In a directive to clergy of the Eastern Diocese, Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan announced new guidelines for local parishes and worshippers, expanding the way the rituals and services of the church may be conducted in the ongoing pandemic situation.
Parishes of the Eastern Diocese, which had been under official lockdown for more than two months, were first permitted to open their doors to the public in a limited way—subject to local ordinances—on May 31, the Feast of Pentecost. But restrictions on certain practices remained in force.
Under the new directive dated June 22, church life will remain strictly regulated by social distancing, mask-wearing, and other now familiar precautions. But certain functions pertaining to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the administration of Sacraments have been restored.
The restoration of functions applies only to parishes where local regulations do not prohibit church services, and where public gatherings with limited attendance are permitted. (The Primate’s earlier directive designated such parishes as having entered “Phase Two” of the post-lockdown relaxation of restrictions.)
Chief among the restored sacramental functions is the ability of worshippers to receive Holy Communion. The issue of resuming Holy Communion was addressed in special instructions issued earlier this month by His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, in consultation with the Armenian Church’s Supreme Spiritual Council.
Accordingly, Holy Communion may now be offered to the faithful during the Badarak in the familiar manner, with the priest dropping a particle of the precious Body of Christ directly into the mouth of the communicant.
However, Bishop Daniel’s directive on this matter enumerates 12 strict guidelines that must be followed to maintain hygienic practices whenever the Sacrament is administered. These guides were determined in consultation with healthcare professionals in the Eastern Diocese.
In addition, as a temporary measure priests are permitted to place Holy Communion on the right hand of the communicant. This is to be done “in strictly exceptional cases, based on the necessities of providing pastoral care,” in the words of Catholicos Karekin II’s instructions.
Weddings and Funerals
Along with Holy Communion, rules governing funeral services and weddings are also implicated in the restoration of sacramental functions.
Holding a funeral service in the church sanctuary is now permitted (with appropriate distancing, masking, and attendance precautions) for the first time since the pandemic lockdown began. Previously, funerals had been restricted to gravesite burial services attended only by the family and a few mourners. Wake services at a funeral home are likewise permitted (subject to the usual precautions and permissions.)
In the case of weddings—which had been suspended outright during the early lockdown period, and more recently permitted only in a truncated form—an important part of the “Crowning” sacrament, the sharing of the Common Cup (wherein bride and groom drink from the same chalice) has been restored to its place in the service. Again, guidelines are provided for maintaining strict hygienic practices.
While the restoration of these functions will certainly be a welcome development for countless faithful throughout the Eastern Diocese, the Primate’s directive concludes with a tone of caution. “It must be emphasized that while these guidelines have been drafted with considerable input from health professionals, they do not eliminate risk to our people and our clergy,” writes Bishop Daniel. “It remains the considered decision of each faithful individual and/or household to weigh the benefits and blessings to themselves and their families of participating in church services, against the risks inherent in any public activity in the midst of a pandemic.”
Clergy throughout the Eastern Diocese have been instructed on how to proceed with these new guidelines, and how to convey both the permissions and the restrictions to their respective communities.