WATERTOWN — As the coronavirus spreads throughout the world, it begins to affect every aspect of our lives. Here in Watertown and neighboring Belmont, the Armenian community is already hunkering down, with “non-essential” businesses asked to halt operations and people to restrict their contacts with each other as much as feasible. Armenian community institutions have had to close down or radically alter their interactions with the public. So far, it appears that no Armenians have been identified as victims of the coronavirus in this area, but some at least know other non-Armenians who have self-isolated and tested positive.
Fr. Arakel Aljalian of St. James Armenian Church in Watertown said that most of his parishioners are at home and are understandably nervous. As the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America has recommended no clergy visits, based on medical recommendations, to avoid infecting people, Fr. Aljalian has been keeping in touch via email and making telephone calls. He has been conducting services alone, without deacons or others, out of an abundance of caution. The office staff of the church has only very limited hours, which are going to be further restricted due to new regulations of the state of Massachusetts.
During such challenging times, he said that people are stepping up and volunteering to help others. Parishioners are reaching out to individuals to see if they need help, such as for grocery shopping or getting medicine from pharmacies.
He encourages parishioners to follow the public health advisories and help each other as a community. In one of his email missives, he encouraged people with the following words, “Sometimes, it is unexpected difficulties that lead us to a real understanding of faith, courage, gratitude, sacrifice, and love.”
Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, pastor of Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge, concurred that “our community is shutting down.” He said there is a fear of getting together, and even in the limited services conducted on March 22, the altar servers stand apart from one another.
The church itself essentially is shut at least till Holy Thursday. Spiritual messages and even liturgical services are being made available online to allow people to connect virtually. Facebook is used for broadcasting. Fr. Kouzouian said, “A number of them have said to me, ‘Der Hayr, this is such a boost, and I needed this.’ Good feedback means that we are on the right track.”