How Coronavirus changed the way Orthodox Christians worship in Bulgaria
Photography: Nikolay Stoykov
Text: Fani Bachvarova
Orthodox Easter during COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has put religious institutions in a serious hardship – how to stay true to their traditions and protect people’s lives? How can a believer’s desire for the sacred be preserved? How can the church remain faithful to its sacraments and follow the rules of distance?
Bulgaria was among the few countries in Europe where churches were left open during the Orthodox Easter celebrations (17th-20th April). In a photography story we covered the preparations and celebrations of the Orthodox Church for Easter, one of the most revered Orthodox days, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bulgaria has declared a crisis situation since March 13. Days before Easter holidays, political leaders, the church and society had different opinions on how the church celebrations should take place. The church agreed to take safety measures such as outside services, regulated access to the temples, regular disinfection of the icons and keeping distance between the worshipers.
Rituals in the Orthodox Church are related to touching and kissing the sacred icon, the sacred cross and the hand of the father. Worshipers receive communion from a silver spoon and a piece of bread from the father. Candles are passed from hand to hand. People visit the church to find hope and healing for them and their family.
During the Holy Week, the week preceding the Resurrection of Christ, several special services took place. On the Great Thursday ritual called “maslosvet” (Anointing of the sick) was held with few worshipers in the temples. In the small temples people were not passed to enter the inside but in the big churches and cathedrals people were listening the service from inside.
The Resurrection of Christ. On the eve of the Resurrection, usually many people gather in the church to meet the holy fire and to hold the Holy Liturgy. This year the Church cancelled the transportation of the Holy fire from Bethlehem and decided to use the last year’s Holy fire, which was strictly maintained. The Holy Liturgy was held outside the churches and worshipers were allowed to enter the church only for the second part of the service, under strict access measures. Most of the churches went LIVE on the web for the worshipers who decided to stay home.
Easter service in front of the Sveta Nedelya Church, Sofia