The Internet and Spiritual Experience
The rabid development of information technology over the past two decades has truly brought about unexpected results, of which we could not even dream in the seventies and even eighties. The Internet, e-mail, web-based resources, social networks: they are part of our everyday life, work, science, education, art, and entertainment. The Internet has allowed us to reduce or even abolish distance. Thus, news can be transmitted through the Internet from one end of the earth to another in a couple of seconds – we have all had this experience. Conversations, sometimes even involving eye contact, now take place smoothly, regardless of distance. The only condition is that the user have Internet access. Indeed, the use of the Internet is so simple that any child or elderly person can easily use it.
In this same manner, the Word of God can be transmitted anywhere in the world. In this way, that which is happening here in Athens before an audience of 100 people can be recorded and sent to thousands or even millions of users, or even transmitted online.
But we should realize that the Word of God is not simple human speech, but bears Divine Energy, which can spiritually revive man and truly comfort him – and this can happen through the Internet. We know of many cases when various people – atheists, idolaters from India, Japan, and Nepal – have found Orthodoxy through the Internet and been reborn, because they found the truth that they were looking for in this life; they found Christ.
Not long ago the Hollywood actor Jonathan Jackson visited our monastery. I asked him how he became Orthodox. He told me that the Internet had very much helped him. On the other hand, thanks to the Internet, Christians who had departed from God have returned to Him, found themselves, and found their place in this world. There are people who had been on the verge of absolute frustration and, having listened to some talks on the Internet, found the necessary spiritual strength and hope, and are now developing spiritually.
Of course, the Orthodox Word of God is less present on the Internet compared to other words. When I speak of other words, I mean science, economics, politics, and even such phenomena as fashion, show business, or even certain corrupting resources that, unfortunately, are often visited.
It seems to me that today the Word of God must have a strong and powerful presence online. The majority of people today are disoriented, constantly falling at an impasse. In this era, only the Word of God can comfort man, inform him, and assure him of the possibility of eternal life. The Word of God transmitted through the Internet can have a healing function for man.
The creation of digital libraries with relevant content can and should be encouraged and multiplied. The heritage and wisdom of the Holy Fathers, with their remarkable texts, should be used as much as possible in the most modern and optimal way. The digitization and categorization of the Holy Fathers enables Internet users to find texts and information on topics of interest to them. Moreover, the digitization and promotion through webpages of the Word of God, especially the teachings of the Holy Fathers as well as of the Elders of the twentieth century, will bring spiritual benefit to our contemporaries.
Elder Ephraim of Katounakia said: “Oh, what it pity that it wasn’t possible to record the sayings of the Elder Joseph.” We understand that it is truly important when things are uttered by people who have experienced and gained personal experience in the unseen spiritual warfare. St. Paisios said: “Write down everything that is spiritual that you hear, as well as the experience that you have heard from others, because there will come a time when this experience will be exhausted, and you will have a spiritual deficiency.” Indeed, over the past few years there has been great growth in the publication of books of theological content, especially in Greece, but also in other Orthodox countries.
But, unfortunately, there are Orthodox who, due to language barriers, do not have access to these valuable texts. Moreover, the ordinary book, printed on paper, is now in a serious crisis. At the same time, sales of electronic books are growing. Therefore, we can say that we can make use of this trend. We can say that all this is good and God-pleasing, when everything goes correctly.
The Internet is a modern tool that promotes globalization. Those who would like to spread their ideas for global history, global economics, a global state, and a global leader know how to make use of the Internet – and, indeed, they use it at a high level. Why should not we, the Orthodox, use this instrument for promoting the global role of Orthodoxy? Why should we not use it for uniting the Orthodox and its mission in the known world?
The proper use of the Internet depends upon the user. Of course, the Internet cannot replace living contact. Of course, no one can attain a given level of spirituality through the Internet alone. Orthodoxy is person-centered. Priority also goes to the essential value of the person, to the individual person. The Internet is a tool, an instrument, that helps and benefits us – but in order for the faithful to lead an authentic spiritual life, it is required that he have personal contact with his spiritual father.
In the same way, it is essential to have communication with other brethren, in order to experience love and to participate in all the Mysteries of the Church. Of course, there are also cases in which excessive use of the Internet, even for good and spiritual purposes, can create dependence, resulting in asocial isolation and a detrimental effect on one’s personhood. Thus, the Internet can have negative results: instead of leading the user closer to Christ is can, on the contrary, lead him away from God. Therefore we bear the great responsibility of promoting and sharing the Word of God using the most creative, useful, and modern methods – but we should also inform our flock about how to use the Internet profitably, emphasizing all the negative effects that can be caused by the misuse of this technology.