“Please pardon me if sound and lighting is not perfect.”
When he uttered these words at the beginning of his weekly sermon on Sunday 29 March, Fr Manish Kuriakose became a role model for a community that looks up to him for leadership.
Only days before, the Prime Minister had announced the closure of places of worship, and the Premier of NSW had urged everyone that could work from home to do so.
“I am working from home too,” Fr Manish Kuriakose told his congregation with a smile, who had all joined him live on Facebook.
It was the first virtual sermon for St Mary’s Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church in Sydney’s Seven Hills district.
Unprecedented times do call for unprecedented measures.
New work conditions in the current global pandemic are challenging for everyone, but they are particularly difficult for the clergy who help the community to meet their spiritual needs. Many Christian denominations are observing 50 days of Lent these days, in the lead up to the ‘passion week’ remembering the events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At this time of increased religious observances at church, Fr Manish Kuriakose knew he had to try something innovative.
As he preached the gospel live on Facebook for nearly an hour, he was meeting the needs of his dedicated parishioners without a break in service, while complying with the recommendations of the government.
He set up a small video station at his home, and all he had in the frame was the holy cross, the Bible and himself.
“What I endeavoured to do was to connect the community,” said Fr Kuriakose to Indian Link. “Thanks to social distancing measures, most people are at home with their families, and they are starting to feel some social disconnect. The idea was to create a common platform where they can feel the connection as a community, while abiding by the rules of physical distancing. These are important weeks when our congregation would normally spend a lot of their time at church. Now that they can’t do it, I tried something in my own way”.
His experience in psychology (as former Asst Prof at the Dept of Psychology at Bangalore’s Christ Academy Institute For Advanced Studies) came in handy, as he also shared a tip or two on how to proactively manage COVID-related stress.
The video fetched more than 2.5 k views in a matter of two days, and more importantly the appreciation of the congregation and goodwill of the wider community around the world.
The plan is to continue weekly sermons through social media, during the time of the pandemic when social distancing measures are in place.