“Saving lives” or “Death is not a problem”?


Last Sunday, despite the threat of the coronavirus epidemic and quarantine in the Republic, a service for parishioners was held in the Sukhum Cathedral. A lot of believers came, street vendors sold pussy-willow (verba), the authorities did not take any measures.

On 10 April, the acting president, Valery Bganba issued an order, one of the points of it prescribes to ban laymen visiting churches until 20 April. Only ministers and religious staff are allowed to attend churches.

However, this order is ignored by the leadership of the Sukhum-Pitsunda Diocese of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church, churches services continue in the Sukhum Cathedral. So last Sunday, a church service took place in the Sukhum Cathedral, celebrated Palm Sunday and a lot of parishioners attended the festive service. On the territory of the church street vendors sold pussy-willow (verba); people went to the service without masks, without gloves, just believed that God would save them.

In Abkhazia there are two church organizations with an opposite attitude to the implementation of Church life during the quarantine.

On 25 March, the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia announced the closure of the New Athos Monastery and since church services have been held online.

The abbot of the New Athos Monastery, Hierodeacon David (Sarsaniya) says that most representatives of the Christian and Orthodox world realized the importance of preserving the lives of believers and comply with quarantine policies. In many countries church life continues online. Last week, Father David took part in an online conference of Orthodox theologians, there was discussed the ways of fighting with pandemic. Hierodeacon David praised the experience of online broadcasts of Sunday services and talked about them:
“We have been holding church services online already for three weeks and Sunday Liturgy (it takes place from 9 am till 11am) is attended online by hundreds of people. Then some people watch the video record of service and the number of people watching our Church services rises to several thousand. According to the comments that are written on the private page of Father Dorotheos on Facebook, I can conclude that people take it positively, they understand that everyone must comply with the quarantine today. They realize that they need to save their lives and pray online, via the Internet.”

The Sukhum-Pitsunda Diocese of the Abkhazian Orthodox Church demonstrates a completely different attitude to the epidemic of coronavirus and the quarantine in the country. The head of the AOC Father Vissarion (Apliaa) says to believers not to be afraid of death. “A pandemic exists for those people who doubt that God exists.” “Death is not a problem. There will be no senseless deaths. We do not know what will happen. Only God knows it. And do not listen those who scare you with awful circumstances.” He encourages believers to visit churches and pray together, no matter what is happening around.

There are disputes on social networks regarding the participation of parishioners in church services: most of their participants think that it is dangerous to held church services for parishioners because it is a threat now during the epidemic of coronavirus. It is a threat not only for parishioners but also for the whole population of Abkhazia. People who have an opposite opinion think pandemic is not a threat for them, it will never get them. And they attend churches.

Today, a group of residents of Abkhazia appealed to the leaders of those religious organizations that refused to comply with the quarantine, they asked these organizations to appeal to their parishioners and ask them not to attend churches during the quarantine.

“Around the world, a lot of people whose beliefs, well-being or even the meaning of life depended on collective events have limited themselves. Millions of people work remotely, pray at home, do not travel, do not attend stadiums. All of them suffer moral, financial and other losses, but they do it for the sake of love and respect for the life and health of other people. This is a responsible civil position. Our personal or collective beliefs cannot be more important than common tasks. In times of danger, we must make common decisions and follow them! We are sure it is our responsibility to defend our Motherland and comply with the universal quarantine, even if someone finds this “mobilization” senseless.

In this situation, the lack of control on the part of state bodies is surprising and no one are held accountable for violations.

Elena Zavodskaya, Echo of the Caucasus © 2020 RFE/RL, Inc.