ATHENS - After pleading and then relenting, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis let the Greek Church hold Epiphany Day services Jan. 6 during an extended COVID-19 lockdown down and after a number of clerics had been infected at other events.
Mitsotakis had been unable to talk down resistance from the Holy Synod whose members said they were upset about not being consulted before the New Democracy government, which had said the services would be allowed, said they wouldn't as part of plan to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.
The administration had said everyone would have to obey the extended measures but gave in to pressure from the Church, a powerful institution in the country and crowds flocked to churches to get Holy Communion.
Manolis Dermitzakis, Professor of Genetics at the University of Geneva, said he was dismayed by the crowding he saw in the streets and the images of some faithful receiving Communion from the same spoon.
“I was shocked at how we can operate in such a way at such a time in the pandemic,” he told SKAI TV, expressing fears that the number of infections may jump soon, which could bring a tighter or third lockdown.
That happened in Thessaloniki a few months ago after the celebration of the northern port city's patron saint, Agios Dimitrios, the government being reluctant to take on the Church's growing resistance after clerics had mostly agreed to follow health protocols.
“It is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of pure scientific evidence. What happened as a general activity with crowds and at the same time some people sharing a spoon means that science is institutionally rejected,” he added.
Some church leaders said God would protect people from getting COVID-19 and that the virus can't be spread by drinking from the same spoon in a queue of people without masks violating safe social distances applicable to others.
Dermitzakis said there is already data pointing to an increase in new cases during Christmas and New Year's after Mitsotakis admitted waiting too long to bring the second lockdown Nov. 7 as he tried to save the economy too.
The lockdown isn't due to be partially lifted until Jan. 11 after being extended previously as a second wave of the COVID-19 spread because of more lenient terms and people not following health protocols, including priests.
While the church was allowed to conduct its services with limits on attendance, the blessing of the waters was barred but one cleric was fined for going ahead with the tradition in the Peloponnese.
Not all churches opened their doors to the faithful during services but, in those that did, congregations were limited from 25 to 50 people, for the largest churches, and, in some cases of overflow, the faithful were allowed in, a few at a time, for private prayers after the service was over, another risk.
Asked about the overcrowding outside churches when the Greek Church ignored a government ban and opened for services with limited attendance, Minister of State Giorgos Gerapetritis said Mitsotakis and Archbishop Ieronymos have a relationship of “mutual respect and understanding,” and that the roles between Church and State are distinct, ducking the question.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)