The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece is defying the government’s decision to keep churches out of bounds for worshippers during Wednesday’s celebration of the Epiphany, with the government responding that no one can decide to observe only the laws they like, and setting the stage for a possible clash.
Initially, churches were to remain open, with a limited number of attendees. But the government’s decision last Saturday to tighten the lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and allow schools of all grades to open on January 11 led to a reversal, as other retail businesses were ordered shut as well.
In the end, the government decided on Monday that only kindergartens and elementary schools would open. But the hierarchy of the Church of Greece did not wait for that backtracking before accusing the government of targeting the Church in particular.
Meeting online on Monday morning, the Synod unanimously decided to ignore the government’s new lockdown guidelines, under the pretext of sticking to the old agreement. It went further, accusing the government in a diversionary attack of providing only a limited number of vaccines and of using the vaccination for “other purposes.”
The Synod said it will petition the Council of State, Greece’s top administrative court, for the decision to be reversed and also take its grievances to European authorities.
It added that it had observed all hygiene and social distancing rules during Christmas, and that the traditional blessing of the waters during the Epiphany will be conducted inside the churches and not in open spaces, as is customary.
The Orthodox Church celebrates Jesus’ baptism during the January 6 feast, giving it a different meaning to that of Western churches.
“The law cannot be obeyed on a whim, so that whoever disagrees can ignore it. We hope that the Church will grasp the critical nature of circumstances for society, as it has responsibly done thus far,” the government replied on Wednesday.