YEREVAN — Armenians all over the world celebrated Easter on Sunday while being barred, due to the coronavirus pandemic, from attending services held in churches on the occasion.

Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II urged them to display “national unity” and help their government contain the spread of the virus as he led a mass at an empty Saint Gregory the Illuminator’s Cathedral of Yerevan.

In a sermon read out during the liturgy, Karekin II also said that the world must unite to defeat not only the pandemic but what he described as even greater evils such as “materialism,” poverty and armed conflicts.

The Easter mass held in Armenia’s largest cathedral was attended by only two dozen clergymen and a smaller-than-usual choir.

Sunday services in all churches have been held behind the closed doors ever since the Armenian government declared on March 16 a state of emergency to fight against coronavirus. The Armenian Church, to which the vast majority of the country’s population nominally belongs, instructed parish churches to livestream, if possible, liturgies online.

In his Easter message Karekin II said: “We once again call on the sons and daughters of our nation in the homeland and in the diaspora to give a helping hand to our government authorities in their efforts to overcome the difficult situation created by the pandemic, in caring for the patients, and the welfare of those sons and daughters of our nation who are in great distress by making your contributions to a special account opened for this cause.”

“Let us keep national unity and solidarity strong, as people … faithful to Christ,” he said. “Let us live with the faith of the Resurrection, with the zeal to fulfill the commandments of Christ.”

After the service broadcast live on national television, Karekin II blessed a small group of believers, some of them wearing face masks, who gathered outside the cathedral. None of them was allowed to kiss a cross held by him.

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