In a directive to leaders of the Eastern Diocese dated April 29, 2021, Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan laid out updated policies and guidelines for a cautious approach to restoring church functions, as individual state and municipal authorities continue to loosen restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read Bishop Daniel’s updated guidelines below.
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Updated Guidelines for Liturgical and Other Church Functions
During the COVID-19 Pandemic
My Dear People:
We have entered a second year under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the past months have certainly seen important advances, safety concerns for the public remain paramount.
Medical professionals today have a better understanding of how to diminish the transmission of the virus. Increasing numbers of people are being vaccinated against COVID-19—indeed, vaccination is an important tool to end this deadly pandemic.
We are eager to see the safe return of the faithful to the celebration of Holy Badarak, and to in-person parish activities. But we must proceed with caution.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, in consultation with the Armenian American Health Professionals Organization and with their endorsement, the Diocese has provided guidelines to our parishes, with the health and safety of the faithful foremost in mind. With advances in the knowledge of how the virus is spread, and in light of the increasing number of those vaccinated, at this time we offer the following updated guidelines:
(1) Masks continue to be required for everyone in all gatherings in the sanctuary and throughout the church facilities.
(2) Social distancing of 6 feet must continue to be maintained by everyone in all gatherings in the sanctuary and throughout the church facilities.
(3) Hand sanitizer stations should continue to be readily accessible in the sanctuary and throughout the church facilities.
(4) Liturgical books may be returned to the pews and used by the faithful.
(5) The prohibition against multiple people having contact with a single liturgical object during a liturgical service is hereby lifted. Priests, deacons and altar servers may handle the Gospel book, chalice, censor, incense spoon, and other objects (as it pertains to their hierarchical order) but must sanitize their hands before and after coming into contact with these objects.
(6) Deacons may again assist the priest in vesting and conduct the Procession with the Chalice, being sure to sanitize their hands before and after the ritual.
(7) As for the distribution of Holy Communion, the directive of His Holiness the Catholicos (dated June 12, 2020) must be strictly adhered to. Priests should prepare larger particles of the Sacrament and exercise extreme caution in order to minimize accidental contact with the communicant. Communicants who prefer to receive the Sacrament in the hand must sanitize their hands before, and rinse their right hand in the baptismal font or other vessel after receiving the Sacrament. The Sacrament must be consumed immediately, before turning away from the priest. Social distance must be maintained at all times. Each time the priest administers the Sacrament to an individual he must sanitize the fingers of his right hand. Deacons should be trained to assist the people in following these procedures, in accordance with their traditional ministry.
(8) The priest may remove his mask while delivering the sermon and other messages provided at least 12 feet of distance is maintained between himself and the congregation.
(9) Pastors who have been fully vaccinated may freely visit the homes of those that have been fully vaccinated. For households where not all have been vaccinated, fully-vaccinated priests may, by invitation, make brief, pastoral visits, but they and every member of the household must be masked and maintain social distance.
(10) Pastors who have been fully vaccinated may resume visits to hospitals and nursing homes, adhering to local regulations.
(11) The rituals of baptism, weddings, and funerals are restored fully, provided all are masked and social distancing of 6 feet is maintained. (The bride and groom are exempted during the Sacrament of Crowning.)
(12) While outdoor gatherings continue to be encouraged, indoor gatherings in the church hall may resume as local regulations permit. Masks and social distancing rules (6 feet) must be adhered to. Buffet-style service—where many people contact the same utensils—is discouraged. Food and drinks should be pre-packaged and/or served by one person to the extent possible. Masks may be removed while eating and drinking and local occupancy rules are to be followed. Hand sanitizer should be readily available to all.
(13) Anyone with fever and/or flu-like symptoms should remain home.
The very heart of the church’s mission is the well being—physical and spiritual—of every sheep of God’s flock, in this life and in eternal life. This God-given premise justifies the burdensome adjustments that have been mandated for the faithful of our Diocese.
We all hope and pray that this pandemic will continue to subside. For now, however, we all must recognize that the COVID-19 threat has not yet passed. Some regions of our Diocese are still experiencing high levels of infection. In a spirit of vigilance and Christian fellowship, with redoubled prayers to Almighty God, let us recommit ourselves to the Lord and to one another, as we navigate the obstacles yet ahead, with confidence in our Lord Jesus Christ.
With my prayers,
April 29, 2021