The more I work on the internet, the more troubled I become. And I become convinced that there needs to be classes designed for Orthodox Christians on how to use it properly. Yes, that means all of them, because it is clear that everyone—schoolchildren, teenagers, adults, monks, nuns, priests, and even bishops are spending a considerable amount of time getting information from it, and acting on that information. I suppose a good place to start would be the book by Jean Claude Larchet, The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul.
Obviously for a committed Orthodox Christian it would make the most sense to simply not use the internet, and in fact most monasteries either forbid it or place strict limits on its use. But most people are not in monasteries, and they have to learn to place their own limits—something very hard to do, considering the sophisticated (or perhaps not really so sophisticated) way Google, Youtube, etc. lead us humans down into the click hole. What awaits us in the click hole? At first more of what we originally sought. But then little-by-little, click by click we find ourselves in the snares laid for us by those who either want to misinform us and form our opinions, or outright corrupt us. Once I described the concept of click hole to a nun who never looks at the internet, and she gave a spot-on, simple commentary: “Yes, as you’re falling down the hole you think, well, I haven’t fallen yet.”
We use the internet as a source of information—one we didn’t use to have. We oldsters recall a time when in order to research a topic, you had to go to a library, interview experts, and search out good sources—preferably primary sources. Now many people do not even know what a primary source is, or why we need one in order to get the most reliable information. In the process of researching, we would ponder the topic more deeply, get firsthand advice on it, and hear real professionals who have their hands in the matter on a day-to-day basis debunking old wives’ tales and rumors, helping us get to the kernel of the matter that lay crusted under layers of legend. We were enriched by all this, and would often come to the conclusion that we knew very little about something we thought we understood pretty thoroughly—or thoroughly enough. “Enough” is a rather subjective determiner. Real scientists and scholars do not stop at “enough”.
I once talked to a British doctor of history and journalist, who would tremble with disgust at the mere mention of the internet. She told me that in the university classes she teaches, she has forbidden internet research. It’s possibly the worst way to study history, she said; and she practices the old-fashioned form of journalism, the kind they used to teach at universities, which sought at least three reliable sources, and personal interviews. She views internet culling as a very base form of journalism, and not reliable.
But alas, that marvelous Orthodox woman is part of a remnant. The fact is that everyone is using the internet to get their information, which can be mostly chalked up to laziness and lack of time. I recall the precursors to our modern internet, services such as Lexis and Nexis. These services were (and still are) used by lawyers and business consultants to get judicial precedents and statistics without the use of books. Law libraries with their vast stacks still exist, but they became less frequently visited with the emergence of Lexis. But the service is used judiciously and only by professionals, because one first of all needs to know where to look, and secondly, it’s expensive. At one point in time, the up-and-coming computer wizzes realized that they coule make huge fortunes in advertising if they open up web information (and of course, entertainment) to one and all for free. We cannot reverse this process, short of a permanent global outage. So we need to be trained in its proper use, from the Orthodox perspective. And we should remember the wisdom of old-timers who, among other valuable things, say that free cheese can only be found in a mousetrap.
Now looming especially large on the internet horizon is the COVID pandemic. People convinced that something is rotten in Denmark are all over the internet, trying to dig up information not just on the situation in their immediate communities and around the world, or how to avoid getting sick or spreading it to others, but to find some confirmation that what they are being told by Dr. Fauci, for example, is false, and that we are all once again being duped. I have even received an email with a list of no less than forty-three links, most of which are of an alarmist nature concerning vaccines, or countering the hygienic recommendations of authorities. There are some professionally created videos, having interviews with experts (whom of course I have never heard of, but that is probably because I am not a doctor or a scientist), who cite such facts as: The PCR tests are inaccurate (is it possible to find anything 100 percent accurate in medicine?); the protective masks are not 100 percent effective at stopping the spread of disease (invent something that’s 100 percent effective and practical at the same time, and you’ll become a millionaire overnight. Meanwhile, the next time you have surgery I would not recommend telling the surgeon to take off his mask because it’s not 100 percent effective); the novel coronavirus was developed in a laboratory (no one seems to doubt that by now); and that the new generation vaccines against COVID will make you die in about two years (well, I don’t know what to say to that one. But I personally am going to stick to the old method of consulting with medical professionals who are actually dealing with COVID patients, for whom this illness is not the first they’ve taken an interest in). Finally, we can still see “proof” that there is no pandemic, that no one is getting sick with COVID, never mind dying (this simply stops my mouth—all those people asking for prayers, all those funerals… don’t exist!).
