Thursday, February 23, 2017

I would not like them here or there.
I would not like them anywhere.

Last year I was at an international conference on St. Maximus the Confessor in Belgrade, and it was a wonderful program. One of the many highlights was the consecration of a brand new church dedicated to St. Maximus. It was the first ever dedicated to him in Serbia. Met. John Zizioulas was there and ten other hierarchs and twenty or thirty clergy. It was a smallish church and it was packed, and a beautiful day. At one point prior to the start of the Liturgy someone came out of the altar and told me that the metropolitan didn’t have his Archeiraticon, so he ran out in a hurry because they needed the prayers for him to read. After a couple of minutes he came running back in because he had found the prayers on the internet and had them on an iPad. This altar was fairly open, by the way, so you could see into the sanctuary. So he came running back in with the iPad, happy that he had found the prayers, and as one body all of the Serbian hierarchs took a step back and said “No! Do not bring that object into this space.” It was done even without thinking. So he left and they printed out the text in the church office. It was a memorable thing to see that visceral response on the part of the hierarchy.

- Fr. Maximos (Constas)
Distracting us from the Depths

Fr. Maximos (Constas), who I enjoy reading immensely, delivered a talk to the Antiochian Archdiocese last year that was quite compelling. His topic was "Distracting us from the Depths," and in it he said the above. I'm of the same mind with the hieromonk here and don't permit ereaders in the altar and truthfully frown on cellphones unless there is a persuasive reason to have one at hand.

The general point of origin for most iPads in a parish setting is for cantors to use at the kliros. People say that it is easier to have everything in one place with no switching of books, that it saves paper, and that it is easy to share and updated texts. I agree on all those points, but still prefer the use of books whenever possible for two reasons. One, I believe there is knowledge and skill required to put services together and people should know how to compile tonight's vespers. Second, these texts have been sanctified to a purpose. An iPad can play Twilight while the protopsaltis is waiting for the priest to arrive at 8 and then flick the screen to the Divine Liturgy at 9.

Everyone has experienced the accidental phone left to ring during the homily while some red-faced woman plunges her hand into her purse or heard the video playing to jarring effect when someone checks their messages having forgotten that the last thing they had opened was Youtube or some children's app. Those are intrusions on our prayers that can be managed and forgiven as a lapse in judgement, but can you imagine Katy Perry blaring from the altar or having to stop a service because the iPad fell on the ground and the screen cracked?

I have even heard word that people want to use iPads to display icons without having to buy tons of icons. I shudder at the idea. But, if shuddering isn't at all convincing as a deterrent, here is my mental progression on such thinking: iPads are a step back from printed icons which are a step back from written icons which are a step back from the saints themselves. Do we want to move towards our saints or away from them?

I welcome your thoughts.


  1. Totally agree with your points about understanding and using a device for a sanctified purpose. Icons physicality is important to. I like physical books. But I feel that we are moving away from paper and should have guidelines to deal with this that get to some of your points. Ie dedicated device for worship, making sure no possible distractions, indicate sources. Having texts easily available at a lower cost should be embraced. Would love to see an app for singers, I think of how many people in rural parishes are lost with putting together a vespers service.

  2. We use them at our kliros. The diocese issues stuff online for every week and rather than printing paper that will just get tossed out 12 hours later, we use our tablets. However, we use books where we can and set the brightness to where nobody can tell what's going on. I think if we had all the books and such, then we wouldn't use them but it just seems better than wasting paper.

    Though, if I had the option, I'd much prefer using the books. I've only been in one parish that had all the books. It seems to be a sad rarity.

  3. Icons are not written. They are painted.

  4. Relax. Icons a couple of electrons thick on a screen are simply made without hands, which I thought was a good thing.

  5. My personal opinion is I'd rather have a campy, less accurate service than a perfect service with any portion read from an of the first things I learned about Orthodoxy as as a catechumen was about how it engaged all of the senses..ipads, etc. I feel do just the opposite and, in general, detach us from the present moment in general. If I was thinking about "what is an icon of the world" my personal answer would be ipad/iphone. Also, I am from the generation that was born into a world without technology and by age 7 most people had personal computers in their house. I saw what the change did to the world around me, to my parents, and now even to myself. I know these devices do some good, but for me it doesn't outweigh the sadness they bring...

  6. A broader discussion of the same topic on the Orthodox Arts Journal: