The Orthodox Christian in the Information Age
by Priest Gregory Naumenko
In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Your Eminence Vladyka Hilarion, Holy Fathers, dear brothers and sisters gathered here for the 33rd
Annual Russian Orthodox Youth Conference in Australia,
For those of you who do not know me, I am
the priest of the Protection of the Mother of God Russian Orthodox Church in Rochester,
Rochester is quite an interesting city: it
is the Lilac capital of the world. Our Highland park boasts 528 varieties of
Lilacsin all, more than 1500 shrubs. Our city is home to many famous corporations,
including Eastman Kodak, Bausch and Lomb, Xerox, Rochester Products, Paychecks, just to
name a few. A little known fact about Rochester is that it is unique in a very unusual
way: I have been told by some naturalists that it is the only geographic location in the
northeastern United States where truly poisonous mushrooms (ones that will kill you if you
eat them) can be found in the wild. Most places in America have mushrooms that will make
you quite sick if you mistakenly eat them (you need to be careful when you pick and eat
wild mushrooms anywhere), but it is only in the Rochester area that you will actually die
if you eat a certain species of mushrooms that grows in the woods there. Interestingly,
these mushrooms were not originally native to Rochester. As a matter of fact, before
around 1920, you would not be able to find these mushrooms even if you intently looked for
them. The story goes, that the poisonous variety was inadvertently brought to Rochester by
George Eastman, the founder of what today is known as the Eastman Kodak Corp. He
unknowingly brought these mushrooms, from Russia, of all places.
George Eastman was quite an interesting
character. He was born in Waterville, N.Y., in 1854, and while still a young boy moved to
Rochester. He originated transparent film and organized the Eastman Dry Plate and Film
company in 1888. By 1927 Eastman had a virtual monopoly of the photographic industry in
the US and quickly became a multi-millionaire. He was not a bad person. Actually, he was
one of the most generous philanthropists in America. But something strange happened in
George Eastman's life. The more wealthy he became, the more bored he became with life.
With him, that process that Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky so aptly described in his novel
Demons manifested itself in all clarity. Dostoevsky points out that
materialistically man derives pleasure only from the desire and quest of material goods
and pleasures, yet when the object of desire is actually attained when we actually have it
in hand, it quickly ceases to satisfy, and one has to turn ones attention to other things
to desire. Is this not true? We only need to think of the great multitude of
itemsitems that at one point in time, we desired so much, now gathering dust in our
attics or garages, to see the validity of Dostoevsky's observation.
This is exactly what happened to George
Eastman on a grand scale. Once his fortune was made and he had all the money and things a
man could want, he attempted to amuse himself with various projects and hobbies.
Eastman liked to do things in a big way.
While most other people are content to collect stamps, coins, works of art, and so on, he
decided to collect trees. He traveled the world and brought back trees and planted them in
and around his estate in Rochester. All sorts of exotic varieties can still be seen on our
East Avenue and in the different parks around the city. These trees had to be transported
from the various places around the globe by ship, and in order that they not die en route,
they were transplanted with plenty of soil left around the roots. One of the varieties
that George Eastman especially liked, he found in Russia. What he must have known at the
time was that along with these trees from Russia he transported soil rich in spores of
deadly poisonous mushrooms. These mushrooms have now spread throughout the Rochester area.
Mushroom enthusiasts have to be very cautious when they go picking there.
George Eastman had many other interesting
projects and activities. He undertook a number of hunting trips to Africa and elsewhere.
He was a great lover of Champagne. His enthusiasm for cooking is well documented. He was
an unmarried man, yet was illicitly familiar, often with married women. According to one
of his biographers, Eastman was a man who lived by his will, one who formed his world to
his own needs, one who got his money's worth. From a worldly perspective it can be said
that he had everything a man could want. Yet, on the morning of March 14, 1932 George
Eastman, after having made methodical preparations, went to his room and proceeded to put
a bullet into his own head.
What, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
would cause a person who had everything, riches, fame, fortunea person who by all
accounts, had no mental illnesswhat would force such a person to take his own life.
Perhaps the cause for this is the same
reason that so many people in our ageespecially young people, die by their own hand.
It is clear that in our society today, suicide, primarily among teenagers, is reaching
epidemic proportions. Why?
On the surface it may seem that there is a
multitude of complicated reasons for this. Yet, if we honestly analyze the situation, we
will see that the root cause is basically always the same. Simply speaking, we were all
created by God to live in full communion with our Creator and share in His Divine Glory.
When God is taken out of our lives, a spiritual vacuum is formed. We attempt to fill this
vacuum by various distractions, but no matter how hard we try, nothing can truly satisfy
our longing. If we do not find our way back to God (and in Orthodox terminology we call
this process repentance), if we do not return to God, despair and despondency set in,
which often lead to suicide. In other words, when one is spiritually dead, it seems only
logical to attain the same state physically.
We are all familiar with the ways
contemporary man attempts to fill the spiritual emptiness that reigns in his heart as a
result of his withdrawal from God. Some turn to alcohol, some to drugs, others to an
obsession with physical pleasures and debauchery; still others become preoccupied with the
pursuit of material goods. You have probably heard that the average American, and probably
Australian, "goes shopping at the mall" to raise his spirits. Many deal with
their depression by overloading themselves with work, becoming so called workaholics. All
of these are things that people do to deaden that empty feeling that gnaws from within,
that feeling that perhaps they do not even realize is a longing to be with GodGod
Who created them, loves them, yet about Whom they know very little, if anything.
In the past two decades a new distraction
has appeared, a new method of deadening one's spiritual faculties. This phenomenon is
feasibly the most dangerous to appear, because on the surface it seems innocent, and even
healthy at first, and has achieved such universal acceptance. This phenomenon is the
obsessive preoccupation with the acquisition of knowledge and information. For the purpose
of today's discussion we will call it Informational Sensory Overload.
