MOSCOW (Reuters) – Father Andrei Molchanov, the latest Russian Orthodox priest to die from the novel coronavirus, was buried on Saturday by his heartbroken daughter who said she wished the Moscow church where he served had closed earlier.
Mourners and service workers gather near a grave during the funeral of Orthodox deacon Andrei Molchanov, 54, who died after contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a cemetery in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, called in late March for believers to pray at home. However tough government lockdown measures at the end of that month, which closed down restaurants and most stores, and told people to stay at home, did not order churches to shut.
“I believe above all else that we should have closed churches, along with restaurants and other places,” Anastasia Molchanova, the late priest’s daughter, told Reuters after his burial.
Despite the patriarch’s call, most churches in Moscow, including Molchanov’s, remained open until mid-April before Russia’s consumer health watchdog, a government agency, issued an order to shut them.
The consumer health watchdog and the Russian Orthodox Church did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
At least 11 other Russian clerics in addition to Molchanov have died since the start of the outbreak, according to a list published by “Orthodoxy and the World”, an online media outlet that focuses on religious and social issues.
Most of them served in churches in the capital Moscow, which accounts for more than a half of Russia’s 198,676 cases and 1,827 deaths, and the wider Moscow region. Many more clerics have been infected with the virus, Russian media have reported.
Father Molchanov fell sick shortly after an Easter service, which he conducted in an empty church to broadcast it online. He later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The 54-year-old deacon died on May 3 in Moscow’s main hospital for treating coronavirus patients. Molchanov’s wife later developed pneumonia and several other members of the clergy in the same church, including a senior priest, came down with symptoms of the virus, his daughter said.
Molchanov’s body was taken on Saturday from a morgue back to the Church of Saints Zosima and Savvatiy in eastern Moscow, where he served and may have been infected.
His memorial service was carried out by a priest wearing a medical mask outside the church, which was closed. The gravediggers who buried him wore protective suits.
More than 20 parishioners, some of them in tears, watched the service from a distance and lit candles in front of a portrait of the priest.
Molchanov’s daughter said she was now taking care of her sick mother but that the only thing she could do was to bring groceries to her door.
“That’s the hardest thing. Everybody is quarantined. There is nobody to give a hug. I cannot even go to hug my mum.”
Editing by Andrew Osborn and Pravin Char