Although we are experiencing the first pandemic to be covered on internet, mankind is certainly not experiencing the first pandemic ever. Or even one with all sorts of fears surrounding the vaccine. As always, time will tell. But just for curiosity’s sake, let’s take a look at a note by Fr. Giorgiy Maximov, who researched information about the smallpox vaccine (also novel for its time), entitled, “The History of the Smallpox Vaccine in Russia”.
From a encyclical of the Holy Synod, October 10, 1804:
A saving invention of inoculating infants with bovine smallpox in order to avert their untimely death has produced a very beneficial effect… through the preservation of life of those who… decided to timely set aside their prejudices, which exist only in their imaginations, to make use of these means. And therefore, convinced of this invention, the Synod recommends all the diocesan bishops to have the parish priests try to influence the peasants and people of other vocations as much as they can, and suggest to them the harmlessness of this means and to prevent them from refusing to accept it… that they would try by fulfilling their duty to save the people’s lives.
There was a portion of the priests who did not pay any attention to this encyclical and called the vaccines, “unheard of pharma-masonry”. The famous folklorist V. I. Dal wrote,
“The peasant does not believe in preventative smallpox (that is, the vaccine), and is ready to believe that preventative smallpox was introduced into the world by antichrist.”
The more educated public was frightened away from the vaccines by rumors, many of which came from Europe. For example, the English doctor Liscomb wrote:
“The organism of one child in Peckham was normal before the vaccine, but after it he became like an animal: The child began to run around on all fours, moo like a cow and butt his head. The daughter of one lady began to cough like a cow and grew hair all over her body.”
Another author, Roughleigh, wrote that
“The vaccinated little-by-little lose their human features, and their faces turn into animal mugs, resembling a cow’s.”
Fr. Giorgiy adds that although the vaccine was widely available, few actually received it, and many died of smallpox. (The situation changed under the Soviet regime, which forced vaccinations.)
Metropolitan Tikhon (Shevkunov) in his address to the Pskov diocese concerning vaccinations also cited that in the early twentieth century, a community of Old Believers near Moscow refused to receive the smallpox vaccination because they believed it was the mark of antichrist, and all 1000 of them died of the contagion.
But before anyone skips down to the comment section to decry forced vaccinations or vaccinations in general (ah, the impetuosity of youth), let me first say that this article was not written as an endorsement of vaccines. It is hard to be unambivalent about something this serious. I am only endorsing a sober and unprejudiced investigation, keeping in mind that by far not everything we see on the internet is reliable. Research on the COVID vaccinations is still ongoing, the story isn’t finished, and doctors in Russia are finding that the Sputnik V vaccine is not 100 percent effective against the new Delta strain. And yes, there is anecdotal evidence of people getting seriously ill after the vaccinations. I know quite a few people who have received it, but I don’t know anyone personally who became seriously ill from it. I do know people who were incapacitated with fevers and other flu-like symptoms for a few days afterward, but are now feeling normal. I know considerably more people who had COVID and are now experiencing chronic symptoms. They are experiencing things like chronic fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pain, olfactory disonance, memory loss, and other debilitating things. First they were told it takes about six months to get over it, now they are told it takes about a year. We'll see in a year. But I believe that all of us—those who were vaccinated, those who weren’t, those who got sick and recovered, and those who died alone in the hospitals from suffocation are all pieces of a large puzzle, which only history will be able to put together for a clearer picture.
Meanwhile, Metr. Tikhon (Shevkunov) warns people to be wary of information coming from unverified sources.
As it was a year and a half ago, I said that this is like a Third World War. I do not retract my words now. This is truly a war. We have already suffered many losses. The new Indian strain is attacking very cruelly…
There is more and more information being spread that the Russian vaccines against COVID are dangerous both from the spiritual and medical point of view. Over the past decades, what only has not been put forth as having spiritual danger: the new passports, the Moscow ID cards, tax numbers, pension identification numbers. Our elder Fr. John (Krestiankin), when he saw the storm of doubt and turmoil that was crashing towards the Church, wrote many letters to his spiritual children and taped a video recording. He repeated the same thing everywhere—what should be obvious to Orthodox Christians: “With modern technological possibilities all peoples can be secretly and openly marked with ‘numbers’, ‘chips’, and ‘seals’. But no one can harm the human soul if there is no conscious renunciation of Christ and conscious bowing down before God’s enemy.” In another letter he wrote: “The mark will follow only after one’s personal renunciation of God, and not through trickery. Tricks have no meaning. The Lord needs a heart that loves Him’.”
