The pandemic of the new coronavirus changes many familiar concepts, fills them with new, sometimes unexpected, content. Easter holidays have always been a favorite holiday for Ukrainians. Even in Soviet times, when the communist authorities tried to pretend that there were no such holidays, and TV evenings were filled with pop music concerts, only to prevent people from going to church, Easter prevailed.
And now they are talking about the future celebration as a possible "epidemiological bomb", event which can significantly increase the number of coronavirus patients - and especially among the most vulnerable layer of society. And it's not just an assumption. In Israel, for example, it has already been established that the number of infected people has increased significantly during the celebration of the Purim religious holiday. Police are now blocking entrances and exits to cities and neighborhoods where the religious population resides, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has imposed a curfew for the Seder Night.
We don’t want for Ukraine to repeat the fate of Israel's religious cities. Meanwhile, about the unity of church communities as we approach the celebration of Easter is early to say. Authorities are trying to take precautionary measures. President Volodymyr Zelensky met with the leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Svyatoslav and Epiphanius, to discuss with them the celebration of Easter and reduction of the number of people who would come to churches. However, there have been no meeting with Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine Onufriy yet. And yet, it is precisely this denomination - one of the largest in the country - that is not in a hurry with imposing restrictions on their parishioners.
Well, I myself live in an area that - ironically speaking - is beginning to remind me of areas of Israel with an ultra-Orthodox religious population. It is literally a short walk to Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra from my house. Meanwhile, in this main monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, more than 90 monks have become infected with a new coronavirus, and several people have died. The head of Lavra, Metropolitan Paul - one of the main adepts of the Russian Church in Ukraine - is being treated at an infectious diseases hospital. Lavra closed its doors in front of the faithful and quarantined. But only after the mass coronavirus spread among the monks.
Meanwhile, just a few days before his illness, Paul made a special video address in which he spoke against the closure of the Russian Orthodox Churches. "There is currently a lot of information on the artificially created coronavirus problem. Today, many talk about the coronavirus and urge people not to congregate in the churches... I urge all of you to go to the churches, not to panic, to receive communion, to pray near miraculous icons, to pray to the saints of Kyiv-Pechersk and other miracle workers of our land, to protect us." said the priest. By the way, at the last service of Metropolitan Paul, before his illness, were present the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, Metropolitan Onufriy, and the deputy head of the President's office Serhiy Trofymov. Babel of people in a cramped church during the pandemic, without any necessary hygienic norms or social distance did not disturb either the Metropolitan or a senior official from the close circle of Volodymyr Zelensky. As it turns out that with one hand the authorities are fighting the coronavirus by placing Ukrainians who traveled from overseas in "quarantine hotels" for observation, and with the other hand, they create epidemiological bombs in the churches of the Russian Church.
Drawing from the Israeli experience, I would say that the celebration of Palm Sunday has demonstrated the unwillingness of Russian Orthodox Church priests in Ukraine to consider the pandemic. Even on the church's telegram channel, you can see a statement of readiness to comply with all the quarantine restrictions and photographs of nuns and priests who hold religious ceremonies without any social distancing and without any masks. At the same time, many of the participants belong to the same risk groups, which the decision of the Ukrainian government is recommended to stay at home, on self-isolation. And in case of illness, these people will occupy the same beds in infectious disease hospitals, which are not enough. After all, no one doubts that Metropolitan Paul will not be denied treatment even after his calls to the congregation to attend church properly. But for the ordinary fateful who will be the victim of this call, the place in the hospital may simply not be found.
It is interesting that the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine behave much more aggressively and inappropriately than their counterparts in Russia itself. In Russia, priests openly call on parishioners to pray at home and not visit churches – didn’t these calls differ from those of the sick Paul? But this is not an accident. The Russian Church is much more compelled to comply with the Kremlin and the regional authorities of Russia and cannot contradict them: quarantine means quarantine. And besides, there are different people in this church, many understand the danger of the pandemic to the health of their compatriots. Therefore, those priests and monks who call not to pay attention to the pandemic may have problems with the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church and their brethren in faith. And in the Russian Church in Ukraine, the most conservative part of the priests remains. So, the faithful are held hostage by their priests and their stubborn unwillingness to reckon with reality.
It is unclear what other steps the authorities can take to prevent the pandemic from growing over the holidays. But it does not seem logical to limit the single walks of people in the parks and squares of Ukrainian cities and to impose huge fines for appearing in a public place without a mask, and, on the other hand, calmly treat church services that will receive hundreds of people - not to mention communion from one cup and one spoon. What else is needed for the pandemic to spread like wildfire?
And wildfire is also not an imagination for Ukraine, but a reality in which we now live. The fires in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone were a great example of how the mindlessness of a particular man who set fire to grass near the Chornobyl forests just for fun, caused another environmental disaster. And only then did parliament finally increase penalties for burning grass, bringing them closer to fines for not having a mask in public. But after, not before this Chornobyl fire.
I wouldn't want it to be the case with Easter. Easter should remain a feast of good news, not a day that will exacerbate the coronavirus fire. And it would be desirable that the authorities, priests and fateful think about this in advance. And not only in Ukrainian churches, but also in the Russian churches on Ukrainian soil.