The government of Greece has recently enacted measures aimed at requiring churchgoers to present proof that they do not have the coronavirus to attend worship following an uptick in COVID-19 infections in the European country.
Greece announced on Nov. 18 that churchgoers must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, proof of vaccination or proof of a previous infection to attend worship, according to the European news outlet Euractive. The rule took effect on Sunday.
Reuters further reports that unvaccinated individuals will be barred from indoor spaces, such as restaurants, movie theaters, museums and gyms.
“[This is] to safeguard ourselves, and the people,” Father Christos, a priest at the Ayios Spiridon Church in Piraeus was quoted as saying. “It might be a bit difficult, but we will persist. We are obliged to comply with everything.”
Despite supporting the government’s intentions, leaders within the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece expressed concern that churches won’t have the capacity to enforce the new rules and can’t guarantee that churchgoers will comply.
“[Workers or volunteer staff] have neither capabilities, guard authority, nor public [e.g. police] powers,” the Holy Synod said in a statement as quoted by the daily newspaper Kathimerini.
Of four churches visited by Reuters on Sunday, only one volunteer carried out checks.
In early November, the Holy Synod recommended in a directive to all parishes that churches should encourage members to attend services with vaccination or negative test documentation, The Associated Press reported at the time.
The Greek Orthodox Church has worked with the government to encourage vaccination.
The New York Times reported that church leadership released a circular to priests earlier this year contending that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 was “the greatest act of responsibility toward one’s fellow human being.”
The latest measures come amid a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in Greece in recent weeks, with many pointing fingers at the country’s vaccination rate. At 62%, Greece’s vaccination rate is below the European Union average of 66%.
“This is indeed a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, as quoted by Politico. “Greece is mourning unnecessary losses because it simply does not have the vaccination rates of other EU countries.”
In the United States, some churches have required their staff members to be vaccinated and worshipers to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to attend services.
For example, Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island issued a letter in August requiring all staff and clergy had to be vaccinated by Sept. 15, with an exemption given to those with medical conditions that might prevent them from doing so.
“Those individuals who cannot receive the vaccine will have to agree to wearing a mask at all indoor gatherings, meetings, and liturgies and agree to be tested every ten days until such time as the COVID-19 virus is no longer a threat to the health and safety of the people we are called to serve,” wrote Provenzano.
“Sisters and brothers, no one seeks to prolong the tremendous agony that exists today in our world. No one seeks to make life more complicated in the midst of the turmoil of the last eighteen months. Each of us, as members of the Body of Christ, must now do our part to help end this crisis.”
In September, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention announced that its missionaries must be fully vaccinated and recommended that their children 12 years old and over also be vaccinated.
In the announcement, the IMB stated that the agency had previously issued vaccine mandates for missionaries for other diseases, going back at least the 1980s.
“We must make every wise decision, even when a decision is exceptionally difficult, that maintains our team members’ access to the growing number of unreached peoples and places around the world where vaccines are required for entry,” IMB President Paul Chitwood said in a statement.
“We also want to do all we can to undergird our team members’ spiritual and physical health to maximize our effectiveness as we serve Southern Baptists in our global gospel endeavors.”