Is it necessary for a priest to have his own website? Not for everyone, I suppose. We know there are different charismata in the Church. There are pastors of fervent prayer, excellent administrators, and those who consider the execution of divine services in a decorous, deliberate, and decent manner to be their mission. Besides, there are catechists, missioners, preachers, and theologians. In my opinion, they are the ones who need a website. “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few” (Mat. 9: 37).
Archbishop John (Shakhovskoy) wrote half a century ago: “Spiritual literature is an almost infinite multiplication of pastoral labor, feet, and words. Before us and after us it enters every house, beginning and continuing our work … The religious book is an expansion (almost infinite) of pastoral love and concern for the human soul and the presence of the pastor in this soul. Through the printed word the pastor enters man’s house and heart a thousand times.” And there are such words on the home page of my website, which belong to Cyril, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Teacher of the Slavs: “Preaching only by word of mouth is like writing on the sand.”
These words, in general, answer the question of why the pastor needs his own website. To let his life work, the testimony of God and Truth, be accomplished more extensively and successfully.
The number of my website visitors has achieved several thousand in just a year. It means that my sermons, articles, and spiritual thinking can be heard not only by the score of my parishioners, but by a much greater number of people. And by the letters and responses of people I can see that this work has been fruitful. No fewer than a score of people has just crossed the threshold of our church. They have come from unbelief or from secular life. And their life in the Church has begun.
Some were touched by a sermon they had heard, some were impressed by the pictures or by the articles put on the website. And some considered it very important that the priest be open, available, and affable. That is what broke the last barrier on the way to faith.
The possibilities of my work in God’s vineyard can be extended enormously through the website.
Imagine that a priest wants to preach and catechize. And he wants his work to be as efficient as possible. What can he be advised? Not to ignore the achievements of contemporary technologies!
Have you ever thought of why the influence of St. John Chrysostom on his times was so overwhelming and explosive? Why did everybody, from cook and stableman to the royalty, quote him? Precisely because Chrysostom studied at the school of rhetoric and, as a diligent rhetorician, he enforced the rule: all sermons he gave were recorded. Then the saint edited these records, they were copied, and anyone could obtain such a book. Chrysostom is kept in thousands of records, while many outstanding pastors of his days are known only by their names. The word of Chrysostom works even today; the words of many others sank into oblivion.
How much of the heritage of the blessed Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh would have been saved, if the Maidanovich sisters had not followed him from the mid 1960s and had not taped his speeches and sermons on a portable recorder? 95% of all that we have as the precious heritage of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, which plowed the souls of Russians, hardened during the times of atheism, in the 1990s – we have due to the podvig of these two ordinary Orthodox women. (Metropolitan Antony confessed that he had never thought of recording his sermons and talks, and he did not write books at all).
Archpriest George Mitrofanov, a prominent historian and an outstanding thinker, has been holding interesting meetings for some years in St. Petersburg. Together with an audience he watches a movie and then comments on it according to a theological point of view. Bergman, Tarkovsky, Lungin, and others of the most interesting and controversial films of XX-XXI centuries according to Orthodox positions!
Once I was riding in a car with the organizers of this project. I asked if they recorded on a dictaphone Father George’s speeches to let us read them or just listen to them. They looked at one another: “We have not come to this idea anyhow…” What does it mean?…
The pastor, who wants to serve the work of preaching as efficient as possible, has to think of it!
Advice to Fellow Pastors
You should buy a digital dictaphone and record your sermons. Then you should listen to them and analyze them. Many priests are self-confident. The people of God will say “Save, O Lord” [i.e., thank you] to everything, that is why they are not careful about sermons. But the level of a pastor’s preaching has to grow; the pastor has to work on this, taking into consideration his mistakes. Then felicitous sermons can be put on a website, converted into text and so on. I also advise to record your catechetical talks and lessons that are given at Sunday school.
I foresee the objections: “There is nothing good there.” If it is so, that is exactly because we consider our work of preaching and catechizing to be something transient and insignificant. We meet, sit for a while talking, and thank God. But if we change our attitude to our public speaking, just as to what has to be heard by many people, what has to remain for years, it will impel us to a more responsible attitude to both lessons at Sunday school and preaching.
My advice is also to buy a digital camera and to keep a chronicle of important events of parish life in photos. This “visual preaching” is also very important to the work of mission and catechizing.
Even though it may not be in demand today, but years later, one must not lose it. (A great deal of what is on my website now had been collected for some years and now has become useful).
It should be repeated one more time: a website is an opportunity to extend your preaching and your public speaking over a vast audience. And it is not a matter of ambition, but of goals. The goal of my evangelical serving I see in bringing my preaching to as many people as possible. And it should remind one of the Lord, eternity, and salvation, which can be found through the Church, to the world dwindling in unbelief.
I do not think the pastor should devote himself completely to Internet projects. Spiritual life, including personal prayer, divine services, and parish pastoral work, is above all. I spend much time with my family and children (I have three children). But preaching is a pastor’s integral duty and obligation. We do our duty more efficiently and successfully if we make a website and put different information there.
