CINS has learned that a priest from a church in Belgrade’s Voždovac district was persistent in his intention to consecrate water for a family. The priest of the Church of Holy Emperor Constantine and Empress Helen called the family in question on the phone several times, with the intention of coming to their house, but they did not want to receive the guest. The reason for that is the coronavirus pandemic.
Another priest from this church, Nenad Jovanović, confirmed for CINS that priests visited homes during the pandemic. He said on March 26 that before going to someone’s home they called those citizens up and asked them whether to come or not. Jovanović explains that he sees no problem there because, in his words, according to a decision of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, church service and the consecration of water are not suspended.
He also claims that priests respect the prescribed distance of two meters between a priest and the faithful:
“It is respected everywhere that people stand apart from each other, like outside stores, banks, pharmacies.”
Although we had called him to check the accuracy of the information we had gotten, the conversation did not end there. Jovanović said that when the Church saw that someone was “distorting their statements”, it put an anathema, a curse on their family. After that he concluded that it was precisely CINS journalists who distorted statements from the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Consecration Suspended in Some Places
Unlike the church in Voždovac, there are some that have suspended the consecration of homes. That is the case with a church in Obrenovac, whose priests, as they said, will not be going to citizens’ homes ahead of Easter. A press release form the Eparchy of Valjevo reads that Bishop Milutin was the first in the Serbian Orthodox Church to suspend the consecration of homes before Easter. On March 26, the government also issued a recommendation to churches to prevent coronavirus spread by performing church services without any faithful present.
CINS journalists did not receive a reply to the question of what the Patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church thought about all of this. Patriarch Irinej earlier appealed to the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Belgrade and Karlovci to adhere to the measures defined by the government.
Representatives of the Patriarchate on March 26 told us that they were not working and that due to the current situation there was no one who could give us any comments until further notice. As for the questions we e-mailed them, instead of answering them they told us to check the statements posted on the Serbian Orthodox Church website.
CINS also addressed the medical profession regarding priests’ activities.
Epidemiologist Zoran Radovanović says that consecrating water during a pandemic poses an additional risk. Priests should be aware that they too can get infected, adds Radovanović, but can also potentially bring the infection into believers’ homes.
He thinks the motive behind the insistence of some priests to perform consecration during the state of emergency is financial.
“Performing God’s service and consecration and the slava bread and all that, it all brings profit. So there is a financial aspect there. (…) But society as a whole is suffering, people are not working either, this is about salaries for the private sector, and they (the Serbian Orthodox Church) are the private sector, too, it’s only fair that they share that risk and that trouble with the people,” said Radovanović.
Nevertheless, he concludes that since the Serbian Orthodox Church is autonomous in deciding on temporarily halting the performance of religious ceremonies which include the faithful, the decision must be solely its own.
As a reminder, Bishop of Valjevo Milutin and two priests were infected with the novel coronavirus during a tour of the Eparchy of Valjevo.
“Bishop Milutin contracted the coronavirus by walking around and serving in his Eparchy like a hard-working shepherd, just as he has been serving God and kin for more than half a century,” reads an official statement from the Eparchy and underlines that this happened before the social isolation measures and curfew were imposed.