Holy Martyrs Church Pastor Connects with Parishioners During Pandemic


BAYSIDE, N.Y. — Rev. Dr. Abraham Malkhasyan, pastor of the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, New York, is no stranger to social media, having had an active Facebook page promoting his parish’s activities for many years.

On March 17, when Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Armenian Diocese of America (Eastern) released a directive closing the churches to parishioners due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, Malkhasyan was ready with a plan.

“Living in the epicenter of the nation’s health crisis, I knew that keeping my faithful together during this unprecedented time was crucial for all of us, myself included,” said Fr. Malkhasyan. “I immediately began livestreaming on my Facebook page starting from March 18. That evening’s Prayer for Healing and Hope was the beginning of a journey for my congregation.”

Since the beginning of New York’s lockdown, Malkhasyan has livestreamed every Sunday Badarak, Lenten evening vespers, the entire Holy Week services, Badarak on Ascension Day, the Martyrs Day Prayer Service and a Prayer for Peace against racial violence. In addition, he initiated a Wednesday afternoon Children Sermon Series on March 24 focusing on the topics of patience, responsibility, servanthood, as well as others. “With all the students of my church’s three schools at home, I wanted the children to know that the church was still here for them. In the comfort of my own home, and with the help of Yn. Karine and my two older children, we tried to keep a dialogue open with the young faithful and their families. My children enjoyed it a lot and it was a great way to feel connected during those initial few weeks of lockdown. I even had the children of the community send me photos and drawings, which I displayed on my wall at home and showed them on Facebook during our special Easter sermon.”

Malkhasyan has also offered a few Bible Study sessions with members of the church’s Couples Club, as well as a weekly Windows of Wonder series, describing the church’s beautiful stained glass windows. “Many of these videos have been viewed by people outside of New York and the United States, commenting how beautiful our sanctuary is,” said Malkhasyan. “It’s even more beautiful when it is full of people.”

Holy Martyrs’ Outreach Committee also responded to the Coronavirus Pandemic through a series of initiatives designed to offer support to those who need it most. Holy Martyrs was one of the first parishes in the Eastern Diocese to organize in response to the crisis. The Outreach Committee organized a telephone campaign to check in and offer words of support to parishioners and community members, particularly seniors and people who were not well. Hundreds of phone calls came from Parish Council and committee members, as well as the leadership of the church’s three schools and many auxiliaries. Special efforts were made to reach people who were feeling isolated during the crisis and might need help. The committee also put together a group of volunteers, spearheaded by the ACYOA Seniors, to shop for and deliver food and supplies to shut-ins who could not shop for themselves. These efforts will be ongoing as New York emerges out of lockdown. “I am grateful for the efforts of many individuals who have helped the most vulnerable of my community,” noted Malkhasyan. “We can only get through these difficult times if we help each other. When lockdown began, many were ready and willing to help. May God bless them all!”

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When asked what has been the hardest part of his ministry during lockdown, Malkhasyan reflected on the challenges of praying for and with those who were sick and comforting the families who had lost loved ones during the past three months. “With hospital and home visits prohibited, I found myself constantly on the phone with my parishioners. We prayed together, many times during life’s precious last moments, using FaceTime or the phone. While I could not provide the sacrament of Holy Communion, I did my best to assure my people that God is with us at all times. It has not been easy laying to rest many I have known and loved without a proper funeral, but these are unprecedented times. Preaching to empty pews has also been a challenge. I miss my people. I look forward to seeing my congregation in the pews again, praying with them, and one day being able to offer them Holy Communion. Until then, we must adhere to strict health guidelines so that we can remain healthy and safe.”

Rev. Dr. Abraham Malkhasyan, left, and Bishop Daniel Findikyan blessing graduates

Pastors need to live with hope, even during the darkest of days. Malkhasyan provided a day of celebration on Pentecost Sunday when he was joined by Findikyan, who gave an inspirational homily via Facebook. Together, following Badarak, they offered special prayers and drive-by blessings to the community’s high school and college graduates and the graduates from the church’s three schools. Malkhasyan, a 2020 graduate of Fordham University’s Doctor of Ministry Program, also received a blessing.

“As we begin a partial re-opening of our churches this weekend, I am grateful to the support of my parishioners who have watched and commented on our services online these past few months and to those who have donated to our ‘virtual pass the plate’ initiative during these times of financial challenges. I am also grateful to my dedicated deacons who have continued to serve beside me with social distancing. I will continue to livestream all services, but eagerly await seeing my flock in person, especially the older parishioners who are not online and cannot yet attend services. We have been through a lot in New York, but as the sign on the Long Island Expressway says – we are New York Tough! We will get through this together, ‘For nothing is impossible with God.’ (Luke 1:37)”

— Lynn. T. Cetin MD


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