There are now many people (I suspect, most of them young and inexperienced in Orthodox life and instruction), who imagine themselves to be martyrs because they refuse to wear masks in church, and warn everyone on every website and social network in the comments against vaccinations. But Vladyka Tikhon had this to say:
In Holy Scripture and the Lives of the Saints we read that the martyrs were not simply forced to take marks of pagan gods or Ceasar, but it was demanded of them that they personally renounce Christ and worship either pagan idols or the emperor… A cunning and terrible substitution is taking place. Orthodox Christians themselves are constructing a lifeless idol and insist that it, and not Christ, is the cornerstone of our salvation.
Vladyka Tikhon emphasizes the responsibility people have when they are in a position to tell people what to do, how to behave in this pandemic. A priest spreads information against the vaccine, for example, and he is responsible for those who would not have gotten sick or infected another person had he been wrong, and they should have been vaccinated. Or an Orthodox Christian layperson spreads the opinion that it is ungodly to wear masks in church, or that you just can’t get infected in church, not considering that he may be dead wrong, and people were infected because they did not want to be ostracized by the clique that calls masks “muzzles”, thus implying that those who wear them are like obedient dogs.
Many of us in our country, including Orthodox Christians, are afraid of these vaccines also because they consider that their health will be injured. Many doctors have made statements concerning this. But there are no few doctors who support these fears. We listen to both. Of course, this is a terrible temptation. Priests who say that the vaccines will harm the soul are few. It is hard for them to base their opinion on anything, and Orthodox Christians are supposed to take them at their word. Only a priest’s personal authority could make a person believe this.
On the doctors rests a particular responsibility. Many people have been vaccinated. Fr. John (Krestiankin) said these remarkable words, which have remained for us, his spiritual children, as a guiding star in many complicated situations. “The most important thing in spiritual life is faith in God’s providence and discernment with counsel.” A person is free to listen to what he considers worth listening; he is free to do what he thinks is right. Our personal experience and our discernment is today the main orientation in this serious situation.
One of the concerns people have about the vaccine is that it was supposedly created using cells from aborted fetuses. He speaks only of Sputnik V, and not the other vaccines in use elsewhere:
The directors of the N. F. Gamaleya Institute [which developed the Sputnik V] answered the question from the Moscow Patriatchate on this. They said that in 1973, when the vaccine was being created, as a nourishment medium a particle of an unborn child was taken. The current vaccine is not related to the prototype of this vaccine. We don’t know if that’s true or not… Similar experiments were being conducted in the Netherlands in 1973. Abortions were only legalized in the Netherlands in 1984—that is, ten years after these official experiments… Most likely, this was a miscarried fetus. Of course a miscarriage is also a terrible thing. But there are various situations in medicine. For example, evil-doers shoot a young man in the head. The doctors take his organs… and transplant them into sick people. And thanks to his organs those people are alive. The termination of a woman’s pregnancy in 1973 is of course a misfortune. But the unborn child, instead of being disposed of, served in the creation of a vaccine that could save millions of lives. Abortion can in no way be justified, by no means! But this is the history of the vaccine…
We are being sent a gigantic amount of misinformation—provocation and sabotage. For doctors it’s one kind of information; for priests and Orthodox Christians it’s another, not to mention the huge amount of rumors, gossip, and unproven facts. As the Russian thinker Ivan Lukianovich Solonevich said about the events of the February revolution of 1917, “Russia was destroyed by gossip.” Nowadays, many people are being destroyed by gossip…
A person receives from the outside this spiritual “nanochip”, for example, that it is categorically forbidden to get vaccinated, and he transfers this “nanochip” to others like an infection, like an instrument of mass psychosis. People are infected on a vast scale with this “nanochip”, which attacks a person’s soul and mind and makes him like a zombie. Such a person aggressively spreads this information around and considers it to be his duty to share this information with his neighbors, to infect them with this spiritual “nanochip”. These are manmade demons, which people spread to each other. And then, it turns out that the information was never checked for accuracy.
