Government forced to surrender after bishops pledge to abide by the decision of the Holy Synod
It was not the sight that awaited the members of public health, but they arrived one by one.
The Blessed Sacrament of the Panagia Grigorousa Church was packed to capacity as early as 6:30 a.m., when the Epiphany service began.
The faithful lined up at 9 a.m. to kiss the cross carried in his left hand by Father Giorgos, the priest of the chapel, while his right hand blessed parishioners with a sprig of basil soaked in holy water.
The faithful would line up here at other times,”At other times, the faithful would be lining up out here,” “What did we do? We celebrated the baptism of Christ, and we did it with no more than 25 people present, observing all health regulations.”
Churches across Greece opened their doors on Wednesday in what some called a revolt, others a declaration of war, to mark one of the most holy days in the Orthodox calendar, despite national lockdown measures.
The step placed the influential institution on a path of collision with the center-right government, which is struggling to curb a surge of cases of coronavirus at a time when conspiracy theories seem to be widespread about the value of a vaccine. Recently, the Bishop of Cythera, joining the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Australia, urged churchgoers not to be vaccinated because he had learned that the vaccine was prepared from the aborted fetus cell lines.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged the spiritual leader of the country, Ieronymos II, on Tuesday to stand down, saying that the clergy should take responsibility and assist in the “great effort to limit the effects of the pandemic.”
Ultimately, after the bishops agreed to comply with a resolution of the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Church, and celebrate Epiphany, it was the government that was forced to surrender, although with small congregations.
Dimitrios Kokkinos, a supermarket salesman who was one of the first to step through the wooden doors of Panagia Grigorousa, said, “For believers, the church is our doctor’s office. “And today is one of our most sacred feast days.
Only if I were sick or dead would I miss it. In doing what it did, the church was absolutely justified.
The government declared over the weekend, reversing an earlier decision, that restrictions designed to curtail the spread of the virus, including the closing of worship houses, would be restored in preparation for the opening of schools on Jan. 11.
Angered by the inability of the authorities to consult him beforehand, the hierarchy of the church responded with fury.
On Monday, its governing body, the Holy Synod, called an emergency meeting to reject the ban and vow that, as Greeks celebrate Epiphany, it will not be implemented.
Senior clerics cautioned that heavy fines could be forthcoming while urging the faithful to turn up for services. The spokesman of the synod, Metropolis Athenagoras of Ilion, Acharnes and Petroupolis, went so far as to say he was prepared to accept a fine of 1,500 euros for opening his church doors.
The government responded angrily as well, promising that police patrolling the streets would receive no mercy from lawbreakers.
Both sides tried to find a compromise at the last minute: Ieronymos, who had just recently recovered from coronavirus, asked the bishops to comply with public health laws religiously, while the police were advised to use discretion. With the exception of some hardline bishops who insisted on conducting the rite outdoors, water blessing took place within churches rather than along coasts and coasts.
In a country where religious symbols still adorn public buildings and the archbishop oversees the swearing-in of government officials, the dispute demonstrated the immense power of the church.
As Greeks prepare to mark the 200th anniversary of the outbreak of the War of Independence against Ottoman rule in 1821, the position of the church, not least because of the seemingly inseparable connection of that institution to the Greek state, remains paramount.
Significantly, the state pays the priests’ wages,