Greece lockdown weighs heavily on Orthodox Christians during Easter

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For Orthodox Christians, this is normally a time of reflection and mourning followed by joyful release, of centuries-old ceremonies steeped in symbolism and tradition.

As the coronavirus rampages across the globe, claiming tens of thousands of lives, governments have imposed lockdowns in a desperate bid to halt the pandemic. Businesses have been closed and church doors shut to prevent the virus’s insidious spread.

For some, the restrictions during Easter are particularly tough.

“When there was freedom and you didn’t go somewhere, it didn’t bother you,” said Christina Fenesaki while shopping in Athens’ main meat market for lamb — to cook in the oven at home in the Greek capital instead of on a spit in her ancestral village. “But now that we have the restrictions, it bothers you a lot. It’s heavy.”

In Greece, where more than 90% of the population is baptised into the Orthodox Church, the government has been at pains to stress that this year’s Easter cannot be normal.

People look at the city of Athens, Greece, with the church of Agios Georgios on the left. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

It imposed a lockdown early on, and so far has managed to keep the number of deaths and critically ill people low — 105 and 69 respectively as of Thursday, among a population of nearly 11 million.

But officials fear any slippage in social distancing could have dire consequences, particularly during a holiday that normally sees people cram into churches and flock to the countryside. Roadblocks have been set up, and fines doubled to 300 euros ($325), for anyone found driving without justification during the holiday.

“This Easter is different. We will not go to our villages, we will not roast in our yards, we will not go to our churches. And of course, we will not gather in the homes of relatives and friends,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said. “For us to continue being together, this year we stay apart.”

Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox, has urged the faithful to adhere to government measures and World Health Organization guidelines. But keeping people out of churches hasn’t proved easy.

A Greek Orthodox priest closes the entrance of a church in the start of the Holy Tuesday ceremony held without worshippers in Athens, Greece, during a lockdown order by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

In Greece, after days of delicate diplomacy with the country’s powerful Orthodox Church, the government banned the public from all services after the church’s governing body imposed restrictions but not a full shutdown. Authorities also quickly scotched a Greek mayor’s plans to distribute the “Holy Light” door-to-door throughout his municipality just after midnight on Saturday.

Some priests have defied the shutdown. One recently offered communion — where the faithful sip from the same spoon — through an Athens church’s back door.

Read More: Priests under investigation in Greece after offering Holy Communion to the faithful amid lockdown

Read More: Greece’s Minister for Greeks Abroad asks diaspora to ‘keep the homeland in their hearts’ over Easter

“Each person has the church inside of them,” said Kleanthis Tsironis, who heads Athens’ main meat market. He will spend Easter at home with his wife and two daughters, and will miss the resurrection liturgy. But churches will eventually open, he said, and Easter traditions will return.

“Souls are being lost,” he said of the virus deaths across the world. “And we’re going to sit and cry because we didn’t roast on a spit? We’ll do that later, when the measures are over.”

Sourced By: Associated Press

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