Being relatives to the Lord

5 July OS 2019 – Thursday of the Fifth Week of Matthew; St. Athanasios of Mt. Athos; St. Cyprian the New Martyr; St. Lampados; Uncovering of the Relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh; Holy New Righteous-Martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth

In the daily Gospel reading assigned for today, the Lord Jesus reminds us to realize who our true relatives are:

At that time, while Jesus yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables. Matthew 12:46-13:3

St. Theophan the Recluse, commenting on Our Lord’s words, discusses the meaning of spiritual kinship:

“For whosoever shall do the will of My Father Who is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother (Matt. 12:50).”  By this the Lord gives us to understand that the spiritual kinship which He came to plant and raise up on the earth is not the same as fleshly kinship; although in the form of its relationships, the spiritual is identical to the fleshly.  The spiritual also contains fathers and mothers – they are those who give birth to people with the word of truth, or the Gospel, as the Apostle Paul says.  And it contains also brothers and sisters – those who are born spiritually from the same person and grow in one spirit.  The bond between [spiritual] relatives is founded on the action of grace.  It is not external, not superficial, but it is as deep and alive as the fleshly bond, only it has its place in another, much higher and more important sphere.  This is why it predominates over the fleshly and, when necessary, offers the fleshly as a sacrifice to its spiritual interests without regret, in full certainty that this sacrifice is pleasing to God and is required by Him.  – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 140

Today, as we know, the natural, or traditional, human family is under attack as never before in mainstream society, to the point at which it is the exception rather than the rule.  To see a happy family of faithful, once-married, loving father (a man) and obedient mother (a woman) with many happy, healthy children,  surrounded by an extended family of caring grandparents and other relatives is like encountering a vision from a lost world, though such families predominated in our society within living memory.   When the unhappy denizens of the present day dystopia – brainwashed, addicted, self-mutilated, fornicating, aborting, sodomizing, having children out of wedlock with various “partners,” confused about which biological sex they belong to, hooked on demonic music and demonic video, feminized men and masculinized women mentally and morally paralyzed by the basest passions and near-complete ignorance – encounter such a vision, they hardly know what they are looking at; they do not know where to place it in their understanding of reality.  The age-old normal has become unfamiliar, even disturbing.

Living as we are surrounded by such a nightmare, it may seem rather hard to us for the Lord and His saints to call us not only to be traditional families but even to surpass the natural bonds of family and place greater value on our spiritual relationships.  The truth of the matter, however, is that until we place our natural families in right order to our spiritual obligations and spiritual relationships, the natural family will continue to be lost. If God be not in first place, He shall consent to be in no place.  If we do not subordinate even our traditional, natural, and praiseworthy earthly relationships to His holy will and holy plan for man, He will not wait obediently upon our fallen will as though He were merely an accessory, a deus ex machina to swoop in and conveniently fix the messes that we make, in order for us to live contented worldly lives according to the chimerical image of a 1950’s family television show.

Where do we start? Let Orthodox people who are married and have children construct their family life on the old pattern, as best they can:  Daily family prayer, family meals, faithful Church attendance Saturday night and Sunday morning, and feast days as much as possible.  Let father and mother with their children fast according to the Church’s laws, and practice frequent confession and Holy Communion. Let families prioritize according to the Gospel:  Better to be poor and spend more time at Church and with your children, than for mother and father both to work 60 hours per week in order to afford things people do not need nor until recently even imagined that they needed.  Turn off the media input and cut out all the extraneous activities, and make your home a happy, quiet, ordered holy place.

Let the single people earnestly seek God’s holy will for their lives and use their free time to serve the Church.   The Lord will show them the way.  He knows how hard it is to find a spouse nowadays:  He would not have put them in this situation if it were not for their salvation.  The main thing is to remain courageous and full of hope, based on faith.

All of the above, though it is actually just a starting point, may seem too much to most of us, surrounded by circumstances that seem to entrap us in a vicious cycle of worldly cares and compromised principles.  But our situation is not hopeless, not at all.  For – and here is the Good News – the Orthodox Faith is not a self-help program by which we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  It is the power of God working in our lives, based on the confession of the True Faith.  This power, coming by grace, is experienced directly when we put spiritual things first.  Has Orthodoxy failed us? Is it not so, rather, that we have failed Her?

When the Lord called us to “…be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” He meant it.  We are failing all the time, and therefore we must live in repentance.  Yes, the force of circumstances may be such that normal, much less spiritual, life seems unattainable at times.  But let us, rather than living in alternating denial and rage, look at our circumstances straight in the eye, always tell the truth to ourselves and to others, and weep for our sins and the sins of the whole world! Let us constantly sorrow and grieve over so many souls being lost, and pray more earnestly, more energetically, more faithfully, with tears, to be delivered from the traps that surround us!   “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  He will hear our prayer, and He will deliver us.

To support our own life of prayerful repentance and our own domestic discipline, we have the life of the Church!  St. Theophan, in the passage above, speaks movingly of that special bond felt among spiritual siblings, the faithful who are born of the same spiritual father or mother.  This is seen most clearly in the circles of the pious faithful who have been given new birth by a truly God-inspired monastic elder or eldress; how they see each other with new spiritual eyes and cherish each other.  They experience family at a whole new level, and yet – if the elder be genuine and not a cult leader – this new experience transfigures and empowers the domestic church life of their natural families and does not denigrate it.  Truly, as St. John of the Ladder writes:  God is light to the angels, angels are a light to monks, and monks are a light to men.

Most of us, however, do not have access to such a monastic figure.  We trust, however, in the grace that is in the Church.  If our parish priest is pious and God-fearing, if he preaches Orthodoxy and ministers the Holy Mysteries with godly fear, if he patiently hears our confessions and gives us traditional advice based on the Fathers, we find new birth through him, in virtue of his office, which is from God and not from man. Increasingly we need for our scattered parishes to be true spiritual families, in which the parishioners strive spiritually together, loving and helping each other.  The system under which the various parish churches are viewed only as buildings among which unaffiliated, uncommitted, and generally unsupportive Christians – whatever their outward show of piety – simply circulate to “light their candle,” and in which the clergy are merely cultic functionaries dispensing services on demand,  no longer works (if it ever really worked!).  Let us commit to our parish churches as our true families, love and respect our priests as fathers in Christ, and help one another!

Finally, we must speak of the role of the godparents.  Time is long past when the godparent relationship may be allowed simply as a social tie ritualistically sealed by an obligatory baptism service grinned and giggled through as a sentimental cute-baby event. Sacramental kinship that is exploited to cement worldly relationships and build materially advantageous social networks is not only less than what it should be, but is positively displeasing to God, as being a perversion of that which is holy.   Every prospective godfather or godmother must put spiritual things first, accept to baptize a child (or adult!) as a sacred duty, and do his best to pray for, encourage, enlighten, and edify his godchild with all fear of God and love.   If this is in place, then the social side – financial help, companionship, etc. – will flow naturally from this, with discretion. How delightful for the soul of a child, when, in addition to his natural father and mother, he has godparents whose pious example and wise words elevate his innocent soul!    All the earthly benefits they bestow – presents, outings, etc. – are transfigured by Faith.  This is a taste, for the child, of Paradise on earth.

When all is submitted to the hierarchy of goods ordained by God, all is well.  Let us take steps today, making a short list of those behaviors we do have control over and can change, and pray earnestly to the Lord to enlighten us regarding our spiritual families and our earthly families, that we may see all things in light of the Gospel, set good priorities, and experience the power of grace.

God is with us.

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Guarding the house of the soul

4 July 2019 OS: Wednesday of the Fifth Week of St. Matthew, St. Andrew of Crete, Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia

In today’s Gospel, the Lord warns us that after we repent, we must keep up our zeal and attentiveness, or we shall fall into worse things than those we had escaped:

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. St. Matthew 12:38-45

St. Theophan the Recluse explains how a demon can return to an Orthodox Christian from whom he has been driven out, and make him worse than he was before:

In every person who lives unrepentant in sin, there lives a demon, as if in a house, who takes charge over everything within him. When by the grace of God such a sinner comes to contrition over his sins, repents, and ceases to sin – the demon is cast out from him. At first the demon does not disturb the one who has repented because, in the beginning, there is much fervor within him which burns demons like fire and repulses them like an arrow. But then, when fervor begins to grow cold, the demon approaches from afar with its suggestions, throws in memories about former pleasures, and calls the person to them. If the penitent does not take care, his sympathy will soon pass to a desire for sin. if he does not come to his senses and return to his former state of soberness, a fall is not far off. The inclination for sin and the decision to commit it are born from desire – the inner sin is ready, and the outward sin is only waiting for a convenient occasion. When an occasion presents itself, the sin will be accomplished. Then the demon will enter again and begin to drive a person from sin to sin even faster than before. The Lord illustrated this with the story about the return of the demon into the clean, swept house.Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 139-140

St. Theophan is here writing about the case of an Orthodox Christian who has fallen into a life marked by the habitual practice of extremely serious sins – those that exclude one from Holy Communion, according to the canons – and then has repented and begun his Orthodox life afresh, but, sadly, goes back to his old, excommunicated way of life. He would not have written that the demon lives inside of the person – rather than the demon’s attacking from the outside – if this were not the case. Most of us are not in this position, but we would do well to heed Our Lord’s words and the saint’s commentary as a spur to acquire three habits of mind: sensibility – awareness – of our sinfulness, sorrow for sin, and prayerful attentiveness. If we lose or never acquire these, not only shall we not be able to fight the “small” daily sins, but also we are all quite capable of falling away so seriously that we can become the formerly swept house occupied by seven demons.

Awareness of our sinfulness – The Holy Fathers teach that the most dangerous state of soul is insensibility. We may not be committing great, obvious sins, but our general attitude is one of carelessness and spiritual lukewarmness. If we are not aware of any sinfulness on our part, we are out of touch with reality, living in a dream world. If one dies in such a condition, torment at the demonic tollhouses cannot be avoided, and the final outcome is doubtful. Only those who actively, frequently examine their consciences, see their sins of thought, word, and deed, and reproach themselves constantly, can prepare with regularity and profit for Holy Communion and therefore hope firmly to die in the grace-filled state of repentance. Sadly, insensibility is the normal state of the “mainstream,” that great mass of nominal Orthodox Christians, the realization of which fact helps us to understand Our Lord’s repeated assertions that few will be saved. Yet how simple it is to overcome this insensibility: We simply have to ask the Lord, fervently and repeatedly, to open our eyes, to enable us to acquire a lively awareness of our many daily sins of thought, word, and deed. This prayer is very pleasing to God, and He will give the grace!

Sorrow for sin – In addition to asking the Lord to open our eyes to our sins, let us implore Him to give us sorrow for sin. This sorrow is not a depressed remorse, a prideful frustration with our lack of improvement. (If this is our response to seeing our sins, this reveals to us how much pride lives within us, how much we rely only on ourselves and not on God’s gracious, all-efficacious help.) Rather, saving sorrow for sin is the bright sorrow of compunction. In this state of soul, we see the full depth, the full horror, of our sinfulness and separation from God, but simultaneously we receive the absolute, gracious assurance of His forgiveness. We grieve, mourn, and weep over our sins while at the same time experiencing joy of heart, Paradise within, an inner conviction of firm hope in our salvation. We begin to understand that God is worthy of all love for His own sake, and we receive the grace of holy zeal, the burning desire to do His holy will, not only to avoid the pains of hell and acquire the joys of heaven, but above all to please the Lord, because He is worthy of all love, and to love Him is the purpose of our existence.

Prayerful attentiveness – Even after we receive the graces of seeing our sins and acquiring holy compunction, we can still fall away, because of the changefulness of human nature. This remains true for everyone, even for Orthodox Christians who have acquired the grace of working miracles due to extreme holiness, until the very moment of death. Therefore it is critical that we be faithful to our daily prayers of morning and evening, and then, throughout the day, frequently repeat the Prayer of Jesus: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son, of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” We must beg the Lord for the grace of an attentive, sober state of mind, and not get caught up in the trivialities and passions of worldly life. Of course, we will be distracted a thousand times a day – that is normal – but then a thousand times a day we return to our Jesus Prayer. This is how a rock-like, firm state of mental and cordial (i.e. heartfelt) attention is acquired! Every time we return to attentiveness, we receive more grace! The Lord has designed us for this dynamic; it is the arena of a daily Christian life, nothing unusual. We have only to commit ourselves to it and then repeatedly force ourselves back to it. He will give us abundant grace to do this.

May Our gracious Lord ever bestow on us the grace to see our sins, acquired grace-filled compunction, and attend continually to the thoughts of our mind and the movements of our heart. Amen.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 39: The Great Stereopticon, Session 4, Television

Introduction: With the introduction and rapid invasion of the television into nearly every American home, and then, gradually, homes throughout the world, in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, the power that the movies gave to the global elite to brainwash entire populations increased immeasurably. Now, instead of having to leave one’s home, go to the “magic cave” of the “stereopticon,” and pay for a ticket, the average person simply sat down in his living room and with no effort and little expense absorbed the physical, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual poison of the Antichrist spirit for several hours every evening, or perhaps many hours every day, or in some cases even for the majority of his waking hours. We cannot begin to measure the destruction wrought thereby upon everyone – everyone’s mind and family, upon Church life, upon community and society. The physical destruction wrought by the criminal globalist elite during WWII – incinerating 100,000 human beings in one night in Dresden, for example – is nothing compared to it. For the spread of television enabled the elite, as never before, to destroy the soul.

