Priests on Social Media: What is this World Coming To?

We can preach about Christ from the ambo, as we drink tea, or online. Your audience is unlimited and the location of your virtual flock is absolutely irrelevant if you are online. A priest can be in Kaliningrad while his listeners are in Petrozavodsk. You can ask a troubling question you never dared to ask a priest from a local church. But even with all the obvious benefits of preaching online, there are scores of hidden pitfalls. And then, there are critics who believe we can speak of Christ exclusively at church. Priest Nikolai Babkin, a cleric of the St. Nicholas Church in Otradny, Moscow, has his own website, YouTube channel, and almost four hundred thousand followers on Instagram.


Most of us use social media because we are bored to death; but once online, we can scroll through our news feed, snoop into someone else’s private life, or feel it out with our virtual “tentacles,”—and all this instantly gives us the impression that we are a part of other people’s lives.

It gets particularly interesting if it is a public figure, as is a priest—even though a priest isn’t an actor or a singer. We typically find him on the ambo wearing a cross, and we are used to seeing him in his traditional role. But suddenly he turns up as a blogger, and that of course gives rise to many questions. I often receive comments, especially on TikTok, but typically my commentors imagine a priest as a mystical being who resides in the altar, consumes only prosphora bread, and has no children of his own. He is nothing less than a holy man flying a helicopter. It speaks vividly about stereotypes and cliches and it is a priest-blogger’s job to break them. That’s why our family blog is full of fun.

That’s how we arrived at this. We were assigned to serve in a village parish, so we were faced with the question: How do we build our parish? Matushka said that we should go online. Like any faithful hubby, I followed her there. It so happened that our blog immediately became a family affair. We are actually often criticized for this and our critics say that we publish too many “glamorous” photos that supposedly portray an unrealistically perfect life. I have a category called “You can never tell” where I make fun of church stereotypes and speak ironically about them. Besides, I often laugh at myself.

Social media isn’t a prerequisite of the parish growth; it is more about a wider inner mission of the Church

Matushka and I were never shooting for the moon. It was only later when I realized that social media are not only necessary for parish growth, but they also represent a wider internal mission of the Church. However, it cannot be confined to just one region. Sure, the people residing close by or who know you will visit and read your blog. But for most people, you’re simply a priest who’s interesting to look out for or who can answer your questions. That’s why, every year, I look at the results of my work in order to understand why I need it. Should I rather concern myself with much more important things in life? For example, I should feed the homeless at a railway station. There are some churches in Moscow working at such initiatives. It would be more useful than, say, doing live streams in the evenings. But every time I conduct a survey, I come to the conclusion that I should keep blogging. Public opinion about the Church changes, and this year’s statistics have shown that ninety percent of my readers have changed their opinion of the Church for the better. About sixty percent chose to visit the church and about thirty percent went to church, had confession, and partook of Holy Communion—most of them doing it for the first time. Things like this won’t benefit my parish, but it can benefit the Church as a whole. My blog subscribers reside in various cities of our country and attend different churches. Matushka and I have realized that we should think outside the box and, at the same time, do what’s necessary for every priest to do within our own parish.

My readers inspire me. Even haters inspire me. The comments they leave sometimes force me to get quite creative while responding to them. On average, it takes me about six hours a day to work on my blog. More often than not, it happens in the evenings or at night, because I have four children and I need to concentrate when I write. My children and family inspire me as well. I began writing a blog in 2015, when the priests on Instagram were few and far between, so I nailed it pretty well. It has already become a part of my life, so I can’t even imagine life without writing. Well, I do occasionally get carried away, so I have to stop myself. My energy is spent on social media. I manage to be creative because I have a place to restock my creative energy. I have a prayer life and my family.


A priest and a psychologist, all in one

There are certain rules on Instagram that everyone should follow in order to stay afloat. Sometimes you should appease the crowd, sometimes you have to agitate your audience, or react strongly against the current events or flood everyone with your comments. Initially, though, I thought that the real me, with my sins and passions, would hardly look too appealing to the audience. That’s why I treated my blog from an educational point of view. Since I am writing about family issues, I have to strive to be better than I am at the moment. When you review the same topic of discussion over and over again, when you present your family, talk to your children or share something with them, you deepen your expertise on this matter, since you keep analyzing it and writing about it. As a result, it affects your family in a positive way, as well. This is my personal experience, of course. I don’t know about other priests, since my blog is related specifically to family issues. It so happens that people initially come to a priest with certain family or personal issues—someone’s husband is a drunkard; there are family fights or infidelity issues. It also happens that awful tragedies urge people to see a priest. So, before you start talking about spiritual matters, you have to navigate through a maze of personal problems. It seems that visits to psychologists aren’t as common today as seeing a priest. It is easier to go and talk to a priest who is viewed as more approachable. That’s why many people choose to see a priest not because they want to become churched Christians, but when they are looking for an advice, guidance, or need batiushka’s prayers. Besides, you don’t have to pay for the conversation—even if everyone says that Church charges a fee for everything. But batiushka holds conversations for free and never sets any time limits. A priest also responds to questions at night and in the evenings, or during live sessions online. Besides, you can’t monetize Instagram, and it’s the same with TikTok, whereas the Russian language YouTube is not a kind of a platform that allows you to monetize if you are running a religious blog. It caters to a rather small audience.   

