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On Television: Comments by Various Saints and Holy Elders

From the Spiritual Counsels of the Blessed Elder Paisios the Athonite

On how TV is damaging to our souls—especially to youthful ones

Television has done us great damage. It's especially destructive for children. A seven-year-old child came to the hermitage once. I saw the demon of television speaking through the child's mouth, exactly as demons speak through the mouth of the possessed. It was like a baby born with teeth. It is not easy to find normal kids; they are turning into little monsters. And you see they don't get to think for themselves, they only repeat what they have heard and seen on television. That's why they have come up with television to begin with: to make people numb and dumb, so that they will take what they hear and see on television for a fact and act accordingly.

That we should be trying to lead our children to seek to turn on the "spiritual television"

[Mothers must be helped to] understand that television dulls their children's minds. They lose the ability to think on their own, to think critically—not to mention the damage it causes to their eyesight. And we are talking about man-made television. But there is another kind—a spiritual television. When people uproot their old self, and the eyes of the soul are cleansed, they can see into the future without the aid of any machines. Have they told their children about this other kind of television? If they won't, these boxes will make our children dumb."

From the Spiritual Counsels of the Blessed Elder Lawrence of Chernigov (Russia)

The God-pleasing Holy Elder used to say, "Blessed, and thrice-blessed is the man who does not desire, and who will not see the abominable face of the Antichrist. He who sees him and hears his blasphemous words, his promises of all earthly treasures, he will be deceived and will go to meet him and bow down to him. He will perish together with him and will burn in the eternal fire."

They asked the Elder, "How will all this come to pass?" The holy Elder said with tears, "In the holy place, the abomination of desolation will stand. And it will show the foul seducers of the world. And they will be deceiving the people who have fallen away from God, and will perform false miracles. And after them, the Antichrist will appear. And the whole world will see him at the same time."

Then the fathers asked the Elder, "Where in the holy place? In the church?" The Venerable one answered, "Not in the church, but in every house. In the corner, where the holy icons now stand and hang, there will stand captivating devices which will delude the people. Many will say, 'We need to watch and listen to the news.' And behold, in the news the Antichrist will appear. He will mark his people with the seal, and he will hate Christians. The last persecutions of the Christian soul who will refuse to receive the mark of Satan will begin. A Christian will not be able to neither buy nor sell anything. But despair not, the Lord will not abandon His children. There is no need to fear.

From the Spiritual Counsels of the Blessed Elder Anthony of Russia

Satan has gotten man to arrange his entire lifestyle so that there is completely no quiet time, time for contemplating the past day, week, or month. Everything is occupied with entertainment. And in this system of entertainment, television is given the privileged place of honor. The lion's share of free time is 'eaten up' by it, that idol of contemporary civilization. I would call it a cruel despot and tyrant, to whom the greater part of mankind is subject, in a servitude never before witnessed in the world. For slaves feel their lower position because they have been brought to it by force. But here the servitude is voluntary, even pleasant at first glance. Just the bitter fruits of worldliness, cruelty, and depravity demonstrate that, as in any kind of slavery, only the master benefits. And the horns of the master even poke out of the screen. Therefore, in this system of preparing people for the coming of antichrist, the television has been given the not just the role of consuming free time, its destructive role is far greater. A person watches the news, even the Orthodox news, and it seems to him to be something necessary and useful, at any rate, not harmful. But the actual news occupies only a small portion of the time. The rest is an analysis of what happened, that is, a view of what happened which must be formed by those watching. And the view of the customers is that which is given by those who control the given information...From this, from the hypnotic effect of the television program, a person loses his ability of thinking for himself, of thoughtfully perceiving the events that are happening, and finally, of forming his own world-view.

We began speaking about the decline in relationships between people today. The root of this decline lies namely in the absence of individual thought and consideration of what has happened, corresponding to a personal world-view. And this, by no means, is a justification for the search of today's "individual," no.

