Churches reopen in Greece with communion

Athens (AFP) –


Numerous Greek Orthodox worshippers went to mass for the first time in two months on Sunday, some receiving communion, as churches followed Greece's easing of the coronavirus lockdown regulations.

As part of the gradual deconfinement started on May 4, churches were permitted to reopen their doors from May 17, so long as they respected a series of measures, in particular social distancing.

"The participation of the faithful was average, the distances were maintained," Father Maximos of Saint Andrew's Church in Agia Paraskevi, a northern suburb of Athens, told AFP.

At the entrance of the church, the congregation was invited to use the disinfectant placed on a small table.

Wearing a mask was recommended but, according to the Minister of Civil Protection guidelines, it is not mandatory.

"Only a third of the faithful wore masks," said Father Maximos.

The restrictions placed on churches since March 23 as part of general confinement had coincided with Orthodox Easter on April 19, which provoked a strong reaction from the Holy Synod.

This supreme ecclesiastical body ultimately agreed with the advice of scientists temporarily to stop the faithful from going to church but refused to follow medical advice and ban communion.

"Communion is a highly symbolic ritual," said Father Maximos who gave it on Sunday to those who wanted it.

"We must respect the measures recommended by scientists but we cannot give up the practice of communion, given for centuries to anyone, sick or not," said Yannis P., a retired high school teacher, who attended mass at Saint Andrew's.

"It is a question of faith, if we are afraid we do not communicate," he said.

Less affected than other European countries, Greece has so far recorded 162 fatalities and 2,819 cases of the novel coronavirus.