INFORMATIONAL SENSORY OVERLOAD
To illustrate what we mean by Informational
Sensory Overload let us look at a hypothetical, typical day in the life of the average
Joe Smith of our day:
Joe wakes up in the morning to the sound
of his alarm clock which is pre-set to an all-news radio station. Even before he is fully
awake, he is bombarded with information, some useful but mostly useless. When he finally
gets himself out of bed and into the kitchen for breakfast, his attention is split between
the morning paper and the small television in the corner of the kitchen. His attention may
be even more "schizophrenic" if he has a remote control device and is able to
"surf" between morning programs.
Of course Joe has a home computer and
modem, and checks his e-mailbox for any messages that might have been received overnight.
When he finishes his morning preparations,
he gets in his car, where along with the ignition, the radio is activated. He can listen
to "Morning Edition," CBC, a host of local or national call-in talk programs or
be soothed by the pounding music of his choice. If he is anywhere but on the lowest rungs
of the social ladder, he will have a cellular phone, through which he can join the
arguments on the radio talk show, or hook up his lap-top computer to get the latest stock
quotes from the Internet all while going nearly 70 miles per hour down the highway on the
way to work. Once at work, the information influx does not cease. Besides the information
needed to actually do his work, there is the office radio that is constantly on in the
background to so called "Muzak." At coffee break, the The New York Times and USA
Today are browsed during brief conversations with co-workers. During lunch hour, Joe has
taken to jogging in the park near-by. This is done with the accompaniment of the Walkman
which Joe's wife gave him for Christmas last year. He is oblivious to the chirping of the
birds in the park, the earphones block out all natural sounds. After another half day at
work and a ride home listening to "All Things Considered," Joe is back home. He
sits in his car in the garage until the in-depth news story on public radio runs its
course. On the way into the house he stops at the mailbox and removes a four-inch-thick
pile of various letters, newsletters, brochures, catalogues, magazines, flyers,
advertisements, along with the evening edition of the local newspaper. This supply of
literature is enough reading for three full days, yet an equal amount or greater will come
tomorrow. Dinner is again in front of the television, but not in the kitchen as was
breakfast. Now it is before the giant screen in the family room. This is the set to which
Joe has connected his new mini satellite dish, with perfect reception. Joe had real
trouble choosing between the two providers of this service. Finally the company that
offered 157 channels won out. The other company, after all, offered only 84 channels.
While surfing the myriad of offerings on the big screen, Joe finishes some work that he
has brought home on his lap-top computer. Before going to bed, he spends a considerable
amount of time on his computer playing an interactive, on-line game that he believes
himself to be addicted to. The game is wildly popular among on-line computer users and is
called MUSH: M.U.S.H. which stands for Multi-User Shared Hallucination. Joe has told his
wife, who complained once about his habit, that this is better then being addicted to a
MUDMulti-User Dungeon. MUDs are a brutally violent version of MUSHes, because the
object is often to kill or be killed.
Joe finally pulls himself away from the
computer when his eyes can no longer focus on the screen. He takes a shower while
listening to the waterproof radio hanging on the shower spigot. Then, its off to bed where
he finally dozes off under the flickering of his bedroom TV and the accompaniment of his
clock radio, which will awaken him tomorrow morning once again to the sound of the latest
Does this sound far fetched, brothers and sisters? I am afraid it is not.
Truly we live in the Information Age. We
are bombarded with information nearly every minute of the day. Is this good? Is it
healthful? We have been imparted a God-given thirst for the Truth. Yet like so many gifts
from God, we have corrupted this thirst and have turned it into a passion. How should we
Orthodox Christians deal with the glut of information?
It is commonly accepted today by the
educational establishment and society as a whole that acquisition of knowledge is
empirically goodthe more knowledge one acquires the better a person one
becomesmore well rounded, more enlightened. Yet is this necessarily true?
It is important for us to understand that
there is a difference between information, knowledge, truth, and wisdom. We must also
realize that a Christian defines these terms differently from a non-Christian. Let us
focus our attention on these concepts:
to the American Heritage Dictionary is simply defined as a collection of
observations or data. We can certainly agree with this definition. A phone book
is a collection of information. If we were to arrive at the Melbourne bus station from out
of town and needed a ride to church, the phone book would surely contain some very useful
information for us. Yet, we would all agree that if we were to memorize the phone book for
the City of Melbourne we would be filling our brain with a lot of extraneous information.
Thus, not all information is necessary or useful. An overabundance of information can
actually be distracting and even harmful.
We can also agree that a phone book may
contain a great amount of information, but we would not call this information wisdom or
The dictionary defines knowledge
as the sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned. Notice that
in this secular definition there is not even a hint of discernment between healthful
knowledge and harmful knowledge. Yet the Church has always distinguished between the
knowledge of good and the knowledge of evil. We must remember that our current fallen
condition, is the result of our First Ancestors' disobedient partaking of the Tree of the
Knowledge of Good and Evil. What moved Adam and Eve to violate the one limiting
commandment given to them by God in Paradise, given to them, so that, as St. Ephraim the
Syrian says, they by remaining obedient to it, could show their love for God (Works,
vol. 6, p. 233). Why did they transgress? Yes, they were tempted by the Devil; and yes,
they became prideful and began to think that they knew better than their Creator; yet
there was a large dose of curiosity present as well. After, the Devil had promised them:
in the day ye eat there of, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as
gods, knowing good and evil. Is it not sinful curiosity that so often causes us to
stray where we know we should not? To seek knowledge that we know will not bring us any
benefit? What is the usual result of this divergence? Are we truly satisfied by our foray
into the sinful? No, we are not. The result is usually a feeling of defilement, emptiness.
