Churches in Estonia are preparing for the possible spread of the novel coronavirus. They are stocking up on face masks, advising people avoid shaking hands and offering everyone opportunities to disinfect their hands. Church representatives are nonetheless stressing that there is no need for panic, and that church services will not be canceled.
The holy water customarily touched by those entering the Catholic Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Tallinn has been removed.
"When Christians enter a house of worship, it is custom to make the sign of the cross with this water," explained Marge-Marie Paas, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church in Estonia. "Right now we have removed the water in shared use. There is also a point in the Catholic liturgy where people wish one another piece. We are not doing this with a handshake anymore, but rather by bowing to those sitting next to us and wishing them peace."
Lutheran congregations were sent an email by the Estonian Diaconia including recommendations for Holy Communion, for example.
"In administering Holy Communion, we may replace or supplement drinking from the chalice with the dipping method," said Avo Üprus, director of the Estonian Diaconia. "It's certainly of crucial importance to place disinfectants in public spaces — including congregation halls."
The emailed message also stressed the need to wash one's hands and disinfect, especially in rural churches.
Pastor Jaak Aus, head of the St. Charles congregation in Tallinn, said that those taking Holy Communion in Estonia's biggest Lutheran congregation have not drunk from the same chalice for years, and that the congregation instead dips the Communion bread into the wine.
The two orthodox churches active in Estonia are likewise preparing for the possible spread of the coronavirus. Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAÕK) Metropolitan Stefanus sent recommendations to the church's congregations, including recommending those who are ill not to attend church, but added that there was no need for panic.
Mattias Palli, high priest and vicar general of the EAÕK, said that if anyone is afraid, they should speak with a member of the clergy, as is custom in the Orthodox church.
"Of course those surfaces in the church which are kissed or touched could be cleaned more often with disinfectants," Palli added.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn is visited by many tourists, and it has stocked up on masks for its employees. Precautions being taken by the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (MPEÕK) are similar to those taken by the EAÕK. Both Orthodox churches recommend its members participate in Holy Communion.
Georgi, a member of the MPEÕK clergy, noted that their church has always taken hygiene requirements into consideration.
"The floor is washed several times a day, and icons are cleaned with a solution containing spirits," he said.
No churches in Estonia currently plan on canceling any church services due to the threat of the virus. They all likewise confirmed, however, that should the situation change and the Health Board and the government make any new decisions, they will react accordingly.
Commonly referred to as the novel coronavirus, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei Province, in late 2019. Worldwide, nearly 90,000 cases of coronavirus disease have since been confirmed, with more than 3,000 deaths attributed to the disease to date.
Editor: Aili Vahtla