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Our View: The idea the Church should not be subject to decrees during a pandemic is preposterous

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The government will reassess next week whether it will allow churches to conduct Christmas services, said the government spokesman. He said this after Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, which rejected the request to exempt churches from the decree prohibiting any gatherings of the public, offering some hope to the faithful. Next week’s decision would depend on the epidemiological data, said the spokesman.

Bishops that had criticised the decision banning services did not say anything, leaving the job of slamming the government to theologians. The head of the University of Nicosia’s theology department, Christos Economou, lashed out against the government’s refusal to accept the “reasonable requests made by the Church of Cyprus,” dismissing it as “unsubstantiated.” The president of the unions of Greek theologians, Giorgos Kyriacou, called on the government to disclose “the real number of people who contracted the virus inside churches, where measures are applied rigorously.”

This is a disingenuous argument, as the government could not disclose how many people contracted the virus in restaurants either, but still closed them down. At least, Kyriacou did not claim metaphysical reasons for people, allegedly, not contracting the virus in churches, citing the rigorous implementation of safety measures instead. The Church has insisted, in contrast, that people cannot contract the virus from the use of one spoon for holy communion.

Economou, meanwhile, urged the Archbishop to tell the government that the Church is an independent institution and that the state should respect its decisions.

The idea the Church should not be subject to the law and decrees at a time of a pandemic is preposterous but is also a reflection of the power of the Church, some of whose top priests have shown they subscribe to the idea that it should not come under the authority of the state.

When the government announced the ban on all gatherings last week, several bishops openly expressed their disapproval, while the Bishop of Morphou declared he would ignore the decree and churches in his diocese would hold Sunday services and welcome the public. Such open defiance of the state was astonishing, but the state took action. Two priests and 12 worshippers were fined for violating the decree last Sunday, showing that the state would not put up with this behaviour.

It was encouraging that Archbishop Chrysostomos proved a voice of moderation and good sense, telling bishops and the faithful to observe all the measures announced by the government. It was thanks to the Archbishop, the Holy Synod meeting held on Tuesday issued an announcement calling on the government to re-examine its decision about church services. It was a reasonable request that the government was unable to satisfy because of the prevailing epidemiological conditions. The ban could be lifted next week, just before Christmas, but only if the epidemiological data justifies it. The government should not allow defiant bishops and noisy theologians to influence its decision.

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