130,000 Ukrainians visited churches for Orthodox Easter this Sunday, on 19 April. This is much less than last year, when 7 million people participated in Easter celebrations, Ukrainian Police reported – 2% to be exact.
But this could be just enough to provoke a new spike in COVID-19 infections, the Ministry of Health has said.
Altogether, Easter services were held in 13,658 churches across Ukraine. Most of these services took place with only the clergy inside – no more than 10 people. Many church services were televised. In accordance with quarantine rules adopted after consulting religious leaders, no more than 1-2 people at a time were allowed inside the church building after the service. No mass blessing of the traditional Easter food, as is customary in Ukraine, was allowed.
Leaders of the newly-independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Greek Catholic Church called upon believers to stay at home for Easter. The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kiril, did too. But not the leader of the latter’s subsidiary in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.
UOC MP Primate Metropolitan Onufriy had not called on believers to stay at home and change their religious habits for the sake of the wellbeing of their neighbors. Instead, he assured that those who come to the Easter service will hear it through a loudspeaker outside the church building. Another UOC MP leader, Metropolitan Antoniy (Pakanych), had directly called upon believers to come to a church in Kyiv to witness the Holy Fire from Jerusalem, which was traditionally transported from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter.
The UOC MP is in COVID-19 denial
The calls are particularly cynical given that Metropolitan Onufriy is reportedly hospitalized due to COVID-19 and Metropolitan Antoniy has tested positive for the disease. The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, which is the seat of the UOC MP in Ukraine, was locked down a few weeks back due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the monks. Its prior, Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebid), was hospitalized with severe COVID-19 a few days after he advised the faithful that prayers and hugs could fight coronavirus and called upon the young and old to come to receive communion in church. Apparently, he is still not well, as the Lavra’s official website features his Easter greeting from last year.
The UOC MP denies it all.
Because it first denied that COVID-19 is a danger, and then denied that the UOC MP has a COVID-19 problem, the church has become a hotspot of the disease in Ukraine. Cases of coronavirus there are skyrocketing, but you won’t hear about it from the official sources of the UOC MP.
From the 65 new cases on 17 April, 26 were from the Lavra. And it’s not only that one monastery: other abbeys have become epicenters of the disease. Archimandrite Iona (Cherepanov) from the Ioninskyi monastery in Kyiv first scoffed at quarantine measures and then posted photos of himself in the hospital with COVID-19. No apologies were given for misleading his followers. The Pochaiv Lavra, a major UOC MP monastery in western Ukraine, is suspected of being another coronavirus hotspot, but its prior refuses collaboration with the Ministry of Health. There are reports of other monasteries refusing testing for COVID-19.
To top it off, after information about the illness of Metropolitans Onufriy and Antoniy (Pakanych) was leaked to the press, the UOC MP scrambled to announce they are well and that Antoniy will participate in the Easter liturgy in the Lavra. He did not, apparently being too ill, but that did not stop him from calling upon Ukrainians to come to witness the Holy Fire, which will inevitably cause crowds – one of the main factors of transmitting coronavirus.
Thus, the UOC MP’s policy of denial has not only made their monasteries a target for the disease but has endangered millions of Ukrainians, many of whom believe the Ukrainian Ministry of Health is making up coronavirus statistics and came to Easter services.
All Easter violations were in UOC MP churches
The Ukrainian police launched five criminal cases and issued five administrative protocols due to Easter quarantine violations. All were in churches of the UOC MP.
One of the criminal cases concerns the Sviatohirsk Lavra in eastern Ukraine, where hundreds of worshippers were at the service inside the church wearing no masks and no trace of social distancing.
Criminal cases were launched against the Pochaiv Lavra as well, where crowds entered the church during the service.
As a result, Pochaiv will be sealed off starting from 21 April.
However, not only the major monasteries violated quarantine rules. Churches of the UOC MP welcomed worshippers in south-Ukrainian Kherson:
However, in Kyiv, another church jurisdiction was also guilty of violating quarantine rules. St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, the stronghold of the Ukrainian Church’s “creator”-gone-rogue Metropolitan Filaret, hosted many worshippers not even remotely following quarantine rules. Earlier, Filaret had infamously stated that the coronavirus pandemic was caused by the approval of sins, including gay marriage.
Meanwhile, Easter services in the Greek Catholic Church and Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Kyiv took place without violations, RFE/RL reported.