| 3 December 2023, Sunday |

Orthodox Christians Mark Second Easter Holiday Under Pandemic Restrictions

Orthodox Christians around the world are observing the holiday of Easter for the second time under conditions of the global pandemic.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on May 2 expressed his hope that the coronavirus would be eliminated, and the pandemic ended.

“This Easter is special and its special nature lies in the hope that the bane of the pandemic will pass and, leaving us with a number of important lessons, will after all abandon us forever,” Kirill told the Russia-24 TV channel.

Many worshipers in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior were seen wearing masks to reduce the transmission of the virus, but President Vladimir Putin was unmasked.

Putin issued a statement thanking the church for its contribution to “pressing social problems” and for promoting family traditions.

The holiday was also celebrated at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and at the main Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo. In both cases, participation was restricted because of the pandemic.

“We are praying for an end to this pandemic that has horrifyingly swept through the world,” Coptic Pope Tawadros II said in an Easter message. “We are praying for our dear health workers, being the first defense line in confronting this pandemic.”

Many countries are restricting normal Orthodox Easter celebrations, after last year much of the world lived in lockdown.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians based in Istanbul, has conducted various Easter celebrations over the weekend with limited attendance, as Turkey is under a strict lockdown.

In Greece, the government kept pandemic restrictions in place through the Easter holiday while preparing to restart services for tourists next week. Many church services were held outdoors and those indoors required social distancing and mask wearing.

In Lebanon, a curfew was in effect to curb the spread of coronavirus and churches were allowed to hold Easter Mass and prayers only at 30 percent capacity.

In Serbia, which has a fairly high rate of 50 vaccine doses administered per 100 people, believers are expected to attend church services.

RFE/RL’s Balkan Service reported concerns that churches may continue a tradition of sharing communion from a common spoon.

Last year, 90-year-old Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej died from COVID-19 a month after leading a service for Metropolitan Amfilohije, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, who also died from the virus.