Today, with Internet pornography addiction, social media addiction, and smartphone addiction destroying countless souls, worries about good old-fashioned television may seem outdated, even quaint. We’ll get around to the Internet and cellphones. But right now, in this session, let’s go back in time to Ye Olden Days of the Reign of Television, and look at this thing from the Orthodox point of view. Not only will the historical background help us, but also we have to realize that a lot of people still do spend a lot of time in front of bigger and bigger TV sets showing worse and worse content. This is especially true of the elderly and of the mothers, children, and unemployed and disabled members of poor and less educated families.

So many writers have written so much against television – so much that has never been refuted effectively by anyone – that today when we call it the Idiot Box and so forth, no one really objects. Everybody knows that this thing has made us into human beings who are significantly less intelligent and less active and less fruitful and less independent than our ancestors, has made us comparatively stupid and passive and unproductive and enslaved. Video games do indeed lessen attention span and reduce the capacity for rational thought, but television was doing it first, long before video games existed. The little screen of the smart phone is indeed a consuming goddess, but her older sister, the television set in the family room, prepared the way for the smart phone’s current career of worldwide mental and spiritual genocide.

People my age in America – the so-called Baby Boomers – are the last generation reared by parents who did not have a television when they were children. Our parents – the misnamed “Greatest Generation” – who had no idea of the great advantage they had in possessing minds not deformed by television in their formative years, eagerly embraced the new medium and rushed to buy the best television sets they could afford and watch them as much as they could, along with us, their children. And not only that, but they used the television to occupy us when they wished to be free of caring for us in order to do other things. So we are the first generation raised on the electronic babysitter, and it shows – the shallowness, selfishness, and stupidity of my generation of Americans are infamous throughout the world. We are the children of television. The societal mess we have bequeathed to our children and grandchildren is the direct result of the interior mess in our own TV-addled brains

Nothing of what I am saying is considered controversial by educated people on the right, center, or left of the political and cultural spectrum. Veterans of the television industry itself, far-left secularists, have written damning screeds against The Idiot Box for decades, and Hollywood has even made popular movies attacking it. Everyone knows what this thing has done to us. Then why do we not get rid of it? There are a lot of answers – the technology itself is physically addicting, it enables mental laziness, it relieves boredom, it satisfies vain curiosity, it caters to basic passions such as lust and anger by purveying illicit sexual imagery and unending physical violence, and on and on. I would like to offer an all-inclusive, very Orthodox answer: We don’t get rid of television because our enemy the devil has hypnotized us, using the very thing we need to get rid of. I mean that literally – we are the subjects of mass hypnosis. If you don’t think the demons want you to have a television set, just try getting rid of one you may already have – parents, relatives, and friends who come to your home and see that you are so “deprived” will offer to buy or give you one. As a friend once told me, “Never worry about buying a television set – the devil will make sure someone will give you one.”

The only answer, of course, is the simplest one: As they say, “Kill your television!” Just get rid of it. There are many other things to do with one’s time, such as prayer and reading. Frankly, it would be better to do absolutely nothing. Everyone knows this. What we lack is a firm resolve.

I know that some younger people may consider the this critique of TV per se as anachronistic. Many no longer own what could be called a television set, and many watch only selected videos on the Internet or spend all their screen time on social media. But we need to understand both what television has done to us in the past and how many of its destructive effects are still with us, some of which have now been exacerbated by the Internet and by smart phones. On the other hand, I think we can say, with cautious optimism, that video via Internet offers some genuine advantages over the old network or cable television, and that, used wisely, it may be of real help to us. We’ll leave that discussion to later, when we talk about the Internet. And I do have to admit that not only do I distribute these audio recordings on the Internet but, after some hesitation, I have agreed to film some short video talks. You can see our YouTube videos at the URL below – we’ve posted twelve so far, and I’m afraid that there are plans for many more.

Now let’s get back to understanding television in the light of history while using our Orthodox lens: Let us recall that the Church’s concern is for the whole of man, not just his spiritual life as something somehow disconnected from the rest of his life. Nowadays some bishops and priests like to stick their heads in the sand, and they want to stick your heads there too: “Don’t worry about what goes on in society, just pray at home and in Church, but in society go with the flow!” One problem with that approach is that it has no precedent, for the Church has never done that. She has always been in the forefront of fighting for her children in every sphere – the spiritual, the intellectual, physical, social, political, you name it – because her care is for the whole person – soul and body – and not only for the whole person individually, but also for persons considered not as isolated individuals but as members of families, clans, and nations. She is the Mother and Teacher of the Nations, not an esoteric club for alienated misfits who want to “veg out” on some kind of private spiritual exercises. Another problem with this ostrich approach is that those who want to destroy us are not going to leave us in peace at home and in Church. The enemy is already within the gates. Nowadays it’s fight or die. There is no other choice.

So, then, our concern as the Orthodox Church being for the whole of the person, both in himself – his spirit, soul, mind, body – and as a member of a family, a community, and a historic nation – must we not subject to a severe critique anything that damages the soul and body, the family, the community, and the nation, on such a vast scale as television has done? Of course we must. So let us take a critical look at television. I cannot here say everything that is wrong with it. That would require a semester-long college course. But I would like to make a few points, and relate my critique to our Orthodox viewpoint.

Point 1: Television re-wired the brain. When the dominant visual medium was the movies, most people only watched two and a half hours per week – enough for one feature film and a few “shorts” like cartoons and newsreels. When the TV revolution overtook mass populations in the 1950’s, two things happened: 1. People were suddenly watching for many hours per week – say, at least, three hours of prime time television on weekdays, that’s fifteen hours, plus ten hours on weekends. And that is a minimum! 2. The dominant video medium technology was itself radically different. Movies are something outside of you – you really look at them. The cathode ray tube did the opposite – it projected the image into your brain. The addiction then went from only a psychological addiction to being both physical and psychological. And people’s brains became physically affected, re-wired. So many studies, after nearly 70 years of television, show that x number of hours of TV watching actually shrink the part of the brain used for reading and analytical thinking, that one must conclude, inescapably, that TV is being used to create a new kind of human being, one that cannot think for himself, that is easily manipulated by a rapid succession of incoherent visual images and non-rational sounds. As we pointed out much earlier in one of our OSC classes, the goal of the Anti-Christ elite is to “redefine what it means to be human.” Television technology has been used to advance this goal with terrible, catastrophic effectiveness. With this in mind, I cannot emphasize enough that, above all, small children should not watch television. Their neurological system is very malleable, still being formed, but by age six they are hard-wired. How do you want to hard-wire them? Every responsible parent should face this undeniable fact and make a conscientious decision. Some may argue that today’s LED technology is less dangerous than the CRT. I am not conversant in the research on this, but I think it behoves us to approach such claims with caution. I invite one or more of our listeners who may have read more on the subject to send me further information.

The Lord made our minds to know Him and to know His creation, and anything we do that really damages the mind, that we have consciously chosen and could have avoided, is a sin. Let us examine our use of the television and ask ourselves honestly where we stand in this regard, and what we need to do about it.

Point 2: Television isolated families in their homes and cut them off from their neighbors. I am from the American South, that region of our country most hated and vilified by the Antichrist New World Order, precisely because we hung on to our traditional, organic, and local cultures longer than other regions of the United States. Of course, the real old-fashioned South is a thing of the past, except in a few isolated and tiny pockets of our various, once-sovereign States, and today we have the New South, made possible by two technologies: air-conditioning and television. Air-conditioning made possible the industrialization of the South, destroying its traditional agrarian character, and it made people want to stay indoors all the time in order to escape the high temperatures and high humidity that dominate half of our year. Then, once air-conditioning drew people inside, the television hypnotized them, gluing them to their couches and keeping them inside. The formerly much-loved front porch with its big porch swing and rocking chairs, the gathering place for the extended family, the clan, and the neighborhood, that vast network of miniature public fora of American small-town and urban ethnic neighborhood life, was abandoned for the isolated and isolating cave of the darkened living room, illuminated only by the flickering light of the cathode ray tube and peopled by a few individuals who though bodily next to each other were mentally each locked in his or her own unreal world. Within one generation, the traditional social cohesion of Southern communities was weakened beyond recognition. And the South, of course, is only one, albeit a most dramatic, example. This terrible destruction of traditional social bonds was repeated everywhere television watching replaced the traditional social activities of ordinary folks’ leisure hours.

Ask yourself: How many hours – nay, how many minutes – of your week are spent talking to your neighbors? For most of us, the answer is little or none. People feel closer to some fictional character in their favorite sitcom or soap opera, or to some news anchor or talk show host, than they do to the man next door. A young fellow cannot imagine marrying the girl next door, because he has never met her. This destruction of normal social bonds, normal social psychology, is catastrophic. Our Lord commands us to love our neighbor. At one time, it was easy to say who that was – literally the folks next door. Now we have to try so hard to have semi-normal social bonds. At most, perhaps, we can feel close to our fellow parishioners once a week at Church. Outside of that, daily life is a social desert for most people. As Orthodox Christians and people trying to recover being normal human beings, we need to show an interest in, to be kind to, and ultimately to bring the Faith to the people right around us. We need to start thinking about ways to do this. Getting out of our video media cave is a start.

Point 3: Television made rapid cultural genocide possible. Cultural genocide means taking away people’s native language, folkways, arts, morals, faith, and, in sum, their very identity, and making them become someone else. Today it means being homogenized into the bland, sub-human, stupid, and meaningless identity of the new global anti-culture created by the Antichrist globalist elite. To get back to my example of the American South in the 1950’s and ’60’s: TV homogenized their minds, so that they no longer wanted to imitate old-fashioned Alabamians or Georgians like their parents and grandparents, but rather wanted to think and talk like Mr. Generic American Guy they saw on television. They even began to lose their beautiful regional accents, and everyone began to sound like Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. But this example of the South is just that: only one example. TV has done this to people all over the world. The tiny elite that controls the medium cook up a fake identity for this or that ethnic group or nation or cultural or religious group and they get them to swallow it, to identify with it. Then they blend that identity in with some “multicultural” (i.e. monocultural) identity they have up their sleeves, to make them into “global citizens” of the One World Order. Of course, this Anti-Christ One World thing is as old as the Tower of Babel, and in modern times it goes back at least to the plans of the Illuminati and related groups in the 18th century, and at that time they used print media to advance their agenda. Later, radio and cinema made more rapid cultural homogenization possible, of course. But television put the process “on steroids,” as the saying goes – it advanced not by steps but by quantum leaps. Today, of course, we are worried about something even more radical than cultural homogenization – we now face the destruction of the human race itself, with abortion, contraception, the LGBT agenda, transgenderism, and so forth: the total disappearance of every characteristic of what it means to be human. But this disappearance process started much earlier, with the homogenization of cultures, nations, and races. And television made it possible.

True unity in the Orthodox Church is most certainly not a destruction of racial, national, and regional identities and cultures. The Apostles were sent forth to baptize the nations, not destroy them. Indeed, the Church has given birth to many nations, and under her tutelage, they have acquired quite distinctive and varied characters while yet sharing the same Faith and the same ontological bond in the Holy Mysteries, in the One Body of Christ. The destruction of these varied characters is not the goal of the Church but of those who are against the Church, not of Christ but of the Anti-Christ. Let us ask ourselves: How much of our own character, our own culture, the culture in our homes, is a product of the Faith and of organic Christian culture, and how much does it actually reflect the manufactured anti-culture of the mass media? Let’s be honest, and let’s take steps to recover our true selves.

Point 4: Television greatly increased the power of advertising. The entire advertising industry is inherently evil, because it exists to manufacture superfluous desires and therefore exacerbate sinful passions. To justify advertising, people say that it is a public service, because it puts people in touch with things they need. This, however, is ridiculous. People were able to find what they really needed without the modern advertising industry for thousands of years. The entire purpose of advertising is to create false needs, to create new desires, not point out actual, already-existing needs. Advertising existed before television, of course, but television increased its power and reach immeasurably. Remember, the goal of the AntiChrist elite is to create a “new kind of human being.” The human being created by an endless barrage of TV advertising is someone with perpetually new and ever increasing desires for things he does not need.

As Orthodox Christians, we know that spiritual life, salvation itself, is not possible if we cannot acquire the virtue of temperance, if we cannot curb our desires. Someone immersed in watching commercial television, no matter how well-intentioned, exposes himself to the constant, purposeful inflammation of the most basic illnesses of the soul, the bodily passions, along with pleonexia – greediness, the desire for superfluity, for things one does not need. In such a state, genuine spiritual life is impossible.

