Orthodox Church Rebels against Coronavirus Rules

Orthodox Church Rebels against Coronavirus Rules

Greece's government has given in. Normally, churches have to remain closed because of the stricter Coronavirus measures. But they celebrated the Epiphany feast with the believers on January 6 as reported by the Guardian.

Andreas Chronis stands in front of the Athens Cathedral because today Orthodox Christians celebrate the Epiphany feast and thus commemorate the baptism of Jesus. "We cannot attend the service. It is a very important day. I would almost say even more important than Christmas. And we Greeks have our traditions on this day," he says.

A good 30 believers take part in the mass, with distance and mask. Everything is waiting for the climax of the festive service: Archbishop Hieronymus II's blessing, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece. He holds a sprig of basil dipped in holy water in front of him, and the believers one after the other press their faces against it and cross themselves.

They have been doing this for centuries. But this year, it is an act of rebellion for some; for others, it is negligent.

Because immediately after the turn of the year, the government significantly tightened the corona restrictions again. The entire retail trade had to close again, and hairdressers or cosmetic studios - and the churches.

Church ignores government

The Church's answer was prompt: the next day, Bishop Athinagóras, spokesman for the Holy Synod, the highest organ of the Orthodox Church in Greece, announced: "that the houses of God will remain open for the faithful to participate in the masses for Epiphany." 

In doing so, the church defied the government, which in turn responded with an appeal. "We demand the cooperation of the church. Everyone should take their responsibility, and that also applies to the church," said the deputy government spokeswoman Aristotelía Pelóni.

The church - a sensitive issue

And it stayed that way because the issue is delicate for the government. The Church is still very important in Greece. It is protected by article three of the constitution and bears the title "State Church." Church and politics are thus closely interwoven.

This example shows how tightly it is: Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reshuffled his cabinet and replaced some ministers at the beginning of the week. The six new members of the government were sworn in yesterday. The ceremony is carried out by Archbishop Hieronymus: "Congratulations! I wish you strength. And good cooperation!"

"I'm not scared at all"

The festive service is over in Athens Cathedral. The believers pour out. Nobody here is afraid of Coronavirus. "I'm not afraid at all. I'm 82 years old, and I'm not afraid of anything," said this churchgoer. And another: "It was very important to me! I came because it is my religious and moral duty and to strengthen my faith - despite the prohibitions."

Archbishop Hieronymus is also convinced that the church has not endangered the faithful: "Take a look at what measures the church has taken. And then you go to the beach or Syntagma Square and draw your conclusions." Today's consequences in terms of the pandemic will only become apparent in a few days at the earliest.