During a vivid Saturday night hundreds of Bulgarian Christians flocked into the Orthodox churches for outdoor services with the Balkan state one of the few countries where churches remained open over the Easter celebrations amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The Easter holiday is the most critical date on the calendar for the 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, with thousands of Bulgarians typically flooding the churches and their ancestral homes around the country to celebrate the renaissance of Christ.
Bulgaria, which affirmed a state of emergency until May 13, has enforced a ban on congregating groups of more than two adults. It has shut down schools, restaurants and other public spaces, and placed a ban on travel that is not necessary.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov stated in Facebook, “In the current situation, we must be better and more humble; Let’s do everything we can to be proud of our decisions and actions in years to come.”
This year, several Bulgarians decided to watch live TV services instead, after the government urged people from home to rejoice and pray. Yet Radka Petrova, a keen church-goer of 58, said she wasn’t afraid of “that virus because the church is a place of healing”.
Petrova, wearing a protective mask, said, “I’m here because my faith is strong and I’m not afraid, and I remember the communist times and how mounted policemen used to surround the church to intimidate worshippers.”
During the Communist regime which ended in 1989, Bulgarians were unable to freely practice or research the Christian faith.
“It’s only a virus and we’ll defeat it… Christ is risen! Today we’re celebrating hope in a sea of despair.”
The restrictions imposed due to the outbreak of coronavirus meant that an Easter Sunday was observed unlike any Bulgarians before.
But, while most worshippers maintained social distance between themselves to stop the virus’ spread, it was generally not observed by clergymen during the services of Easter celebrations.
The decision to hold the churches open has flickered a penetrating debate in Bulgaria on social media. Many churches that are afraid may become contagion centers and present risks to the most vulnerable – the elderly –undermining the collective effort to control the disease.
The COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus has claimed 41 lives across Bulgaria, infecting almost 900 people – one of Europe’s lowest rates.
Bulgarian Patriarch Neophyte stated, “On Easter, our thoughts and prayers will be with those who are no longer among us and those who are fighting this vile disease, doctors and medical workers in particular and everyone who is at the forefront of the fight for life.”
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, amid the coronavirus epidemic, has been criticized on social media for keeping its worship houses open. For retaining the traditions of people kissing icons in churches and using sharing spoons during communion services, many Bulgarians have pointed fingers at the church.
The coronavirus pandemic in many Orthodox Christian nations, encompassing Bulgarian neighbors Greece, Romania and Serbia, has called off typical Easter celebrations.
Easter mass was celebrated in churches throughout Romania, Greece and Cyprus but remained officially closed. The official clergy in the three countries has been advising people to stay away and watch the service of Easter celebrations on either radio or television.
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