Point 5: Television shows and “news” reduce thought to sound-bytes and make people arrogant. Both in television fiction and “reality” shows (which themselves are fictional, because no one behaves normally when being filmed), and in television journalism – news and talk shows – sustained and careful thought is made impossible. Problems are identified and solved in two minutes or less on talk shows, in one half hour in some TV series, and one hour in others. And TV watchers acquire a certain arrogance, a certain pseudo-intellectual swagger about them. They feel very sure of themselves when they have mastered the mindless jargon of television and Internet media journalism and can mouth the latest pronouncement of their favorite talk show host or solve another person’s problems by imitating the make-believe hero of a television drama. After awhile, no one has his own personality – everyone is an imitation television character. We imitate that which we admire, and to know what you admire, ask yourself how many hours you spend watching the phony people on television and how many hours you spend reading about the Life of a Saint, or even about the life of a genuine patriotic hero, or the careful and deep thought of a great writer, or about the history of the great deeds of your own historical culture or nation? You become that which you admire by imitation. That’s the way we’re made. As Orthodox Christians, we are called upon primarily to admire and imitate Christ, the Mother of God, and the Saints, and secondarily to admire and imitate those people and those things that are best, noblest, and highest in secular culture. Is that in fact what you and I are doing on a daily basis?

A Suggestion for Reading: To convince any doubters in the audience that I am not a right-wing nutcase (well, at least not merely a right-wing nutcase), I want to recommend a book written by a secular Jewish left-wing activist named Jerry Mander. He published it in 1978, it is called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, and it is still considered a classic collection of arguments not simply for limiting TV watching but for eliminating television altogether – literally. Of course, he argues from his leftist-activist viewpoint and ’60’s hippie cultural critique. When he is concerned about television’s effect on religion and culture, it is all about the religions and cultures that hippies care about – Far Eastern pagan religion and rainforest savages and so forth. He pretends that the International Money Power – the IMF, World Bank, the big corporations, et al – fund only “conservative” causes and not his left-wing causes, which is of course ridiculous. But the essence of his argument – that television destroys the body, the mind, thought, culture, and religion, and that the medium is essentially irreformable – is still valid. You can find used copies all over the place for a very low cost. Also, an Orthodox Christian named George Karras wrote an article based on a summary of Mander’s arguments, and you can find it on the popular website: In one place Karras seems to indicate that he believes in evolutionism, which of course is strange, but on the whole it is an excellent article.

If we are, to a greater or lesser extent, worshippers of the goddess Television, let us cast down our idol and apply our minds and hearts to the knowledge and love of Christ our God. Amen.

Two Important Announcements

As I said above, we now have a little YouTube channel featuring short videos on the Orthodox Faith. The name of our channel is Seventy TimesSeven (we had to elide the second two words to avoid copying another channel’s name), and its purpose is to present successive series of seven short videos on seven topics of Orthodox life: Dogma, Spiritual Life, Worship, Family Life, Morality, History and Current Events, and Today’s Struggle for Orthodoxy (current events in the Orthodox world proper). Go to our playlist at

Another new venture you may be interested in is the St. John of Damascus Orthodox Education Initiative, a new program sponsored by our North American eparchy of the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, whose purpose is to provide online courses to Orthodox high school and middle school students whose parents are either homeschooling them, are starting a parish schooling cooperative, or who want to provide an enrichment and corrective to mainstream schooling. Read all about it at our new website:

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 38: The Great Stereopticon, Session 3, the Movies, continued.

There is no nearness or kinship equal to that of the soul with God, and God with souls. He placed in the soul understanding, will, a sovereign mind. And He enthroned in the soul yet another great refinement, and made it easily moved, light-winged, indefatigable, granting it to come and go in a single instant and in thought to serve Him, when the Spirit wishes. In a word, He created it so that it might become a bride and companion of Him, as has been said: “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” with the Lord (I Cor. 6:17) – from “The Teaching of St. Macarius the Great,” by I.M. Kontzevitch, Orthodox Word, Vol. 10, no. 3, July-August, 1974.

I wanted to start with this beautiful patristic wisdom about the soul to remind us of why we are talking about so many terrible and dreary things. It’s not because Orthodox Christians want to be curious about bad things – the Holy Fathers teach us not to indulge such curiosity. It’s because these bad things are already influencing us – they are already on our doorstep, in our homes, in our souls. And it is the soul that we are concerned about, the salvation of the soul, the union of the soul with God. When we read beautiful passages like the one above, we are recalled to ourselves. We remember for what we were made, and how pure and beautiful we can become. Yet we also know that we allow so many dirty influences into our lives – so much worldliness, falsehood, impurity, and degradation! The purpose of our “Survival Course” is not to wallow in the bad things, to talk about them endlessly, which is what a lot of well-meaning people do nowadays. The purpose of our course is to help us to recognize and abjure the false, the evil, and the ugly, and turn to the true, the good, and the beautiful. As it says in Psalm 33, we must “turn from evil and do good.” If we must study evil – and, sadly, we must – it is not an end in itself, but a preliminary step to doing good. To do good to others, we must cleanse our own souls first from the delusions planted in them by the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Our current topic is the world of Hollywood – cinema, the movies. Last time we pointed out how even in the “good old days” of “wholesome” movies the cinema was a mighty tool for brainwashing the masses into becoming not simply post-Christian people but even “post-human humans” through the destruction of the family, of traditional community, life, traditional morality, and so forth. Hollywood is a giant delusion machine. Once you start living in the world it portrays, you are no longer in reality – you are living in a hall of mirrors. If you are serious about your spiritual life, if you realize that to be saved you must cleanse your soul of illusion, of delusion, then you come to the conclusion that movie-watching, TV watching, etc, must be done very carefully, if at all. Frankly, our lives would be much richer if we never watched any video and used that time to read, sing, tell stories, take walks, and do a lot of other things people used to do in their spare time. Whatever enrichment comes from the screen is so little and outweighed so much by other, more traditional activities, that in the balance we would gain a great deal by abjuring the cinema and television altogether, except perhaps for serious instructional videos or good musical performances. I know, however, that most of us simply are not going to do this, and I want at least to give an Orthodox interpretation of “what’s out there” in order to help us at least be on our guard, be selective of what we watch, and be highly critical of it. In this session, I’d like to cover five topics: Subliminal messages, predictive programming, the normalization of the obscene, the brainwashing of children, the destruction of rational thought and attention span, and initiation into the occult.

A. Subliminal messages are real: Let’s return to the thought we began with tonight: Nothing is more precious than the soul, nothing more urgent than guarding the soul. Yet movies not only deliver false messages and evil and ugly images to our conscious minds, they also contain subliminal messages. I had heard about subliminal advertising as a young man in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and we were told that it was something tried back in the 1950’s but then outlawed, and that it did not happen any more. Then one evening I was watching a movie in a theater, and at one point the projector malfunctioned and slowed down. Suddenly, instead of the movie one saw a young woman immodestly dressed, smiling seductively while holding a bag of popcorn and a soft drink. Pavlovian conditioning at work! So this is real: You really have no idea what kind of commercial or political or social engineering images or messages are being slipped into the movies you are watching, messages that are completely under the “radar screen” of your consciousness. This alone should make one highly cautious about movie-watching.

B. Predictive programming: We know that the occult global elite – the “cryptocracy” – is creating the “new humanity” that will embrace the disordered social order of the Antichrist. This institutionalized disorder is coming into being all around us. At each stage of the process, the cryptocracy acts secretly at first, but then, when they believe that the masses are ready to accept their message, they reveal what they have been up to, what they have already done to us. This gives them a malicious feeling of satisfaction (and, remember, they are demonized and therefore have the sadistic minds of demons) and also serves a practical function in the Revolution – it creates “predictive programming,” that is, it “programs” the minds of the masses to accept that this or that social change may be something unpleasant or even evil, but that it is inevitable and, therefore, though one may cheer the cinema hero who fights the evil, one sees the evil as a normal part of life, not something utterly bizarre, unthinkable, or outlandish. One accepts it as part of the “ying-yang” of an amoral universe.

One example of this “predictive programming” is the series of movies based on a character called Jason Bourne, a CIA assassin whose memory and identity have been destroyed by brainwashing, and who has been programmed to kill people upon being “activated” by certain “triggers.” The frightening reality is that the CIA had (and has?) just such a program, called MK-Ultra, which did (does?) precisely this. The mass of moviegoers watching these movies don’t really care about the horrendous social implications of such a revelation. They are just cheering on the heroes, Jason Bourne and his allies as they try to recover their real identities and atone for their past crimes by exposing the big, bad guy, the CIA. What the moviegoers don’t realize is that they are being programmed too, not to accept that the CIA are the “good guys,” but that this kind of thing, though it may be distasteful, is normal, that it is part of life.

The Matrix is probably the most paradigmatic example of predictive programming, the one that has become what is called a “cultural icon.” It depicts a future world in which super-intelligent machines have reduced all of humanity to inert, completely passive beings hooked up to serve the machines as an energy source and kept entertained by having an illusory world projected into their brains. A few people escape the “Matrix” and try to fight back, and this forms the basis of the plot. Again, even if the audience cheers those fighting the Matrix, as they cheered Jason Bourne fighting the CIA, the world depicted in the movie is normalized. It is, of course, an image of what has already been done to everyone, of the reduction of vast masses of potentially creative and intelligent – not to mention religious – people to “couch potatoes” or screen “junkies.”

Both the Bourne movies and The Matrix, and other movies like it, do identify the Cryptocracy, the evil power structure, as evil, but both do so in the context of a dualistic, ultimately meaningless and endless universe, in which the lonely hero is doomed to fight forever. There is no ultimate hope and no ultimate escape.

C. The normalization of the obscene: In earlier classes, we have talked about the concept of the obscene. The term does not necessarily denote something dirty or even negative; rather it means something so sacred or so profane that it should not be seen or spoken of in public. It is to be kept literally ob scena, “away from the stage,” whether the stage of the theater or the stage of life. The entire media machine, the entire “Great Stereopticon” we have been describing, starting with the newspapers, has done catastrophic damage to formerly Christian peoples’ understanding of the obscene. I am not speaking only of explicitly sexual subject matter, though that is included, of course. Another subject considered by the ancients to be obscene is any kind of extreme human suffering, the depiction of which was banned altogether or handled very delicately in Greek drama. Now we have thousands of movies, usually around two hours’ long, that depict human suffering – both physical and psychological – in excruciating detail, that wallow in it. This is horrible – it does not create compassion in the viewers but rather the opposite: it coarsens them. Someone else’s suffering, whether real or fictional, should never be a source of entertainment but rather should always be held in reverence. Another obscene subject was the dead human body – traditionally the body is handled with great decorum and reverence, and it is shown in public only within carefully regulated and traditional rituals. Yet now we have thousands of hours of movies and TV shows in which dead bodies are shown in every conceivable state of degradation, and examined callously by police investigators, forensic investigators, and so forth. The importance of this cannot be overemphasized – it is the breaking down of a very sacred, very ancient barrier, a transgression that is profoundly evil, that makes something “snap” inside of people, leading them to a lower level of humanity. This is no joke. And obviously the vortex of filthy language and filthy sexual behavior in the “average” movie long ago transgressed the traditional boundaries of the obscene.

All of this transgression of the boundaries of the obscene has so coarsened the “average” person that converting non-Orthodox people (or Orthodox people to repentance and conscious spiritual life) has become incalculably more difficult, for the most fundamental healthy human reactions to essential human experiences – suffering, death, language, sexual behavior – have been destroyed.

D. The brainwashing of children: In 1989, after a hiatus of many years in which they had produced no feature length animated movies, Disney Studios premiered their re-interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. In Andersen’s original telling of the story, the Little Mermaid is punished for her unnatural desire to become a human being. She does not win the man she loves and becomes something neither mermaid nor woman, but a bodiless spirit floating on the wind, a fitting metaphor for someone who has rejected his God-given nature. In the Disney version, however the Little Mermaid rejects her father’s authority, rejects her nature, makes a deal with a witch to change her into a human being, and after a bit of scary trouble in order to give the story some dramatic tension, gets away with it! The message is clear: Disobey your father, deny your God-given nature, obey your passions, and thrive! Since that time, Disney has produced one movie after another featuring headstrong girls who transgress traditional boundaries and come out on top. The occult and feminist message – the message of witchcraft, of “the goddess” who is stronger than traditional patriarchal authority by means of her magical powers – could not be clearer. Normally, of course, in the “cute,” Disney style, the heroine does not hate or destroy her father, who is usually a lovable bumbler, impotent not evil – she may in fact rescue him or at least be reconciled to him. But it is clear who is in charge. And this series of beloved movies, stretching back thirty years now, seen by millions of children – and their parents, partners in crime with the studio – is only one example of the ceaseless barrage of brainwashing aimed at children seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.

If you want your children to save their souls, you have to understand the real message of what they are watching…and take action!

E. Destruction of rational thought and attention span: Even when a two hour movie has a serious plot and rational dialogue, it disarranges one’s idea of the normal: after all, life’s problems are not solved in two hours. But increasingly we now have movies and television shows which have little or no plot or dialogue, but rather consist of very short scenes often – depending on the genre – consisting of or at least assisted by outlandish computer generated images and special effects, often only a few seconds in length, depicting some kind of violence or bizarre behavior, perhaps with a few telegraphic, disjointed utterances by the characters involved. The viewer’s mind is assaulted with a rapid, endless succession of violent, disturbing imagery, and there is simply no room for rational thought or the development of a real story or real ideas. The universe presented in these movies is not a “cosmos” – an ordered world – but a chaotic and meaningless world of disconnected, rapid sense experiences. This is part of the campaign to destroy linear, rational thinking and replace it with “thinking” in visual images and feelings, thus vastly increasing people’s susceptibility to being conditioned and manipulated.

E. Initiation into the occult: We have earlier discussed theater as an initiation into the Dionysian spirit. It’s very important to remember that all drama has a ritual character. You may think you are simply being “entertained,” but in fact you are being initiated ritually into some kind of transformative mystery, a life-changing crisis and resolution, in which “higher powers” of some kind play a part. This is true, in general, of all drama – it’s the origin and rationale of drama, as we have discussed earlier. But there are some movies – perhaps a large number – whose creators have purposely constructed in order to brainwash the audience with occult symbolism and occult messages. Sometimes this is overt, though usually it is hidden in some way, under the surface of the story. This should not surprise us, since we know that the movie industry is controlled by an anti-Christian power structure that is deeply involved in the occult. A remarkably intelligent young man, an American convert to Orthodoxy named Jay Dyer, has written two books on this subject. I’ve been asked by some of our listeners to comment on Mr. Dyer’s work, since he is very popular now with the younger “conservative” or “traditionalist” Internet audience, including many Orthodox believers.

First of all, we have to separate Dyer’s substance from his style. I would suggest that one read some of the articles on his website first, and especially the ones having little to do with movies or conspiracies or politics. Rather, read his articles on philosophy and theology, which are for the most part quite good, even, in some places, I would venture to say brilliant. In particular, for Roman Catholics considering converting to Orthodoxy, his exposition of the errors in Roman Catholic theology are extremely good.

Mr. Dyer’s style in his videos is often silly and vulgar, and in some places he uses language unacceptable for an Orthodox Christian. In street parlance, he is what is called a “shock jock,” a media personality who attracts attention through coarseness of expression. He also wastes a lot of time on silliness, but that, along with the vulgarity, is, I suppose, what appeals to a lot of people today. I venture to say that he has developed this onscreen persona to convey that he is “for real,” that he is not a fake, not a phony pseudo-intellectual snob, but a down to earth guy with a real message for the “millennial” generation that is fed up with the quite real hypocrisy and emptiness of their “Baby Boomer” parents. Unfortunately, the result is that a mature person with any refinement of mind can take Dyer either only in small doses or, if he perseveres for the sake of the often excellent content, with frequent inner revulsion at the presentation. A young Orthodox man who is a “Millennial” once tried watching him on my recommendation, and he turned the video off after five minutes, because the style was so crude.

So…what about Jay Dyer and the occult messages in the movies? I hate to tell you not to buy his two books on the subject, because that is part of his income, and one never wants to take the bread out of another man’s mouth. However, as a priest and spiritual father, I really can’t recommend that one wallow in the occult for very long. Try reading some of his articles on his website in which he demonstrates the occult nature of various “mainstream” movies, and I think you’ll get the picture (no pun intended!) after a few articles. He certainly has convinced me – not that I needed much convincing – that Hollywood is a giant cabal of occultists initiating the masses into demonic experiences and thought patterns, and, moreover, doing this in cooperation with certain agencies of the United States government. I’ll leave it at that.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Pascha 2019

Paschal Greetings, 2019: Notre Dame and the Life-Giving Spring

You can listen to a podcast of this class at


Introduction: Hello, everyone. Before moving on to Class 38 of our Orthodox Survival Course, I thought Holy Pascha to be a good time to do something a little different. First of all, I want to greet everyone on this Radiant Feast of Feasts, whose joy should remind us that all of these worrisome problems and scary developments we’ve been talking about are temporary and, really, nothing, compared to God’s goodness and love for us. He has already conquered sin, the devil, death, and hell, and in Holy Baptism, He has already given us His Eternal Kingdom. Therefore, as St. Paul says in the Apostolos we read on Palm Sunday, “Rejoice, and again I say rejoice… the Lord is at hand.” We have only to be faithful for a short time, and he that endures to the end shall be saved.

I ask your forgiveness for not having sent out a new lecture since before Holy Week. As most of you know, Great and Holy Week is kind of a blur for any clergyman, and then Renewal Week/Bright Week is spent in a state of near-comatose exhaustion. But here we are, back in the saddle, at least for this week. Today, April 25th on the Orthodox calendar, is Wednesday of Thomas Week and the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist. This coming Monday of Myrrhbearers’ Week, I’ll be going out of the country on some family business for ten days, and so I have to beg your pardon for yet another hiatus. I’m not one of those Internet celebrities that can traverse the globe talking into his smart phone (I don’t even have a smart phone) to record and send forth his wisdom urbi et orbi, so to speak, to an admiring public dying for the latest word. I have to sit here at my little wooden desk in our little wooden house in our little town of poor white folks in rural mid-America, and, with the help of morning and evening prayers and reading the Hours, and feeding my chickens, and so forth, try to say something useful every so often and hope it’s enough. I hope you don’t mind, but that’s the best I can do. If I tried to do this kind of thing on the hop, it would be junk.

As we’ve said many times, the point of our Survival Course is to construct an Orthodox lens to view history and to view our own times, in order to make prudent decisions to survive spiritually in the 21st century. Today I thought we would put the construction project on hold and actually use the lens we’ve been constructing to examine a recent event. Call it a homework exercise, like a math assignment in which you use a new formula you’ve learned to solve a sample problem, or, to use a more apt metaphor, a project in shop class to practice using a new tool the teacher has introduced. I want to talk about the fire that substantially destroyed the great Roman Catholic cathedral of the Mother of God in Paris during the week before Palm Sunday, and, in order to accompany and deepen our reflections on this portentous disaster, to meditate on the Feast of the Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring, which we celebrated on Friday of Bright Week. Using the Orthodox lens we’ve been constructing, we may be able tentatively to approximate a useful lesson from the former and, of course, we can always securely and precisely acquire edification from the latter.

As a preliminary note, I’d like to say that I don’t want to get into the habit of discussing current events with you, for several reasons: 1. Constantly thinking about “the news” and forming opinions about it is like junk food – once you get into the habit of eating it, you don’t want what’s better for you, even though you know the real food is better. 2. The goal of our course is to see everything sub specie aeternitatis, from the point of view of eternity, to take the long view. But if we are always jumping into the stream of ongoing events, we won’t be able, after awhile, to get back onto the bank and look at the stream from that secure perspective. We’ll just flail around and eventually drown. 3. Current events are boring and tiresome, and most of the time no one knows what they really meant, anyway, till everyone alive at the time they occurred is dead. So we’ll examine a current event now and then, in order to demonstrate how to use our Orthodox lens, but only now and then. Of course, we need to be able to read “the signs of the times,” as Our Lord commanded us, but my job is to give you tools to do that, not do it for you. I don’t want to become one of those poor enslaved Internet gurus who feel constrained daily to pontificate on the latest idiotic epiphenomenon of human vanity. Also, keep in mind that one is not required to have an opinion about everything that goes on, which, besides making one look stupid, is a terrible burden, after all, isn’t it?

I. The Fire at Notre Dame – Just about everyone knows that on Monday evening of the Roman Catholic Holy Week – the last week of the Orthodox Great Lent – a great fire substantially ruined the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. In light of the ongoing campaign of violence against Catholic churches in France, it would be fatuous in the extreme to accept uncritically the predictable official explanation that what happened was an accident. Everyone suspects deep down that someone committed arson here, and we know that the anti-Christian Revolutionary elite, using their well-paid agents in the soi-disant French government, will try to use the occasion to transform the ruined church into some kind of grotesque mockery of a church, an accursed fane for the ecumenistic worship of the Anti-Christ. They are talking about sticking a Mohammedan minaret on it and so forth. So the reconstructed building could end up being not only blasphemous but hideously ugly. It is their usual modus operandi – one is no longer surprised. (It’s like “9/11” – they had the “response” all ready to go before the event occurred). And “Pope Francis” and the comically effete official “Catholic bishops” in France may very well go along with, or perhaps even cheer on, the whole thing, since they are, after all, fellow travelers of the Masonic 1789 Revolution, as one can easily see in the documents of Vatican II, in their new worship, and their new theology. Well, we’ll see.

I do not propose, however, to spend our time speculating on who did this thing and what the next step in the desecration is going to be. Whether it was accident or arson, God allowed this historic disaster, it has become part of His plan for our salvation, and we can use our Orthodox survival wisdom to reflect on its meaning. We can learn from it. By now you know that I like short lists. Let us make two observations.

Observation One: The Gothic cathedral symbolizes the departure of the West from Orthodoxy.

A few keenly anti-Latin Orthodox zealots, especially those of Greek background, may feel a kind of Schadenfreude (happiness in another’s misfortune) about Notre Dame’s destruction – “You Franks plundered us back in the Crusades, and what goes around comes around,” and that sort of thing. This response, however, besides manifesting a sinful passion, is simply misplaced. The few remaining old-fashioned kind of Catholics in France, who are grieving over this terrible blow against their historic identity, are no longer effective or serious enemies as were their ancestors. It really does not do to pour salt on their wounds. On the other hand, we do not, cannot, and should not feel and think as they do about this event, because this great building dramatically, powerfully, symbolized post-Orthodox, not Orthodox, Christianity. Remember: It was fundamentally not a church, but a secular building dedicated to a powerful religious ideology that replaced the revealed Faith, an organization that killed the living organism of the Church in the Western lands. In the image evoked by Romano Guardini in The End of the Modern World, the pointed Gothic spire, in replacing the Byzantine dome, replaced the image of God coming down to man with the image of man’s finger thrusting up to heaven to pierce the heart of God – an essentially Promethean enterprise. In the words of the Roman Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, a great Gothic cathedral is no longer even a building but a machine, for it is never at rest, its structural integrity depending on the ceaseless tension of pointed arch and flying buttress. This instability, tension, and restlessness as embodied in such a breathtaking engineering marvel of surpassing – really, heartbreaking – but earthly beauty, demonstrates in stone and glass the instability, tension, and restlessness of the new, man-made theology that in the West replaced the solid, secure, and unchanging, true, revealed Faith of the Scriptures and Holy Fathers in the course of the 12th and 13th centuries, something we discussed at length in Classes Eleven through Fourteen. As you are pondering the meaning of the Notre Dame disaster, you need first of all to ponder with an Orthodox mind the deeper meaning of this great building, and I suggest that you go back and read the notes and listen to the audio recordings of these four classes.

So now, after seven centuries of the inevitable degeneration from the starting point of the anti-Orthodox revolution of the 12th and 13th centuries, this corruptible, earthly thing – the post-Orthodox synthesis of the Western High Middle Ages – has run its course. It’s done, finished. It was manmade to begin with, and, like all manmade things, it was temporary, corruptible, and doomed to die. The end of Notre Dame symbolizes the end, the last gasp of post-Orthodox Western Christian culture. It’s over with. Only Orthodoxy offers a solid foundation, a reliable spiritual architecture, so to speak, on which to build a new Christian Europe, which, after all, was never an end in itself but the byproduct of conversion to the Gospel. Our part to play as Orthodox Christians, in this drama of the destruction of Notre Dame, is to witness to our Faith, and to pray that, through the intercessions of Notre Dame – Our Lady the Mother of God – her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, will use this occasion as a wake-up call to advance the cause of reconversion to Orthodoxy of His beloved First Daughter of the Western Church, la belle France. Through the prayers of St. Martin and All the Saints of Gaul, may this be so. Amen.

Observation Two: The destruction of Notre Dame reminds us that the Revolution of 1789 continues today.

Now let’s “fast-forward,” as they say, from Classes Eleven through Fourteen, to Classes 21 through 23, in which we discussed the French Revolution. If you have the time, I suggest you go back and study these classes through the notes and podcasts, and also read the enlightening articles by Archimandrite Luke and the Novi Stjenik sisterhood that I cite, as well as Lecture Six of Fr. Seraphim’s Survival Course. If you combine this study with the study of the High Middle Ages in Classes Eleven through Fourteen, you will have a more accurate understanding of what the destruction of Notre Dame means than all the media “experts” put together.

In France today, you don’t have a secular nationalist republican government and an effective Catholic Royalist opposition, as they had in the 19th century. What you have are phony republicans like Macron who are really just criminal agents running the government on behalf of the global Money Power, and, opposed to them, real republican nationalists like Marine Le Pen and the National Rally, and the republican rabble in the form of the “Yellow Vest” revolt, with a few powerless Catholic royalists off in the corner wishing for the good times to return. So no matter which way you look – whether you have Macron spouting the empty “ideals” of La Republique but actually serving the real criminal conspiracy behind the fraud of 1789, or Le Pen, who mistakenly but sincerely believes in some kind of French nationalism that incorporates the nonsensical republican ideology of 1789, or the Yellow Vests who are just sad, de-Christianized, materialistic proletariat angry at the criminal government for stealing their wine and cheese to give to the miserable Hagarenes, and who stupidly equate Macron with the King, whereas it was the conspiracy that employs Macron who murdered the King and created their meaningless proletarian existence to begin with – no matter which way you look today, all you have are secularists and materialists, not a principled Catholic royalist opposition with any real clout. 1789 rules the day. The destruction of Notre Dame is simply the continuation of the Masonic conspiracy of the French Revolution. We don’t need to establish which if any “conspiracy theory” is correct in order to formulate our Orthodox understanding of the meaning of this event. Demons, with or without the help of men, destroyed this great monument to the glory of pre-revolutionary France, as a continuation of the work they began in 1789.

Just keep in mind: all of this is part of the age-old drama of spiritual warfare. All of this is being used by the All-Wise God to bring about our salvation. Even the demons are forever chained by God’s sovereignty and omnipotence. Ultimately, the destruction of this building was designed or at least allowed by the Providence of God, for our salvation. We are not subject to the slavery to external forces imagined by the materialist fairy tale version of history – we are secure in the Ark of Salvation, the Church. We have nothing to fear. It is with the security, courage, and compassion born of true Faith that we should reach out to the non-Orthodox Christians shaken by this event, and wisely use the occasion to witness to Orthodoxy.

II. The Feast of the Theotokos the “Life-Giving Spring” – Eighteen days after the fire at Notre Dame, the Orthodox Church celebrated a feast of Our Lady the Mother of God, as She does on every Friday of Bright Week – the Feast of the Life-Giving Spring.

You can read the Synaxarion of this Feast here: I’d like to read it now, for you, though I won’t reproduce the whole thing in the notes – if you like, you can go to the link and print it for yourself.

So what do we see here? The Most Holy Theotokos gives to all successive Christian generations until now Her miraculous spring, which has worked and still does work countless miracles, in response to one act of Orthodox lovingkindness – the agape shown by the future emperor to a poor blind man. How wonderful! And how appropriate: You see, the greater miracle is not the physical healing, but the love itself, and it is that love and faith and hope in God that brings about the outward miracles, as a byproduct, you might say. It is the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love that bring about the magnificent churches built by the kings and mighty of the earth, and not the buildings that create the virtues. The buildings come and go, as this Church of the Life Giving Spring has come and gone and come again, and been partially destroyed, but is still there, and may be rebuilt again one day in its former glory, and so forth and so on. But the humble little Spring is still there, just as the Faith of Christians under persecution is still there, even when they must flee to the “dens and caves of the earth.”

In 1955, it was God Who allowed the Turks to destroy the large church that, in the 19th century, God had used a Turkish Sultan to build. Was this not a sign from God that the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate should turn from its recent career of self-destruction through its heresy and apostasy, and return to Orthodoxy? But, alas, this did not and still does not occur. Their eyes are closed. What new disasters await as a result? What further judgment of God hangs over them? One shudders to think. But the humble little Spring is still there, the healings still occur – Notre Dame, Our Lady, is still caring for us. Let us have recourse to prayer more fervently, that the living Spring of God’s grace may fill our hearts, and that we may become living stones in the Temple Not Made by Hands, the Body of Christ.

Buildings come and go. God remains. This is enough for us.

Christ is Risen!

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Rector’s Message for May 2019

Today I posted this message at our parish website,

O great and most sacred Pascha, Christ; O Wisdom and Word and Power of God! Grant that we partake of Thee fully in the unwaning day of Thy Kingdom.

from the Paschal Canon by St. John of Damascus

When we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, we proclaim it as the center of all history. By His Death and Resurrection, the Lord re-creates His work of Creation that was done at the beginning of the world, and He inaugurates the eternal Kingdom that will be fully manifested at the end of the world.

The curricula that dominate history education brainwash students with the idea that man’s history is a beginning-less and endless story of “progress” from ignorance and superstition into a “liberated” state of “freedom” and “prosperity” brought about by “science.” This view classes Christ’s resurrection along with countless other fabricated myths that people can believe, if they want, but which must not be allowed to interfere in the “march of history” towards a bright and unlimited future of global unity and materialistic happiness under a benevolent and all-powerful government.

A Christian stands in absolute opposition to this view of the world. God created this world to have a beginning and an end, and this world is not an end in itself. It is, rather, an arena in which man works out his salvation. Each man’s life is a short and intense race which he conducts according to Christ and in Christ – or not. The purpose of each man’s life individually, and the purpose of every event in human history, is to prepare for God’s Judgment.

Our Savior’s Resurrection is not simply a miracle that demonstrates His Divinity, though it certainly does that. It is the destruction of death, the final and totally efficacious rescue of His creation from the corruption that the devil and sin brought into the world. He has already definitively triumphed over sin, death, the devil, and hell. All that remains now is for men to unite themselves to the Risen Christ or not, to join His Body the Church or not, to fight for Him or against Him. When He returns in glory at the end of the world, to judge all the living and the dead from the beginning of the world, the only thing that will matter is that we find favor in His sight. On that day, all the empty promises of a secular salvation and man’s progress will be revealed as the lies that they are.

Today, right now, it is critical for our spiritual lives not to fall back into a worldly and anxious way of living and thinking, but rather to nourish and sustain the spiritual vision we acquired during Great Lent and Holy Week. By staying faithful to prayer and spiritual reading, we can maintain the Paschal vision of our life, by which we interpret our daily activities not as part of some meaningless struggle for existence, not as a restless, neurotic escape from being trampled by the march of “progress,” but as our advancing in hope “from glory to glory,” as we strive to arrive at the final vision of the face of our Beloved Bridegroom, Who shall reward every one of us who will have remained faithful to Him.

Christ is Risen!


Concerning the Resurrection

For if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink: let us pursue a life of pleasure and enjoyment. If there is no resurrection, wherein do we  differ from the irrational brutes? If there is no resurrection, let us hold the wild beasts of the field happy who have a life free from sorrow. If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves. For observe how we see most righteous men suffering hunger and injustice and receiving no help in the present life, while sinners and unrighteous men abound in riches and every delight. And who in his senses would take this for the work of a righteous judgment or a wise providence? There must be, therefore, there must be, a resurrection. For God is just and is the rewarder of those who submit patiently to Him. Wherefore if it is the soul alone that engages in the contests of virtue, it is also the soul alone that will receive the crown. And if it were the soul alone that revels in pleasures, it would also be the soul alone that would be justly punished. But since the soul does not pursue either virtue or vice separate from the body, both together will obtain that which is their just due.

We shall therefore rise again, our souls being once more united with our bodies, now made incorruptible and having put off corruption, and we shall stand beside the awful judgment-seat of Christ: and the devil and his demons and the man that is his, that is the Antichrist and the impious and the sinful, will be given over to everlasting fire: not material fire like our fire, but such fire as God would know. But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun with the angels into life eternal, with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being in His sight and deriving unceasing joy from Him, praising Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout the limitless ages of ages. Amen.

– from TheExact Exposition of the Orthodox Faithby St. John of Damascus, Book IV, c. 27.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 37: The Great Stereopticon, Session 3, the Movies. Hollywood – Living the Dream

Class 37: The Great Stereopticon, Session 3, the Movies. Hollywood – Living the Dream

You can listen to a podcast of this lecture at

Introduction: Going through a pile of CD’s at home a few years ago, I found a collection of songs sung by Judy Garland, an American movie actress best known for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the one actress more than any other whose onscreen persona typified 20th century America’s image of “the girl next door.” The program notes summarized her biography and ended with the words, “She lived the dream we all want to live.” The curious thing is that the previous paragraph had ended with relating the circumstances of Garland’s death at age 47 from a drug overdose, and that the mini-biography had not omitted tragic details of her personal life from the time she became an “asset” of MGM as a young teenager: self-loathing, drug addiction, multiple failed marriages, and so forth. When one does a little further reading, one also finds adultery and abortion at an early age. We do not know if Judy Garland intended to kill herself the night she died – it seems to have been an unintentional overdose. But she certainly killed herself, first spiritually and finally physically, by the way she chose to live. But that’s all right. After all, she “lived the dream we all want to live.” What more could one want?

Recall the opening premise of this entire section of our course: The goal of the global elite is to create a new kind of human being, to “redefine what it means to be human.” Cinema, the defining art form of the 20th century, literally a “Great Stereopticon,” has by now so radically reshaped – that is, deformed – the average person’s idea of normality, of morality, of humanity, of the very purpose and meaning of life, that one could say that this goal of redefining humanity has more or less been accomplished in the minds of the overwhelming majority of people living in the “developed world.” To most of the people living around us, what goes on in movies or television shows or YouTube videos is the really real – it is more real and more interesting than their own lives, far more compelling than the true good of the people they claim they love. They may not like or agree with everything they see on the screen, but they cannot pull themselves away. It is a Fatal Attraction.

Cinema, of course, wields far more power than the newspapers or the radio. It retains the newspaper’s appeal of vulgarity and superficial thought masquerading as wisdom, and it retains the power of radio, the power of the spoken voice. It also projects the primordial power of theater, the Dionysian mystagogy we talked about last time. And, added to all this, taking the power of all of these things we’ve already talked about quantum leaps higher to a level never seen before, cinema overwhelms the mind with stunning, captivating and enthralling visual images, along with powerful music and sound effects. It constitutes a rich ensemble of so many different art forms, combined with so much power and effect, that one can say with great confidence that never before was there anything like this. And with few exceptions, the virtually irresistible might of this impossibly, heartbreakingly attractive thing, this pancratic psychological super-weapon that enslaves millions of souls over one weekend without anyone firing a shot – the power of this awesome thing has always been, and remains, for the most part, under the domination of men who hate God, hate Christ, hate the Church, hate us, and want to destroy us – men who serve the Devil as their god. If we don’t understand this, we don’t understand what the movie industry is all about.

At this point, I need to disclose something. Probably like most of you listening to me right now, I like movies, especially older movies with absolutely no computer generated graphics, and with good writing and good acting, and in particular cinematic presentations of intelligent stage dramas or screenplays based on great literature. But because I like it so much, because it leaves such a deep impression on me, I rarely indulge in it, and when I do, it is for the most part with a very short list of plays or movies that are fairly innocent, or, if they depict evil, render a genuinely moral judgment, and that I have watched repeatedly over many years, because I am really afraid to venture out and watch anything else. It is precisely because we like it so much, because it leaves such a deep impression on us, that we must be so careful.

My point in saying all this is that I am not standing on some Orthodox version of an Olympus of hopelessly untouchable perfection, hurling down thunderbolts and saying, “If you ever watch a movie, you are evil, and you are doomed!” That would be hypocritical, and, worse, it would be a mistake, because it would not motivate you to take realistic survival steps to deal with this powerful thing, and survival is what we are all about here. Let’s all recall that Orthodox spiritual life is about reality. We are supposed to be cleansing our minds and hearts of delusion and seeing things as they really are. How much time do we spend cleansing our minds of delusion, and how much time do we spend luxuriating in delusions? Yes, we are not consecrated hesychasts, and there is room for art in life, and great art can lift us above the banality of daily life and pierce our hearts with the joy of what is universally good, true, and beautiful. It can lead us to God. But how much theater, cinema, television, and so forth is really this kind of art? How much prayer and thought do we really put into discerning which selections of this mental food truly help us and our loved ones, which of them are at best a waste of time, and which are spiritually poisonous? Let’s be honest.

We could do an entire “Survival Course” just about movies. Maybe we should at some time in future. In this short lecture, I can only hope to cover a few sub-topics relating to cinema and offer a few practical suggestions. My approach in this lecture is to examine cinema in the “good old days” of the heyday of the “Silver Screen” and not address the problems with the medium that have developed since then. We might think that the problems with movies started with the cultural revolution of the 1960’s, when drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll took over American – and then world – culture, and that all the movies from the “good old days” are innocent, but this is not true. To understand any new historical development, including an art form, one must start at the beginning, and usually the dominant and permanent characteristics of any enduring historical reality are present at the beginning and easiest to observe at that point. We cannot begin to develop our Orthodox lens to understand cinema by starting with movies produced in this decade of the 21st century. They are too close to us, and the problems are both extreme and constantly changing. Our reaction would be just that – a reaction – to a kaleidoscopic and incomprehensible barrage of fragmentary impressions flung at us by extremely advanced media technology. Let’s go back in time to the 1920’s through the 1950’s and try to understand the underlying nature of cinema in order to create the understanding we need to deal with it as it exists today. I am going to talk about cinema from an American point of view, not only because I am in the United States and most of our audience are Americans, but also because cinema, like a lot of 20th century cultural movements, was basically cooked up in the laboratory of 20th century America and then spewed out to the rest of the world. Movie culture is the phony culture that replaced historic American culture and then became the world culture.

I. This really is the Great Stereopticon

Our guiding image of the “Great Stereopticon,” that apt expression borrowed from Richard Weaver, refers to the traveling “magic lantern” shows of 19th century America, in which a projectionist could transport simple, rural people to faraway times and places by the “magic” of colorful images thrown on a wall accompanied by a captivating story line. The cinema is, of course, the magic lantern “on steroids.” We are so jaded today with television, movies, and Internet video – YouTube and so forth at the touch of a finger on a personal “device” – we cannot imagine how overwhelmed people were in the 1920’s or 1930’s, sitting in a large, darkened auditorium and looking at a vast screen on which impossibly attractive – or impossibly repulsive – people far larger than life-size engaged in various adventures of violence and romance, or sang or told jokes. Probably the only way to understand how they felt is if you went off to a monastery for a year, a strict monastery that limited communications media to a telephone and a computer in the abbot’s office, and where all you did for weeks was pray, worship, do manual labor, read, have simple conversations, and deal with plants and animals. Then, when the year was up, you would come back to the “real” (i.e., unreal) world and go on a video binge, watching movies and TV shows on a giant screen all day on the very first day you came back. The shock would, perhaps, approximate what those people felt back when movies first came out. You would be overwhelmed; the attraction of the thing, no matter how much disgust you felt, would feel irresistible. You would realize, perhaps for the first time, how powerful it really is, and how its unreality posing as reality can so rapidly replace the real things in your mind and soul that you had acquired and treasured up during your year in the monastery. This is more or less what movies did to our forbears in the first half of the twentieth century. A false vision of life replaced the examples of normal life, much less the examples of a holy life, as their paradigm for how to think, talk, and behave.

II. Creating the New Normal

From its beginning, the movie industry set out to create a new self-image for the American people. Today, of course, what is presented as normal in the movies is often unbelievably bizarre, utterly inhuman, and overtly demonic, far beyond anything seen in the 1930’s. But the old movies did enormous damage to the American character from the beginning, by convincing ordinary people that their received way of life, based on church, family, ethnicity, and local community, was uninteresting and contemptible, and that to be “someone” they must start imitating the kind of character and the kind of society glorified on the screen. Sometimes the attack on traditional culture was overt. More often it was disguised: the “good old ways” are presented in a sentimental, superficial fashion that seems to praise them but subtly trivializes them, and the hero or heroine transcends the old life by breaking old ties and embarking on a new, more exciting way of life. There are numerous themes that we could explore here, but I’ll address three of them: big city life as the new normal, the revolution in domestic mores, and the fascination with criminality.

Until World War II, most Americans still lived in small towns or farming communities, and most lived as members of extended families and local cultures that were, by today’s standards, almost unbelievably homogeneous in race, language, and religion. Even in the big cities, immigrant communities lived in tight-knit neighborhoods conceived on a human scale, centered on family life and, most often, Roman Catholic parish institutions – church, school, and social organizations – designed to preserve both religious and ethnic identity.

If a visitor from “another planet,” as the expression goes, learned about 1930’s America only from watching movies, however, he would conclude that the paradigmatic American was a deracinated, lonely, irreligious, restless, iconoclastic, fast-talking, and fast-living denizen of New York or Chicago, and that his life consisted of the pursuit of money, power, and love affairs. He would deduce that nearly all American women are impossibly beautiful, that they all dress and comport themselves as prostitutes, and that they all smoke cigarettes. He would observe that the small town or the old ethnic neighborhood, and family life, when they are portrayed, are presented – even when they are depicted lovingly – as a situation to be escaped from or grown out of, in order to live the cosmopolitan life of the big city, and to live for oneself or for one’s romantic love interest.

I know that one can excessively idealize small town and rural life – of course they were never perfect in any nation, including Orthodox nations, because everyone is sinful. Real life is always beset by the passions of those who are living that life, and by the demons. We all know that. But it is also undeniable that God’s plan for the temporal social order, in order to make man’s eternal purpose more attainable for ordinary people, is based on the life of the nuclear and extended families, and of small, local, stable, communities of people sharing one faith, one language, one ethnicity, and one culture, who are born, live, and die in the same place, often on the same piece of land, even in the same house. This is just normal human life; this is what enables the stability and wholeness of the psyche that forms the best starting point for the life of the spirit. (The fact that my simply saying this in 2019 can get me accused – even, sad to say, by some Orthodox people – of intolerance, “racism,” and a variety of other ideological thought-crimes, shows how completely insane our life has become.)

This normal human life in the small town or on the farm is lived at a slow pace, and it does not encourage competition or aggression, and therefore it creates a patient, gentle character not inclined to arrogance or boasting, and generally open to the goodness of life. The cosmopolitan life, on the other hand, lived in an atmosphere of hurry and aggression, of endless competition, creates a nervous, unstable “smart aleck” character given to wisecracking remarks, arrogance, and cynicism. (We can see a comic caricature of this in the “Three Stooges” characters, for example.) In general, we can say that the big city life makes for a hardening and coarsening of character, even in people who intend to be moral and good. It lowers the tone of life and deflects man from his proper temporal purposes and, above all, from his eternal destiny.

But the small town American watching a movie in the 1930’s saw this lower, coarser kind of life presented as glamorous and desirable. It created in his mind a “new normal”. And along with the big city life presented as normal, came, of course, the sexual revolution. Even when an old fashioned romantic movie ends in a wedding, usually the hero and heroine have already behaved in ways that, to be polite, fall short of the standards of the Church. Also, the emphasis is not at all on marriage as a sacred or social institution involving duty and self-sacrifice, but on marriage as a form of romantic love affair with constant sexual overtones. This by itself, even if actual fornication or adultery are never condoned in a given story, is a fatal derogation from the traditional paradigm of marriage regarded primarily as the essential social institution, involving sacred social and intergenerational moral and legal obligations, not even to mention a derogation from the higher and distinctly ascetic demands of the Church’s sacramental marriage.

Getting back to poor Judy Garland: One of her lesser known movies presents a perfect stereotype for the purely romantic marriage as the cinematic norm. It’s called The Clock. Today it would be called a “chick flick,” and to our jaded 21st century sensibilities it could appear as hopelessly charming and innocent. It is not innocent, however; it is terrible. It depicts just about everything I’ve talked about: marriage seen almost entirely as a romantic adventure, the unnatural speed of city of life, deracination, a condescending sentimentalization of family life and religion, and so forth. You can read the plot summary at the Wikipedia article (yes, I think we can trust Wikipedia this far, to summarize absurd movie plots) at .

So what do we see here? Two strangers (in New York, of course) meet and get married within 48 hours. There is a nod to family life – the milkman and his wife are a “normal” foil to the main characters’ fevered instability. There is a nod to “religion” – the heroine wants to kneel in a church and recite their vows again to “feel married.” The sentimental churchgoer who wants to feel good about enjoying the movie can say, “You see, those good old movies showed people who ‘believe in God’!” But obviously the movie presents an anarchic and dangerous understanding of marriage. The protagonists are completely severed from traditional loyalties and act as isolated individuals, little lost souls clinging to each other in the impersonal world of cosmopolitan modernity. They make this incredibly important decision based on sexual attraction and romantic emotion without any reference to their parents, to religious or social duty, or the long-term consequences of their decision. And this entire modern big city fairy tale also carries the sanction of the “Good War,” for by 1945 Americans have been brainwashed to believe that their country’s part in World War II was some kind of holy crusade, and, more importantly, that the social havoc created by the war and the new kind of society that emerged from it was also “holy,” was a progression to something higher and better than that Mom and Pop life before the great social experiment the war somehow justified. Before the war, a teenage Judy Garland, playing opposite Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy movies, typified the “girl next door” of small town life and loves. Now Judy – and America – have “grown up” in that great social engineering experiment known as World War II, and she is the girl next door no more, but the completely chimerical and insubstantial glamor girl of the “Greatest Generation” – someone who is attractive precisely because she is not familiar but foreign. The small town young woman says, “I want to be like that!” and the small town young man says, “I want a girl like that!” This is the generation that gave birth to and raised the Baby Boomers, my generation – arguably the most selfish and despicable generation in American history. Our parents, who were the young people watching The Clock in 1945 down at the main street movie theater, still believed in faithful love and marriage, and having children, and going to church, and being involved in a law-abiding community. But their image of all these things was profoundly deformed by Hollywood, and this false image seriously damaged their lives and affected how they reared their children.

Besides creating a false idea of family and marriage, Hollywood also glamorized criminal behavior. In his The Crisis of Our Age, Pitirim Sorokin points to the rise in the genre of crime literature – cops and robbers tales, detective stories, and so forth – as a mark of a corrupt, dying culture. Movies took this and ran with it. Even when the gangster characters played by James Cagney or Edgar G. Robinson “get what’s coming to them” in the end, they still seem somehow attractive in their very villainousness, they are more real, more alive, somehow, than one’s law abiding parents or teachers or pastor. The criminal subculture plays an inherent role in the very attractiveness of big city life – its fevered pace, the feeling of “living on the edge,” the seduction of danger.

We could go on and on, of course. Perhaps we should continue this subject of the movies in our next talk. But for now, what about some “survival tips”? Here is a short list.

1. Constantly remind yourself that movies are very powerful and, if you must watch them, be very careful about what you choose, and be very critical of what you see. An Orthodox Christian should never just run down to the video store or go to the theater to watch the latest offering “just because.”

2. Don’t immerse yourself in movie or TV culture. It should be an occasional diversion, not a daily aspect of life.

3. Dignified cinematic productions based on truly great literature or classic drama are to be preferred.

Let’s live real lives, and not try to “live the dream”!

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Orthodox Survival Course Class 36 – The Great Stereopticon: Preparing to Understand TV and Movies

You can listen to a podcast of this class at

Introduction: We are going to continue painting our picture of the “Great Stereopticon” – the “media machine” that creates the false reality now believed by “mainstream” society, enabling the masses of people to be manipulated by the Antichrist global elite. We have discussed the newspapers and the radio; our remaining subjects within this sub-topic are the cinema, television, the Internet, video games, and “virtual reality” devices. But before we go on to examine these specific media, I would like to use this class to examine from an Orthodox standpoint the older art form of which cinema and television are a development, which is theater.

I. Preliminaries

I received some helpful responses this past week to our last class, two of which fill in some gaps in our knowledge about two things we talked about last week: Plato’s views on speech vs. writing, and Fr. Justin Popovich’s referring to Oswald Spengler about the future of Orthodoxy and civilization.

A) Plato’s views on speech and writing: You will recall that last week I spoke of Plato mentioning somewhere that speech was somehow more primordial and more sacred than writing, and that writing was invented because men had become less intelligent and less trustworthy. I brought this up in relation to the power of the radio, as a medium to broadcast the spoken word to vast multitudes of people, to society at large. Two of our fellow students wrote back to inform me that the passage I had in mind was in the dialogue Phaedrus.

One of these respondents wrote me very thoughtfully, at some length, to point out that Plato did not in fact have Socrates say what I thought he said – that writing was invented because men had become less honest and less intelligent – but rather that he simply articulated a critique of writing as less useful than speech for philosophical dialogue.

Even if we agree with this correction, however, my main purpose was not to be concerned about theories or myths about he origins of writing, but rather to point to the peculiar power speech has: we instinctively regard the spoken word as simultaneously more intimate and more sacred than the written word. If a stranger breaks a written contract, we have legal grounds against him, and we may be angry, but it does not damage us in the depths of the soul. If a friend breaks his word to us, however, we suffer a far deeper wound. I remember translating a speech of Cicero when I was in high school. It was a court case in which his client, a farmer, was suing a businessman who had reneged on an oral contract. Cicero likened his client to the homines antiqui, the “men of old” – or “old fashioned men” – who were both innocent and trustworthy, whose “word was their bond.” Operating on the level of the spoken word, on the handshake, indicates a relationship that is both more pure and simpler – more innocent – than that which depends on written agreements, which are made necessary by a degeneration of men into being both complicated and dishonest. This relates also to written political constitutions and the uncontrolled multiplication of written laws as opposed to operating on the basis of organic moral and legal traditions. The philosopher Isocrates says that the multiplication of laws always accompanies the degeneration of morals. This should be obvious.

Thus the power of the spoken word. As I said last week: the radio was so powerful because the “man behind the microphone” was no longer a stranger but a guest in your living room, a “friend of the family.” That was my main point. And today so many people have their favorite television or radio “talk show host,” and they take everything he says as a kind of sacred truth, and if you question him (or her), you are like a “heretic.” This stranger on the screen or coming over the airwaves is both an authority and a friend to them; or, rather, has greater authority because he is perceived as their friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance, in a way that a writer of an article or essay on the same topic is not.

B) Fr. Justin Popovich and Spengler: The same respondent, who in fact has read Spengler, informed me that nowhere in The Fall of the West does Oswald Spengler write that Orthodoxy is the future of Western civilization, as Fr. Justin Popovich seemed to think. He also pointed out to me that Orthodox Christians, for the most part, should not be spending time reading Spengler, and I agree, unless you are a specialist who has the responsibility, the time, and the training to go through stuff like this, understand what it is worth, and pull out what is useful. My respondent, however, did find a 1922 speech of Spengler’s which he believes is the source for Fr. Justin’s statement. Here Spengler says that Dostoevsky’s vision for the future of Russia – which, as we know, is informed by Orthodoxy and “Slavophilism” – will win out over Tolstoy’s secular, “Western” way of thinking. This may have led to someone telling Fr. Justin Popovich (who, I would conjecture, may never have actually read Spengler) something very general like “Spengler prophesied Orthodoxy as the future of Europe.”

