The Greek Orthodox Church defies lockdown and opens up for Epiphany


The Holy Synod says that despite closure rules in Greece, Wednesday services will take place.

Despite government-ordered closures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Greek Orthodox Church has declared it will open its places of worship to celebrate Epiphany on Wednesday.

Senior clerics said they would go ahead as scheduled after an emergency meeting of the Holy Synod, its governing body, and celebrate Christ’s baptism on Jan. 6.

“The synod disagrees with the government’s new measures regarding the operation of places of worship and insists on what was originally agreed with the state,” the church body said in a statement.

“It asks that the above decision be respected by the state without further ado, taking into account … that all the sanitary measures foreseen have been maintained by clerics in thousands of churches throughout Greece.”
The declaration, which condemns the new week-long limits on movement, is the influential institution’s most overt act of defiance yet.

The center-right government in Athens had said before the holidays that it would loosen restrictions and allow all houses of worship to hold services, but with reduced attendance, on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Epiphany.

But with the health system of the country under pressure after an increase in cases of coronavirus, the government revoked the decision over the weekend, saying that the restrictions relaxed over the holidays will be restored to allow the reopening of schools on Jan. 11. Since Nov. 7, Greece has been in a state of emergency.

It remains to be seen how Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who began the new year with a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, will respond to the decision. The sight of worshippers breaching restrictions that have caused consternation, not least in the retail sector, will provoke more controversy. If a second wave of the pandemic is to be kept under control in a country that, while better off than most, has seen 140,099 coronavirus cases and 4,957 covid-19 fatalities to date, epidemiologists have called for even tougher controls.

The health policies have been increasingly challenged by church hardliners, lamenting the prohibition of coveted ceremonies such as the sacrament of communion, which is carried out with a shared spoon.

Their vengeance comes even after the disorder has been contracted by famous church leaders and countless clerics. Archbishop Ieronymos II, the spiritual leader of Greece, who had been hospitalized with coronavirus for two weeks before being released on Nov. 30, had previously sided with the restrictions.

“My message to everyone is to be patient,” the 82-year-old primate told The Guardian recently, noting some bishops’ resistance to the regulations. “Don’t believe those who say this disease doesn’t exist, because it very much does and it works in a sophisticated way. People have to follow the rules.”
One of the most important religious holidays in the Greek Orthodox calendar is Epiphany, which officially marks the close of the Christmas holiday.


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