An important remark: I am deeply convinced that the pastor should not be very concerned with the technical side of the project. The pastor is responsible for the concept and information. The technical side is of other people’s concern.
I was lucky to have been offered work at Azbuka veri (The Alphabet of Faith) portal. It is the largest Orthodox website in St. Petersburg. The professionals, the almost unlimited technical facilities, and so on go naturally without saying. (By the way, The Alphabet of Faith is ready to cooperate with any priests and parishes. The portal offers collaboration!)
Computer literate young people, who can help the pastor very much, can always be found in parishes.
The main difficulty for me is the lack of spare time. For many priests the shortage of time is the strongest obstacle as well, but I suppose that sermons, lectures, and articles, which can be heard not only in the parish, but actually in any point of the world, are worthy of putting our efforts into.
The problem of good time management is a concern for many pastors.
Switching off the telephone sometimes (we do not rush to the phone when praying or holding a divine service, after all), not letting vain and petty things totally absorb us, using advanced technologies (dictaphones), and getting active parishioners involved in deciphering sound files will at least help us carry out the service of catechization more successfully and efficiently.
An hour or two a day can be found for reading, writing, and creative work. For me it is often the time when the children are in bed (10.30 p.m. – 12.30 a.m.).
The category “Answers to questions” must be on a priest’s website. I do not think it is necessary to answer questions to which answers can be easily found (“What Mysteries are there in Orthodoxy?”, “What does ‘invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts’ mean?” etc.). I am certain it would be more useful for those who ask a priest such questions to read something and to learn by themselves.
But it happens that someone living in another country or in a small town faces a spiritual problem, a question he really can not get an answer to. And nobody, even the priest, will help him. People for years are pestered with some questions.
If this man visits Orthodox websites and badly wants the priest who takes part in the work of the website to give him a distinct and adequate answer, he has to have an opportunity to do so.
The above-mentioned Chrysostom who, one must admit, also did not have enough spare time, did not scorn receiving people and answering their personal questions. His Life says that after divine service he sat on the steps of the church and talked to all who came. Be that so or not, it is doubtless that, in spite of his high rank, he considered talking to ordinary people to be important.
Of course the pastor should not overestimate the role of communication on the Internet. There are questions that have to be defined more precisely, or which can be settled only in a personal meeting. In that case visitors to the website have to be sent to a church to meet with a priest.
When answering a question, the priest should remember that it is not his personal opinion that is being asked, but the opinion of a competent pastor, who expresses the opinion of the Orthodox Church. The position of the Orthodox Church on the majority of questions is clear now, due to many documents accepted at the Councils of Bishops. That is why the pastor must be at least conversant with “The Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Communication on the Internet
Naturally, much depends on the personal culture of the pastor. But I am deeply convinced that, no matter how open and missionary-oriented the pastor may be, he must not stoop to the website readers’ and visitors’ level, but rather pull them up to the level of Orthodox and great Russian culture.
One archpriest, who became notorious for his struggle against the taxpayer identification number and many modern facts in general, made a statement recently: “We have to talk to him [to modern man – K. P.] not only in conventional language, but sometimes in the language of one or another subculture, which the majority of the modern younger generation belongs to, whether we like it or not.”
I do not agree with such a position in principle. The slang of young people, the rollicking and irresponsible manner of communication pardonable to young secular men who are in opposition to everything traditional and conventional because of their age, is unpardonable for us pastors. According to Apostle’s word, we do not have to conform to this age, but have to raise our parishioners, readers, and listeners to a high culture. To the culture of faith and living.
Readers write many things. Attacks by some cohesive groups, probably groups of Satanists, which try to confuse readers with different dirty tricks and gossips, certainly occur. One must filter all messages and delete the scandalous ones. (I will remind you of the words of the great Russian writer Goncharov who, while being a literary censor for some time, said the following about the task of his censorial work: “I wanted not to let fools into literature.” The task of present website administrators and editors is similar to that).
There are letters from people whose sanity is quite questionable, but it is necessary in a proper and delicate manner not to allow them to lead you by the nose. But most people are those who are just discovering Orthodoxy. It is not a secret that some people are timid to cross the threshold of the church. A chance to know about faith, to hear a word about eternity and God’s love on the electronic pages of a website, turns out to be very important for them.
Recently I received a letter from a woman. It was from a hospital for the insane. She wrote that half a year ago she had lost her son. She lost her mind with grief, went to the hospital and, being in utter despair, decided to commit suicide there. She had been given my book to read on the eve of the night when she intended to kill herself. Typical answers to simple questions.
She read the whole night: “… The scales fell from my eyes. I understood why and how to live. Now all I want is to get better, be discharged from the hospital, and go to church.”
Does real life intersect the virtual one? Exactly in this way! I will repeat one more time that, in my strong opinion, the very “virtual” life is necessary not as a pastime, as a way of self-realization and self-expression, but as a way of pastoral, evangelical service. Only for this!
Translated by Natalia Tsyguleva
Edited by Hierodeacon Samuel (Nedelsky)