The Athonite elder said: had St. John Chrysostom lived during our times, he would have been on Instagram

I was asked once whether I bring people to myself or to Christ, and why is there so little about Christ on my blog? All I’ve got is jokes, my matushka and my children. But where is Jesus, grace, and salvation? I always cite St. Innocent (Veniaminov) who famously said that you needed to get people to love you before bringing them closer to Christ. Apostle Paul didn’t speak bluntly, either. He came to Athens, for example, and said, “I see that you are devout and pious people, and you have succeeded in life. But do you know about our Lord Jesus Christ?” (cf. Acts 17:22). He too started from afar by visiting people in their homes and getting to know them personally at first. As a result, all family families converted. He was able to win the hearts of the young, the grownups, and the elderly. The apostle knew how to attract different people and communicate with diverse audiences. A great talent and charisma lies in the heart of it. By the way, we met Father Nikon, an elder from Athos, this year. When I asked him whether it is dangerous for a priest to write a blog or whether it’s worth the effort, he replied that St. John Chrysostom, who lived in the fourth century, was known for having a very small voice and felt inferior because of it. The Athonite elder later added: Had St. John Chrysostom lived during our times, he would have been on Instagram.

Anyone can be mistaken… even batiushka

The Internet may be compared to a glass fishbowl with all of us floating inside; it is quite hard to avoid mistakes at this. But I think that online presence is dangerous and harmful to those of us who try to assert themselves through social media and depend on the number of likes and views. It turns into dependency. They either possess a narcissistic personality, or their self-esteem is based on other people’s opinions. I also have zero tolerance of any obnoxious behavior and always appeal for peace on my blog. Generally speaking, I am not too keen on using the word “blogger.”


For example, there is a word “influencer,” or someone who inspires others. And I don’t mean some kind of a life coach or guru. There is also the “motivational speaker,” or someone who inspires others to follow him. Bloggers aren’t controlled by anyone, and there is no censorship as such. No one tells you how to put out a post or what to post. Typically, I don’t use ads in my blog. More often than not, I use data collaboration. But even then, I watch out for high-quality content in advertising. This is more about your level of education and inner culture, yet no one is immune to mistakes. Every priest is always experimenting when working online. You never know what reaction you will get. Like it was when I published a clip without realizing that profanity could be faintly heard in the background. We simply overlooked it. But the people heard it, so it was my mistake. I work alone, without a team of copywriters or designers. I do have a few women—they are taking their first steps as Orthodox Christians and help me because of their interest in blogging.

I possess healthy self-irony and self-criticism. On the other hand, boundaries and red lines are more about superego. It is more about social stereotypes and the ideals that today’s world sets before us. My blog’s bio says: “For those who aren’t bogged down in stereotypes.” So, my blog isn’t necessarily for church-going people. Church-going people will likely get interested in live sessions. What I’m trying to do is to reach out to all kinds of people and to speak their language.

We can laugh at superstitions because humor helps to break the walls separating us

Apostle Paul had knowledge of a special concept: All things are lawful to me, but all things are not helpful (1 Corinthians 6:12). Gaiety isn’t a sin unless it’s a malicious jest, as Venerable Seraphim used to say. You are fine if you avoid making fun of the Church, making off-color remarks, or acting passive-aggressively. We shouldn’t commit blasphemy online, but it’s acceptable to make fun of superstitions because humor helps to break the walls separating us. Humor and self-irony won’t allow you to get star-struck. There are three major features in your attitude towards the world around you. First, there are those who prefer to trespass and act aggressively. Next, there are detached people. And lastly, there are those who always steer clear of any sensitive issues and remain aloof. It is about the personal style of interaction with the surrounding world. I am somewhat in-between. I do act as a trespasser from time to time but, more often than not, I stand aloof. Probably, it is due in no small part to the influence that monastic spirituality had on me. All of us deal with mental conflicts, and our interactions with the outside world depend on our personalities. As someone who stands aloof, I find it easier to filter haters and avoid smugness. My real world is tiny; it is the Lord, my family, and my parish. It is my weapon to safeguard myself against anxiety and fear. I draw a line between intimate friends and my blog followers. Still, in the beginning, the subscribers’ comments really bugged me.

