Despite warnings by the coronavirus crisis response team that the peak of the virus is expected in conjunction with the Easter holidays, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church will hold open masses with believers. Easter mass and Palm Sunday mass are by far the two, which attract the largest crowds in Bulgaria compared to the rest of the year.
The church has received backlash ever since the first set of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus were imposed, which was right after the first case in Bulgaria was discovered on March 8. Although all public spaces were closed down, places of worship remained open. It was left to religious leaderships to decide as PM Boyko Borissov – in his own words – "does not meddle in God’s affairs." About a week into the measures, a video emerged of believers taking communion in the church. Most were over 60. No one changed or disinfected the single spoon everyone went through to receive communion.
Today the Holy Synod met with PM Boyko Borissov to discuss the upcoming holidays and the measures the church intends to take. The Greek Orthodox Church, for example, will be holding Easter and Palm Sunday masses online, but the Bulgarian church will take no such measures. Apart from today’s meeting to decide on how the holidays will be carried out in light of the COVID-19 crisis, the head of the coronavirus response team General Ventsislav Mutafchiyski urged believers to skip the masses altogether.
The church has agreed to two changes, however: the tradition to give out willow branches to believers will be put on hold for this year, and church representatives will not be traveling to Jerusalem to bring back the Holy Fire.
The Grand Mufti developed a set of rules to restrict access to the mosques, gave general guidelines for attendance and switched some prayers, which must be performed in a mosque with at-home-prayers. The synagogue is Sofia has discontinued services and restricted access; the organization of Bulgarian Jews also canceled all its planned events.
The Bishop of Lovech, Gavriil, said he did not believe it possible for the virus to spread inside the sanctuary but the church is nonetheless "doing everything in order to not be blamed." He went on to explain the church is implementing all the disinfection measures as prescribed by the coronavirus response team.
Meanwhile the official number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in Bulgaria rose to 618. 230 are hospitalized, 32 are in ISUs. 24 people with coronavirus have died.
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