Coptic Christians in Egypt celebrated the Assumption of Mary on Saturday, amid health and security measures to control the spread of coronavirus.
The celebrations followed a 15-day fast that started on Aug. 7. Security services increased their presence outside churches and side streets were closed to prevent overcrowding and congestion.
Among the monasteries that opened their doors to visitors during the fasting period were the Dronka Monastery in Assiut and the Historical Church of the Virgin Mary in Mostorod.
The churches took health and safety measures, such as having visitors wear masks. But, despite the pandemic and preventative steps recommended to contain the spread of the virus, the monasteries welcomed a large number of visitors who failed to maintain social distancing.
While the pandemic meant that churches witnessed a spiritual revival online, there was still an event at the Monastery of Darnaka Mountain in Asyut. Thousands took part in it without following anti-coronavirus measures, coming into close contact with each other and not wearing masks.
A zaffa (procession), deacons, priests and monks came out of the church during the ceremony that was led by Anba Yu’annis, bishop of Assiut. They went out from the ancient church bearing images of the Virgin Mary and crosses.
“This gathering with such a large number of people can possibly lead to a health disaster,” said journalist Muhammad Mustafa Shardi, adding that the disease could be transmitted to large numbers of participants.
Pastor Paul Halim, a spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, said that it had been agreed within the church to change the nature of the celebrations this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The churches are largely avoiding occasions that include gatherings of worshippers.
Halim added that precautionary measures would be tightened up inside churches as they would only admit a certain number of worshippers. There would be one worshipper per pew and those not wearing a facemask would be stopped from entering.
Anba Baiman, bishop of Naqada and Qus Qena and rapporteur of the Public Relations Committee of the Holy Synod of the Church, explained that the second wave of coronavirus had started because of gatherings during celebrations between families and in public without the necessary precautions being taken.
He called upon all church members to take precautions during the celebrations in order to preserve public health.