TBILISI/April 12 (The Bulletin) — The Georgian Orthodox Church has ignored calls to curtail its traditional Easter services on Sunday because of the potential of spreading the coronavirus and instead called on its faithful to take the Holy Communion.
Churches were less full than usual for Palm Sunday last week but thousands of Georgians still attended services across the country and are expected back again in church on April 19 for the Orthodox Christian Easter, the most important date in the Church’s calender.
Georgian society is rooted in tradition and the Orthodox Church is a powerful institution that holds great sway over the population. The Bulletin’s correspondent in Tbilisi spoke to three people who attended church last Sunday and they all said that would go back for Easter.
“It feels very safe in church during the service, as I am sure that will not get infected there and we are also respecting the distance of one to two metres between each other,” one of the church-going Georgians told The Bulletin. They all declined to give their names.
Last month the Orthodox Church sent priests out on the back of pick-up trucks to bless the streets of Georgian cities against the coronavirus and has said that Georgia can avoid the worst ravages of the pandemic by praying and rejecting what it describes as the sins of abortion and homosexuality.
Despite a lockdown that forbids people to leave their homes in the evenings and only to gather in groups of three or less during the day, the Georgian authorities have been unwilling to stop the Orthodox Church holding its services.
PM Giorgi Gakharia said that churches will remain open and that people would not be prevented from visiting them. “I hope society will act responsibly and avoid going to church but the government will not tell them to do so,” he said.
The Orthodox Church has imposed some social distancing rules and is broadcasting services through loudspeakers but it has not compromised on the Holy Communion which involves drinking wine out of a shared cup and eating bread from a shared spoon.
— This story was first published in issue 442 of the weekly Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin