04/07/2020, 10.02
RUSSIA
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Moscow, prayers and faults: Christian rites in the time of coronavirus

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Patriarch Kirill organizes a "cleansing procession" aboard a limousine, sprinkling the streets of the capital with holy water. Only a few churches remain open. The veneration of icons does not stop in Vologda. There is a lot of trust in prayer to drive the evil one out of the body and soul. Catholics and Protestants are more cautious. Archbishop Paolo Pezzi: The coronavirus is not a curse from God, but a way in which God reminds us how fragile we are.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - After great hesitation, a week ago the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundjaev) decided to invite the Orthodox faithful not to go to church, leaving the individual bishops the faculty to organize the quarantine against the coronavirus.

Similarly, President Putin has delegated the organization of prevention to the governors of the regions. In recent days Kirill carried out a "purifying procession" aboard a limousine accompanied by four escorting cars, sprinkling the streets of the capital with blessed water.

Similar rites are being held throughout Russia with processional sprinkling using all means: cars, helicopters, ships and planes, and ringing bells. The churches are not really closed, but are in fact depopulated.

The clearest position was taken by the metropolitan of Pskov Tikhon (Ševkunov), also known as the "spiritual father of Putin", who praised the severe decisions made by Pope Francis and by the Catholic Church in Italy and in other countries, closing the churches.

Anxious to point out his differences from Patriarch Kirill - of whom he has been an antagonist in intra-ecclesial disputes of Russian Orthodoxy for years - Tikhon addressed the faithful of Pskov "with the insistent request to transfer all prayer services to within the home, including Eucharistic communion which will be distributed outside the celebrations ... let us look at the experience of Ukraine, of the Church of the Old Believers, of Italy and of Europe "(see photo 1, Trinity Church in Pskov).

Only a few churches remain open. In them the faithful are welcomed only for serious spiritual needs, but the elderly and those with some symptoms of illness are asked to stay at home. Priests distribute pre-sanctified communion, which is not so usual in the Orthodox tradition, except in the time of Lent. Preserving the pre-sanctified gifts requires a procedure for drying the bread soaked in wine, and the tabernacles have been adapted for greater use; the faithful take communion with sterilized or disposable spoons.

In one of the churches of the Pskov eparchy, the Protection of the Mother of God in Dedovichi, the parish priest is the protoierej Dmitrij Vasilev (photo 2), who explained to the journalists of Radio Svoboda the principle that "men become more infected, when they pride themselves; we must suffocate the crown of pride in us, we must hope in the Lord without demanding miracles from him. We must not think that we are worthy of miracles, or try to lead the Father into temptation”.

In Vologda, a northern Finno-Ugric city in European Russia, priests are of different opinion. Here, until the end of March, they continued to venerate an icon in which the relics of the holy matron of Moscow (the so-called "seer of Stalin") were placed with the blessing of the young metropolitan Ignatij (Deputatov), ​​just over 40 years old and determined to show the strength of faith with respect to every epidemic of evil.

In the church of Saints Constantine and Helena, where the icon-reliquary is exposed until April 7, the Marian prayer of the Akhaist is celebrated continuously with the ritual of sprinkling to expel the evil one from the body and soul. For weekly Saturday evening rites, the only precautionary measure is the anointing with cotton wool sticks instead of the brush.

Russian Catholics and Protestants are far more cautious than Orthodox brothers. The archbishop of the Mother of God in Moscow, the Italian Paolo Pezzi, issued a letter in March to remind faithful that "the coronavirus is not a curse from God, but a way in which God reminds us how fragile we are".

Masses have not been completely suspended, but the prayer of the Rosary at home is recommended, and strict prevention measures must be followed during the celebrations; communion, if not on the hand (in Russia it is not usual) is distributed being careful not to touch the lips of the communicant. If this happens, communion must stop to allow the priest to disinfect his hand.

The Lutheran bishop of Karelia (the Russian part of Finland), Aleksandr Kuznetsov, asked the faithful to stay at home, closing the churches where the pastors celebrate for everyone, but without the presence of the faithful. He recalled that “not attending churches does not make us lose the salvation of God, He heals by listening to the prayers of His children.

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