Armenians celebrated Easter on Sunday while being barred, due to the coronavirus pandemic, from attending services held in churches across Armenia on the occasion.
Catholicos Garegin (Karekin) II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, urged them to display “national unity” and help their government contain the spread of the virus as he led a mass at an empty Saint Gregory the Illuminator’s Cathedral of Yerevan.
In a sermon read out during the liturgy, Garegin also said that the world must unite to defeat not only the pandemic but what he described as even greater evils such as “materialism,” poverty and armed conflicts.
The Easter mass held in Armenia’s largest cathedral was attended by only two dozen clergymen and a smaller-than-usual choir.
Sunday services in all churches have been held behind the closed doors ever since the Armenian government declared on March 16 a state of emergency to fight against coronavirus. The Armenian Church, to which the vast majority of the country’s population nominally belongs, instructed parish churches to livestream, if possible, liturgies online.
The ancient church’s Mother See headed by Garegin also restricted church attendance on weekdays and cancelled pre-Easter ceremonies involving large numbers of people. It urged its faithful to abide by serious restrictions on people’s movements imposed by the authorities.
In his Easter message Garegin said: “We once again call on the sons and daughters of our nation in the homeland and in the diaspora to give a helping hand to our government authorities in their efforts to overcome the difficult situation created by the pandemic, in caring for the patients, and the welfare of those sons and daughters of our nation who are in great distress by making your contributions to a special account opened for this cause.”
“Let us keep national unity and solidarity strong, as people … faithful to Christ,” he said. “Let us live with the faith of the Resurrection, with the zeal to fulfill the commandments of Christ.”
Garegin had a similar message to Christians around the world. “We believe that humanity will overcome this challenging situation of the pandemic and all the difficulties caused by it in the social, economic, educational, and public spheres,” he said. “However, it is of more importance that a permanent victory is achieved against all inhumane manifestations such as materialism, poverty, inequality, militarism, wars and other evils.”
“Humanity must realize that the guarantee of prosperity and happiness is the life lived by God, which turns into a blessing, power and source of strength,” he added.
After the service broadcast live on national television, Garegin blessed a small group of believers, some of them wearing face masks, who gathered outside the cathedral. None of them was allowed to kiss a cross held by him.
On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, who coordinates government measures against coronavirus, urged Armenians to stay at home and avoid trying to attend church ceremonies on Sunday.
“In any case, the police will prevent any gatherings,” Avinian warned on Facebook. “Let us demonstrate discipline and responsibility. Let us prevent the spread of the virus.”
The warning came amid an apparent Easter Eve shopping spree at food supermarkets in Yerevan. Photographs shared on social media showed scores of shoppers ignoring social distancing rules.