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Television and the Images We Venerate

“My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

We must render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. But what, we must ask, belongs to God? Our eyes, our attention, our contemplation belongs to God.

On Holy Theophany, 1950, St. Lawrence of Chernigov passed away. He was a healer and prophet, but best known for the wise counsel he offered Christians struggling in the modern world. One day, as his faithful gathered around him, he was asked about the Antichrist. “Blessed, and thrice-blessed is the man who does not desire, and who will not see the abominable face of the Antichrist.” “How will this all come to pass?” they asked him. “In the holy place, the abomination of desolation . . . the Antichrist will appear, and the whole world will see him at the same time.” “Where is this holy place? In a church?” they persisted. “Not in a church,” St. Lawrence warned. “Not in a church, but in every house. In the corner, where the holy icons now stand and hang, there will stand captivating devices which will delude the people. Many will say, ‘We need to watch and listen to the news.’ And behold, in [these devices] the Antichrist will appear.”

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

God has given us our eyes.

Have you ever wondered how marvelous these are? Our eyes open our souls to the wonders of the universe. Think about it. Two tiny spheres in our face allow us to gaze at twinkling stars 1,000 light-years away. The whole spectrum of colors in the sky, the shades of blue and gold and auburn, every manner of light and hue in the world passes through our eyes. Not only do they pass through, they change us. They enchant us. They make us wonder. They inspire and shape us. The whole universe can fit into our tiny hearts, because of these awe inspiring windows: the eyes.

“Death and destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes” (Proverbs 27:20).

The eyes are hungry, just like the stomach. The minute we wake up, the eyes start reaching out to be filled and pleasured. They drink up everything possible, like a horse drinking up a stream after a good gallop. Shape, size, texture, color, depth, symbol, all of it, pours down and through these windows into our souls, where it pleases or saddens us, enlivens or depresses, fills us with hope and love, or despair and hate. You could spend all day awestruck at the thought of these little miracles: the eyes.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23).

The eyes are more marvelous still.

Hippocrates discovered long ago that our food is our medicine. If we fill our stomachs with junk food, our bodies get sick, bloated, and cancerous. If we fill our stomachs with nutrition, we become strong and energetic. As food is to the stomach, the images we contemplate are to the heart. Think of it. Whatever you spend your time looking at creates the man you become. Whatever you feed your eyes, shapes and makes your soul.

If you look at good, beautiful, and wholesome images, your heart grows and flourishes. If you feed your eyes scenes that are peaceful, still, and harmonious, your heart becomes strong and robust. If you feed your eyes junk food — flashing images, entertainment, consumerism, billboards, polemics and propaganda — your heart shrivels. Even little glances, again and again, poison the heart. One lewd image pops up as an internet ad. Another glance in a television show. You look away and feel righteous because of your self-control, but you do not turn away from the devices. You stay plugged in, glued to the screen — you are an “adult” after all — and all those little images keep on showing up, keep on flashing before you, and without ever knowing it, you are desensitized. It has seeped into your heart. One tiny sip of poison may not kill you. A hundred tiny sips and its game over.

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

What belongs to God? The attention of our heart belongs to God.

We live in an entertainment crazed culture. Indeed, no society in the past has ever been bombarded by such unceasing entertainment as ours. We have to remember, there is no neutral moral ground. In the Book of Isaiah, God laments the lifestyle of His people and destroys Israel because of their luxuries and entertainments. The Church Fathers spend as much time addressing entertainment as they do holy icons. St. John Chrysostom reprimanded the faithful in his days for the time they spent at circuses and races. St. John of Kronstadt urged Christians to avoid worldly pastimes. “Entertainment, cards, dancing, and theaters,” these are things, he said, that turn hearts from God?

I used to cringe at this sort of thing. It sounds so puritanical. We must not go there! We cannot look prudish, or extremist! What a killjoy, a wet blanket, a naysayer.

But with time, I have started wondering. Perhaps they are right. In fact, maybe they are not killjoys after all. Maybe they actually know something about the good life — a life of adoration and leisure.

Worldly entertainments, St. John teaches, “lull the Christian life to sleep.” Modern men suffer from a great amount of anxiety, he said. They run to entertainment to ease their anxiety, but in the end suffer because of it. “Such means afterwards increase still more the anguish and weariness of their hearts. If, happily, they turn to God, then the burden is removed from their heart.”

What are we chasing after? What do we worship?

It is hard to imagine a life without mesmerizing entertainment and brain-numbing screens. What will we discover? The stars, the sun, the changing leaves, the tiny flowers, the quiet.

“When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep . . . In these silent and receptive moments . . . the soul of man is sometimes visited by an awareness of what holds the world together” (Joseph Pieper).

The Church is not prudish; it is pure. The saints are not bores; they are romantics. They have fallen in love with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Without screens, without shopping, with entertainment, they have learned to cherish and delight in the gaze “at the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).

“WHAT is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs, and stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight, streams full of stars, like skies at night.” (W. H. Davies).


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