The Greek Orthodox Church has announced that it will defy government shutdown orders aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus and opening places of worship to mark Epiphany this Wednesday.
After an emergency session of the holy synod, its governing body, senior clerics said they would go ahead as planned and celebrate Christ’s baptism on January 6.
” The synod does not agree with the new government measures on the operation of places of worship and insists on what was originally agreed with the state,” the ecclesiastical body said in a statement.
” He calls for the aforementioned decision to be fully respected by the state without further ado taking into account … that all the planned hygiene measures were endorsed by clergymen in thousands of churches throughout Greece.”
The announcement, which goes against the new one-week movement restrictions, is the most open act of defiance yet by the powerful institution.
Before the Christmas season, Athens’ center-right government had said it would relax sidewalks and allow all places of worship to hold services, albeit with limited congregations, on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Epiphany.
But with the country’s health system under pressure after a surge in coronavirus cases, the administration overturned the decision over the weekend saying relaxed restrictions during the holiday period would be reimposed to facilitate the reopening of schools on January 11. Greece has been on lock down since November 7.
It remains to be seen how Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who kicked off the new year with a cabinet shakeup on Monday, will react to the decision. The sight of worshipers violating restrictions that have caused consternation, especially in the retail sector, would fuel further controversy. Epidemiologists have called for even stricter restrictions if a second wave of the pandemic is to be controlled in a country that, although better than most, has recorded 140,099 coronavirus cases and 4,957 deaths from Covid-19 to date.
Church hardliners have increasingly questioned public health measures, deploring the ban on coveted rituals like the sacrament of communion, which is performed with a shared spoon.
His anger comes despite prominent church leaders and countless clergy falling ill with the disease. Greece’s spiritual leader Archbishop Hieronymus II, who was hospitalized for two weeks with coronavirus before being discharged on November 30, had previously sided with the sidewalks.
” My message to everyone is to be patient,” the 82-year-old primate recently told The Guardian, acknowledging the opposition of various bishops to the regulations. “Do not believe those who say that this disease does not exist because it certainly does exist and it works cleverly. People must follow the rules. “
Epiphany, which officially marks the end of the Christmas holidays, is one of the most important religious holidays on the Greek Orthodox calendar.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism