15 January 2011

Bishops and Saints on the Television

His Grace Venyamin, Bishop of Chernomorye and Kuban, has addressed his clergy and parishioners on the matter of the damage done by television. The text of this document was published in the February issue of the newspaper "The Candle of Repentance" (Svecha Pokayania), a publication of the Volgograd Parish in honor of the Zar's Martyrs (Jurisdiction of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR).

The need to write an address against "one of the most dangerous instruments of Satan for the soul of the believers" was prompted in Bishop Venyamin by the decline in decency, piousness and devoutness among all believers and the desire to "protect his parishioners against the aggressive and soul destructive influence of the outside world."

"Television has a strong influence, causing debauchery and destruction in men and women, it exerts a negative influence on the willpower and weakness it, says Bishop Venyamin. People do not even notice how they become television's slaves (especially of the so-called "soap operas") a psychological dependence is created similar to that caused by alcohol or drugs. Thus television is a deadly venom for the soul."

The Bishop's address especially notices the most negative influence of television on children "who loose their childhood years through TV, and transforms them from children into old people almost immediately, they are no longer innocent children!" When they experience television, says the Bishop, children "will start considering Christianity as a system imposing bans or prohibitions. with a direct or silent protest against it. Switching on the TV freely we leave our own children in the power of antichrist.!"

Fighting against television is "the foremost task of the Orthodox priest", says Bishop Venyamin. The priests must prompt their parish members to "make a decision to throw out the TV or at least to get rid of it."

In closing his address, Bishop Venyamin recalls a true story: "A small girl, a Christian, was present when a TV set was blessed with Holy Water and saw that immediately demons flew out of it. A couple of minutes went by, and all demons returned to the TV without any opposition. They sat down in the form of musicians with their music instruments, balalaykas and started their concert, like in hell. The head of the Chernomor-Kuban Diocese entrusted his clergy with the task to "convince parishioners to reject television and not to allow them to take Communion if they do not promise to say goodbye to television."

St. Cosmas of Aitolia said in the 18th century that there would be a box in people's homes having two horns which would make people stupid.

Elder Lavrenty said: "The abomination of desolation will stand in the holy place and will show forth the foul seducers of the world who, working false miracles, will deceive all such men as have fallen way from God. And, after them, antichrist will appear! The entire world will see him at one and the same time."

To the question: "Where is the holy place -- in church?"

Venerable Lavrenty said: "Not in church, but in the home! Beforetimes, a table used to stand in the corner where the holy icons were. Then, however, that space will be occupied by seductive
instruments for the deception of men. Many who have departed away from the Truth will say: We need to watch and hear the news. And it is in the news that antichrist will appear; and they will accept him."

Tevevision by Archbishop Vitaly of Montreal and Canada
We have not yet felt the huge after-shock of the coming of television which in a short while has managed to secure a niche for itself in almost every home. Its powers of persuasion and attraction have proved to be practically supernatural and are coupled with a subtle and awesome ability to corrupt. Today, the priesthood cannot and must not ignore the phenomenon of television—a phenomenon unrivaled in the extent of its influence over the human soul. Without exaggeration, a campaign against it must he our immediate and primary concern because every day and every hour its effects are being felt in our own homes.

Its power can be overcome! All we really need to do is to see it in perspective. It is indisputably a brilliant invention and our chief problem lies in the fact that our conflict is not really with it at all, but with ourselves and our own perpetually debilitated wills. We simply do not have the strength to tear ourselves away from its extraordinarily seductive spell. I am reminded of the words of St. Paul: "All things are lawful unto me but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Cor. 6:12).

So let us look at television objectively, see the good and the evil in it, and only then will we be in a position to make use of its positive aspects and to reject the negative.

Firstly, no invention, no mechanism nor electronic device is inherently evil—there is no such thing as intrinsic evil, for evil exists only in the will of those who act contrary to the will of God. Such phenomena as television are rather manifestations of the Divine Wisdom which man has the privilege of discovering within the laws of nature, so that he may all the better and with all his heart give praise and thanks to the Creator. Given nothing else but the sheer quantity of programming, it would be foolish to say that no good at all comes of it. The chief good and perhaps the only good fully realized is this television has brought people home again.

