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Greek Church Rebellion Grows Over COVID-19 Lockdown Service Limits

December 15, 2020

ATHENS – A schism has reportedly developed in the Church of Greece over the COVID-19 second lockdown extension that would put limits on how many people could attend services, with some clerics calling either for full compliance and others wanting full churches.

In a report, Kathimerini said there are heated disagreements within the Church as the Holy Synod was set to meet Dec. 15 to debate the rules set by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government in a bid to slow the spread of the surging second wave of the Coronavirus.

There was said to be unanimity, however, against the lockdown although Archbishop Ieronymos – who recovered from COVID-19 after being hospitalized – said the Church would comply.

Some rebellious Bishops have spoken out fiercely against the rules that would allow only nine people in churches and 25 in cathedrals for Christmas and Jan. 6, 2021 Epiphany Day services, the lockdown due to last at least until Jan. 7.

They said the churches should either shut down during the holidays or open with full houses but observing health protocols that require wearing masks but also staying at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart, reported Kathimerini.

There was no indication from the government what would happen if churches defy the rules and open and what how the traditionally-televised Christmas services at Athens’ Metropolitan Cathedral usually packed with politicians.

More moderate voices in the Church are said to want to work out some kind of compromise so that there isn’t a clash with the government that could cause further division as the pandemic rages on.

The paper said that the battle is leading to internecine movements in the Church in a power struggle seeing some clerics push their own agendas and trying to rally bases there as well as within society.

The Church had complied with a first lockdown in the spring that mostly closed off Easter services but that was a stricter set of measures, the second shutdown of the country being only partial.

Even if the Holy Synod accepts the conditions, dissident Bishops and priests reportedly would break away and hold services that could challenge the government to enforce the measures that call for heavy fines for parishioners too.

Bishop Ignatios of Dimitriada, Chrysostomos of Messinia, Anthimos of Alexandroupoli, Ierotheos of Nafpaktos and Chrysostomos of Patra were said to be trying to reach a compromise consensus with the government.

But there’s strong support, the paper said, for showing resistance by closing the churches totally, ringing bells and sending anti-government messages through the breakaway clerics.

The leaders of that contingent reportedly are Daniel of Kaisarianis, Theologos of Serres, Ieronymos of Larissa and Panteleimon of Xanthi but a third option is for the Holy Synod to ask for 50 people allowed in churches or the number based on its size, called for by Gabriel of Nea Ionia, Athinagoras of Ilion, Damaskinos of Didymoteicho.

There are also others who want no restrictions and churches operating as normal in the middle of a pandemic during a lockdown, disbelieving the virus can affect the faithful.

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