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Coronavirus pandemic leaves Orthodox churches empty for Easter

Services in Moscow, St Petersburg and Kyiv were among those to be broadcast online or on TV.

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Volunteers wearing protective outfits light candles during the Orthodox Easter service, held without any worshippers due to COVID-19 restrictions in Bucharest, Romania (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Volunteers wearing protective outfits light candles during the Orthodox Easter service, held without any worshippers due to COVID-19 restrictions in Bucharest, Romania (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Volunteers wearing protective outfits light candles during the Orthodox Easter service, held without any worshippers due to COVID-19 restrictions in Bucharest, Romania (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Orthodox priests have held Easter services in churches empty of parishioners because of restrictions imposed to block the spread of coronavirus.

Services in Moscow, St Petersburg and Kyiv were among those to be broadcast online or on TV as Orthodoxy’s most important holy day was celebrated at a distance.

Police were deployed outside hundreds of churches in Ukraine to ensure that anyone who came to stand outside a service observed regulations calling for social distancing and banning large gatherings.

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Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill conducts the church’s main service (Russian Orthodox Church Press Service/AP)

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill conducts the church’s main service (Russian Orthodox Church Press Service/AP)

AP/PA Images

Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill conducts the church’s main service (Russian Orthodox Church Press Service/AP)

A small exception was made at the Pechersk monastery in Kyiv, where police allowed worshippers to enter the church one at a time, with the next person going inside when another left.

The monastery, a major tourist attraction because of its extensive system of caves and catacombs, was closed under quarantine, and more than 90 of its monks have been identified as infected with Covid-19.

Two of them have died after contracting the illness.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, some churches were open to worshippers, but only if they committed themselves to arriving before the country’s 9pm curfew started and remaining there until the curfew lifts at 6am.

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A volunteer wearing a protective outfit lights a candle from a priest during the Orthodox Easter service (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

A volunteer wearing a protective outfit lights a candle from a priest during the Orthodox Easter service (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

AP/PA Images

A volunteer wearing a protective outfit lights a candle from a priest during the Orthodox Easter service (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

About 100 people showed up to do that the Holy Trinity Cathedral in the capital Tbilisi, where marks were placed on the floor so that people would observe distancing.

Russian Orthodox leader Patriarch Kirill led the church’s main service at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

In an Easter epistle, he called on his flock not to be discouraged by being unable to attend services.

“We Orthodox Christians should not lose heart or despair in these difficult circumstances, let alone panic. We are called upon to preserve the inner world,” he said.

PA