Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel has issued a pastoral message to the public, on the Eastern Diocese’s response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
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I greet you during this sacred period of Great Lent: our spiritual journey towards the great feast of our Lord’s holy resurrection.
I am reaching out to the public on the situation regarding the Coronavirus. I want you to know that the Diocese regards it as a serious situation, which demands our attention as a church. We are following the information provided by public sources closely, especially the guidance given by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), with the goal of helping our parishes to keep members safe and to manage risks prudently.
In consultation with experts in the health field, the Diocese has issued a directive to our clergy, which includes a list of recommendations to be implemented by our local parishes. The directive offers relevant guidance on (1) the question of church attendance; (2) the rituals and practices of religious services; (3) fellowship and food; and (4) general precautions and resources.
Based on these guidelines, the public will be noticing changes in the routine activities of our churches. Cleanliness has always played an important role in the ritual and practice of the church; but in the present situation our parishes will redouble their usual promotion of good hygiene at every level of parish life.
Obviously, under ordinary circumstances certain rituals of our church involve personal interaction. For the time being, we find ourselves in the season of Great Lent, when these interactive rituals—including the Kiss of Peace, Holy Communion, and kissing the Gospel—are not an active part of the liturgy. However, as we approach Palm Sunday, the Diocese will issue additional guidelines on how to conduct these religious practices.
The question of church attendance requires special consideration from the public. At this time we encourage the faithful to attend church services and activities as usual.
However, we respectfully ask that people do not attend church if they have returned from certain affected countries within the past 14 days. Currently these locales are China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, and Japan. We strongly advise anyone who has traveled to these places to wait to complete at least 14 days without cold/flu-like symptoms before attending church, whether or not they are currently exhibiting symptoms.
Additionally, we strongly recommend that anyone who currently exhibits symptoms of cold or flu should not attend church. Our pre-eminent concern is to spare vulnerable people in our communities for whom the coronavirus poses a more serious risk.
We offer these guidelines after due deliberation on the recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control. However, as officers of the church under these circumstances, our pastors must be attentive to the spiritual and sacramental needs of their parishioners, and should actively seek out, contact, and schedule visits with anyone who, in accordance with the concerns above, is keeping him or herself away from church attendance.
On the more personal level of individual households, we recommend that you follow the directions given by local authorities, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization. The Armenian American Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO) has also issued a Q&A of helpful general information that can inform our parishes and people.
Again, our Diocese takes this situation very seriously, and is committed to helping guide our pastors, parishes, and people in a rational way, informed by both physical and spiritual concerns. To this end we are seeking counsel from medical authorities and from the profound teaching authority of our church.
Our first duty, as in all things, is to seek guidance through prayer. Let us pray as a church for our Lord’s mercy on the sick and vulnerable; on those poor souls who have succumbed; and on the brave people who are ministering to the afflicted, and doing research to find a treatment.
And in offering this prayer, we ask our healing Lord to continue to guide, protect, and fortify our people, now and always.
With my prayers,