Orthodox churches throughout Eastern Europe and Russia are ready to celebrate Easter Sunday on April 19 amid restrictions on coronaviruses that will limit ceremonies that are usually full of symbolism and tradition.
Easter holidays are the most important dates in the calendar for the 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world.
Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, urged the faithful to comply with government measures and World Health Organization guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. But expelling people from the church is not easy.
While church leaders in Romania and Serbia have accepted a ban on public meetings, prominent Orthodox leaders in both countries have pleaded with the government to allow exceptions.
Some clergy members in Serbia balked after authorities extended a curfew to run for 84 hours starting April 17 – an attempt to limit contact over the weekend.
Following the announcement, the Synod of the conservative Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) requested a five-hour break at curfew to allow believers to attend the morning liturgy.
That forced Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to call the SPC head, Patriarch Irinej, and pressurize him to make clerics obey the restrictions.
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The Russian Orthodox Church, which celebrates Easter Sunday on April 19, ordered the churches to close their doors to large groups during the week leading up to the holidays.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Ukrainians to celebrate from home for fear that the disease that has killed 133 people in the country will spread even further.
Most church leaders in Ukraine have agreed, agreed to broadcast their services online and on television.
The government did not choose to close the church but effectively banned attendance by not allowing services with more than 10 people and by only allowing people to travel in public places or in pairs.
The Bulgarian government has urged people not to attend services even if they do not prohibit them.
Churches remain open in Bulgaria even when the government bans traffic from entering and leaving the capital city of Sofia.
The most debated debate about Orthodox Easter took place in Georgia, where church and government leaders agreed to allow parishioners to attend the Easter service until dawn.
The agreement gives worshipers a way around curfew and other restrictive measures.
Worshipers in Georgia are permitted to attend services in large cathedrals on April 18 and April 19, provided they keep a distance of two meters. Those who attend small churches must stay outside their church building.
The agreement said parishioners must arrive for service before 9 pm. on April 18 and left after 6 am on April 19.
With reporting by Reuters, AP and dpa.
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