While most worshippers had to wear masks and remain physically distanced, and many were mourning the loss of loved ones, they still expressed great joy to be able to gather at all to mark the joy of the Resurrection and a sense of renewed hope.
Holy Fire ceremony
About 2,500 Christians flocked to Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre for the Holy Fire ceremony, a smaller crowd and fewer travelers than in the years before COVID-19, when tens of thousands of worshippers would attend, but still a big change from last year’s nearly deserted Holy Land.
The Holy Fire ceremony, symbolizing Jesus's resurrection, is held in the Holy Sepulchre, revered by Christians as the site of Jesus's crucifixion, burial and resurrection. It is believed to contain the tomb where Jesus lay 2,000 years ago.
Pillar of eternal life
His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, in his Easter message, referred to the resurrection as a vaccine brought by Christ to the world to overcome hatred.
“Forgiveness, hence after, has become an essential chromosome of the life of the conscious Christian,” Archbishop Anastasios stressed. His Beatitude pointed out that sometimes we do not use the medicine that Christ left us, because “often many of us try to avoid this basic evangelical principle and command.
“We insist upon our rights and we call for the maintenance of our dignity and we magnify the danger posed by those who fight against us. Despite this, there is no greater freedom than forgiveness.”
He noted that “it is not enough for us to be personally set free from the side effects of hatred.
“It is imperative for us to contribute continually to the decrease of the tensions around us, to the de-escalation of polarization, of conflicts, and the various mutations of hatred.”
The Paschal message of His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia focused on the the boundless love of the Creator for humankind. “The dawn of history, as we know, was darkened by the spiritual tragedy – through the fall of the progenitors the doors of Heaven were closed to people, and from that time onwards suffering and death have been the inevitable consequence of human sinfulness,” he said. “Yet, having lost the communion with God the Source of life, people were not deprived of His mercy and love.”
Faith in the Resurrection of the Saviour quenches the flame of worldly tribulations, said Patriarch Kirill. “Going beyond national and state boundaries, the Paschal celebration spiritually unites millions of Christians living in different countries,” he said. “From year to year, from century to century, from millennium to millennium, this thanksgiving triumphantly resounds throughout the world – resounds despite all temptations, hardships and ordeals. And it does not stop today, when the world is suffering from the baneful pestilence.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I conducted various Easter celebrations over the weekend with limited attendance, as Turkey is under a strict lockdown. In a Patriarchal Encyclical for Holy Pascha, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote: “Having completed the soul-profiting Lent and venerated the Lord’s Passion and Cross, behold today we are rendered participants of His glorious Resurrection, radiant through the feast and crying out with ineffable joy the world-saving announcement: ‘Christ is Risen!’ ”
The encyclical reflects: “All that we believe, all that we love, and all that we hope as Orthodox Christians is associated with Pascha, from which everything derives its vividness, through which everything is interpreted, and in which everything acquires its true meaning.”
In the light of the Resurrection, earthly things assume new significance, the encyclical reflects. “Nothing is simply ‘given,’ reads the encyclical. “Everything lies in motion toward eschatological perfection.”
The biological boundaries of life do not define its truth, concludes the Easter message. “Death is not the end of our existence,” reads the encyclical.
His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel of Romania, in a Paschal message, spoke of how Christ showed the disciples His sacrificial love for all humankind, and how Holy Communion is the pillar of eternal life.
“The word Pascha means passing over. The passing was through the Red Sea, from slavery to freedom,” he said. “But now the transition is from death to life and from earth to heaven.”
Pascha now no longer refers to a historical experience of a people who were in captivity, but now to the whole of humanity, continued Patriarch Daniel. “Therefore, the proclamation of the Lord’s Resurrection is made outside the church, because all people will be resurrected, both those who believed in Christ and those who did not,” said Patriarch Daniel. “Everyone will be resurrected. The resurrection is God’s exclusive gift to all people.”
Christ is risen!
Across the world, the traditional Easter greeting of Orthodox Christians rang out: “Christ is risen! Indeed, Christ is risen!”
Worshippers inside many cathedrals and churches wore masks and were physically distanced, but many were still able to gather with loved ones. From the Serbian Orthodox Church to the Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo, people prayed together, some in person and some online.
In Greece, the government kept pandemic restrictions in place through the Easter holiday, and many church services were held outdoors, with those held indoors requiring social distancing and mask wearing.
In Lebanon, a curfew was in effect to curb the spread of coronavirus and churches were allowed to hold Easter Mass and prayers at 30 percent capacity.
"We are praying for an end to this pandemic that has horrifyingly swept through the world," Coptic Pope Tawadros II said in an Easter message. "We are praying for our dear health workers, being the first defense line in confronting this pandemic.”