last Sunday for having allowed congregation into the church and given the Holy Communion of the faithful. The priest in a village in northern Greece was arrested following a tip off by a concerned citizen to the local police, reported ekklisiaonline.
PS A cousin of mine, a regular church goer, said that she wouldn’t mind if rituals of Greek Easter are cancelled. “So many people die here, so many get infected.., it is high time we change our habits. We can traditionally celebrate Easter next year.”
An elderly neighbor, also church goer, agreed with this approach but added “there are certainly people insisting of going to the Church during the Holy Week and want to celebrate Resurrection the traditional way. If they go, this will create a disaster.”