Ecumenical Patriarchate orders churches to halt services until end-March

Slideshow ( 2 images )

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The spiritual head of Orthodox Christians worldwide has ordered churches to halt services and rites until the end of March in response to the spread of the coronavirus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate said.

The patriarchate, which is the seat of the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, announced the move in a statement issued in the Turkish city of Istanbul late on Wednesday.

“Today we universally declare our ecclesiastical resolution and mandate to cease all divine services, events, and rites, with the exception of private prayer in churches that will remain open, until the end of March,” the patriarchate said.

It appealed to everyone to limit their outings and travels to what is necessary, remaining in their homes for their own safety and the protection of the general public.

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate is monitoring the situation with an urgent sense of responsibility towards its faithful and all people,” it said, adding that the halt to services would later be reassessed in line with the pandemic’s development.

Monasteries will continue to hold regular religious services for their monastic communities, but outside pilgrims and visitors will not be permitted entry, it said.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and clergy will pray for the whole world and “for its speedy relief from this trial”, it added.

Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Toby Chopra