On Internet-Abstinence by Archimandrite Symeon (Tomachinsky) | 29 May 2015
Much-respected Vladykas; dear Fathers, brothers, and sisters; ladies and gentlemen!
It is my special pleasure today to speak to you on May 9, on the celebration of Victory Day. On the one hand, we indeed celebrate the ontological victory of Christ over death and the devil; and, on the other, we celebrate the earthly and historical victory over fascism and evil. This gives us hope that today as well we will find a solution to the problems that we are discussing here.
There have already been several interesting speeches on Internet-abstinence: in particular, Fr. Maximos Constas delivered an excellent speech today, and Elena Zhosul also spoke on this topic. She introduced a very nice term: digital detox. Archpriest Vasilios Thermos also spoke about the necessity of having a sober attitude towards the Internet, and many who have spoken here have mentioned this topic.
Many Christian virtues, as we know, are connected with abstinence. This can mean abstinence from food, alcohol, conjugal relations, evil thoughts, impure looks, rude words, and sinful deeds. Some types of abstinence are temporary, as for example during Great Lent, and some are prescribed only for certain groups of people, such as monks, in certain situations. Others are permanent and unconditional. In fact, most of the commandments given by God to the people of the Old Testament are of a restrictive character and contain an element of abstinence. Generally speaking, as we know, abstinence as a virtue began in Paradise, when the Lord commanded Adam not merely to cultivate the Garden of Eden, but also to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The appearance of the Internet has opened a new front in mankind’s spiritual warfare. The Internet has introduced new and effective means of tempting people. These are probably not new sins, but they do involve new means of tempting and manipulating people, as well as new means of wasting life. At first, it had seemed that computers and the World Wide Web had introduced unparalleled opportunities for people’s creative development.
Steve Jobs once related a textbook case about reading an article in a learned journal about how much energy various animals put into covering distances and into any positive work. And Jobs came to a conclusion that condors (a kind of soaring eagle) are the most successful animals in this regard: they expend the least number of calories to move at the maximum speed. Man is somewhere near the bottom of the list. Jobs suggested that computers could become a kind of bicycle for the human brain, because a bicycle, which is a human invention, immediately gives one the advantage to use one’s capabilities more instinctively than condors. That is, one expends fewer calories to cover longer distances. Jobs proposed that computers should become this sort of bicycle for the human brain. But how did it turn out? It turned out that it was not man who ruled the computer in order to increase his capabilities, but that it was the computer that ruled man, dictating his will and offering endless diversions.
Multitasking has become one of the most intractable problems for modern man. In his article titled “How Today’s Computers Weaken Our Brain” in The New Yorker, Tim Wu examined different aspects of this problem. The author arrived at the following conclusion, and I quote: “Today’s machines don’t just allow distraction; they promote it. The Web calls us constantly, like a carnival barker, and the machines, instead of keeping us on task, make it easy to get drawn in — and even add their own distractions to the mix. In short: we have built a generation of ‘distraction machines’ that make great feats of concentrated effort harder instead of easier.”
A great feat of concentrated effort – this is what is required of us, and this is what we lose because of computers. In his article, the author gives three examples of successful creative works. The first was Franz Kafka, who wrote his work “The Judgment” in eight hours, in one sitting, without being distracted by anything. The second was Jack Kerouac, who wrote his famous novel On the Road in three weeks. The third was Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who created a new video game, Breakout, in four days. I am deliberately avoiding offering any evaluation of the works created, because I would like to draw your attention to the conditions that are essential for creative work – although, of course, the works of Kafka and Kerouac are considered classic literature.
Kafka could have gotten distracted from his work by checking his e-mail, and could have lost the inspiration that was essential for finishing his story. Kerouac could have checked his Twitter or chatted on his Facebook, WhatsApp, or somewhere else, and his On the Road would never have been finished, and we would never have been able to read this novel. Psychologists state that a person can fully concentrate on one thing at a time, and on several things in the background, but that will already be unproductive. Yes, we can all simultaneously talk on Skype and surf the Internet, and even write simple letters via e-mail. However, we also know that we cannot do serious work in a similar way. We live in an age when tremendous forces are fighting for our attention and time, as we have heard in other speakers’ talks.
The Internet has become one of the most important battlegrounds. It is no coincidence that neologisms have appeared in Russian, such as khronotsid, which means killing time, and osetenet’, which means getting addicted to the Internet, and which also sounds like the word osatanet’, which means getting attached to the devil. We are called to make friends with time, just like Alice in Wonderland. If previously we could just run faster in order to stay in one place, today we have to run twice as fast, as you can understand. Therefore, many people are now installing the Freedom program onto their computers, which disables any signals given by e-mail, social networks, or Internet advertisements in order to concentrate on their activities.