I said this, because there was always someone in the kitchen with my mother. In the evening, after supper, a large samovar was prepared, and everyone, whoever might be spending the night, settled down to drink tea. A conversation started. It was so interesting! These stories of the simple people were so edifying. My father laughed at our love of spending the evening in the kitchen, considering that there was nothing for an educated person to gain from semi-illiterate people. But, having spent a couple of evenings with us, he changed his opinion. The people who gathered were all Orthodox and they knew the world, but not by watching television. They spoke about events from life, of which they were witnesses, or what they had heard from witnesses. In everything they looked for something edifying, the results of what had occurred, and how Divine Providence had taken part in it, as well as the free will of the person. In these discussions there appeared a great variety of thoughts and distinct world-views. People then were able to not just hear, but to listen, and in general, they much preferred to listen than to speak. Although, I repeat, each of those present had something to say.

I digress, but it's interesting that these simple people, at a time of seeming prosperity and contentment in the empire, already saw the approaching catastrophe. And this was not so much as a result of their associating with the Elders of Optina or Kiev, or from the sermons of the righteous John of Kronstadt, as it was a result of their ability to observe what was happening and draw conclusions, based not on an abundance of material available, but on the preservation of spirituality by society. It was namely the lack of faith, not simply faith in the existence of God, but faith as the fulfillment of Christ's commandments, which led these people to think that the coming disaster was inevitable. I will return again to this 'kitchen' gathering, but now, concerning our life.

Yes, contemporary gatherings on that level are simply not possible. The thing is, that even when people have gathered together at one table, their relation to the Faith is varied. As the wise David said, 'The foolish has said in his heart, there is no God!' Just the rejection of the existence of God is both insanity and a sure path to insanity. And this is not the madness of those pagans that were enlightened by the Apostles and Holy Fathers of the first centuries of Christianity. Concerning the pagans of today, the Apostle said: 'For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.' What kind of normal gathering is possible under these conditions?! People love to talk, but not listen, to teach, but not to learn. What unites all of these people around one table? Intoxicants—spirits, and plenty of food, that is, what is on the table, not who is at the table. Nothing soul-profiting can come out of such an environment, for as the saints taught, you do not speak about God with a full stomach—and even more so, with a drunken head!

There is one more terrible evil from the television, but unfortunately, it's far from the last. This evil is the undermining of the authority of the Church. It is planned and diabolically cunning. It is in everything—in mocking the clergy, the Orthodox rituals, in placing the occult, paganism, in opposition to Christianity, in everything. Everything is saturated with hatred for the Truth. Not much time will pass before they will openly mock Christianity and holy things on television. Broadcasts concerning the Theotokos will be especially permeated with hatred; from everything will flow the poison of diabolic evil. Only it will be under the veil of humor, comedy. 'Laughing hell' will take the work of ridiculing everything Divine, and spiritual, all the way to the end. And the end will be in the one who appears and tries to take the place of God. And he will enter immediately into every home. How can a person enter every home at the same time?! We say that that is one of the qualities of God—being everywhere present—even the angels move about and exist in time. But the Church teaches that antichrist will enter immediately into every home; this seems to be a contradiction.

But no, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is the vessel of truth, of Divine truth. In imitation of being everywhere present, antichrist will enter into every home simultaneously with the help of the television. Everyone will receive him into his house, and he'll receive him voluntarily! And he'll receive him, he'll receive him, for he will want to be prepared for this, prepared properly, because he didn't heed the instructions of the Good Pastor to flee to the desert, it doesn't appeal to him—it's boring and dry in the desert!"

"Fr. Anthony, and where is it now, this desert?!"—I couldn't restrain myself.

"Most esteemed father, you are not slow-witted, but the plastering of your church is taking more of your time than it should, otherwise you wouldn't have asked that question. But forgive an old man! You are impressed by the externals, but what is inside doesn't sadden you. One temple not made by hands in the human soul is worth ten stone temples! Unfortunately, Catholicism was imported during the time of the accursed Peter, and especially during the Unia, so that now we judge everything by the externals, such as crosses and miters. Take and read the writings of the Hieromartyr Archbishop Hilarion Troitsky, he was a wise hierarch. I have saved excerpts from his speeches.

The main thing in the desert is the monotony, there's nothing to catch your eye, everything's the same. The devil creates a mirage, as if there is vegetation, water, gold finally; but you must turn to Christ, as the holy desert-dwellers wrote, pray, cross yourself—and everything disappears. And so today you must strive for such a state of soul, so that your eye is not caught by anything. So that everything around you is the desert—but if you see something that is tempting—pray, cross yourself, confess. Condemn yourself that you saw a temptation in the desert, which means you wanted to see it, more precisely, you were disposed to seeing it.

