After Weeks of Lockdown, Overjoyed Greeks Return to Church

Athens: Thousands of Greeks returned to church on Sunday after weeks of staying away as a ban on mass gatherings to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus was eased.

It was a special moment for those who gathered from early Sunday morning in the courtyard of Ayios Spiridonas Church in Piraeus, where the melodious chants of the Sunday liturgy were broadcast on loudspeakers and heard down at the sea port.

"I was moved," said Vassilis Kitsas, 36, after attending the service in the church, consecrated after a Cypriot-born saint credited, among other feats, of ridding the island of Corfu of the plague after islanders prayed to him.

"I think that when you have something, you don't really appreciate it until it's gone. I think this has made us stronger than what we were," Kitsas told Reuters.

Greeks were not only deprived of weekly congregations but had to spend the highlight of their religious calendar, Easter, which was on April 19, indoors. The lockdown was introduced in mid-March.

Normally adjoining pews were replaced with chairs inside the church and in its courtyard as social distancing rules applied. Chairs were set two metres apart with boundaries in the courtyard marked with red and white masking tape.

Disposable gloves and antiseptic was available at the entrance. Some individuals kissed icons, as is customary in the Greek Orthodox religion. A woman wiped the icon with an antiseptic before the next person approached.

Church warden Petros Anagnostakis, 74, said preparations to reopen the church had been ongoing for about a week. "Today is a great celebration, we are overjoyed and touched, it's a great celebration for us," he said, visibly moved.

In unison, churchgoers recited the Creed, a declaration of faith in God and Jesus.

Greece has recorded a lower number of COVID-19 cases and deaths than other countries. By Saturday evening it had recorded 2,819 cases and 162 deaths.

"I think it's a miracle that Greece didn't have that many deaths or people sick," said Stella Kasimati, 76. "I believe that was help from God."