“What only didn’t I get named at the beginning of the epidemic for stating that there really is COVID! 'There’s no COVID, it’s all bunk…” could be heard everywhere. We all remember this. Then it becomes clear that there really is COVID. People who spread such information should understand their enormous responsibility. They should be aware that they are becoming true agents of influence of those very people behind the scenes, who in their own words, are aiming at exterminating the population. They are doing everything to turn people away from real and safe protection. Fr. John spoke about the spiritual state of people in whom such tares of lies are sewn: disturbance, perplexity, and confusion. People who irresponsibly spread such fabrications and rumors remind me most of real agents of influence who work not for the good of God’s people, but for the enemy. They do everything so that death and sickness would be spread in our land. They say, “We don’t want that.” However, By their fruits ye shall know them (Mt. 7:20)…
As Fr. John (Krestiankin) wrote, “A dark shadow of spiritual disturbance has troubled the minds and hearts of the faithful and deprived them not only of the joy of church and eternal triumph, but of faith itself and good hope.”
It’s also interesting that Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) was recently vilified in the internet space because he stated that he was in favor of vaccinations. You can read his answer to the accusations here. It’s mainly interesting because the statements were jerked out of context and cherry-picked by the English language website, the Moscow Times, which has produced similar anti-Church agitprop in the past. Because Metropolitan Hilarion holds an important post in the Moscow Patriarchate—the Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations—his opinion could be easily taken for an official statement of the Moscow Patriarchate. His position, however, is not as the MP spokesman.
But anyway, the plot thickened when suddenly, without any notice, his Instagram account was suspended. In his interview, he supposes that Instagram suspended his account because of his pro-vaccination remarks.
I think the account has been blocked because some group of people has swamped with complaints the leaders of the Instagram social network. I presume these were opponents of the vaccination, the so-called “anti-vaxxers” who are now very aggressive. They are trying to attack me in many directions, for instance, they have sent questions full of aggression against “The Church and the World” program, which I have presented for twenty years now at the Russia 24 TV channel. Therefore, I have no doubt that the present attack, too, comes from them. And why the Instagram leaders do not appropriately react to this attack is still unclear.
But that would be too strange. Instagram is owned by Facebook, which is more notorious in the U.S. for censoring information against vaccines. So shall we play the usual guessing game as to why Facebook/Instagram suspended an account, this time of Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev)? Well, perhaps it was for this:
Overall, I think as the virus has come to Russia from abroad, so the campaign against vaccination is orchestrated from abroad as well. I have repeatedly expressed the opinion, including in my program, that the virus is a certain biological weapon. Maybe it has developed naturally; maybe there was a leakage from some laboratory, or, maybe, all this has been made consciously to crush the world economy. Whether there is such a probability, let experts tell us.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that the virus has come to us from abroad, that is to say, it is a foreign product. And the vaccine devised by Russian biologists is our home product, our response to the challenge issued to us. The vaccine has been done to protect people. One may assume that the same forces that have thrown in the virus to us are interested in making the pandemic prolong in our country as long as possible so that as many as possible people may die, and precisely for this reason they are very active in carrying out the anti-vaccine campaign.
Pay attention: Those who are against the inoculation use the Russian mass media and television, and their views are reflected in Russian news agencies. And the whole anti-vaccination campaign is carried out in the vast expanses of Internet, which is not controlled by us. None of those who utter the most absurd, the most phantasmagorical theories concerning vaccination, beginning from allegations that vaccinated women will not be able to conceive to assertions that vaccinated people will live several decades fewer than those who were not vaccinated. This and similar nonsense is circulating now in Internet and, regrettably, many believe it. There are also those who consciously or unconsciously participate in the anti-vaccination campaign (those who behave so aggressively certainly participate in it consciously). Probably, not all those who are involved in this campaign are aware that the conductors of the anti-vaccination campaign are not located with us in Russia but outside it.
Well. These words coming from very visible hierarchs of the Russian Church certainly give us some food for thought. And the words of Fr. John (Krestiankin) point to the fact that our work is not in disseminating theories and rumors, but in the good old-time religion of the holy fathers—who have told us in many different writings that discernment is the most important virtue. It’s not easy to acquire, but that is why salvation comes from much counsel. And, the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22–23). When our blood starts boiling and we want to run out and tell everyone on the internet about how right we are and how evil others are, let’s stop, cross ourselves, and say a prayer. This may be a hint that what we saw on the internet was not a fruit of the Spirit.