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Our View: Government will have to be wary of errant priests come Easter

Churches are generally crowded for the Easter service

Reports about the extension of the restrictive measures to the end of the month could hardly have surprised anyone. Even if there were a steady reduction in the daily confirmed cases until the end of the decreed lockdown period, there was no chance the government would have failed to extend it, until at least after Easter.

The government decree lasting three weeks is due to expire on April 13 in the middle of the Orthodox holy week. If it is not extended, people will flock to churches, holiday in villages, arrange Easter Day gatherings for friends and family and group excursions to the countryside on Easter Monday.

Orthodox Easter celebrations are communal and could not possibly be allowed during the pandemic, even if the number of cases per day went down to single digits. This would not only undermine all the measures taken to restrict the spread of the virus in the previous weeks, but would risk a surge in infections and a re-imposition of all measures.

Authorities know that complacency is not an option and will almost certainly follow the example set by Greece of putting back Easter celebrations to the end of May, by which time hopefully there will be no need for self-distancing, curfews or any other measures. It may be difficult to ensure people will comply with the decrees on Easter weekend, the biggest celebration of the Orthodox church.

Apart from its decrees, the government will have to enlist the help of the church hierarchy, which needs to ensure that none of its more pious bishops, like Limassol’s Athanasios, defy the authorities. The bishop had defied the authorities, by bringing forward vespers on March 24 to avoid the government decree that came into force at 6pm on that day; he may even have allowed more than the then permitted maximum of 75 people into the church.

It was irresponsible behaviour that in effect mocked the authorities, but he escaped with a mild verbal rebuke from the attorney-general, afraid to charge a senior church figure. Similar defiance was shown towards the archbishop when he ordered holding church services behind closed doors, Athanasios and another bishop publicly ignoring him.

The government will need to take the necessary precautions because if one senior priest decided to violate the decrees, and invited the faithful to an Easter church service in defiance of the government and the archbishop, the lockdown may be over. By Easter Sunday, people would have been locked in their houses for almost four weeks and be more than eager to get out, even if it is just to go to church.


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