What, you're surprised? Here, I'll give this example. A person goes to the forest to collect mushrooms. There are many poisonous mushrooms there but he doesn't even notice them, no. There is only one good type worth looking for—he sees it from afar, he notices it right away. He's a good mushroom collector and his basket will be full. But the bad mushroom collector—he sees only poisonous mushrooms, even when he actually notices a huge good one! And in his basket there's nothing to look at. The good mushroom collector saw the poisonous ones—he saw, but he paid them no attention, they did not catch his eye. And then he will talk about and remember the good ones, his soul... will glow. [Good thoughts, images, ideas are the good mushrooms; the evil one's suggestions, the evil all around, are not collected, are not seen, are not caught by the eye.]

So it is with sin. A person sees only sin and sinners around him, his attention is directed at this. One way or another he will allow what he sees to pass into his mind, and he becomes a participant in the sin. But pay no attention to all this lawlessness, burn your own faults into ashes, do battle with them and be displeased with them—and there is no defilement. There is your desert. But, the first time you notice—you're displeased, the second time—you already show an interest in what those people are doing. But the third time—you already want to try it! That's the way it is, and that's why it says to flee to the desert. But on the other hand, you should understand this literally also, since antichrist will not be allowed to gain full and absolute control over us, and I saw in the West those hidden from his horned servants—the Lord will not permit it. Of course, whoever wants salvation, and for its sake abandons the comfort and convenience of the city and goes off to a deserted place, will be very safe.But people will comfort themselves with the possibility of salvation everywhere until the Second Coming. Soon they will assign everyone a number, in order to give antichrist an account, and then they will introduce special card-passports—and here it is serious—it will be possible to determine the position of every person. Can one avoid all of this? Yes, only you can't trade, or buy, or obtain housing, etc. And people will go to get these numbers and passports, even those who consider themselves to be Orthodox, and they will stand in line for them. And what, do Holy Scripture and Tradition speak of anything else?! There is your desert. The people trusted in God, and they received food from angels, or they were satisfied with so little that today many people consider it to be a fairy tale—contrary to reason!

Saint John of Kronstadt

The theatre lulls the Christian life to sleep, destroys it, communicating to the life of Christians the character of the life of heathens. "They all slumbered and slept" (St. Matthew 25:5); this disastrous sleep is produced, amongst other things, also by the theatre. And what besides? The sciences, taught in the spirit of heathenism, worldly cares carried to excess, love of gain, ambition and sensuality. The theatre is the school of this world, and of the Prince of this world—that is, the Devil, but sometimes he is transformed into an angel of light in order to more easily tempt people who are not far-seeing, he sometimes introduces an apparently moral play on to the stage, but this is done in order that everybody should proclaim and repeat that the theatre is a most moral institution, and that it is not less worth frequenting than the church, and even, perhaps more so, because in church everything is the same, whilst in the theatre there is a variety of plays, scenery, costumes and actors.

Most men not only bear Satan's burden willingly in their hearts, but they become so accustomed to it that they often do not feel it, and even imperceptibly increase it. Sometimes, however, the evil enemy increases his burden tenfold, and then they become terribly despondent and fainthearted, they murmur and blaspheme God's name. The usual means that men of our time take to drive away their anguish are—entertainments, cards, dancing, and theatres. But such means afterwards increase still more the anguish and weariness of their hearts. If, happily, they turn to God, then the burden is removed from their heart, and they clearly see that previously the heaviest burden was lying on theit heart, though frequently they did not feel it. O, how many men there are who have "forsaken [God] the Fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no [living] water"! Men have very many such broken cisterns—nearly everybody has his own. The broken cisterns are our hearts, our passions....

From My Life in Christ, p. 324, 58. How much more applicable are these passages today in our Age of Diversion, in which video games, Internet, movies and television are everywhere?! We are Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Businessamusing ourselves to death." The rest of the quotes were collected from various sources or sent to me by email. Posted on 11/12/2007.