The only useful knowledge that we may have gleaned from our action is that it is best not
to stray from the commandments of the Lord our God. This is exactly what St. John
Chrysostom, one of the greatest Fathers and teachers of the Church, who composed the
Divine Liturgy that we use most often, says. In answer to the question Why was the tree
called 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,' he responds: The tree did not
give birth to the nature of good and evil. It merely exposed the disposition of man. It is
called by this name not because good or evil was bound to its essence, but because it
served for the disclosure of good and evil. And actually, continues St. John, what
knowledge did Adam attain from partaking of the tree? He found out that obedience to God
is good while disobedience to God is evil. This then is it, concludes Chrysostom, the
knowledge of good and evil, nothing more (Vol. 8, p. 799).
Thus we see that not all knowledge is
healthy, positive. On the contrary there is much knowledge that is harmful and even
Divine Scripture points out that some
knowledge can be useless. Eliphaz the Temanite in the book of Job asks: Should a wise
man utter vain knowledge, and fill his belly with the east wind? Should he reason with
unprofitable talk? or with speeches wherewith he can do no good? (Job 15:2-3). What
would Eliphaz have to say about the endless hours spent by so many engaging in the
interminable deliberations in the discussion groups of the Internet.
Yet, how are we to discern worthy
knowledge from vain knowledge? The Holy Prophet David gives us a good indication of this
in his 118th psalm, that most beautiful noetic prayer. The psalmist cries out: Despondency
took hold upon me because of the sinners who forsake Thy Law
The cords of sinners
(web of the wicked) have entangled me
Goodness and discipline and knowledge teach
Thou me, for in Thy commandments have I believed
Thou art good, O Lord, and in Thy
goodness teach me Thy statutes.
Goodness and discipline and knowledge
teach Thou me
. Contemporary proud humanism dictates to us that man can attain
true knowledge through the efforts of his own reason or experience. Yet the Church, ever
trying to humble our proud souls, teaches us the opposite. King Solomon in his first
proverb plainly states: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Can we
really trust a teacher to teach us genuine discernment if he not only does not fear the
Lord, but does not even acknowledge God's existence?
It is truly humbling to realize that St.
John Climacus, in his Ladder of Divine Ascent, (a book organized as a series of
rungs on a ladder, each step depicting a virtue one must attain or passion one must
overcome), places discernment on the twenty-sixth of thirty steps. There is so much to
overcome and so much to attain before one can, with the help of God, hope to possess at
least the sprouts of spiritual discernment. How close to the Church then must we remain,
to Her good Bishops and pastors, to Her Fathers and Teachers; how often must we delve into
the Word of God, in order not to be led astray, following leads of false knowledge, idle
imaginings of the sinful human mind.
Further, can we lead a sinful life, engage
in illicit relationships, pollute our minds eye with corrupting images, defile our speech
with obscene words, fill our mind with vile imaginings, yet honestly hope to be able to
discern indispensable knowledge from knowledge void of worth or significance? At every
Sunday Liturgy we hear the Beatitude: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see
God. There is only one way to purify one's heart: that is through repentance, Holy
Confession and Holy Communion. Dare we live in this world without frequently turning to
these salutary Sacraments?
Clearly then, in order to discern worthy
knowledge from vain knowledge we must live a life of spiritual struggle, that is, we must
live a life in the Church. This takes time, dedication, concentration, and rejection of
vain distractions. It requires that we escape from Informational Sensory Overload which is
heaped upon us by the Information age.
A question may arise, especially among the
students: does all this mean that secular, worldly knowledge is at best vain and useless,
and at worst harmful and in conflict with Divine knowledge? Ivan Michailovich Andreyev, of
blessed memory, the professor of Orthodox Apologetic Theology at our Holy Trinity
Seminary, gave a good answer to this quandary in his lecture on the relationship between
religion and science. Professor Andreyev states:
True religion and true science, marking
the limits of the sphere of their competence, can never have contradictions between them.
If such contradiction occurs, it means that either religion or science has betrayed its
principles and become pseudo-religion or a pseudo-science.
Faith and knowledge in their very essence
are inseparable. It is impossible to surmise that a believing person does not think about
the object of his faith and does not know what he believes in. It is likewise impossible
that a philosopher or scholar, while investigating, does not believe, at least in his own
Knowledge is as necessary and lawful for
religion as faith is for scholarship. Faith can be indispensable where knowledge is
inadequate and helpless. Anything learned through faith should not enter into
contradiction with genuine knowledge
The more deeply and thoroughly man studies
the sciences and knows the limits of their competence, the more philosophical and
theological culture man possesses. Likewise, the more deeply his religious faith is
developed, the fewer become the imaginary contradictions between faith and knowledge and
between religion and science
Religion answers the highest and most
intricate inquiries of man's spirit, which science is absolutely helpless in answering.
The more highly developed religion is, the more it nurtures a love for knowledge; not of
course, vain knowledge, but true knowledge, which is called spiritual wisdom
St. Basil the Great, who was a scholar, a
philosopher and a theologian, said: "In pre-Christian philosophical teaching there
was only a shadow of revealed truths, a pre-portrayal of Truth shown in Holy Scripture, a
reflection of the light of Christ's truth, similar to the reflection of the sun in
water." Of the relationship between faith and knowledge, St. Basil the Great also
asserted: "In science faith precedes knowledge. This is profoundly true, since
everything most fundamental and initial in scientific knowledge is impossible to prove and
is accepted as a basic principle by an act of faith."
If the great Fathers of the Church
regarded honest scientific and philosophic knowledge with such deep respect, then in their
turn, the greatest genuine scientific scholars of the past regarded religious faith with
deep esteem and reverence. They realized that True knowledge is incompatible with pride.
Humility is an indispensable condition to the possibility of perceiving Truth. Only a
humble scholar, like a humble religious thinker, always remembering the words of the
Saviour: Without Me you can do nothing, and I am the way and the truth and the
life, is capable of going in the correct way toward perceiving Truth. For God
resisteth the proud, but giveth Grace unto the humble.
