Anba Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and Papal Legate to the UK and to Sydney and its Affiliated Regions, sent a letter on 21 September addressed to Gladys Berejiklian MP, Premier of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, regarding attendance of prayers in Coptic Orthodox churches in Sydney.
Anba Angaelos began by expressing sincere appreciation of the efforts exerted by the states and the federal government in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and working to halt the spread of the disease through making vaccines available to all.
However, he expressed deep concern regarding a proposal to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory to attend places of worship.
The letter read: “While we fully appreciate the government’s uptake on vaccination, we would be unable to support any measure that restricts people’s freedom to practice their religion or belief, as this is a matter of conscience and responsibility towards the wellbeing of congregations, communities, and anyone who seeks spiritual refuge in the Church.”
The Bishop went on to say that, as a Church with a long history of suffering religious persecution and restrictions on Faith and religious practice, the Coptic Church would find it morally and pastorally irreconcilable to impose restrictions on members of the community who may be resisting vaccination rightly or wrongly.”
“Having said that,” the letter read, “we would like to make it very clear that our own position is that vaccination provides needed protection against COVID-19 .. and would even strongly recommend it to people in our community, respecting however that it is not our place to impose such practice, as it is a very personal choice based on many considerations.”
The letter said that churches ought not to compare to theatres or places of recreation where vaccination may be mandatory for attendance, since the Church and Eucharistic ministry provide an essential ministry that is “core to our being and identity … especially in these most challenging times.” It went on to detail how necessary church attendance is to mental health, an issue many have been struggling with under COVID-19 and lockdown. “Our ongoing ministry holistically tackles many issues that may arise if people feel ostracised and discriminated against as a result of their choices.”
Following Christ’s example, Anba Angaelos wrote, the Church has always acted as a safe haven for all. It would therefore go against the core belief and doctrine of the Church to turn anyone away from participating in liturgical services or the Sacraments such as baptism, marriage, and funeral services.
The Bishop stressed that the Church requires all necessary health precautions to be enforced, including masks, testing, sanitisation, and social distancing; and also seriously works to raise awareness on the need for vaccination.
He therefore asked that the proposed legislation should be reconsidered, seeing that it constitutes an infringement against the “fundamental human and God-given right to practice one’s faith, and instead look to a more constructive approach to working with our communities to achieve the highest level of vaccination.”
Anba Angaelos concluded with assuring the Church’s desire to work alongside the governmental and non-governmental actors to offer support during COVID-19, and her commitment to praying for the State, Nation, and the world during “these trying times”.
Along the same line, a number of leaders of other churches in Sydney have sent letters to Premier Berejiklian, urging for the proposed legislation to be reconsidered.
27 September 2021