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Unplug from Antichrist

“Above all else, guard your heart” (Proverbs 4:23).

In January of 2019, Patriarch Kirill warned the Orthodox world about addiction to smartphones. While the Church is not opposed to technology, he stated, we must be wary of becoming “slaves to our devices,” and especially slaves to devices “aimed at controlling a person’s identity.” Our dependency on world-wide web technologies will usher in the “coming of the Antichrist.” Of course, this remark triggered a wave of laughter and criticism all across the West and likely makes us squirm a little. Why is that? Why might this make us uncomfortable? How does such advice align with Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers?

“Keep awake. Be sober…the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5).

Inner watchfulness is the foundation of a spiritual life. The Church Fathers use the Greek word, Nepsis. It means being totally present, guarding the heart, attentive to each and every thought and affection, neither scattered nor distracted, but tuned into Yahweh, “I am that I am.” The Psalms describe the holy man as he whose single delight is the Way of God — who meditates on this Way day and night. “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Psalm 118). Our Lord warned his disciples to be vigilant, as the wise virgins who trim their lamps. “Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down with sleep and be shut out from the kingdom” (prayer from Bridegroom Matins).

“Watchfulness,” St. Hesychius teaches, “[if] practiced over a long period, frees us with God’s help from impassioned thoughts, impassioned words, and evil actions…It is, in the true sense, purity of heart.”

Why does it matter? We are deceived so easily.

On the last Sunday before Advent, the Church warns us about the Antichrist.

“When you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place…then those in Judea must flee to the mountains…Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ — do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:15, 24).

After a great deal of tribulation and deception, the Son of Man will finally appear in heaven, “and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn.”

There is something striking in this passage: the confounding obliviousness of the masses. Our Lord is clear. Most people will be duped: the ordinary people, the Jack’s and Jill’s. In American culture today, we like to assume that everyone has a good heart — this does not match with Jesus’ words. When Christ returns, the world, quite simply, will not want him.

No one is more merciful than Jesus. No one more beautiful nor lovable. Yet, Jesus’ second coming will not be celebrated on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He will not be recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize. When he returns, “the earth will mourn.” After God lead his people out of slavery, after all the plagues and miracles in Egypt, and the crossing of the red sea, what did they do? They got drunk, built two, stupid, gold calves, and fell down in worship. Humanity has not changed very much.

“[Our] idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see…ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell…Those who make them will be like them” — dumb, blind, and deaf.

The heart is deceived so easily.

“Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments” (Rev. 16:15).

So what about Patriarch Kirill’s words? Should we be wary of smartphones and world-wide web devices? Will they usher in the Antichrist? Antichrist in Greek is ἀντίχριστος. The root word ἀντί implies that something stands in place of an object. Aντίχριστος means “instead of Christ,” so that anything that takes precedent in our heart, anything more important than God, is an Antichrist. Anything that becomes an addiction is an Antichrist. Anything that distracts us from prayer is an Antichrist. Anything that consumes our attention and forms our heart in a way that is not Christ-centered is Aντίχριστος.

Advent arrives to free us from our Antichrists.

It is a time for fasting. Fr. Thomas Hopko once taught: “A human being must fast. The effort enlightens the mind, strengthens the spirit, controls the emotions and tames the passions.”

Advent is a time for turning off our devices. Smash your television and throw away your phone, if it takes that, if only to experience quiet. Billions of dollars are poured into these devices with no other purpose than to make them addicting and to steal our focus. Only the few will not be deceived by the Antichrist of our times. Those few are the ones who have trained themselves to pull away from the noise and consumerism, and have the willpower to sit and listen to God.

Advent is a time for reorienting our hearts. Christ is coming. He offers his whole kingdom, his whole self, to all whose hearts are still strong enough to long for him.

The nights are getting darker. The air is colder and crisper. The change of seasons in creation usher in a new spiritual season: Advent. The badgers are burrowing into their dens. We too must burrow into the den of our hearts. May you all have a joyful and peaceful Advent, steeped in anticipation of the Bridegroom.

“Above all else, guard your heart.”


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