The thoughts of Professor Andreyev give us
hope that there is still knowledge worth pursuing out there in the world of scholarship.
Yet, with what caution must one proceed in a world, where words such as Faith in
God, humility, reverence, and even Truth
have been banished from the lexicon of academe. Like the mushroom picker in
Rochester, N.Y., one must be extremely careful in choosing what to consume, lest one be
poisoned and risk spiritual death.
This brings us to the next term which we
must investigate in our examination of our Age of Information: Truth.
The simple dictionary definition of Truth
is: The substance of reality; actuality.
In one of his lectures Professor Andreyev
noted that every sensible, normal and critically thinking person, developing spiritually,
sooner or later sets before himself a whole line of questions concerning what Truth is:
What is the nature, meaning and aim of life, personally for each individual and for the
universe as a whole? What is life? What is the origin of all existing things? Is there a
God, Creator of all things, or does the world exist without a Creator? If there is a God,
can we possibly have communion with Him? Does another world exist besides the visible one?
What is matter? What is conscience? What is the Spirit? What is death? Does the soul
exist, and does it possess immortality? What is good and evil? Can the absolute Truth be
known? How must one live and what must one aspire to?
These are questions which, in one form or
another, every normal, thinking human being must ask himself. For if there is no absolute
Truth, then life has no meaning and no goal. Yet, these questions take time to form. They
do not arise all at once. Time is needed for the process of their formation,
contemplation, and resolution. Each individual needs to go through this process, otherwise
he does not develop as a human being and is spiritually and psychologically stunted.
The question can validly be asked in our
age of hyper-information, where from the youngest age individuals are perpetually
subjected to Informational Sensory Overload: is there enough time, is there enough
attention capacity left, for these all important questions even to arise in a young
person's heart, let alone for them to be resolved? Perhaps this is why we have become a
society of spiritual misfits and that two out of every five Americans are known to be
Of course, before the Fall, when man lived
in full communion with God his Creator, the question of God's existence did not arise. It
is only after the Fall, when sin began to geometrically multiply and the majority of the
human race started to lose the concept of the One True God, that man begin to ask himself:
Is there a God, is there an absolute Truth, and can it be comprehended? Throughout the
ages fallen man has dealt with the question of the existence of God and absolute Truth in
a variety of flawed ways. Our century, which has been marked with the re-invention of all
the heresies of old, has not shied away from embracing the flawed philosophical systems of
the past as well.
Let us briefly define these flawed
philosophical systems, so that we can more easily spot them in their various contemporary
manifestations. We will once again turn to Ivan Michailovich Andreyev, our Apologetic
Theology professor for concise definitions:
philosophy first conjured up by the ancient Greeks and then revived, after the so called
enlightenment in Europe. It is a system of doubt of everything, which includes the doubt
of the existence of God and absolute truth. A skeptic answers the question of the
existence of absolute truth by saying: "I do not know." Skepticism is fruitless
in that it makes no moral or spiritual effort of will to perceive the absolute Truth.
Consistent skepticism becomes completely impotent in questions of any kind of perception
of the world and man.
Criticism is a
philosophical system propagated by Immanuel Kant. It is a declaration that the absolute
Truth is not perceptible. To the question of the Existence of God and absolute Truth, this
system answers: "Scientific methods are the only way to prove anything concretely,
and since these questions can not be answered by scientific method, then I must answer: I
cannot know." Criticism in the final analysis is only the recognition of the
limitation of scientific knowledge and of the rational method.
Modern materialists have wholeheartedly
adopted a combination of Skepticism and Criticism as their dogma and creed. They have,
however, combined and modified the two philosophies to suit their needs. To the retort of
the skeptic "I do not know," the contemporary materialist has added, " I
am too busy with earthly things to know, and it is comforting for me to know and I am
very grateful to the critic for informing me that I cannot know."
whose main propagator was Auguste Comte, is a declaration that mankind in its growth,
passes through three stages: theological, when faith predominates; metaphysical, when
speculative philosophizing predominates; and, positive, when science predominates. The
answer of positivism as to the existence of God and the absolute Truth is: "I do not
want to know this."
Positivism is the world view propagated by
the "Star Trek" television and movie series. I am sure that most of you are
familiar with this fantasy in which a group of humanoids zip around the universe seeking
out new life and new civilizations, boldly going places where no man in reality will ever
go. The crew of the starship Enterprise (and in the latest offering of the series, the
starship Voyager) travels from planet to planet, supposedly meeting different
civilizations of beings in various stages of evolutionary development. The more developed
the race encountered, the more likely it is to have abandoned any belief in the
supernatural. This positivist theme continually recurs in the various episodes of the
series and attempts to hammer into the viewer the idea that religious beliefs are mere
superstitions and have no credibility for the modern human being. According to Star Trek,
everything is explicable without appeal to the supernatural.
The problem with Positivism, however, is
that by cutting itself off from the most important and urgent queries of man's spirit, it
emasculates itself as a world-view, and changes into a conglomeration of scientific
knowledge suitable only for the satisfaction of shallow practical questions of life.
Positivism suffers through the absence of a will to learn the Truth. It turns out that
what captain Jean Luk Picard of Star Trek propagandizes as a giant quantum evolutionary
leap forward is in actuality a giant quantum spiritual regression backward.
Atheism is the
assertion that there is no God. Atheism is itself a belief, since to know that there is no
God is impossible. Thus, Atheism is faith that there is no God, a faith in an un-God.
