THE Orthodox, celebrating Easter, have been enjoined to take courage in the face of the coronavirus and reflect on social ills.
In St George’s Cathedral, Istanbul, where a strict lockdown is in force, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, celebrated the main Sunday liturgy with a small congregation, and paid tribute to hospital staff caring for those “feeling the weight of unbearable suffering and sorrow”.
“The believer’s God-given freedom has as its main feature an unrelenting resurrection pulse, a vigilance and dynamism,” he said in his main message. “Belief in the resurrection enables a new view of this world and new relationship between man and creation: from Easter, everything draws life, becomes understandable, and acquires meaning.”
In Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow, Patriarch Kirill told the congregation, which included President Putin, that Easter would raise hopes of finally overcoming the pandemic, which had highlighted “the vulnerability of everything that seemed reliable and stable”, as well as the need for “ordering public life in accordance with lofty gospel ideals”.
“We are committed to providing all possible help to those needing human participation, attention, and care,” the Patriarch said in his message to 35,000 Russian Orthodox parishes.
“We turned out to be arrogant, surrounding ourselves with gadgets and screens in the confidence that they had improved our life and that we — people on a Procrustean bed of cyberspace — needed nothing more.”
Orthodox Churches generally follow the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used by the Western Churches; so, for them, Easter Day fell on 2 May.
In Jerusalem, hundreds attended the main Covid-secure Easter liturgy at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; access was tightly controlled by police in the wake of a crush at Mount Meron, in the Upper Galilee region, last Friday, in which 45 Jewish pilgrims died.
The 91-year-old Orthodox Archbishop Anastasios of Albania warned that the pandemic had stirred hatred “in various mutations”, against which the “most effective vaccine” was the voluntary atonement “revealed to us by the crucified and resurrected Christ”.
In Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens said that the falling of Easter during the pandemic had meant that Christians were “injured and humiliated by the invisible enemy” for a second year running, forcing the “digital regulation of lives” and the tragic enforcement of distance even at “the terrible hour of death”.
“New things, emerging as a solution, are at the same time enslaving us — things that facilitate are making us dependent and restricting our freedom,” the 83-year-old said in his Easter message.
“We have focused unilaterally on alleviating the problems at hand while we missed something essential: that the real cause of human problems is spiritual, and lies in human affluence.”
In Ukraine, where the Julian calendar is also followed by Greek Catholics, as well as some Evangelical and Baptist denominations, the head of the Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufry, released a video message urging an Easter truce and prisoner exchange in the seven-year war against Russian-backed separatists, although the Religious Information Service of Ukraine said that this had not been observed.
The Greek Catholic leader Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who chairs Ukraine’s Council of Churches and Religious Associations, also called for a ceasefire, telling journalists that he feared that Easter could trigger new fighting on the eastern border, where more than 100,000 Russian troops are on manoeuvres.
Several state leaders appealed for Orthodox support over Easter, including the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who thanked church leaders in a weekend speech for “taking a solid position” during protests over his disputed August 2020 re-election.
In Russia, where 15 per cent of citizens attended Easter services, according to the Moscow-based Public Opinion Foundation, President Putin praised churches for helping to “maintain civil peace and harmony”. The President told Patriarch Kirill that he also valued Orthodox efforts “to preserve enduring historical, cultural, and family values”.
The imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny told his supporters in a message that he had become a religious believer after time as a “militant atheist”, but would be marking Easter as a “hungry man” after finishing a 24-day hunger-strike.
Several Orthodox leaders have backed a recent call by the Ecumenical Patriarchate for a common Christian celebration of Easter in 2025, the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea (News, 9 April).
In a website commentary on Tuesday, the Greek Orthodox theologian Panagiotis Boumis said that the Greek Church was ready to work for a joint celebration, but without a fixed date for Easter.