The whole period beginning with the First World War and ending with the nineteen-fifties has been singled out by sociologists because of one characteristic, the tendency of people to "go out" in search of stimulation. People may have slept at home and even had their meals at home, but "leisure time" was spent elsewhere. People "went out," coaxed by sports events, movies, dancing, and an endless array of "entertainments." The results, especially for children, were catastrophic. "Home" became not much more than a dormitory and all the former connotations of the word were lost. It had been a place where children first learned to comprehend the things around them and to use their imaginations, a place where the newly-awakened imagination lovingly animated lifeless forms around it and first learned to dream. But now, the children were cast out into the streets, completely unprepared for the cruel and bitter realities they encountered, the realities of our times, which so insult the soul.

Suddenly, for the first time in five decades people came home—to watch television. Television was not presenting anything new; we cannot credit it with that. It was simply appealing to the lower instincts of the common man and bringing those same things which he had sought in the streets into his living room. So there is no use speaking of the "morality" of the change that came about, and yet the change itself gives cause for optimism. Amidst the indignity, corruption and temptation that we now live in, we must clutch at straws and hope that they will keep us afloat.

Let us concede, then, that television encourages us to stay home and try to build on that. Were we to darn it outright, we would find no one to listen. Such is the power it wields over us.

Conceivably, television could graphically and comprehensively present us with the complex issues confronting science, art and technology and thus increase our knowledge and awareness. Conceivably, it could eradicate ignorance and that peculiar semi-literacy which has always brought the world to grief.

Let us for a moment assume that it seeks to do these things, for the sake of the argument, and go on to examine its destructive influence on the soul.

Television keeps us from reading. Why bother when we can both hear and see everything on television? Why strain our imagination when television can do all the work for us? We are handed programs on a platter, masterfully prepared and piquantly sauced—all we have to do is eat.

Television has carried us to the ends of the earth and into space, taken us to the ocean’s bottom and into the earth's crust, into factories and operating rooms where we have practically participated in the most complex surgery. It has shown us nations and peoples whom we might otherwise never have seen. And yet, paradoxically, it has made us slothful and apathetic. Television's vast storehouse of audio-visual information has proven to be an indigestible glut which has made us indifferent to the reef world around us. When all is said and done, it has nurtured our ignorance.

I will try to explain. When we read, an extremely complex psychological process occurs. It involves, first and foremost, an effort of the will. To choose a book and read it through requires a concentrated effort, whereas it takes no effort at all to watch television. No matter how brilliant the author of a given book may be, our imagination creates its own images as we read. We create a universe of our own. In fact, we may be drawn to our favorite authors precisely because we participate with them in the mysterious process of creation.

The imagination is only one aspect of the soul. It is the source of creativity and exploration and it is developed through reading. This helps to make us not only useful members of society but life-loving individuals as well. Television, on the other hand, far from stimulating the imagination, has no need of it. The work of the imagination is completed by the time a program is broadcast, and all we end up doing is looking at the end-product of the imaginations of others, often alien to our own. As we are deprived of our imaginations, so are we deprived of our souls, and our creative powers are paralyzed.

We see God's creation through a glass darkly and forget that "...the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made..." (Rom. 1 20). Very subtly, television turns us into materialists who retain an intrinsic animal ability to see, but lack any inner vision—the vision of the soul. We are being encouraged to look more and more but not to see. We are becoming like the idols which King David the poet and prophet spoke of in his psalms: "They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not. They have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not. They have hands, but they touch not; feet have they, but they walk not; neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them (Ps. 115 5-8). Once we are able to look and yet not see the essence of things and the threads that bind them all together, we have become truly ignorant.

Much has already been written about the corrupting influence of television, but I would like to bring it to mind once more. No parent would ever take his or her children to any place of dubious repute. If someone suggested a stroll through the slums, it would be taken as a bad joke, a sign of mental instability, or of intoxication And yet, let us not be hypocritical, all you parents of respected and honorable; Orthodox families! Of course you declined the invitation to the slums, but you think nothing wrong in gathering in your living room and with a barely perceptible and innocent flick of

the wrist inviting the lowest forms of human society into your homes, the walls of which are probably even graced with icons. You are about to meet every conceivable sort of maniac, murderer and psychopath. You won't even flinch and your conscience will remain clean. But your children will have nightmares; they will grow nervous, irritable and insufferably rude. Even you will not fall asleep as easily as before because of the oppressive burden of the immoral hideousness you have seen.

All of these things are a profanation of your home, which, in the highest understanding of the Orthodox Church, is your church as well. The Apostle Paul often called the Christian home the "church within the house" (Rom. 16 5; I Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phil. 1:2). You are also profaning your soul and the souls of your children, because your eyes and your ears are the instruments of your soul and the images you see, as well as the things you hear, enter into it. Images are stored in our subconscious like photos in an album and they can profane our heart of hearts. They re-emerge from the disturbed mind at any moment and in any place, in accordance with laws that we know nothing about at present. The interfere with our relationships with other human beings and take away the joy and the immediacy of living. It was with these things in view that the Orthodox Church stated succinctly and without equivocation, "Your eyes see the truth and what the eyes perceive goes directly to influence the soul. Wisdom tells us that this is so. Therefore guard your heart above all else you treasure, for the source of life is there" (100th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople).

What a Mephistophelian joke we have become the brunt of since then! Knowing full well that we Orthodox would never knowingly engage in unlawful assembly, Satan so cleverly and completely clouded our judgment that, with our own hard-earned money, we obtain an electronic device which introduces us to corruption, debauchery and murder and turns our home into an insane asylum. Satan has taken away from us that sense of human dignity which the holy prophet David so treasured that he constantly and tirelessly besought the Lord not to let the devil make a laughing-stock of him.

Since we undeniably do see all the above-mentioned depravity on television, it becomes important to note another critical consequence of our actions. In our everyday lives we have practical, moral, psychological and social barriers placed between us and the commission of evil. The soul, if only through inertness and laziness, tends never to remove them. But the impact and example of the realism of television effortlessly overcomes these barriers. It familiarizes us with all the approaches to sin as if they were of our own making, and consequently sin comes easily to us. This would explain the waves of appalling crimes which have become endemic in our time and which even our social agencies are concerned about—crimes which cannot be predicted—"motiveless crimes." A young boy, for no apparent reason, murders his parents one morning. A student indecently assaults his teacher. There are countless examples in the police records, but it would be inappropriate to cite any more here.

What means of resistance can I suggest, for it is clear that we must resist? First of all, we must work together, both the shepherd and the flock, making this our highest priority. Of course, the best and simplest thing to do would be to sell the television set, and the sooner the better. Let me qualify that: sell it and give the money to the Church for the benefit of the poor. This first suggestion is for those righteous souls who have already taken up the sword, those elect of Cod whose aim in life is salvation. Even more blessed are those who never acquired the thing in the first place, who never needed it. However, I understand that for the time being this, my first suggestion, will seem too harsh for the majority of the faithful. We have been captivated by television and our wills have become so feeble and sickly that few can respond to such a call. But do not be dismayed—there have always been few heroes and even fewer martyrs. The righteous always seem to be alone.

I would like to remind us all once more, as faithful Christians, of the positive qualities of television, particularly of its ability to keep us at home and together. We have all noticed on many occasions where the family gathers in the evening, with apparent dignity and decorum, before the television set in the semidarkness. Our struggle against the harmful effects of television comes down to taking advantage of its ability to bring us together and at the same time negating its corrupting influences. We must revitalize our willpower and establish a firm "modus operandi" in our use of this invention. Firstly, only the parents or some responsible member of the family should be allowed to turn it on. Secondly, it must be given the aura of "forbidden fruit" and children should be permitted to see only the occasional good movie, solely as a reward for their achievements and good behavior.

It is important to accompany every such film with a discussion and one's own conclusions, putting the subject into an historical perspective and citing related themes from literature. Everything must be seen in the light of Orthodoxy and the teachings of the Holy Fathers.

I would like to believe that those who choose to oppose fervently the corrupting influence of television will also be guided by the Lord who will suggest ways to ward off evil. During all fasts it could be made a rule to disconnect-the television or even to remove it altogether. Our diligence will of course depend on the extent of our desire for salvation, on our piety as a community and on our devotion to the Church.

Children and Television by Monk Joseph
Brother Joseph was formerly an elementary school teacher and high school physical education instructor. He has worked extensively with underprivileged children in Chicago and San Francisco, and with Indian and Eskimo children in the Alaska public school system.

On any given night, tens of millions of Americans sit hypnotized by some kind of electronic device: stereos, television, or radios. Almost every school-aged child in the United States hungers for and receives his or her "media fix" on a daily basis. With the introduction of "Beta-Max" and cable TV into the American home, the future of Orthodox Christian family life and culture seems doomed.

The Effects of TV
Just what are the dooming effects of electronic entertainment (primarily television) on the minds and, more importantly, the souls of young Orthodox Christians? Let me suggest five crucial effects:
  1. From questioning, curious, family-centered, book-and-art loving five-year-olds, most American children have, by the age of eleven, lost their ability to question their environment. One cannot ask a television for an answer. And schools do precious little, if anything, to promote curiosity or imagination. The television first hypnotizes, and then numbs, the imaginative capabilities of the young person. The young student, therefore, loses interest in books which approach life with any more complexity than that offered on TV (if, indeed, he reads at all). Creative writing, diaries, letter writing and the ability to discuss any topic for more than a few minutes -all of these diminish as the electronic device takes over.
  2. By the age of ten, school children usually exhibit changes in speech patterns, as a result of watching TV. Either they become so passive that their verbal expressions are reduced to the minimum, or their speech—especially when describing events—increases in speed and becomes confused. Almost every parent has seen this phenomenon at one time or another. ("And then..., and then.... and then .... ") This is due in major part to the absorption of rapid-fire television language, where silence is non-existent and where a change in subjects is constant. By age eleven, having watched 4,000 hours of television, the normal American child has taken the majority of his English lessons from the TV screen, and not from school teachers or books. And there are few full paragraphs spoken on TV, almost no poetry, and no descriptive materials. Is it any wonder that the average eighteen-year-old American can hardly read or write?
  3. Mythological television characters replace parents, relatives, the Saints, and Christ as role models. A normal American fourteen-year-old girl talks with her mother (in terms of actually discussing a subject in an intelligible way and in a sensible context) only about four minutes a week! Listen to your family's dinner conversations. Can they compete with hours of TV? Or for that matter, what do Church services mean to your children in terms of the thousands of hypnotic, mindless hours before the television? As family communication decreases, television watching increases. And as the TV devours more and more hours in young children's lives, almost nothing can compete with it for attention.
  4. Creative silence, from which stem our relationships with God, the earth, and even our neighbors, is subconsciously discouraged by the ever-babbling television, radio, or stereo. Children and adults become increasingly "rattled" in the face of extended silence. Children learn that it is simply not fun to be silent. Prayer, of course, becomes boring. Church is unbearable. Quiet contemplation is unthinkable. 
  5. The major issues of life are twisted and distorted by the media, which are primarily interested in creating spiritless consumers, rather than spiritual producers. Love, war, death, prejudice, the world of work, history, the future, and, most importantly, God and the fate of the human soul—all of these issues are either twisted, distorted, or ignored. Children—and adults—do not view television in context. For example, during the "Christmas Season" there may be, on any given night, a full length movie on the life of Christ, an inane situation comedy, and some show filled with mindless violence, half-sketched characters, and an infantile plot. The young child has no context in which to put the two shows, subconsciously admiring the criminal who evades the police as much as, or more than, Christ hanging on the Cross. The whole TV schedule is filled with a mixture of history, culture, and junk -with junk predominating at ninety percent of the material. A child equates it all: The Holocaust, Macbeth, the life of Christ, and "Magnum, P.I." Having no historical, cultural, or spiritual values, the good and the bad are swallowed up together, the good more than likely forgotten three days later.
What Can We Do?
What can we as Orthodox Christians do in the face of such an electronic onslaught? How can we compete withHollywood and the mindless materialistic society that surrounds us?

