Friday, November 4, 2022

"His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."

We are all familiar with this reading from the Psalms (145 / 146):

Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
In the early days of the online Orthodoxy world, those craving teaching flocked to blogs, podcasts, and streaming content like OCN and Ancient Faith Radio. And, as you might expect, they took this excitement to church and immediately started talking about it at coffee hour with their friends and clergy.

I am going to leave the merits of what was said to the side. Much has been written - even by me on this blog - on how "reliable" theology packaged in this way is. Some of it is life-changing and some of it is just garbage. As we lack a Yelp for theologically-minded resources, you can expect to have an uneven experience.

My concern here is about attaching your faith in Orthodoxy to the men who write about it. There is nothing more destabilizing to inquirers and recent converts than to get moon-eyed over someone who hits the bull's-eye on the cause célèbre of the day or a timeless theological topic only to see him drop off the Internet in a week's time.

Sometimes they kill their blogs or other media with no notice so that people are left to guess "What happened?!" At other times - and this is much more problematic - they say or do something so outrageous and inexplicable that people feel betrayed. You have never felt more like your world is falling apart than to find out a monk did something crazy, that a clergyman succumbed to one of his passions very publicly, or when a court case makes everything the author said seem like a lie.

But, from my experience, this feeling of betrayal rarely stops at the person. It invariably extends to his Church. If Abbot X or Father Y or Metropolitan Z can do this with so many people relying on him for insight and direction, how can I possibly trust any of this? And, as I find I am discussing this exact topic with people with regularity, I have built a formulaic primer for these talks.
  • Our society loves novelty. Novelty is great for fashion or music, but not at all conducive to theology. As I have learned the hard way, painting your living room a "quirky" color is enjoyable until you realize walking to get your first cup of coffee on a Saturday morning that you have to live with your decision every time you open your eyes and want to leave your bedroom. Do you like the person or idea because of the shininess or because of its depth?
  • The Internet has no vetting process on "influencers." That man dressed like a monk might be on his fifth religious experiment. Next week he might be a Unitarian universalist cohabitating with a woman with pink hair and more piercings than sense.
  • The faster someone climbs to popularity, the more precipitous and spectacular the fall is going to be. If you decide to tie yourself to their ascension, it is hard to cut ties fast enough to not fall yourself. Watch him climb a few mountains and THEN go on a journey with him.
  • Religion has been used as the convenient excuse for all manner of bad ideas. If someone is selling something and also profiting from those sales, think twice about buying any of it. People still have Theranos t-shirts in their chests of drawers, I'm sure.
  • The Church is not a person. It is the body of Christ. He is perfect, but we are not. He is never far from us and so we in imitation can strive to be like Him, but are going to fail to do so quite often. Don't expect perfection or even good table manners from everyone or you will be disappointed. Actually, the more impeccable (in a theological sense) someone purports to be, the less you should trust a word that comes out of his mouth.
We can and should tell people that there is a lot to be gained by listening to and reading from the works of authors online. I am not one to smelt my laptops into ploughshares so that I can eschew technology in favor of a luddite farming collective, but at the same time I would advise no one to uncritically accept what they experience online as Gospel. We already have a complete gospel that they should be reading instead.

Often, those faithful Christians saints who we hold in highest esteem today were hated, reviled, or simply ignored in their own time. So expecting to be able to sort the lapidary from what should be lapidated with any certainty and immediacy online is unreasonable. Be discerning. Pore over the Fathers, seek wisdom in the Scriptures, and when in doubt you can ask your priest if that guy TikTok dancing in a cassock to some music from Vespers is worth following. The more you know the faith, the less susceptible to the misguided and intentionally irreverent you will be. 


  1. Excellent advice. Seek ye first the Kingdom of heaven...

  2. Wisdom! As a blogger who still posts from time to time on religious matters, while being conscious of my own shortcomings, I found this quite sobering.

  3. Sadly, the second antiphon in which these words are chanted, is omitted in some parishes.