Prešov, Slovakia, March 31, 2021
COVID restrictions that are implemented without any communication with churches and religious groups but which significantly interfere with the liturgical and pastoral life of those groups are “inadequate and one-sided,” believe the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in Slovakia and the leaders of many other religious communities.
“The Orthodox Church in Slovakia takes the necessity of the equal provision of spiritual and material needs of man for granted,” state His Beatitude Metropolitan Rastislav of Prešov and His Eminence Archbishop Juraj of Michalovce and Košice in a press release dated March 24.
The hierarchs thus respond to the initiative of Ján Figel, the former European Commissioner and European Commission Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion Outside the EU, who recently filed a complaint with the General Prosecutor’s Office about the ban on public worship and also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
A state of emergency was declared again in Slovakia on October 1. It was then extended by 40 days from December 30, by another 40 from February 8, and by another 40 days as of March 20. A detailed description of COVID measures in Slovakia can be found at the IOM Migration Information Centre.
“We express our support for the submission of former European Commissioner Ján Figel … in connection with government regulations that make it practically impossible not only to perform public worship, but also individual pastoral services. We share the view that they are an undue interference by public authority in religious life,” state Met. Rastislav and Abp. Juraj.
The hierarchs do not deny the state its right to issue decrees and regulations, but it needs to show more respect for the religious life of its citizens:
However, we want to emphasize that Christian churches and religious societies in Slovakia have been able to bear witness, even in the difficult times we are experiencing, that they are able and willing, not out of fear of death, but on the contrary, out of respect for life, to lead their priests and believers to behave responsibly and sacrificially. It would therefore be right if the state power showed at least as much respect and reverence towards the churches as the churches have shown understanding towards it so far.
The hierarchs made a similar statement a year ago, emphasizing the Church’s obligation to provide spiritual care. Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini threatened to sanction the Church at that time if it did not cancel its services.
“It is necessary to emphasize for all those who fear that they could get infected at joint Divine services in kissing the holy icons or drinking from a common cup that Communion has never been, is not, and never will be a cause of sickness and death, but on the contrary—it is the source of new life in Christ, of the remission of sins, and of the healing of soul and body,” Met. Rastislav and Abp. Juraj stated last year.