Greek faithful up and down the country on Wednesday largely ignored the restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus and flocked to churches for the Epiphany liturgy.
Police kept a low profile and did not intervene to prevent the crowding that was evident in some of the churches.
In same cases, such as in churches in the Piraeus Metropolis, the faithful were forming long queues to receive Holy Communion.
In Thessaloniki, a priest is seen sprinkling Holy Water on a police car. A female police officer then takes off her mask to kiss the cross.
Also in Thessaloniki, some called for the blessing of the waters at sea, near the city’s iconic White Tower.
Police and Coast Guard forces are spread across the city’s waterfront to prevent the event from taking place.
A woman managed to throw a cross, attached to a string, into the sea, while shouting “shame”! At least three people have been detained so far.
— vasso prevezianou (@mrsraulgonzalez) January 6, 2021
The Greek government has apparently bowed to the powerful institution of the Church which defied lockdown orders and opened places of worship, with safety restrictions that were not universally adhered to.
This, despite the appeal by Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos on Tuesday, who had called on all Metropolitans to help ensure the diligent, undeviating observance of all health safety restrictions.
After an emergency session of the Holy Synod, the Greek Church’s governing body, on Monday, senior clerics said they would press ahead as planned and celebrate the baptism of Christ.
“The synod does not agree with the new government measures regarding the operation of places of worship and insists on what was originally agreed with the state,” the ecclesiastical body said in a statement.
Greek PM loses battle
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apparently failed in his attempt to convince the Church hierarchy to keep their churches closed for this year’s Epiphany celebrations.
On Tuesday he personally appealed to Archbishop Ieronymos to show responsibility and expressed his concern over the Church’s decision to defy the restrictive measures.
He told Ieronymos that the Church needs to strictly follow the health rules and added that the Church had an obligation to provide a good example — as it has done until today — and to support the common effort.
His appeal, however, failed to convince the Church hierarchy, who only agreed to cancel the water blessing ceremonies traditionally carried out outdoors.
Blessing of the Waters inside Churches
The Blessing of the Waters, an important part of Orthodox observances of Epiphany, took place inside churches across Greece, in the presence of a predetermined number of believers — or, in many cases, in the presence of a great many believers, well over the official capacity of the churches per the lockdown restrictions.
The consecrated water was given in small bottles both to the believers who attended the Liturgy of the Lights, and to those who waited, outside the churches, in a line, observing the appropriate social distancing.
The liturgy for Epiphany was performed in the Diocese of Athens by the Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece Ieronymos, observing all the appropriate measures of protection against the coronavirus.
“In time, together with health, let us all celebrate together under other conditions and feel free the greatness of our faith, of orthodoxy, of tradition”, Ieronymos told the assembly.
After leaving the cathedral, after a question from journalists, the Archbishop stated that he had spoken to the Prime Minister about “what happened and what we expect.”
He stressed, however, that “today we have a great day. We must reflect on the knowledge of history. And history tells us that life goes in circles. We also live in these circles. Anyone who knows history always expects strange things. The Church is ready for anything.” Ieronymos then went on to express his optimism for the future.
At the same time, when asked by a journalist whether the prescribed measures were indeed being observed, the Archbishop replied: “Look around you what measures the Church has taken and then go to the beaches and squares.”