Schools, unfortunately, offer very little in terms of strengthening the Orthodox family, teaching cultural, historical, and literary skills, and in imparting spiritual and moral guidance to our young. Indeed, a young child in America is lucky to have one teacher in twenty who is capable of preparing the child for an active, productive Orthodox life. Most teachers are television-trained non-readers. They are materialists in their approach to society. And one is more than likely to find that teachers, if they have even heard of the Orthodox Church, are opposed to the Orthodox form of child-rearing.

The battle of the mind versus the media is one which must ultimately be waged in the home and in the Church. The relationship between our society and Orthodox culture is, in many ways, far more dangerous than the relationship which existed between pagan Rome and the Early Church. In pagan Rome, Christians gave up their bodies to society, but retained and elevated their souls. Modern society wants both body and soul! The task before the family and before the Church, therefore, is no small one. Nor will the battle be won by those who are weak or compromising.

There are some practical strategies that we can use in defeating the deleterious effects of television on the development of our Orthodox children. Young children in America are introduced to society, as we previously noted, by means of television and by means of the heroes and champions promoted by the media figures who are anything but inspiring and who almost always violate the true Christian view of man. If there are any non-media figures in their list of heroes and champions, these more often than not come by way of coloring books, fairy tales, and sometimes inane school books, these latter sources themselves often influenced by media personalities and the media "mind-set."