The important thing here, however, is that, in a roundabout way, Spengler – as non-Christian as he was – had a real moment of insight here. He understood, from his own neopagan point of view, that the bland, insipid, bourgeois morality of Tolstoy – Christian morals without Christ – had no spiritual power, and that his “nice” world of “progressive Christianity” was passing away, never to return. Dostoevsky’s Orthodoxy, on the other hand, Spengler could respect, even if he did not believe in it, for, as a disciple of Goethe and Nietzsche, he had a pessimistic view of human nature and understood that only some kind of supernatural or mythic power could rescue man, through some kind of primordial process of destruction and rebirth. In other words, while Tolstoy is a dreamer, Dostoevsky is looking at things the way they are, looking evil in the face, and pointing out the truth: only God can save us.

II. Today’s Topic: The Power of Theater

As I mentioned in our last class, radio, cinema, and television carry with them the power of a much older art form, the theater. What is theater? I think that a reflection on this will form a useful introduction to our discussion of TV, the movies, and the Internet.

As I pointed out in our last class, the art of theater in our civilization, as we all know, has its origins in ancient Greece, and it was conceived of, produced as, and experienced as a sacred ritual. The great annual presentation of various dramas in Athens, at which playwrights vied for the laurels of best drama of that year, was called the Great (or City) Dionysia, for it was a festival in honor of the god Dionysus. This connection to Dionysus is, of course, essential for understanding what drama is. People in the ancient world did not dedicate specific activities to specific gods for no reason: the story of the god – his personality, his adventures, the role he plays in one’s life – reveals the nature of the activity dedicated to the god. In these great, classical art forms, there is always some logos, some reason behind what they are doing – it’s not “random.” So I shall recur to this connection with Dionysus as we go along.

The power of theater is not simply that it is “entertainment.” When people say, “Well that movie or play is ‘just entertainment,’ [ i.e., a way of distracting oneself and relaxing from the cares of life],” they are usually quite mistaken. The power of theater comes from its addressing very deep needs of the human soul, for transcendence, deliverance from destruction, and rebirth and immortality.

Transcendence – As I watch a play, I vicariously transcend my ordinary, day-to-day life and enter another world, a world of the imagination. Simply to call this “escape” or “escapism” is not adequate. Our hearts carry within us the memory of Paradise, of our prelapsarian state. Because of this, we have a restless, ineradicable need to go beyond our daily existence to something other that is more exciting or fulfilling or enriching. Of course, because of sin, this other is usually either mostly evil or at best mostly good but mixed with evil, because, apart from grace and revelation, apart from the life in the Church, when fallen man does transcend visible, physical reality, he is not entering Paradise or the realm of the good angels, but that part of the invisible universe ruled by the demons. This is why the more powerful an art form is, the more dangerous it is. It could be that in one’s life, great pagan literature or drama can be part of someone’s way to God, and that God’s grace shelters the person as he goes through this lower, demonic pseudo-transcendence on the way to true transcendence, which is salvation in Christ. But too often people get stuck in the demonic pseudo-transcendence, and they don’t want to leave that stage because it gratifies their passions while simultaneously feeling like something transcendent.

Deliverance from destruction – In the paradigmatic dramatic formula, a hero with many talents and virtues is nonetheless threatened with destruction because of his hubris, his pride in opposing Fate or the will of the gods. Sometimes the play ends with his destruction, but sometimes a deux ex machina, a god or a messenger from the gods, miraculously intervenes and he is saved. As I watch the play, I vicariously experience the hero’s great adventure of danger and deliverance, I can enjoy the excitement without actually facing the danger, and I am reassured that my own mistakes and sins need not destroy me – there is a power from above that can save me.

Rebirth and immortality – By vicariously going through the hero’s destruction and restoration, I have had, at least in my imagination, what is called a liminal experience – from the Latin limen or threshold, thus a “threshold experience.” I have to pass over this threshold of the ultimate, primordial, existential danger – death to my old life – in order to stay alive. I cannot go back to my old way of living, cannot return to the womb, so to speak. I can only go forward. As I imaginatively identify with the hero in the drama, I take the risk of facing death and destruction, I courageously cross the threshold with him, and with him I attain rebirth and a happy immortality.

Thus drama in its essence is an initiatory mystagogy. I am sure that by now, as you listen to this, you are saying, “It’s like Holy Week, isn’t it? Our Lord is the ultimate, the only real Hero, He goes through the threshold of death, and He conquers death and in His Person gives the human nature He shares with us final deliverance, rebirth, and immortality. ” That’s right: the pagan drama with its hero-figure – insofar as it reveals truth free from the twists and delusions thrown in by the demons – in parallel with the truly divine – and therefore completely trustworthy and non-demonic, un-deluded – revelation of the Old Testament – foreshadows the Real Thing, the Economy of the Incarnate Word, the Great Adventure of the world-saving exploit of the God-Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The differences are that Our Lord’s drama really happened, He is the real and true God Who became a Man, He did not need a deus ex machina but rather raised Himself by His own divine power, and that by being initiated into His death and resurrection, we receive real rebirth and immortality, not the imaginary rebirth and immortality of pagan initiation through dramatic theater or mystery rites like those at Eleusis and so forth.

Now let’s get back to Dionysus. Dionysus is the god of viticulture – the art of making wine – and therefore also of drinking wine. But he is much more than that. More than any other god of the ancient Greek religion, Dionysos represents – and, in the perceived experience of his followers, actually bestows – man’s power to transcend his mundane existence and attain a heroic, godlike status, either for good or for evil. Along with Demeter, the goddess of grain, and her mystery cult at Eleusis, Dionysos is the god that was closest to the real needs and real aspirations of ordinary people – their respective cults were the closest thing in the Greco-Roman world to our experience of Baptism and the Eucharist, to the sacramental life. Dionysos is the god who dies and rises again – he is torn to bits by the Titans but gets put back together again and comes to life, just as the vine in the fall seems to die, and it has to be pruned, but it comes back to life in the spring. Demeter’s daughter Persephone has to go down to Hades every fall but returns to the surface of the earth every spring. She also personifies the created world’s annual cycle of death and resurrection. And what two elemental foods are they associated with? Bread and wine – the offerings of Melchizedek that prefigure the True Offering of the Divine Liturgy.

Unlike Our Savior, however, the All-Good God-man Who really did die and really did come back to life by His own power, Dionysos has a dark side, and this dark side is not avoided but made explicit in his mythology and in his rites. Remember that apart from Divine Revelation, the human mind can only conceive of man’s fate as an eternal cycle of co-equal light and darkness, a dualism of good and evil. And, naturally, the demons reinforce this delusion. The dark side of Dionysos, is, of course, the base passions unleashed by drunkenness – sex, violence, the whole nine yards. It is pseudo-transcendence that feels good while you are doing it, but it always destroys you in the end. The Latin name of Dionysus is Bacchus, and thus our words “bacchanal” and “bacchanalian,” denoting disgusting orgies of drunkenness and illicit sexual behavior. Today we just call this the “party scene,” “partying.”

Like a lot of pagan and mythic heroes, Dionysus has “familiars,” little preternatural friends that he hangs out with and that project his power onto the people around him. Dionysus’s “little friends” are not nice people. They are the Maenads, wild women who go into a frenzy and tear men to pieces and eat their flesh. Not nice! It’s pretty easy to see how all of this can exercise a dark fascination, a “Fatal Attraction” on unwary souls, especially those unprotected by grace and by the Church’s teaching. They are simultaneously telling you, “Hey, you are special, you are transcending the humdrum daily life of all the ‘losers’ out there, ” and “By the way, you can be a transcendent superman and enjoy getting high on certain substances and having a lot of sexual pleasure” with wild women and so forth. Of course, there’s the price to pay at the end. It’s easy to see how this relates to our post ’60’s culture of “drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll.”

Now back to theater: So ancient Greek theater is a cult of Dionysus. The great dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are, of course, not coarse or disgusting depictions of actual orgies and so forth. Such activities are considered obscene, in the original sense, things that are ob-scena – i.e, things that must be shielded from public view, literally “offstage.” One purpose of this great art was to sublimate man’s lower needs and integrate them into a philosophic and pious life of balance and moderation, of humble submission to the dictates of Fate, so that one does not fall prey to hubris. But, again, without grace, without Divine Revelation, without the Church, very few men could ever maintain this balance, and even when they did, it was not eternally salvific, but a temporary truce with the passions, which still resided within. And the vast majority of men will not take this philosophic route, anyway, but rather they fall prey to the dark side of the Dionysian mystery. Either way, apart from Christ, man’s condition is slavery to the power and the delusions of the demons.

So, at most, even the very best drama, the highest examples, say Aeschylus or Shakespeare, promise only a shadow, an intimation, of true salvation and eternal life. They offer only a partial and potentially confusing explanation of universal needs and universal sorrows and joys. But because the need for drama is hardwired into our minds, just by our being human, great drama is naturally attractive to better minds, and low, coarse drama is attractive to bestial minds, which are the majority, especially today. We need to practice great discretion in what examples of theater, as well as fiction writing and so forth, that we expose to Christian minds, and how we interpret them. Old Dionysos and his Maenads are waiting in the wings to grab hold of us. Let’s keep this in mind.

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Rector’s Message for April 2019

Yesterday I posted this message on our parish website,

Come, ye faithful, and let us serve the Master eagerly, for He gives riches to His servants. Each of us according to the measure that we have received – let us increase the talent of grace. Let one gain wisdom through good deeds; let another celebrate the Liturgy with beauty; let another share his faith by preaching to the uninstructed; let another give his wealth to the poor. So shall we increase what is entrusted to us, and as faithful stewards of His grace we shall be counted worthy of the Master’s joy. Bestow this joy upon us, Christ our God, in Thy love for mankind. Matins Hymn for Holy Tuesday

The most beloved, much desired, and most holy days of the Christian year approach, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and each of us must ask, “What can I do for the Lord?” Our Lord, of course, does not need our prayers and good deeds, but He requires them of us for our sake, for our salvation. The beautiful thing is that each of us is given a “talent” from God, or many talents, perhaps. We all have the ability to contribute to the life of the Church through the various actions that express our Faith, including our presence at Divine Services, our prayers at home, helping with work around the church, visiting the sick and shut-ins, helping someone in need, our financial support to our parish, bringing a new person to Church, and in general re-ordering our priorities to make our daily lives more Church-centered.

Of course, we can and should be doing these things all year round. But Great Lent, and its goal, Great and Holy Week, are a special time to make the greatest effort to show our loyalty to Christ, Who was loyal to us even unto death on the Cross.

Ultimately, it is this loyalty that gains us entry to Paradise. We must hold fast until the very end of our lives on earth, and, despite our many failings and limitations, never turn away from Christ. As society goes farther and farther away from Christ and from Orthodoxy, this will naturally grow harder, but God will give abundant grace to those who remain steadfast. For those who have faith and place their hope in God, their inner joy actually grows and abounds precisely when their outward life grows more difficult.

This kind of joy is the paradoxical paschal joy,the bright sorrow which in this life was the spiritual state of the martyrs, confessors, and strugglers for the Faith, whose amazing lives fill the pages of our Synaxarion, the Prologue, and the service books. They were not made of a different flesh and blood than ours, but they made the good decision to remain steadfast and loyal to Christ even in the midst of the greatest difficulties, sorrows, and sufferings, and ultimately it was this which made them inheritors of His Kingdom.

May the remainder of this Great and Holy Fast of 2019 and the Great Holy Week of Christ’s Passion, be a productive training period for us in the practice of this loyalty, and may the Day of the Resurrection be a foretaste of our eternal joy.

Καλή Ανάσταση! A blessed Resurrection!


Living for the True God

This All-Holy Trinity we pious Orthodox Christians glorify and worship. He is the true God, and all other so-called gods are demons. And it is not we alone that believe, glorify, and worship the Holy Trinity, but angels, archangels, and all the heavenly hosts, as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the grains of the sand of the sea unceasingly praise in hymns and worship and glorify this All-Holy Trinity. Again, out of love for the Holy Trinity men and women as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the grains of the sand of the sea spilt their blood, and as many renounced the world and went to the deserts and led a life of spiritual endeavor, and still as many lived in the world with self-mastery and chastity, fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and other practices; and all went to Paradise and rejoice forever.

What does Christ tell us to do? To think of our sins, of death, of Hell, of Paradise, of our soul, which is more precious than the whole world, to eat and drink as much as is sufficient for us, similarly to have clothes that suffice, while the rest of our time we should spend for our soul, to render it a bride of Christ. Then we should be called men, and angels on earth. If, however, we concern ourselves with eating and drinking and sinning…we should not be called men but beasts. Therefore make your body a servant of the soul; then you may be called men.

