The Holy Synod, the governing body of the Church of Greece, released details regarding the celebration of Holy Week and Greek Easter on Tuesday.
As Greece’s months-long coronavirus lockdown stretches into the Spring, Greeks have been left wondering how they will celebrate the country’s most important holiday, Greek Easter, as well as the other services held throughout Holy Week.
Resurrection service at 9:00 pm, outside churches in Greece
According to the decision, the faithful will be permitted to celebrate the Resurrection service on Holy Saturday, May 1, at 9:00 PM on the grounds outside of churches — not inside.
The service is traditionally held just before midnight on Holy Saturday, on the eve of Easter Sunday, with worshippers packed together indoors, holding lit candles.
The move was made in order to prevent spread of the coronavirus inside of churches, as there is a reduced risk of viral transmission outdoors, and to avoid violating the country’s 9:00 PM curfew as much as possible.
Additionally, many services will be livestreamed for the faithful who are unable to attend.
Holy Week services leading up to Greek Easter to be held earlier
The other services held throughout the duration of the week leading up to Greek Easter, or Holy Week, will also be moved up to an earlier time in churches across Greece.
On Holy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, services will take place at 6:30 PM, a half-an-hour earlier than they are normally held.
Liturgies for Holy Thursday and Good Friday will be held at 5:30 PM and 6:00 PM, respectively.
These services will be held inside, with strict social distancing and mandatory use of masks in the church, with a maximum of 100 worshipers allowed entry, with a limit of one person per 25 square meters.
Greek Easter traditions upended by pandemic
Plans for a traditional Greek Easter in the ancestral village will have to be dropped for a second consecutive year as the ban on nonessential travel between regions of Greece is unlikely to be lifted by that time.
A number of health experts have warned that lifting the current ban on Easter celebrations will undermine the national effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 ahead of the country’s formal reopening to international tourists on May 14.
Through his statements following a meeting with the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos had already cautioned the people that they might hear this unwelcome news as Easter approaches.
However, fewer restrictions will be in force compared to 2020, when Easter liturgies all across Greece were held behind closed doors and in the absence of faithful to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
62% of Greeks yearn for Easter back in the village
Traditionally, Greek people travel to family-owned homes in the countryside or on the islands to celebrate the most significant religious event of the Orthodox calendar year.
It is an opportunity to not only herald the arrival of spring, but also to reunite with family and observe significant cultural traditions and religious ceremonies.
According to a national poll conducted by Alco on behalf of the Greek channel Open Beyond TV, at least 6 in 10 residents of Greece believe that the traditional Easter exodus should be allowed.
However, it is believed that the government will only allow travel between municipalities of the same region and gatherings of up to nine persons on Easter Day, in light of the latest safety concerns.
Nikos Tzanakis, a professor of Pneumonology at the University of Crete, opined on SKAI news on Friday, April 16 that “every church at Easter can become the birthplace of many cases.”
The head of the Pulmonology Clinic at Evangelismos Hospital, Dr. George Boulbasakos, told ERT news on Saturday, April 17 that he recommended “not to meet other people who do not belong to your same social bubble.”
Even the Director of the Infectious Diseases Unit in Patras University Hospital, Charalambos Gogos, told interviewers from ERT TV on Sunday that a mass exodus to family homes ought not to be considered this year.