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Orthodox Christians Mark Second Easter Holiday Under Pandemic Restrictions


Worshippers attend an Orthodox Easter service in the Vysoko-Petrovsky Monastery in Moscow on May 2.

Orthodox Christians around the world are observing the holiday of Easter for the second time under conditions of the global pandemic.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on May 2 expressed his hope that the coronavirus would be eliminated, and the pandemic ended.

"This Easter is special and its special nature lies in the hope that the bane of the pandemic will pass and, leaving us with a number of important lessons, will after all abandon us forever," Kirill told the Russia-24 TV channel.

Many worshipers in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior were seen wearing masks to reduce the transmission of the virus, but President Vladimir Putin was unmasked.

Putin issued a statement thanking the church for its contribution to "pressing social problems" and for promoting family traditions.

WATCH: In Kazan, Tatar-speaking Orthodox Christians -- a community known as Kryashens -- gathered for an Easter Mass.

Tatar Orthodox Christians Celebrate Easter
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Despite concerns expressed by Serbia's national task force ahead of Easter ceremonies in Serbia and the Balkan region, the Serbian Orthodox Church did not include calls for restricting communion or other procedures in its online schedule of liturgies.

The new patriarch, Porfirije, did make a reference in his Easter address to "respecting the recommendations of medicine."

The Serbian church replaced its patriarch in February, three months after 90-year-old Patriarch Irinej died after coronavirus infection as the church refused to change practices including the administration of communion with a single spoon for an entire congregation.

Serbia, which is among the leaders in Europe in its vaccination efforts, is around 85 percent Orthodox, with hundreds of thousands more followers of the Serbian Orthodox Church in neighboring countries.

The holiday was also celebrated at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and at the main Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo. In both cases, participation was restricted because of the pandemic.

"We are praying for an end to this pandemic that has horrifyingly swept through the world," Coptic Pope Tawadros II said in an Easter message. "We are praying for our dear health workers, being the first defense line in confronting this pandemic."

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny also issued an Easter statement, congratulating believers, nonbelievers, and "militant atheists" on the occasion.

"I embrace and love you all," he wrote on social media. "On such a day I know for certain and understand that everything will be all right."

Navalny recently ended a hunger strike that he had been holding to demand he be examined by his own doctors amid what he has described as a "deliberate campaign" by Russian prison officials to undermine his health.

Navalny has been in custody since January, when he returned to Russia following weeks of medical treatment in Germany for a nerve-agent poisoning that he says was carried out by operatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) at the behest of Putin.

He is serving a 2 1/2-year prison sentence on embezzlement charges that he says were trumped up because of his political activity.

Many countries are restricting normal Orthodox Easter celebrations, after last year much of the world lived in lockdown.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians based in Istanbul, has conducted various Easter celebrations over the weekend with limited attendance, as Turkey is under a strict lockdown.

In Greece, the government kept pandemic restrictions in place through the Easter holiday while preparing to restart services for tourists next week. Many church services were held outdoors and those indoors required social distancing and mask wearing.

In Lebanon, a curfew was in effect to curb the spread of coronavirus and churches were allowed to hold Easter Mass and prayers only at 30 percent capacity.

With reporting by dpa, AP, RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Orthodox Times, and TASS
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