Even if we were merely talking about wasting time due to diversions on the Internet, it would be a great cause for alarm. But today we are talking about true Internet-addiction. The previous talk clearly demonstrated this fact. This Internet-addiction can be compared to drug addiction. Many people literally experience severe withdrawal symptoms if they are deprived of the Internet for even a short period of time. Dr. Dimitrios Karayiannis was among those spoke about this on the first day of our conference. The Internet is turning into a kind of Gogol’s “Viy,” which, when seen by anyone, kills one with its evil powers. The Internet is like a crystal ball, a Palantir, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings. One hopes to look into it to see a mystery, but gradually it turns one into a slave of the Dark Lord. Sometimes our mouse and our face, looking at a computer screen, become the mark on one’s right hand and forehead of which St. John the Theologian speaks in his Revelation. Sometimes we are one click away from a grievous sin that would enslave us to the devil.
You all know the old monastic piece of wisdom: “Go, sit in your cell; and your cell will teach you all things.” Modern life has created another aphorism from a collection of dark humor: “Get Internet access in your cell, and your cell will teach you all things.” This does not merely concern monks. It is as if the three temptations of which the Apostle John the Theologian speaks – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – have taken shape on the Internet.
Of course, please do not misunderstand me: I am not against the Internet; one has to use it for the purposes of pastoral and missionary work. We have witnessed a wonderful example of such ministry during our conference. Abstinence does not mean giving up the Internet. Abstinence means a rational, creative, and constructive attitude towards the Internet. We are called to learn Internet-abstinence. One should teach young children to learn its rules, to use it carefully, like a hot iron or an electrical current in a wall socket. These rules should be taught in schools and studied in-depth at universities. They should be put on one’s desktop as accident prevention.
If we would like to preserve our freedom and if we wish for computers to serve people, and not the other way around, and if we value the feat of creative and constructive work and not killing time, Internet-abstinence should become a new Christian commandment for us.
“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
Valaam abbot gives up Internet, suggests restricting use of smartphones in monasteries | 23 July 2015
“All these smartphones, large screens are a huge temptation, especially to young monks. I have often heard them say at confessionals that they have again fallen into the sin of using the Internet […] One novice even left Valaam because he had been drawn by the Internet and the common world had drawn him back. I even believe it’s one of the biggest challenges to monks now,” the bishop said in an interview published in the Wednesday edition of the paper Argumenty i Fakty.
The bishop said monks leave the secular world and smartphones bring them back to it, adding that the problem now exists everywhere, even on Athos.
“They write blogs there, talk on forums, send ‘Many years’, addresses and anathemas. But all these things absolutely contradict monkhood. Although I use the Internet myself. It’s really convenient: you can learn the weather and the weather forecast for tomorrow, whether you should use a boat to sail on the Ladoga or not, and the news on events taking place in the patriarchy and the world. It’s convenient to manage, read and send letters,” the bishop said.
Nevertheless, he said he has made a decision to give up the Internet.
“Even the phones that monks have on Athos are not theirs, they are the monastery’s. They get them like they get socks in the warehouse, a cup and a spoon, the simplest and the cheapest furniture. Everything is very functional. If a monk gets a specific obedience, he gets a phone and the phone is taken away when it’s over. The same should be done in our monasteries,” he said.
Elder Ephraim of Vatopedi: The Internet and Spiritual Experience | 22 May 2015
The rabid development of information technology over the past two decades has truly brought about unexpected results, of which we could not even dream in the seventies and even eighties. The Internet, e-mail, web-based resources, social networks: they are part of our everyday life, work, science, education, art, and entertainment. The Internet has allowed us to reduce or even abolish distance. Thus, news can be transmitted through the Internet from one end of the earth to another in a couple of seconds – we have all had this experience. Conversations, sometimes even involving eye contact, now take place smoothly, regardless of distance. The only condition is that the user have Internet access. Indeed, the use of the Internet is so simple that any child or elderly person can easily use it.
In this same manner, the Word of God can be transmitted anywhere in the world. In this way, that which is happening here in Athens before an audience of 100 people can be recorded and sent to thousands or even millions of users, or even transmitted online, as is happening now with our conference.
But we should realize that the Word of God is not simple human speech, but bears Divine Energy, which can spiritually revive man and truly comfort him – and this can happen through the Internet. We know of many cases when various people – atheists, idolaters from India, Japan, and Nepal – have found Orthodoxy through the Internet and been reborn, because they found the truth that they were looking for in this life; they found Christ.
Not long ago the Hollywood actor Jonathan Jackson visited our monastery. I asked him how he became Orthodox. He told me that the Internet had very much helped him. On the other hand, thanks to the Internet, Christians who had departed from God have returned to Him, found themselves, and found their place in this world. There are people who had been on the verge of absolute frustration and, having listened to some talks on the Internet, found the necessary spiritual strength and hope, and are now developing spiritually.
Of course, the Orthodox Word of God is less present on the Internet compared to other words. When I speak of other words, I mean science, economics, politics, and even such phenomena as fashion, show business, or even certain corrupting resources that, unfortunately, are often visited.
