Fr. Hratch Sargsyan performs a home blessing.

Cleveland’s Armenians During the COVID-19 Crisis

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By Harry Kezelian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Armenian community is one of the smaller ones in the Eastern United States, but has not been silent during the current pandemic.

With approximately 200-250 families under the care of St. Gregory of Narek Armenian Church in Richmond Heights, Ohio (a Cleveland suburb), and about 80 families in the Columbus, Ohio, mission parish, the community is led by the young and dynamic Fr. Hratch Sargsyan, a native of Armavir, Armenia. St. Gregory of Narek is the only Armenian house of worship in Ohio.

Sargsyan says that due to diocese orders, only a couple of deacons and a couple of choir members, aside from the priest, are participating in Sunday badaraks. However, services are being streamed online, on both Facebook and YouTube.

The parish is offering Zoom Bible studies twice a week – one for men, and one for women. Sargsyan has been reaching out to community members to participate in socially-distanced home blessings and visitations.

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Sargsyan visits with parishioners outside their homes or on their porches. He puts the bread, salt, and water, of the traditional Armenian home blessing somewhere outside.

Fr. Hratch Sargsyan

Sargsyan, who is no stranger to using social media in his ministry and has been doing so for a number of years, has even posted a graduation speech for all the graduates in the community who were unable to attend any other ceremony.

The church has also made a list of phone numbers to call. They are helping elders with their shopping, buying groceries, and making sure they are coping with the situation. They are helping elders with anything else they might need. For example, some had electrical issues and the church helped them.

Outreach to the broader Cleveland community is being done by the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA) Juniors and Seniors through St. Herman’s House of Hospitality, and Orthodox Homeless Shelter in Cleveland. Normally the ACYOA members cook food and serve it at the homeless shelter. Since this is now impossible due to social distancing, St. Herman’s has asked the ACYOA members to prepare sandwiches and drop them off. ACYOA members gather on Saturdays to prepare the sandwiches — making sure to observe social distancing. The church is also collecting toiletries and canned goods, and those who cannot come to help have been sending donations.

Some are reaching out beyond just the Cleveland community. Doctors from the Diaspora have been doing webinars with healthcare professionals in Armenia about strategies and experiences fighting COVID-19. One of those American-Armenian doctors who has participated is Dr. Rafi Avitsian from the Cleveland community.

So far, no one in the Cleveland Armenian community has been sick, and there have been no COVID-related deaths.

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