ATHENS – The Greek Orthodox Easter resurrection service on Holy Saturday will be moved to 21:00 and held at church courtyards, the Greek Church's administrative body decided on Tuesday.
It will be followed by the resurrection service, held inside the church, the Permanent Holy Synod announced.
All Easter services from Palm Sunday (April 25) to Holy Wednesday (April 28) will begin half an hour earlier, at 18:30, the Synod announced. Holy Thursday service will begin at 17:30 and on Good Friday at 18:00.
The Synod met via teleconference and was briefed by its chairman Archbishop Hieronymos of Athens and All Greece on health measures during the coronavirus pandemic. Hieronymos had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday.
Church of Greece also said Tuesday it would allow the faithful to take part in Orthodox Easter services next week. The decision comes despite Greece reporting a high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and as the country's hospitals are struggling to treat unprecedented numbers of intubated patients. Orthodox Easter services were canceled last year, when Greece had much fewer confirmed cases.
With the New Democracy government ready to open the country to tourists, Greeks wanting to go to their villages for Holy Week and Easter on May 2 are awaiting whether that will be approved with COVID-19 still uncontained.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, already trying to balance saving livings and get the economy going, now has the difficult decision of letting people travel while the number of deaths and critical cases has been rising.
Government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said there won't be any answer until probably April 23, cutting it close for people wanting to make plans to travel amid worry that could later be rued if there's another outbreak.
The decision could rest on the advice of a panel of doctors and scientists evaluating epidemiological data, some of whom reportedly are unhappy they aren't being listened to and that the government has tilted toward the economy.
“We are at a critical crossroads in view of Easter and much more in view of summer,” she said, with worry whether allowing travel for the holiday could disrupt the critical high season for tourists.
The government had already eased a lenient lockdown to allow the reopening of most non-essential stores and admitted it's powerless to prevent frequent mass gatherings and wild parties in city squares, afraid sending in police will get violent.
With the pressure building from bars, restaurants and taverns closed more than half the previous 12 months because of lockdowns, the government is mulling whether to let them open with conditions on May 8, said Kathimerini.
Taking the chance of allowing Easter week travel, with self-testing required and proof of being negative shown at toll booths and checkpoints could backfire, however, and bring another spike in cases that could cut into summer tourism.
The government also has been relying on a vaccination program that is finally being sped up after a slow start that relied on a cumbersome European Union distribution program that failed to provide enough doses.
Setting aside scientific data, a key factor for the government could be just giving in to people's demands because of so-called “lockdown fatigue” which has already been done in allowing the public partying by thousand.
“Violation of the measures by some groups cannot be tackled with a total change of attitude across the country,” a government official not named told the paper, indicating violations would still be allowed selectively.
Greece, which has a population of under 11 million, has confirmed a total of nearly 320,000 cases and about 9,500 deaths, while some 850 people are intubated in intensive care units.
While many non-essential shops have been allowed to reopen, most schoolchildren still attend classes remotely. Restaurants and bars are closed and long-distance travel is not allowed.