It seems to me that today the Word of God must have a strong and powerful presence online. The majority of people today are disoriented, constantly falling at an impasse. In this era, only the Word of God can comfort man, inform him, and assure him of the possibility of eternal life. The Word of God transmitted through the Internet can have a healing function for man.
The creation of digital libraries with relevant content can and should be encouraged and multiplied. The heritage and wisdom of the Holy Fathers, with their remarkable texts, should be used as much as possible in the most modern and optimal way. The digitization and categorization of the Holy Fathers enables Internet users to find texts and information on topics of interest to them. Moreover, the digitization and promotion through webpages of the Word of God, especially the teachings of the Holy Fathers as well as of the Elders of the twentieth century, will bring spiritual benefit to our contemporaries.
Elder Ephraim of Katounakia said: “Oh, what it pity that it wasn’t possible to record the sayings of the Elder Joseph.” We understand that it is truly important when things are uttered by people who have experienced and gained personal experience in the unseen spiritual warfare. St. Paisios said: “Write down everything that is spiritual that you hear, as well as the experience that you have heard from others, because there will come a time when this experience will be exhausted, and you will have a spiritual deficiency.” Indeed, over the past few years there has been great growth in the publication of books of theological content, especially in Greece, but also in other Orthodox countries.
But, unfortunately, there are Orthodox who, due to language barriers, do not have access to these valuable texts. Moreover, the ordinary book, printed on paper, is now in a serious crisis. At the same time, sales of electronic books are growing. Therefore, we can say that we can make use of this trend. We can say that all this is good and God-pleasing, when everything goes correctly.
The Internet is a modern tool that promotes globalization. Those who would like to spread their ideas for global history, global economics, a global state, and a global leader know how to make use of the Internet – and, indeed, they use it at a high level. Why should not we, the Orthodox, use this instrument for promoting the global role of Orthodoxy? Why should we not use it for uniting the Orthodox and its mission in the known world?
The proper use of the Internet depends upon the user. Of course, the Internet cannot replace living contact. Of course, no one can attain a given level of spirituality through the Internet alone. Orthodoxy is person-centered. Priority also goes to the essential value of the person, to the individual person. The Internet is a tool, an instrument, that helps and benefits us – but in order for the faithful to lead an authentic spiritual life, it is required that he have personal contact with his spiritual father.
In the same way, it is essential to have communication with other brethren, in order to experience love and to participate in all the Mysteries of the Church. Of course, there are also cases in which excessive use of the Internet, even for good and spiritual purposes, can create dependence, resulting in asocial isolation and a detrimental effect on one’s personhood. Thus, the Internet can have negative results: instead of leading the user closer to Christ is can, on the contrary, lead him away from God. Therefore we bear the great responsibility of promoting and sharing the Word of God using the most creative, useful, and modern methods – but we should also inform our flock about how to use the Internet profitably, emphasizing all the negative effects that can be caused by the misuse of this technology.
This is one of the goals of our conference, which for the first time is being carried out on an international level for the Orthodox. It is a great blessing that the first such conference is taking place in our country. I would like to thank the organizers: the online journal “Pemptousia,” as well as online resources and “Bogoslov” from Russia. Our monastery always supports with much love and interest the activity of the “St. Maximus the Greek” Institute. We hope that this conference will be able to confront the challenges of the modern world, and that all participants will use these new technologies and the Internet for their spiritual benefit.
Christ is Risen! I thank you.
Elena Zhosul: The Orthodox Church must respond to the challenges of “information overload”
In her speech at the First International Conference on Electronic Media and Orthodox Pastoral Care, Elena Zhosul described the current state of the media scene as an “information overload,” since a large amount of data hinders a person’s ability to concentrate. In contrast to many hours spent researching in archives, online searches can be reduced to a few minutes, however, this this type of “search outsourcing” weakens memory and reduces one’s ability to critically analyze surrounding reality.
The speaker quoted the writer Umberto Eco: “Over time, the Internet can become a conspiracy and destructive to human civilization.” Orthodox Churches need to provide an adequate response to this challenge, she said. “In our church, this sort of work has begun in the framework of an Inter-Council Presence,” said Elena Zhosul.
She stressed that even Ecclesiastes warned against what scholars then called an information explosion: “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. ” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). The same was later said Heraclitus of Ephesus, Seneca, and French Encyclopedists.
The increasing amount of information in the network can easily be seen in the number of monthly users on Facebook. In 2008 there were only 100 million, but now there area already about 2 billion.
“If we do not want virtual reality to become a space without God, we should seriously consider how the Church can be present in this reality more effectively in terms of transmitting our message to the world — especially the youth,” said Elena Zhosul, recalling the words of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill.
“We need to take on part of the information overload,” she contends. She identified three stages of this path: awareness and recognition of the problem, study devoted to the Church’s patristic heritage, and digital detox (deliberate restriction of Internet use), which Christians are increasingly doing to guard their discipline.
Elena Zhosul quoted the Gospel passage: “Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning — lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” (Mark. 13:35-36).