ATHENS – The head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos, has been hospitalized after being diagnosed with COVID-19, the Archdiocese of Athens announced Thursday.
The 82-year-old archbishop was hospitalized in an augmented care unit of Athens' Evangelismos Hospital, the hospital said. The Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios, is also being treated for COVID-19 in Evangelismos since being airlifted to Greece last week.
The Archdiocese said Ieronymos had “mild symptoms of the coronavirus,” and was admitted to hospital following the recommendations of his doctors.
Shortly before being admitted, Ieronymos told his close associates that he was participating personally “in the ordeal that concerns thousands of our brothers in our country and millions throughout the world," according to the Archdiocese.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas expressed the government’s wishes for speedy recovery to Ieronymos. The archbishop had met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Saturday, but Petsas said both men had undergone a coronavirus test before the meeting and the results had been negative.
Petsas said there was no need for the prime minister to self-isolate as a precaution as he had also tested negative before his trip to the United Arab Emirates earlier this week.
The recent death of a senior clergyman in the Greek Orthodox Church has revived a debate over the safety of receiving communion during the pandemic, as a shared spoon is used for the whole congregation.
The church insists there can be no danger of transmission as communion is the blood and body of Christ and therefore cannot transmit any disease. It says it has complied with all public safety restrictions.
Metropolitan Bishop Ioannis of Lagadas, 62, was buried earlier this week after dying of COVID-19. The town of Lagadas near the northern city of Thessaloniki, is in a region currently experiencing the highest rate of infection in a surge of the coronavirus in Greece.
A nationwide lockdown has been imposed until the end of the month in an effort to get the spread under control. Greece, a country of about 11 million people, currently has more than 82,000 confirmed positive coronavirus cases and nearly 1,300 deaths.
The bishop had been an outspoken advocate of continuing communion during the coronavirus pandemic, and the church’s governing body, the Holy Synod, hit out at critics who reacted to his death by saying the practice of communion harbors dangers of spreading the virus.
“Certain aspiring leaders of public opinion are insisting in a neurotic manner on concentrating exclusively on Holy Communion,” a statement from the Synod said Monday. “They cite unscientific correlations with the spread of the coronavirus, in defiance of epidemiological evidence.”
Greek health experts have mostly avoided commenting on church practices but have noted that World Health Organization guidelines list saliva droplets as a leading means of contamination.
Separately, Petsas said Greece was shutting a border crossing with Albania as of Friday morning, and restricting traffic from another to only trucks. Three other crossings with Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria will remain open.
All those arriving at Greek land borders will now also be subject to a rapid coronavirus test, Petsas said, with those who test negative allowed to enter the country. The on-the-spot test is in addition to the requirement of proof of a negative coronavirus test a maximum of 72 hours before arrival.