Social networks have become part and parcel of our lives, and for some they have even become the most important part of their everyday life. It has nearly become a norm to share all events of your life, including even minor and very personal ones, with the whole world. It already may seem that all that we are doing is showing-off on social media, instead of just living our lives. Orthodox Christians are often caught in this net, too. What Christians should do in order not to “drown” in this sea of words which have become worthless? What will help us focus on the life of soul, on the innermost things, on “inner Christianity”? The Pravoslavie.ru portal has asked several pastors of the Russian Orthodox Church to give their advice.
Stand before the truth of the Gospel every day
In spiritual life, in order to attain an aim you first need to want to attain this aim. There are excellent words belonging to St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov): “He who wants to do something can do it.” In other words, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The wandering thoughts of modern people, including ourselves—Orthodox Christians of the twenty-first century, are often a result of our unwillingness to seriously live in Christ. We tend to readily accept modern standards of conduct that are being imposed on us by the modern world. And, as we know, the whole world lieth in wickedness (1 John 5:19) and it ever induces people striving for righteous life to go astray. I would call one of these temptations ‘virtual exhibitionism’: giving impetus to expose all of your private life, when you voluntarily (with no coercion by secret services or anybody else) provide information about yourself, your nearest and dearest, your views and impressions on social media instead of concealing these concerns in your heart.
Meanwhile, the Church Fathers said that we mustn’t squander the grace of God that we acquire during our lives by words. The more you tell how the Lord touched your heart or what miracle occurred to you, the more you drift away from all this and it becomes humdrum. Yes, you can share one or another story with someone, provided it may help him spiritually here and now and keep him from falling into despondency, committing a sin, and guide him on the path of righteousness. If your account of events is no more than self-advertisement and ostentation, then soon you will be left only with a lot of ‘likes’ and a publication on the internet. I would recommend quitting social media or using them only inasmuch as it is necessary for your professional activity or information communication.
Another method of avoiding “wandering thoughts” is to turn off the TV! Without any undue rigor I would say that if you spend a hour in front of television or hang out on the net for an hour and a half in the evening, then it will be extremely difficult for you to focus your attention on prayer. So there are purely technical, restrictive methods by which you can help yourself.
There is yet another method, the most ancient one and not unrelated to modern times; it is reading the Holy Scriptures daily and regularly. If you stand before the truth of Gospel every day, here and now, then you won’t be so affected by the compromises of our time.
Let us not forget the words of Apostle Paul: evil communications corrupt good manners (1 Cor. 15:33). This applies to bad virtual communities as well. Don’t watch what a Christian shouldn’t watch, don’t read what a Christian is not supposed to read, and it will be much easier for you to prepare your inner man for prayer and genuine Christian life.
Man was made for communion with God
Social networks have become a sort of addiction. Modern people hurry to the virtual world of communication, where they are always “online”, “in contact” with others, and this creates the illusion of communication and helps them conceal their loneliness. Clearly, this is self-deception because ‘hanging out’ in social media only imitates the fullness of life when you constantly catch up on your friends’ news and keep sharing your own ideas and experiences. But, as a matter of fact, there can be no “virtual friends”—this is just a superficial acquaintance, while you compromise your soul by these interminable idle text messages.
The human soul cannot exist without a personal contact. This is how we were made—open for communication. But, above all, man was made for communion with God, and only then with other humans and the world around him. Blessed Augustine of Hippo said, “O, Lord, Thou made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.” And nothing can substitute for this. We feel emptiness within our souls because of our sins, and we want to fill it with communion, but without God we will feel empty all the same. On the internet one’s soul is tempted, distracted, and wastes itself.
We can observe this sad phenomenon—because of spending too much time on social media you don’t have a single free minute for prayer. You need to be vigilant to avoid this temptation. You need to take a sober view of things and say, “That is enough! I don’t want to be controlled any more. If I ever go online again, it will be only for reading useful articles on Orthodox websites, not for rumors on social networks.”
And here is some unusual advice. If you wish to concentrate your soul on spiritual life, remaining undistracted by secular idle talks, you need to learn not to judge anybody. Judgment involves dealing with objects of the world of sin with great attention. Such people are preoccupied with gossip, scandals of all sorts, someone else’s sins, and injustice. Thus life turns into perpetual grumbling. Every Christian must reject and give up all this once and for all. He who doesn’t judge others has peace and freedom, and the peace and freedom of soul are the greatest treasure. If we can share anything on social media, it should be something kind and edifying. But deep down you will inevitably feel that hanging out on the net brings no profit to your soul.
The time of prayer, the reading of a prayer rule, the Gospel, and works of the Holy Fathers should be the happiest time for every Christian because it is the purest source, something that nourishes our souls, gives us life and genuine joy.”
Depart from evil, and do good (Ps. 36:27)
The Savior Himself teaches us how to concentrate on Him—through His Word (the Holy Gospels) and by His Spirit, in Which He remains with us, provided we are obedient to Him. And the centuries-old experience of the life of the Church that we call Holy Tradition teaches us the same—to learn and master this science of sciences. So, the most important thing is our wholehearted desire to be with Christ and to exert ourselves, in accordance with the experience of the Church.
When it comes to the world, which lies in wickedness and tempts us to do wrong things, the conscious resistance to it and performance of good works are the core of our Christian life on earth. As King David said in the Psalter, Depart from evil, and do good (Ps. 36:27). Many spheres of our life, including communication on the internet, give us opportunities to undertake this activity. And, while the world teaches us not to conceal anything and to reveal absolutely everything in social media, what prevents us, with the help of God, from guarding our hearts and sharing only what instrumental in the spreading of the Good News of Christ? If you fail to find good sense, and the passions of idle talk, wrangling and amusement are luring you through social networks, then you had better quit them, just as it is good for someone who is susceptible to one or another temptation to avoid its source. Let me give a simple example to make it clearer. A man after work drops in at a grocery store, buys bread, sausage and cheese for his family and comes home very content, without noticing the alcoholic beverages section in the same store. Meanwhile, for another man, this same section of alcoholic drinks is a terrible temptation—he knows it by his bitter experience. Thus, it is better for the second person to steer clear of that grocery store. It is that same with social media. If good sense can be achieved, that is fine; but if social networks are a stumbling-block for you, it would be wiser to abandon them.”
If we want God to be of value to us, we need to take into account His views. We must treat God not simply as some guideline, but as the most beloved and important person in our life. We need to bear Him in our minds, remember His life and keep vigilant watch over our own hearts. Any spouse should ponder this question before doing or postponing anything: “And what will my other half think (or say) about it?” Only then can the spouse make a decision. Likewise, every Christian must always remember Christ and take into account His views, which were expressed in the Gospels and the commandments so clearly.
When it comes to social media and communication in general, we shouldn’t reveal our innermost thoughts at all, and in case if we have a desire to share the beauty of Orthodoxy with others, we need to do it in an unobtrusive manner, without pressure and fanaticism.”