In this process of development, at least for Orthodox children, Church and prayer play some role. But by the time that the child reaches eight years old, the effect of the media bombardment is such that the Church and prayer rank almost last in his priorities. Any parish Priest can verify this fact. And the reason for this, again, is that there is no reinforcement for religious belief in the media-created and media-dominated world in which the child operates. What one must do is substitute television and normal reading with activities that are conducive to good Orthodox development. Before the age of eight, the following activities should be seriously considered by every Orthodox parent. They are activities that help toform the soul and to create a world-view that is compatible with that which one encounters in Church and which promotes prayerful introspection (of which children are really quite capable).
  1. Instead of art by way of infantile coloring books and school projects, which tend to treat children as though they were artistic morons, teach your child to draw and to paint Icons. Start with teaching the child to trace Icons. In almost every town in America there are public libraries with large Icon books or with loan systems through which such books can be ordered. Start with just the face of Christ, the Theotokos, and the Saints, then move on to other parts of the Icon. In this, exercise, you should teach the child to begin with a prayer, to sketch a cross at the top of the paper on which he is working, and to go without an afternoon snack or evening dessert, so that the child will learn something about the sacred nature of iconography. One should stress to the child that, the more effort he puts forth in prayerfully sketching holy figures, the more that God will reward that effort with a good product. This, too, helps the child to understand better the mystical nature of an Icon. In order to teach your child perspective and drawing from nature, have him trace, draw, and paint scenes from nature by the great masters of western and oriental painting. In this way he will understand the diversity in perspective and learn to appreciate other cultures. Chinese and Japanese painters, moreover, are quite skilled in portraying landscapes and animals, which children especially love at a young age. Drawing will thus acquire the same importance that printing did, when your child first printed his name. These early skills will help to prepare the child for later skills in painting and, most importantly, will have helped him to learn to see something which the media can never do. We might also stress that, in approaching secular art as something separate from iconography, the child intuitively learns that iconography is not an art form as such, but a spiritual skill which is tied to spiritual vision.
  2. Instead of reading the usual children's material (fairy tales and the incredibly far-fetched literature available in the public school system), read to your children each night from the lives of the Saints, from the life of Christ, and from the Old and New Testaments, weaving the Icons that the child is working on into the stories. In fact, there are some texts of the Bible illustrated with Orthodox Icons, which is an excellent way to reach children with verbal and pictorial images at the same time. Many children under eight years of age are terribly afraid of the dark and of death. They think, indeed, about metaphysical as well as physical matters—albeit in a somewhat crude way. The lives of Saints especially give the child a healthy view of the interaction of the Physical and metaphysical, helping him to overcome his fears. The questions which the children will have, after reading the lives of the Saints, will astound you in their directness and force. Both the child and the parent will thus grow spiritually.
  3. If your child has a vivid dream or some striking experience, have him tell it to you and tape record it. If you do this, and then let the child go back and write about the experience after a few weeks, while listening to the tape, he will be able to see how his emotions change over time, how time changes our perceptions of events, and how we naturally forget much. It will also teach your child to read and to write better. Ask the child, in these writing exercises, to keep a word bank. What words cause him to smile? To frown? To be happy? To think about God? Your child will thus make associations between words and the mental world—something that television will never allow him to do.
  4. Attend Church services on Saturday night and on Sunday morning. It is important for your child to be away from the "prime-time" television shows, which tend to concentrate their perverting messages into inane and harmful "features." The Orthodox Church's cycle of services gives you an opportunity to do just this, by always attending both Vespers and Matins and Liturgy. These services will help the child to understand that God belongs to the night and the day (thus helping him overcome his fear of the night), that God is not just someone whom we remember on Sunday morning, and that the Church is for every season, day, and time. The more that your child is in Church, the more that what he has learned about Icons and the holy heroes and champions about whom he has read will impress him.
  5. Use the library extensively. There is no excuse for anyone in America to claim that he cannot find materials to help instruct his children. Even tiny towns have excellent libraries. You can even use tapes and records available through the library to introduce a child to classical music and the like. All of this will distract him from America's notorious "idiot box," the television. It will also provide him with an alternative to the sterile and sometimes stupid books that the common child finds at school.
  6. Your children should know the nature of hard work and of physical exercise. However old-fashioned it may sound, hard work builds character. If anyone doubts this, simply think about children who do not work. They become hopelessly incapacitated. As well, exercise helps keep the body alert, which in turns helps keep the mind alert, which in turn helps keep the soul watchful.
  7. Stress fasting and good eating habits. One of the most pernicious parts of television is that it exposes children to foods full of chemicals and sugar, the result being poor physical and mental health. Teach your children to fast each Wednesday and Friday and to eat good foods. As a result, their minds will be healthier and they will be less attracted to media idiocy. One way that the media are able to keep their control over the mind is by weakening it, by forming poor eating habits through commercials.
If these steps (and others that the reader may come up with on his own) are followed, by the time your child reaches the "magic" age of eight, he will be able to confront the temptations and perversion s of society and the values which are taught in a media age. He will have an Orthodox outlook and an Orthodox way of approaching the trials of the world. His moral life, his spiritual life, and his personal life will be formed in an atmosphere that, while at odds with the world, will nonetheless feel familiar to him. How this attitude is maintained through the teenage years will be the subject of our last comments on children and television.

Turn Off Your Television!
A message from the White Dot International Campaign Against Television

The average American watches 4.5 hours of television every day.

You sleep for eight hours. You get up and work for eight hours. Come home, eat some dinner and turn on the television. A few hours later you're getting sleepy. Time for bed.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING??

We're not kidding. All those things you wanted to have in your life: passion, romance, love, childhood, parenthood, adventure; when are you going to do all that?

You're staring at a piece of furniture!

People on TV are not your friends. They're not in the room with you. You are alone in the dark, staring at a plastic box. Think about it. This is like a science fiction horror story; but it's really happening. People have stopped living as humans and connected themselves to machines instead.

You're only going to live for 75 years, if you're lucky. How much time do you have left? Enough to spend one whole day every week with fake friends, watching their imitation lives instead of living your own?

TV doesn't give you experiences, it takes them away!

On your deathbed, what if someone could give you back those ten years of television? What if they said you could have another ten years to be with the people you love, find new people, do things differently. What would you say?
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