Orthodox Christians world over mark second pandemic Easter

Photo: Xinhua Jordanian Christians wearing face masks share the "Holy Fire" during the Orthodox Easter celebration at a church in Amman, Jordan, on May 1, 2021.

Millions of Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter on Sunday, in many cases at in-person events, after the pandemic cancelled most events last year.

In Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, expressed his wish that people would soon be completely free of coronavirus, and hopes that the pandemic could be overcome.

Many worshippers at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour - the main church for the Russian Orthodox faith - wore face masks. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, attended the service in Moscow - without a mask as he has recently received a coronavirus vaccine.

According to the Kremlin, Putin thanked the church for solving "pressing social problems" and promoting family traditions. Critics accuse the church of being too close with the Russian state.

Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem, in the meantime, gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to celebrate the Holy Fire. Believers even clashed with police in the Old City streets surrounding the church, as only those considered immune to the coronavirus - either by vaccination or having recovered from Covid-19 - were allowed access to the building.

According to media reports, the number of participants was restricted in part due to a stampede at a Jewish religious festival just a few days before that left 45 people dead.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands on the spot where, according to Christian belief, Jesus was buried and rose again. The Holy Fire is a light that's said to ignite itself, a miracle that occurs every year at the church.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III lit a candle from the Holy Fire and passed it to believers, lighting the church up with a sea of candles.

In Egypt, Coptic Pope Tawadros II led a service attended by a small crowd on Saturday night on the eve of Orthodox Easter at a main cathedral in Cairo. He said that in compliance with precautions against Covid-19, only 10% of the usual attendance in the cathedral was allowed. The ravages of the pandemic was a theme in his service, too.

“We are praying for an end to this pandemic that has horrifyingly swept through the world,” the Coptic pontiff said in an Easter homily.

“We are praying for our dear health workers, being the first defence line in confronting this pandemic," he added.

Egypt's Christians make up around 10% of the country's mostly Muslim population of over 100 million, with followers of the Coptic Orthodox Church constituting the majority of them. 

Usually, Orthodox Easter is annually followed in Egypt by a springtime festival called Sham al-Nessim, popular among the country's Christians and Muslims. Egyptians traditionally go to seaside beaches or public parks on this festival dating back to ancient Egyptian times. However, the government said parks and beaches would be closed for the second year in a row on Monday to reduce crowding to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

For that reason, in many other countries, church services were streamed online or broadcast on television to minimise the risk of infection.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter later than their mostly Western counterparts as the Orthodox festival is determined according to the Julian calendar, which dates back to the Roman Empire and differs from the Gregorian calendar, adopted in the 16th century.

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