Focus on real life, not the virtual one

Men always crave warmth and comforts in life; it matters a lot to us. In our age of information and technology, we are so stressed out that we can’t handle it. Why are people glued to their phones? Because of dopamine addiction and doomscrolling. It’s when you open your news feed and keep scrolling it aimlessly. I try not to do that and typically spend a few days a week offline. I practically never use the Instagram Direct Messenger, as there’s so little time, so much to do. I don’t have enough time to do a live broadcast, write a post, answer all the emotional comments and field personal questions.


Once we are off to work, we are instantly swamped with the information noise. Informational pressure increases the general level of stress. Man lacks quietness, so he finds shelter in his phone as he can’t find rest in any other way. It is especially obvious when the people can’t find warmth and comfort in their immediate family or when the familial links are broken and they begin looking for missing relationships elsewhere by using their phones. It quickly leads to the emotional and psychological addiction.

I am trying to create a community. For some of my followers who know me long enough, I am not a virtual batiushka anymore. I am available for in-person meetings and conversations. Many priests don’t go online for fear of being judged. If they face open aggression, they tend to have a very strong emotional reaction. A spiritual person can also switch from phone addiction to religion if he meets a “celeb” batiushka. Many people are seeking ways to be dependent on a moral framework and an authority figure. Batiushka may become such a leader and authority, but it is fraught with the risk of intra-church sectarianism. I see that the problem here has to do with the self-idealization of man.


A question of building a healthy parish lies in the ability to bring together the honest and responsible people who don’t shy away from taking the responsibility and become the “soldiers of Christ.” It’s important to be your true self, keep your feelings and desires in check and never allow the rituals, rules, and ceremonies to become your master in an attempt to find tranquility and hope at their expense.

Whenever we lend an eager ear to someone, we perform a good deed

My family is my main resource, in addition to Liturgy and prayer. When I was younger, I did not like to hear confessions as it was too emotionally emptying. Then I realized that it happens that way because I don’t get involved emotionally. I started praying and sought advice from my father. My father is also a priest. He was simply Uncle Misha for everyone who knew him before, but then he became a priest and heard many confessions from the elderly women. Sometimes you even get to express some truly deep and profound thoughts to the penitent that he experiences a personal epiphany. That is why I like being a priest. A priest helps people and performs good deeds. It isn’t because you like to comfort others but, when you deal with other people’s problems, you simultaneously fix your personal issues, as well. Besides, blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7). Whenever we lend an eager ear to someone, we perform a good deed. This is why confession for me is a journey in search of good deeds. It is similar to St. Nicholas, who was walking from home to home performing the good deeds. I will keep the memory of the most vivid confessions for the rest of my life. These are the moments that give meaning to a priestly life. If a priest becomes an “old hand” and fails to engage in pastoral activities, he may get burned out. In my case, I was able to avoid it. I constantly have people who come to get help and advice and I am always willing to offer help.

Advice to parish bloggers

Nowadays nearly every church has a page on social media, and in order to make it interesting you need to show what is going on or what a younger generation does at church. It can be short videos that will later be sent to a priest who will decide what can be posted and what shouldn’t. You need to find self-motivated young people in the parish who like to hang out on social media. We should waste no effort to yank them out of there and have them use their passion by doing missionary work. If they like it, they can invent something of their own and work on some project. If you have a Sunday school, then post online what the kids are doing while there. If you organize any social events, then post about them. The main thing is that you need to have stories and material that you could examine to decide what needs to be shown online. Don’t reprint the news from the church website on social media. Don’t post a ton of pictures of priests in vestments preaching from the ambo. A non-believer will scroll forward in disgust once he hits upon the photos of priests standing in full regalia with the iconostasis in the background... The more real life events and genuine life stories you post, the better. For example, batiushka is sipping a cup of tea and shares a joke. The late Fr. Dmitry Smirnov, may God rest his soul, had a wealth of anecdotes in store. For instance, I make funny sketches and skits. People find it interesting and it helps to break the walls separating us. It’s also a good idea to find the volunteers who can produce engaging content.

Priest Nikolai Babkin
Translation by Liubov Ambrose

Sretensky Monastery


Matthew3/18/2022 4:27 am
"We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us." The internet, smart phones and social media have radically altered human psychology in ways that can hardly be deemed universally positive. Can we use them for good? Certainly, but they are always going to be a two-edged sword.
Marc David Miller3/16/2022 7:47 pm
Priests live in the World and in the Church. Changing with the times doesn't mean changing one's morals, it means using tools available now to make life better. I was part of the 'stream team' that runs live services, in English and in Russian, for Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St John the Baptist (Washington DC, USA). It was started initially to bring the support and the beauty of the Church to its parishioners at the start of the Pandemic, and is now reaching out to locals and to people all over the world. People from England, from Russia, from Japan, even from repressive societies like Iran, attended the services, a source of comfort to a local and a global community. Some religious groups don't allow their flock to drive to Church, and some religious houses do not allow electricity. We live in the World, and can use the tools that man created to spread the Word. Here is the YouTube channel forthe Church, with archives of previous Services and live stream of Holy Services:
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