– from the Teachings of S. Cosmas Aitolos

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 35 – The Great Stereopticon, Session 2 – the Radio

Class 35: The Great Stereopticon, Session 2 – the Radio

You can listen to a podcast of this class at

Today we shall will continue to talk about the current, ongoing Luciferian project of the global elite, to “redefine” humanity, or, rather, to “create” a “new kind of human being” through various means, a deformed human being – a “zombie” – they can manipulate and control. We are now on the sub-topic of the communications media; in our last class, we discussed the newspapers, and today we shall speak about the radio.

I. Preliminaries

A. Survival Reality Check – Remember last week’s little to-do list (end of notes for Class 34)? How did you do? Let’s review them:

1. Limit your media. For example, turn all media devices off by 8 PM and read books until it’s time for your night prayers. That’s right: read books. They still exist! Get the family together and read to each other. Try it; you will like it.

2. Do not engage in constant chatter or arguments about the latest manufactured controversy dramatized in the media. We must develop a way of looking at life sub specie aeternitatis, from the viewpoint of eternity. The Orthodox mind sees everything in perspective, from the viewpoint of the entirety of history and with the purpose of history in mind, which is an eternal purpose. We always remember that the sovereign God is in charge, that He loves us, and that He is working out His purpose in history. This makes us serene and confident, so that we can take meaningful, conscious action and not just react to stimuli like Pavlov’s dogs. Remember that all of these daily “news dramas” are phony; they are the shadow puppet show that keeps you in the cave. Reality is much bigger.

3. Spend real time with the real people around you and do the limited real good you can do for them. The person next to you is so much more important than a politician or a movie star or a pro athlete or a TV commentator! Shut off the devices and talk. Get to know your neighbors. For that matter, get to know your family! Spend as much time in the real world as possible.

B. A great quote sent by a listener: I have been gratified recently by the response to my recent appeal to listeners to contribute to our effort, not only by their financial help, but also by their comments and contributions to our course content. In this regard: A long distance parishioner of mine just this week sent me this quote from Fr. Justin Popovich, which he saw on Facebook, in which Fr. Justin’s words dovetail perfectly with the Orthodox interpretation of the last thousand years of Western Christian history that we have been presenting in our course: “The melancholic Slav prophets alone foretold the fall of Europe (the West) before the First World War. After the war, even some Europeans (Westerners) began to be aware of this. The boldest and most frank of them was, undoubtedly, Spengler, who alarmed the world after the First World War with his book, Untergang des Abdenlandes (The Fall of the West). He shows, by all the means provided by European (Western) science, philosophy, politics, technology, art, and religion, that the West is falling to its destruction. It has, since the First World War, been in its death rattle. Western, or Faustian, culture, according to Spengler, began int he 10th century after Christ and is now decaying and falling apart, and will disappear completely by the end of the 22nd century. European (Western) culture concludes Spengler, will be succeeded by the culture of Dostoevsky, of Orthodoxy.” That’s all we have: I don’t know from which talk or article of Fr. Justin this is taken from, and I don’t know where to find this opinion in Spengler’s work, about Orthodox culture replacing Western European culture. If anyone can help me locate this quote in Fr. Justin Popovich’s work, and locate where Spengler says this in Fall of the West, I would appreciate it. But it is fascinating that Spengler would have had this opinion, which concurs, quite independently, with Sorokin’s model, which predicts that the current Sensate culture will end and be replaced by an Ideational culture, which, if it is to be Christian, could only be an Orthodox culture.

C. An addendum to Class 34 – A followup to our discussion about the newspaper. This week I was re-reading an article from the September 2018 issue of Chronicles magazine, entitled “The Battle for America’s Mind” by Pedro L. Gonzalez. His opening paragraph contains a fascinating insight:

Heralding the rise of the daily newspaper in 1831, French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine declared journalism would emerge as “the whole of human thought,” but that thought itself “will not have time to ripen into the form of a book.” The book, Lamartine proclaimed, “will arrive too late.”

So de Lamartine, writing precisely at the time when the newspaper was becoming the dominant medium for public discourse, is articulating three insights that dovetail perfectly with what we have been saying now in 2019:

1. The “whole of human thought” is now contained in journalism, which is the communications medium of politics. Remember the insight about political thought (Age of Revolution) replacing philosophical thought (Renaissance/Enlightenment) which replaced theological thought (Age of Faith). In the Age of Revolution, all thought is dominated by the political, and therefore the book is replaced by the newspaper, which is the medium of daily change, turmoil, incomplete information, careless opinions, and constant conflict.

2. This “whole of human thought” bounded – limited – now by politics and journalism is inherently incapable of maturation and synthesis into a coherent whole, which is what he meant by saying that it cannot “ripen into the form of a book.” It is a constant stream of “rough drafts” that don’t come together or get completed, but rather keep starting all over again in more and more, and more various ways. It is a centrifugal, fragmenting movement incapable of synthesis or maturity.

3. “…the book will arrive too late…” In other words, this Revolutionary form of human discourse will prevent a new synthesis, a new basis for human culture, being arrived at in time to prevent civilizational catastrophe. This was borne out in the 20th century.

Well, enough of the newspaper for now. Let us go on to another component of the “Great Stereopticon,” the radio.

II. The Great Stereopticon, Session 2 – The Magical Voice of the Radio

It is hard for us to imagine how astounding hearing someone’s voice over the radio for the first time must have been to our recent ancestors (my grandparents’ generation, most of whom were born in the 1890’s and attained adulthood in the WWI era). The telephone was amazing enough – the idea that once could transmit sound through wires. But to transmit sound for thousands of miles through the air. It really partakes of the quality of magic. It bespeaks an awesome power and commands authority in a way that even the mightiest newspaper cannot. It is a “quantum leap” up in the ability of those who “own the microphone” to dominate public opinion.

The “golden age” of radio was a short period – the 1920’s through the 1940’s – and gave way to the reign of television, which we could date roughly from 1950 to 2000. From the beginning, a very small group of people “owned the microphone.” The financial and industrial elite who controlled the economy and politics also controlled the media. There were few radio networks – some of whose names are still familiar today, such as NBC and CBS – they all told pretty much the same story about current events, and they formed a uniform mindset among their listeners. So the power of radio ratcheted up the power of the elite to control opinion, and this in turn prepared the masses of people for being influenced by the even greater power of television. Let’s look at some aspects of this:

A. The Power of Speech – Somewhere Plato says that writing was a step down in man’s intellectual and moral development – that the most ancient men were both more intelligent and more honest than those who came later, and that writing was a crutch they invented later, when they were neither as smart or as virtuous as their ancestors. (If someone could locate that in the Dialogues, I would appreciate it). We sense this instinctively: If you can trust someone’s spoken promise and don’t need a written contract, it’s because you think more highly of his morality. If someone knows the Bible and can recite it by heart in addition to being able to read it and write it, you think of him as someone who is functioning at a higher level, who owns the words that he is passing on to you. If I just tell you something and expect you to believe me, that indicates a closer bond, a higher level of trust. So speech is both more personal and more sacred than writing. And being personal, there is less distance. You can put a letter or an article away in a drawer and think about it, or forget about it. If someone is “in your face,” so to speak, you are more compelled to respond one way or the other. Any stranger can send a letter to your mailbox, but only a friend or relative or neighbor – someone you trust – is allowed to come onto your front porch or into your living room to sit down and talk to you.

So here I am, an ordinary person living in America, say, in the 1930’s, and suddenly Franklin Roosevelt – this famous, great man, admired by millions – is actually on my front porch or in my living room, by way of his wonderful voice, both wonderful because the man really is a great speaker, and because of the medium itself, which is simply magical. If I were just reading his speech printed in the newspaper, I could analyze it, think about, look at it from different angles, agree or disagree, maybe just ignore it. But here he is, the Great Man, and he has come to my home, to visit me! We have suddenly become, if not friends, then at least good enough acquaintances so that he is allowed to sit down with me and my family, in my home, and give me his opinion. (By the way, FDR did always begin his famous Fireside Chats with “My friends…”). Any guest no matter how humble, commands deference. And this guest is such an important person…I am very honored by his visit. How can I not be impressed by his words?

So, on the one hand, this radio technology creates a kind of “retro,” traditional feel, the human touch – We can just “talk to each other” rather than have to use the more formal medium of writing. This creates trust and personal warmth. The problem is that the trust and warmth are illusory, for there is not real friendship here; both because it’s a one-way street, and because the man behind the microphone only seems to be talking directly to me. He actually does not know me, and his goal is to persuade millions of people who actually don’t know him at all. The medium of writing, as Plato notes, was invented for a reason, that the later men were less trustworthy than the ancient men. But what if later, untrustworthy men – and very powerful ones – jumped over that defense mechanism of written communication and came at you directly, commanding the reverence due the spoken word?

Radio, then, greatly increased the power of the few to control the opinions of the many.

B. Advertising – If you have been watching the YouTube series on Edward Bernays (“Century of the Self”) which I mentioned in Class 33, you have been learning about the creation and growth of commercial advertising using 20th century technology. Of course, radio was a great “leap forward” over printed advertising, for some of the same reasons I have mentioned above in relation to politics. The man with a friendly, trusting voice comes magically over the airwaves into your home and says to buy this kind of laundry soap, and if you do, your wife will be happy, and your children will have cleaner clothes, and when you come home she will give you a big kiss and have your favorite dinner ready for you, and your home will be a better place, and so forth and so on. Why wouldn’t you trust the friendly man? And, of course, all the learning that went into developing radio advertising – script writing, acting, sound effects, and so forth – will later be applied to advertising using the even more powerful medium of television.

Let’s not forget: What we learn from studying Bernays is that, from the outset, the longterm purpose of advertising is not merely to sell soap – that is a short term goal. The longterm goal is to create masses of human beings who will respond to massively broadcast stimuli and then behave uniformly in a way desired by the people in power. The longterm goal is what is today called “full spectrum dominance” through social engineering. Advertising, which manipulates the subject by arousing desire or envy or fear – the lower passions – is a key element in this program.

Of course, print technology – newspapers, handbills, mailers, billboards, and so forth – also served, and still serve – as advertising technology. But the radio was a tremendous leap forward.

C. Radio as Theater – Radio, along with the cinema and television, carries with it the power of theater in a way completely unavailable to printed media. Think about it – what is more powerful, more compelling – to read the text of a play or to see it performed? Radio does not have the visual aspect, of course, but a great reader or actor or orator exerts tremendous power just using the voice. I am going to speak more about theater when we cover the topic of the cinema, but briefly now let’s recall that theater in our culture has its historical roots in the religion of the pagan Greeks. It is a religious activity: the actor steps out of his ordinary identity and takes on a transcendent vocation as a messenger from the gods teaching a moral lesson, examining a theme of universal significance, going through an existential crisis, either overcoming or being destroyed by some life or death problem that all men have in common. The resolution of the crisis presented, whether tragic or comic – i.e., whether there is a sad or a happy ending – takes on a canonical character, demands acceptance, becomes, as it were, a moral imperative. If are part of the audience, which is really a sacred congregation of initiates, and you reject the meaning of the play, you become a heretic, an outlaw from the moral community bound by its going through the initiatory experience of the drama just presented.

So theater is an initiatory ritual and we human beings are “hard-wired” for it. It’s in our cultural “DNA.” One way of looking at how radio – and even more powerfully, cinema and TV – affects people is that it draws them into some kind of drama, some kind of ritual experience of crisis, and then resolves their crisis, giving them a new life. It could be something absurdly trivial, like my wife’s laundry detergent making my white T-shirts gray, and the divine/magical hero – Mr. Soap Man on the radio – being the deus ex machina who solves our problem and enables us to live happily ever after. Or it could be a real-life, vast drama on a vast scale – the Japanese might be coming to bomb California tomorrow, and I must trust the divine figure of FDR to save me. Once I go through the crisis, “die” so to speak to my old life, and am “resurrected” by the resolution of my existential problem, I am a new person, bound to my “savior” – Mr. Soap Man or FDR or whoever. It would be heresy and apostasy to doubt them, to leave their fold.

More on theater in our later classes…Also music, which forms a large part of the power of radio as well as TV and cinema. (Today we just touched on the spoken word).

III. This Week’s Survival Tips

So how can we apply some of the things we’ve talked about today to our survival as Orthodox Christians. Here is a short list:

1. Remind ourselves of the sacredness of speech, of the power of the tongue to do good or evil. Re-read chapter three of the Epistle of St. James. Now think about how carelessly we listen to vast streams of chatter from the radio, Internet, TV, etc., and how much we imitate the emptiness and coarseness of this chatter in our own communications. Let us repent and turn to quietness, and when we speak, to employ speech that is elevated, thoughtful, and unhurried. Remember that Our Lord said that we will answer for every careless word.

2. As we do our daily Scripture reading, make it a practice always to read aloud. Reading Holy Scripture and other sacred reading aloud, as well as reading aloud the better and more refined kinds of secular literature, will train us in higher and better patterns of speech and thought, will help cure our misuse of the spoken word.

3. Turn off the radio during our driving time. Play sacred music or a good book. Or just pray. Don’t get sucked into the vortex of radio talk shows.


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