Greece’s powerful Orthodox Church has ordered its priests to defy government orders to remain closed and has instructed its thousands of parishes to open for Epiphany celebrations on January 6.
The Church’s ruling body, the Holy Synod, issued a statement Monday directing priests to admit worshippers during indoor services for Wednesday’s feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the baptism of Christ and is a major holiday on the Orthodox Church calendar.
The Holy Synod said it “does not accept” the new restrictions, in force from Jan. 3-10, and would send a letter of protest to the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The Holy Synod’s statement said the government should stick to the Christmas relaxation, which had been negotiated with the Church, arguing that clerics had faithfully observed all agreed pandemic containment measures over the holiday period. The Church also criticized the government for not discussing the matter with Church officials in advance, prior to issuing the closure orders last week.
This is the first time the Church and government have openly clashed over restrictions, putting the conservative Mitsotakis government in an awkward place.
The government, although acknowledging the Church’s cooperation thus far, responded sternly that the Church of Greece must “realize the critical significance of the current juncture for society, as it has indeed so far responsibly showed that it does.”
“Throughout all stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has been in constant consultation with the Church of Greece on matters of liturgy, with respect to public health and people’s faith. In this context, the Christmas and New Year church services were indeed held, and liturgies for the Epiphany were also foreseen,” said the government’s announcement.
The government continued to say that “the need to not undermine the steady pace of the fight against the coronavirus, especially in view of schools reopening, forced the return to the previous restrictions on the retail sector and society, including the provision for churches to hold closed-doors liturgies on Epiphany, without the presence of the faithful.”
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