Easter in Georgia: patriarch praches "even during a pandemic, life and death are in the hands of the Almighty”
Despite numerous recommendations, the Georgian Orthodox Church, after consulting with the government, nevertheless held an Easter liturgy in the presence of parishioners.
During the service, which was, in fact, held in violation of the law, Catholicos Ilia II declared that it is impossible to reach the kingdom of heaven without communion, and that even during a pandemic, life and death is in the hands of the Almighty.
As of April 20, 399 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Georgia. 93 people have recovered, four have died.
Priests arrive by car to churches and monasteries, worshippers by foot
Since April 17, by order of the government, traveling by car is prohibited throughout the country. Immediately after this restriction was announced, the patriarchy issued a statement in which it stated that the church had not been consulted before this measure was implemented, and that it aroused serious discontent among the clergy.
Soon after, the ministers of the church received permission to travel by car. Parishioners, of course, are not exempt from the restriction.
Worshippers travelled to church on foot in order to get there before curfew at 9 pm. Many had to go more than a dozen kilometers.
“The Resurrection of Christ is the greatest of holidays. I couldn’t miss it. I fear God, not a virus,” says churchgoer Marina, who walked all the way from the commuter neighborhood of Varketili, on the outskirts of Tbilisi, to Vake, in the center of the Georgian capital in order to make it to the service.
Despite the fact that there is a state of emergency in Georgia prohibiting three or more people from gathering, hundreds of parishioners gathered for a liturgy in the Holy Trinity Cathedral to attend the Easter service conducted by Ilia II.
During the service, he announced that “not a single hair will fall from a person’s head” and that “life and death is in the hands of the Almighty.”
Ilia II thanked God for the fact that “church services continued and worshippers continued to attend them in Georgia.”
In the liturgy, he emphasized that “without communion, a person will not reach the kingdom of heaven,” and that “by the will of the Lord, with the help of doctors, government actions and the responsibility of the population, Georgia does not face too many problems with the pandemic.”
The Catholicos-Patriarch also ignored the fact that the coronavirus had spread to the church – several priests from various churches in the country have been infected.
In order to avoid violating curfew, some parishioners came to the church before 9 pm and stayed until 6 pm. Others came to the church in the morning, after 7 am.
The patriarch will be responsible for those infected, write people on Facebook
Despite the fact that, unlike in previous years, there were fewer people in the churches this Easter, some churches were unable to accommodate the large number in attendance.
Representatives of the patriarchy claim that during the liturgy, all the instructions of the Ministry of Health were observed: all parishioners wore masks and maintained a safe distance, standing in specially marked spots.
But in footage shot by opposition television company Mtavari Arkhi, one can clearly see that in the Bagrati temple in Kutaisi, believers did not comply with social distancing measures.
In addition, some clergy members refused to wear masks, saying that in churches, this requirement does not apply to priests – “they have a direct relationship with the Lord.”
Meanwhile, epidemiologists say that the same restrictions involving wearing masks and social distancing still apply in churches, as worshippers are still kissing the same cross and using shared communion spoons during rituals.
“What is happening in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Ruis-Urbnisi, Shuakhevi, Gori, and in Georgia on the whole is a catastrophe. Only the patriarch could prevent the mass gathering of worshippers. But he did not do this, and now responsibility for the infected parishioners is entirely in his hands,” former deacon Basil Kobakhidze wrote on Facebook.
Experts believe that two weeks after Easter, Georgia will face a new explosion of the coronavirus epidemic.
There are currently 394 people infected with coronavirus in Georgia. Epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists are urging the population to observe a regime of self-isolation, warning that the health system in Georgia may not be able to cope with the increased number of patients.
In order to counter the pandemic, Georgia declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew. Shopping outlets and markets are all closed.
Public transport has been shut down. Business has come to a halt, and hundreds of self-employed people have been left without a source of income.
Gatherings of more than three people are prohibited. Thousands of violators have been fined 3,000 GEL [about $ 1,000] each.