Atheism, is of course, the creed of
socialism and communism. The great multitude (by the most conservative estimates over
twenty million) of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia who suffered for their
Orthodox Faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, testify of the extreme militant
efforts the atheist enemies of God had to resort to in their attempt to inculcate their
false beliefs on the populace. In Russia atheism failed miserably, but has had
considerably greater success in the west. In the 50's and early 60's it gradually became
the dogma of secular humanism, which is the de facto religion of the current academic
community. Here in the U.S., under the guise of "separation of Church and
state," the Christian God has been totally removed from the classroom and can be
mentioned only, if this is done in a negative light. For example, a number of schools in
the Rochester area have now even banned all Christmas decorations. Last year, when a group
of students, of their own volition, put up a Christmas tree in the cafeteria, the police
were called in and the tree was expeditiously removed. So much for freedom of religious
It is impossible, however, for Atheism to
satisfy the thinking person. Being a belief in the absence of God and absolute Truth, it
becomes entangled in a mass of contradictions and is incapable of building not only a
complete world-view, but even a more or less satisfactory theory of matter, which it tries
to idolize, imputing to it absolute virtues.
It is no surprise, then, that in America
the Atheism of the 50's and 60's was replaced by the decadence and nihilism of the late
60's and 70's, which was then replaced by the materialism of the 80's and now is being
replaced by a return to Pagan Pantheism in the 90's. Man cannot live without God. Yet
because of decades of ridicule and open warfare against the True God of Christians,
contemporary man cannot bring himself to return to Christ and finds himself turning to
other gods. It is just not politically correct to admit that one is a believing and
practicing Christian. Yet to be a Pantheist is perfectly acceptable nowconsidered
Pantheism is a belief
that God and nature are one and the same thing. In identifying God and nature as one, the
faith of Pantheism becomes enmeshed in insoluble contradictions, since it is unable to
explain the origin, aim, or meaning of the world and man. It fails also to define the
expedience of the universe, the origin of evil, or to provide any basis for moral law.
Pantheism is the underpinning of Hinduism which has manifested itself in the West as the
"New-Age Movement." This new-age paganism is both covertly and openly being
disseminated in our schools today. The most harmful idea of this recycled ancient delusion
is that since God and nature are one, and man is the crown of nature, then man must be
god. He needs only to realize his divine potential. Does this not sound strikingly similar
to the promise of the serpent: "Ye shall not surely die:
eat thereof, [and]
your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Contemporary
man, pridefully confident in himself, is once again being duped by the father of lies.
Of course, as Orthodox Christians, we are
Theists. Theism is a belief in God not only as the Creator and original
cause, but also as the Intellect of the universe. God is not part of the universe, though
it can be said that He has left His imprint on His Creation, just as it can be said that
an artist puts part of himself into his painting. Further, man can be in communion with
God through the Sacraments and through prayer. The most perfect aspect of theism is
represented by Orthodox Christianity. Only Christianity, in its unaltered, original form,
that is, Holy Orthodoxy, gives the most orderly, complete, deep, wide, reasoned, proved,
convincing, and, at the same time, the most bright, joyous, and vital world-view.
If pride was the cause of the fall, then
humility is the first step towards salvation. We must humbly accept that Absolute Truth is
incomprehensible to man. There is however a condition under which the recognition of this
Truth is possible. If there exists an Absolute, All-Perfect, Higher Being (i.e.,
God), Who is the Individual, the Originator of everything, the Creator, and if this
absolute Being desires to reveal the absolute Truth to man, then, and only then, can this
Truth become accessible to our consciousness. In other words, the absolute Truth is either
unknowable (in which case life is meaningless), or can be known only through God's
revelation to people. The absolute Truth is revealed by God! Where can such
revelation of God be found? It can be found in the Holy Orthodox Church.
Realizing this, we begin to see that,
though the information age makes a wide variety of data available to us, this information
can be of only a temporal, insignificant nature, which, at best, brings us no closer to
the comprehension of eternal Truth, and at worst distracts us from it. Only through Christ
and His holy Church can we approach any knowledge of perpetual significance.
Christ spoke of this clearly, plainly, and
definitely: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
How shall we, dear brothers and sisters,
regard these words of Christ? We can believe them, or we can disbelieve and ignore them.
If we choose to disbelieve, then this means that we have chosen "to believe in
nothing." We, as all men do, have a free will and on this free will depends the
choice of what we believe! Yet with freedom, comes responsibility. Holy Scripture is quite
plain regarding this. In the Gospel according to St. John we are clearly told: God so
loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him
should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to
condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him
is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not
believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that
light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light
It is extremely important for us to
understand, therefore, clearly and definitely, that there exists nothing, outside of
ourselves, that definitively can prevent us from believing in God, in Christ, and in God's
revelations given to us through His Holy Church!
For one who proceeds with faith in God, in
Christ, in Divine revelation, there are no contradictions or hindrances in the process of
building a complete world-view; quite the contrary, it is precisely with such faith, that
knowing absolute Truth becomes possible.
Professor Andreyev, makes another
interesting observation. He writes: "Only when one's knowledge is merely a
superficial knowledge does there arise before man's intellect imaginary contradictions
between faith and knowledge, between religion and science. However, with a deeply
penetrating knowledge these imaginary contradictions disappear without a trace.
Superficial knowledge often draws one away from God. Penetrating knowledge draws one near
This point is important enough to repeat:
Superficial knowledge draws one away from God.
Penetrating knowledge draws one nearer to God.
Here we must make a distinction between
simple truth and Wisdom. Something can be true; for example, if I
say: "there is no snow on the ground outside today," but this will not
necessarily be very profound. Eternal, profound, penetrating, ever significant Truth is
Wisdom. Eternal Truths are revealed to mankind primarily through the Logos, the
second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God our Saviour. This is why one of His
attributes is Sophia, Divine Wisdom. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is truly the
Way, the Truth, and the Life, Divine Wisdom. He imparts this Wisdom to us Through His Holy
Church: the Holy Sacraments, the Holy Scripture, the writings of the Holy Fathers, the
Divine Services, and our participation in the Life of the Church in
HOW TO REMEMBER GOD IN THE INFORMATION AGE
What sort of knowledge does the modern
information age impart? Does it in any way approach Wisdom? Or does it rather primarily
impart "anti-wisdom?" From what we have said before, it certainly provides us
with a wealth of information. Yet all these mega-bites of information amount to very
little knowledge and even less, if any, wisdom. As a matter of fact, the over-abundance of
information actually hinders knowledge. We cannot see the forest for the trees, as it
were. Thus, at best the cumulative result of all the information we receive is a very
superficial knowledge. Remember: what can superficial knowledge do to us? It has the
potential to draw us away from God.
