Not all churches throughout Russia were empty: at the Lavra of the SS. Trinity of St. Sergius 70 km from Moscow, there was a large number of faithful. Varying stance among Russia’s more than 300 bishops (for 200 dioceses and 800 monasteries). "Virtual prayer" communities independent of the ecclesiastical hierarchy also born.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - Easter in Russia - which was yesterday for the Orthodox – fell amid the gathering storm of the coronavirus surge: on the eve of the feast new cases exceeded six thousand, with over fifty deaths. The liturgies of the Easter Vigil, in most churches, were held behind closed doors, with only the celebrants and some ministrants, and very few faithful.
Moscow Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev) temporarily left isolation in his villa in Peredelkino to celebrate the night liturgy in the Church of the Most Holy Savoir next to the Kremlin (photo 1), live on television, but without the presence of President Vladimir Putin and other state leaders, usually lined up next to the altar.
Beside the patriarch, selected and verified through special metal detectors, there were a few dozen people, including priests, monks and members of the security service. Kirill himself stressed the impressive silence that reigned in the church, where "usually there is a buzz coming from the crowd that awaits the start of the celebration". Even the solemn procession of the blessing of the fire and the initial procession with candles took place inside the church, and not the traditional procession along the banks of the Moskva River and the walls of the Kremlin.
However, not all Russian churches remained empty. In the main Russian monastery, the Lavra of the Most Holy Trinity of St. Sergius 70 km from Moscow, the live stream on Instagram revealed the presence of a large number of faithful. Indeed, there was no absolute directive on the closure of churches on Easter night, either by the patriarchate or the government. Quarantine measures, which have gradually strengthened in recent days, have focused on spring outings and barbecues, turning a blind eye to activities in churches.
In any case, from 13 April in Moscow the decree of the director of the city's health service, Dr. Elena Andreeva, ordered a "temporary interruption to public visits to territories entrusted to the jurisdiction of the patriarchate of Moscow in the city of Moscow", with only "altar servers" allowed to enter churches and monasteries, also "to guarantee the online broadcast of the celebrations". Police surveillance has also been established around many churches.
The parish priest of the church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Aleksandr Borisov, one of the best-known disciples of Father Aleksandr Men ', the "spiritual father of dissent", closed the parish in central Moscow, to stream everything online. "It is obvious that in times of epidemic one must protect oneself, and not tempt the Lord, but not everyone understands this", said Father Aleksandr, adding that his parishioners did not protest for the closure, "because they trust their parish priest and of their patriarch ". Father Borisov also assured that "there is no shortage of spectators for online liturgies".
However, there are varying positions among the more than 300 bishops (for 200 dioceses and 800 monasteries) of the Russian Church. The most organized appeared the Metropolitan of Pskov Tikhon (Ševkunov), very close to President Putin, who ordered the closure of all churches and the streaming of all celebrations.
The bishop of Kamensk Mefodij (Kondratev) instead complained about the low influx of the faithful in the churches left open throughout the diocese. Governors and health inspectors often had to provide for the closure of churches, even against the advice of local bishops.
The ex-patriarchate spokesman, Sergei Chaplin, noted that "the position of our Church has been rather contradictory, unlike the churches of other countries, which have supported the decisions of their governments. Both President Putin and Patriarch Kirill have washed their hands, avoiding taking responsibility for unpopular decisions ". Many faithful tried to organize themselves, creating communities of "virtual prayer" independent of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which could remain a significant phenomenon even in post-quarantine Russia.