April 18 (UPI) -- Orthodox Christians plan to celebrate Easter this weekend amid coronavirus restrictions hindering traditional services.
The holiday for the world's roughly 300 million Orthodox Christians is based on the Julian calendar, instead of the Gregorian calendar, and often falls on a later date than Easter observed elsewhere.
Though the traditional Holy Fire Ceremony at the Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was held on Saturday, only a handful of clergy, some wearing black masks, were allowed to take part in the ceremony.
During the ceremony, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III traditionally lights a candle with the Holy Fire in the crypt to symbolize Jesus' resurrection. Eastern Orthodox Christians believe a miraculous Holy Fire emanates from within the tomb of Christ.
Traditionally, the ceremony attracts thousands of pilgrims to pass on the flame, but only the Armenian Orthodox patriarch, four assistants, and Coptic and Syrian archbishops attended the ceremony this year.
After the church bells tolled, Theophilos III and other clergy carried out the flame to be taken to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv and flown to 10 countries.
In the Middle East and Eastern Europe, authorities have told congregations not to attend services.
Russia's Orthodox church also urged worshipers, who usually attend late-night processions, to stay home.
In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, police patrolled 179 churches and monasteries to enforce social distancing.
In Greece, church services were banned and thousands of police worked to prevent residents visiting relatives or second homes on the holiday.
Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II held a televised Good Friday service absent a congregation with deacons and priests present observing social distancing to prevent COVID-19 spread.
In Romania, worshipers can still receive the Holy Fire on Easter night or take bread splashed with holy water and wine as they do traditionally, but only by request, and they're still urged to social distance.
Bulgaria's capital Sofia has a curfew imposed.
Serbia and Montenegro churches have told their congregations to stay home.
In one Eastern European country though, Georgia, worshipers were still allowed to attend churches.
And in, North Macedonia's Orthodox Church said force would not be used to stop people going to church.