Even secular sociologists are coming to
similar conclusions. In his book The Future Does Not Compute, Stephen Talbot points
out the following:
It is hardly novel to comment on the
personal scattering so readily induced by modern culture. Daily newspapers present my
sweeping glance with a collage of the most dissonant images and stories imaginable, each
allocated a few inches of space, a few moments of my time. The suffering in some African
war immediately yields to an overjoyed lottery winner, who in turn gives way to a dispute
in the city council, followed by survey results on American [physical] habits. The
weather, comics, sports, book reviews scanningall this is how I prepare to meet the
day ahead. My attention, rather than engaging problems at hand in a deepening meditation,
is casually, almost unnoticeably dispersed.
In a similar way, the television sound
bite has become notorious; so, too, the dizzying succession of images in movie and music
video. Magazines and billboards, the chatter of boom-boxes and the endless miles of retail
aisle-ways heaped with a fiendishly beguiling array of merchandise all compete for a
moment's subliminal notice from an otherwise absent subject, so that someone else's
intentions can have their way with me. Everything is calculated to prevent my standing
firmly within myself, choosing my own way in conscious self-possession. Left helpless to
digest much of anything in particular, I have no choice but to go and move with the flow,
allowing it to carry me wherever it will.
The critical law at work here is that
whatever I take in without having fully digested it, whatever I receive in less than full
consciousness does not therefore lose its ability to act upon me. It simply acts from
beyond the margins of my awareness. Nothing is forgotten; it is only neglected. This is as
true of Muzak as of the film image, as true of sound bites as of retail advertisements. To
open myself inattentively to a chaotic world, superficially taking in "one thing
after another," is to guarantee a haphazard behavior controlled by that world rather
than by my own wide-awake choices.
The correlate of scattered (mental)
"input," then is scattered "output." Car, telephone, computer, fax,
television, VCR collaborate in this scattering by affording "freedom" of action
that tends to enslave me. It becomes so easy to go somewhere else, whether via screen,
phone lines, or gasoline-powered engine that the whirl of ceaseless goings substitutes for
the hard work of inner attention to the fully dimensioned present. Encouraged to veer off
wherever I wish with scarcely so much as a moment's forethought, I am never fully here
or there, or anywhere.
But, someone will say, "Fr. Gregory,
you are overlapping my different activities. I have a time for prayer, a time for
contemplation, and there is a different time for my other pursuits: the newspaper, the
computer, the television and so on."
But can we really compartmentalize our
spiritual life to such a degree? Can we say our morning prayers and then forget about God,
about spirituality, totally transform ourself into a completely secular being, like some
Jekyll and Hyde, to become spiritually active once again only when it is time to say our
evening prayers? Or conversely, can we possibly stop our scattered brain which has been
subjected all day to Informational Sensory Overload from trying to make
sense of it all, as we futilely attempt to concentrate on our evening prayers? I am sure
that the Fathers here present will all confirm that the most common complaint heard in
confession is the total inability to concentrate while praying. This is, of course, not at
all surprising: after a day of hustle and bustle, when we stand in front of our icons in
the evening, this may be the very first time we have stopped rushing about, since that
morning. Physically we have stopped for the moment, but mentally the wheels keep spinning.
We would all do much better if we were to follow what Apostle Paul entreats us to do: Pray
without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17). This means that after the completion of our morning
prayers, we continue being conscious the entire day of being in the presence of the Lord.
A good way to practically accomplish this is to say the Jesus Prayer at every possible
moment that our mind and lips are free: O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on
me a sinner, or, as Theophan the Recluse advises, to simply remember in our thoughts
that God is always present with us. Even at the times when our mind is intently
busy with the tasks of the day, if we constantly realize ourselves to be in God's
presence, then it will be easier for us to attain virtue, harder for us to sin, and when
the day is done and we are before our icons at home, we will not feel so alien, so far
away from God. We, after all, would have been conversing with Him all day.
LET US LISTEN TO THE HOLY FATHERS
Brothers and Sisters, all of us, young and
old, male and female, priests and lay people, even monastics are effected by the
unbalanced world around us. We are all subjected to one degree or another to Informational
Sensory Overload. Our spiritual life cannot but suffer from this. What are we to
do? Let us turn to the Holy Fathers for counsel. We have time only for two, though there
is nearly a limitless supply of applicable writings that would be of help for us. But even
this will suffice. The first excerpt is from the diary of thoughts by St. John of
Kronstadt, My Life in Christ. The second is a letter by Theophan the Recluse to one
of his spiritual children. I truly believe that if we listen to the counsel of these
fathers of recent times, we will surely benefit.
