“Do not be afraid of death” – some priests in Abkhazia are urging the public to go to church, others say ‘stay at home’
The authorities of Abkhazia have repeatedly appealed to the population to stay in their homes as much as possible because of the coronavirus epidemic, and to avoid places of worship as well.
The opinions of local clergy on the issue diverge.
For several years now, two Orthodox congregations have been competing in Abkhazia.
The head of the Sukhumi-Pitsundo diocese, Father Vissarion (Apliaa), is a supporter of unity with the Russian Orthodox Church.
He is actively calling for Easter to be celebrated in churches.
Father Dorofei, the head of the Athos monastery and head of the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia, is a supporter of the creation of an independent Abkhaz Orthodox Church.
He closed the Athos monastery to parishioners and broadcasts services online.
On April 16, three people fell ill in Abkhazia, members of the same family in the city of Gagra. Since April 9, the entire area has been quarantined. Since March 31, the Gali district has been closed, after a local resident was found to have a coronavirus and was transported to the Georgian side for treatment.
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Father Vissarion urges believers “not to fear death”, to go to church and celebrate Easter there, confess and receive communion.
“No one can cancel the assembly of the faithful. This is a pandemic for those who doubt that God exists. Death is not a problem. There will be no death in vain. The future is only with God. And do not listen to those who draw gloomy forecasts for us,” Father Vissarion said on April 15.
The monastery in New Athos has been closed to parishioners since March 18 to prevent the spread of infections. Services have not stopped however, and prayer services are broadcast online.
“We are monks, every day we must be prepared to stand before the Lord. But we don’t have the right to risk the life of a single person, not a single parishioner,” said Father Superior Dorofei, the abbot of the monastery.
He says his parishioners have agreed to spend Easter at a distance, remotely.