Coronavirus pandemic leaves Orthodox churches empty for Easter

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Orthodox priests have held Easter services in churches empty of parishioners because of restrictions imposed to block the spread of coronavirus.

Services in Moscow, St Petersburg and Kyiv were among those to be broadcast online or on TV as Orthodoxy’s most important holy day was celebrated at a distance.

Police were deployed outside hundreds of churches in Ukraine to ensure that anyone who came to stand outside a service observed regulations calling for social distancing and banning large gatherings.

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill conducts the church’s main service
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill conducts the church’s main service (Russian Orthodox Church Press Service/AP)

The monastery, a major tourist attraction because of its extensive system of caves and catacombs, was closed under quarantine, and more than 90 of its monks have been identified as infected with Covid-19.

Two of them have died after contracting the illness.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, some churches were open to worshippers, but only if they committed themselves to arriving before the country’s 9pm curfew started and remaining there until the curfew lifts at 6am.

A volunteer wearing a protective outfit lights a candle from a priest during the Orthodox Easter service
A volunteer wearing a protective outfit lights a candle from a priest during the Orthodox Easter service (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill led the church’s main service at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

In an Easter epistle, he called on his flock not to be discouraged by being unable to attend services.

“We Orthodox Christians should not lose heart or despair in these difficult circumstances, let alone panic. We are called upon to preserve the inner world,” he said.

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