St. John of Kronstadt writes as though he is writing specifically for us. Let us listen:
"Being occupied with vanity and vain
pleasures, you have neither the time nor the desire to penetrate into the spirit of the
Christian religion, of the Christian divine services, and to know the rules of the Church,
the purpose of the festivals of the Orthodox Church, of the fasts
You sometimes know
by heart a play that is given at a theater. [Now St. John speaks here of the theater, but
if T.V., motion pictures, interactive video games and the like existed then, surely he
would object even more strongly. Batiushka continues:] You know of how many scenes the
current play consists, what its contents are in general and in particular; yet you do not
know the essence of the Mysteries, although they give eternal life, and the unspeakable
blessings of that life to those who receive them worthily. You do not know the essence of
the divine services of the Holy Orthodox Church your Mother, who nourishes, warms,
purifies, sanctifies, and strengthens you upon her holy, maternal bosom. You do not know
the nature and significance of the evening and morning services, nor the Liturgy, the
usual psalmody, the readings and rites of the Church. Some people justify play-acting, and
call it instructive and moral, or harmless, or at least a lesser evil in comparison with
drunkenness and profligacy; and with this object they endeavor to organize theatrical
performances everywhere. It is surprising that Christians have not found any better way of
spending their precious time than on the theatre, which both by its origin and meaning
preserves, even up to now, a heathenish, idolatrous character; a character of vanity,
frivolitya character showing in itself, in general, the fullest reflection of all
the passions and deformities of this world: of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the
eyes, and of the pride of life; and only seldom, very seldom, represents the valor of the
sons of their country, and even then, of course, of an earthly country, and not of the
"Everything heavenly, holy, bearing
the stamp of Christianity, is foreign to the theatre; and if it does sometimes appear on
the stage, then it is made the subject of ridicule. The very name of God, terrible to
every creature, is only pronounced there heedlessly, with derision and scoffingly; the
sacred callingfor instance, the monastic calling, the angelic callingis turned
into ridicule; the respect for authorities, for parents, and the clergy is prejudiced when
any reprehensible actions of such persons are publicly turned into ridicule, and this
before the whole of society, before thoughtless young people, even before children, to
whom the names of their parents and superiors ought to be sacred. One disrespectful or
unbecoming word concerning their elders is sometimes enough to prejudice the respect due
to them. Have Christians become so thoughtless that they find no better means of spending
their precious time than in the theatres, for which they leave even God's temple, the
divine service? And the precious festival time, given by God for instruction in the Holy
Scriptures, in salutary reflections, and in virtuous actions, they fritter away in
laughter and stupid applause in the theatres.
"No; say what you
like, theatres are an ungodly institution. Only penetrate into their spirit and you will
agree that they are schools of incredulity, mockery, of the insolent ridicule of
everything, and that they are depraved. Woe unto that society in which there are many
theatres and which loves to frequent them! Occasionally, it is true, the theatre is the
lesser evil for those who are evil. Lend an ear to popular opinion, to the opinion of
those who have visited the theatre many times; they do not hesitate to say that theatres
lead to depravity. Only the blind, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds
of them which believe not (II Cor. 4:4), say that a theatre is moral. No; Christians
ought perseveringly to study their religion; they ought to read the Gospel more
frequently, to study the divine services, to fulfill the commandments and rules of the
Church; to read the writing of the holy Fathers, religious publications, in order to
become imbued with the spirit of Christianity, and to live in a Christian manner. Such
should be your occupations and your recreations."
Such are the counsels of St. John of Kronstadt.
Let us now turn to Theophan the Recluse to
see what we can glean from this great Orthodox counselor of modern times. In the following
letter, Bishop Theophan counsels a spiritual child on the reading of secular books, but we
can easily apply his recommendations to the other media of the information age. Let us
listen to what he has to say:
"According to your wish I am sending
you the writings of St. Anthony. Read and become absorbed in them. You will be amazed. He
was not a scholar and did not read scholarly books; he merely sang the Psalter and read
the New Testament. However the Grace of God revealed things to his mind
intuitivelyand you will see how very wise his sayings are. There is the testimony of
an eyewitness about him that when he began to speak, his discourse flowed like a river
and, issuing from his heart, it filled the hearts of all his listeners. Sometimes whole
nights passed in such conversations, and neither he nor his listeners knew weariness or
felt a desire for sleep. Also here in our country Fr. Seraphim of Sarov was not a learned
man, but the experiences of a spiritual life and absorption in the Word of God and the
writings of the Fathers made him wise among the wise. In the spiritual life books are only
a guide. Actual knowledge is obtained through practice. Even that which is learned from
reading, however clear and detailed it may be, when tried out in practice appears in a
completely different light. The spiritual life is a special world into which the wisdom of
men cannot penetrate. You yourself will experience this or are already experiencing it.
Labor over yourself and be attentive to yourself. Very slowly, little by littleand
you too will get to the point where you will begin to make wise conversationsuch
that one might even sit down and copy. May the Lord bless you!
"You write: 'I read a lot. Is that
bad?' It can be either good or bad depending upon what you read and how you read. Read
thoughtfully and check what you read with the inerrant truth of our faith. Whatever agrees
with it, accept, and whatever does not agree, reject immediately as a thought opposed to
God, and stop reading the book in which such thoughts are presented. You have undertaken
to study the spiritual life. This is a subject which embraces much and is lofty and sweet
to the heart, which cannot but see in it its own ultimate good. You have begun, so learn,
both from books and even more from practice. You already know which books to read, you
know how to adjust your life in accordance with them. If you seriously desire to enter
onto this path, then you will not have time to turn to the study of other subjects. You
have had lessons, and you have a general understanding of things, and that is enough for
"You will say: 'Well, will not one
turn out behind the times this way?' What is the harm in that?to be backward in one
area, but excel in another (and in one much higher). If, while lagging behind in the
philosophies of man, you did not succeed in God's wisdom, that would be a loss. But as you
will undoubtedly succeed in the latter, if you apply yourself as one ought, then you will
not experience a loss, but will gain a greater advantage. For human philosophizing cannot
even be compared with spiritual wisdom.
"In speaking this way, I do not mean
to say that one must read nothing else, but only that one can get along without anything
also without detriment, whereas, if one inclines toward other reading, it might detract
from what is most important. If you pursue two things, you will succeed in neither.
"But the question still remains
unresolved: may one read other things besides what is spiritual? Reluctantly and barely
audibly I say: if you want to, yesonly just a little and not without selectivity.
Use this indicator: if, when you are in a good spiritual frame of mind, you stand to read
a book of man's reasoning, and your good frame of mind begins to depart, then abandon that
book. Let this be a general rule for you.
"But even books of human reasoning
can feed the spirit. Such are those which show us in nature or in history evidence of
God's great wisdom, goodness, justice, and ever-caring Providence. Read such books. God
reveals Himself in nature and in history just as in His Word. These too are God's books
for those who are able to read them.
"It is easy to say 'read such books,'
but where can one find them? That I cannot tell you. Today more books are being published
in areas of the natural sciences. But almost all of them have a bad leaningnamely,
they attempt to explain the origin of the world without God, and all moral-religious and
other manifestations of the spiritual life in uswithout the spirit and without the
soul. Do not lay a hand on these. There are books on scientific subjects without such
philosophies. Those you can read. It is good to gain understanding of the structure of
plants and animals, especially of man, and of the laws of life apparent in them. Great is
the wisdom of God in all this! It is unfathomable! To find out which books, exactly, are
of this sort, ask someone who speaks enthusiastically about subjects of faith.
"What about stories and novels? Even
among these there are some good ones. But in order to find out if they are good or not,
you have to read them, and having read them, you will assimilate such tales and images,
thatMay God preserve us! you will sully your pure mind. Afterwards, go and be
cleansed. But what point is there is causing yourself such labor?! Therefore, I think, it
is better not to read them. When some upright person has read a certain story and
recommends it, then you can read it.
"There are also good descriptions of
the earth. And those you may read. But all this just a little at a time and only for
variety. Keep to your purpose and do not divert your attention from it. May the Lord bless
Dear Brothers and Sisters: Much has been
said, much has been discussed. Much needs to be applied to our lives. But how are we to
practically integrate all of this in our lives. I have a practical proposal, an experiment
of sorts: It is not radical, it is nothing new. It is only what the Church has prescribed
for fasting periods for its member for nearly 2,000 years. All I have done is to organize
it into a convenient check list, of which I have made copies for each one of you. I would
like to pass out this check list, go over it and then I will be glad to field any
questions that you might have on what has been said.
What does this experiment entail? This
pilgrimage ends on the 26th of December according to the secular calendar. That leaves
exactly twelve days until the Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. Let us all do the
following for the entire period from when we leave here until the Feast:
Check-list of Spiritually Necessary Activities for the Last Twelve Days of the Nativity* Fast Which Lead up to the Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord:
* This lecture was given during the Nativity Fast. Yet the same concepts and checklist can be
used for the other Fasts of the Church year.
On all days abstain from all non-fasting
foods (all meat, egg and milk products).
At least on Wednesdays and Fridays,
abstain from fish products as well.
No parties (including secular New Year),
no nights on the town, no concerts or the like.
The only music to be listened to is
appropriate recorded Church singing. No other music until Nativity, not even
"classical." (The only exception to this might be if practicing a musical
instrument or vocals are part of your studies.)
Absolutely no television, radio, movies,
video/computer games for these twelve days. For weather information use the free telephone
weather-info-line listed in your directory under "weather."
The computer is to be used only if it is
part of your job, your studies, or necessary for personal correspondence. No frivolous
Attend all the services that you
possibly can that are available at your parish church during this time period. Even if it
entails asking for time off from work or from school, try to make it to all the services.
Arrive before the beginning of the services, and stay until the very end. Make an attempt
to understand and participate in the services.
With the blessing of your spiritual
father (usually your parish priest), prepare properly and partake of Holy Confession and
Communion at every Divine Liturgy at your parish church leading up to and including
Every day: get up early enough to
meaningfully say all of the morning prayers printed in the prayer book. Say the Jesus
prayer repetitively at every opportunity during the day: O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of
God, Have mercy on me a sinner. Be certain to say prayers before and after meals. Say
your evening prayers immediately after the evening meal. Do not wait to say your evening
prayers until you are so tired that you cannot even think.
Each day, following your morning
prayers, read at least a little bit (5-10 minutes' worth) of the Holy Scriptures of the
New Testament (a little of the Gospel and a little of the Epistles of the Apostles).
Each day, find a regular time to read a
measured amount (10-15 minutes' worth) of the writings of the holy Fathers (My Life in
Christ by St. John of Kronstadt is a good place to start).
Be extra loving to other people around
you, treating them kindly, as you would like them to treat you. If anyone wrongs you in
any way, be quick to forgive and forget completely and forever.
If at all possible, be extra charitable
to the needy and worthy causes, giving not of your surplus but of your substance.
Again, brothers and sister, the items on
this list are things we should already be doing, some during the fasting seasons, others
all the time. Let us truly attempt to fulfill this entire check-list for the 12 days
before our Orthodox Christmas. I can assure you that if you are able to fulfill the
majority of the recommendations, it will utterly change your life for the better. You will
eagerly await the next fast and you will be able to handle the hardships of life much more
wisely, but most importantly, you would have made an important step in the direction of
the salvation of your soul.
The first few days will be the hardest.
You will go through withdrawal. But don't give up. Ask for God's help and He will help.
And if you persevere, then when the Feast finally comes, God will certainly shine upon you
the light of knowledge, and you will find it so natural, so easy to worship Him, the Sun
of Righteousness and to know Him, the Day-spring from on High. O Lord our God, we believe;
help Thou our unbelief. Through the intercession of the Holy Birth-Giver-of-God and
Ever-virgin Mary help us to stand firm in these times of temptation and to draw ever
closer unto Thee! For unto Thee is due all honor and glory, both now and ever and unto the
This is a lecture given at the 33rd Annual Russian Orthodox Youth Conference,
held at the Joy of All Who Sorrow Russian Orthodox Church in Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Reprinted with permission from Orthodox Life, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 9-30.