St. Theophan the Recluse and Facebook

Ok, if you haven’t figured it out even before reading this post, I must confess that St. Theophan the Recluse did not have a Facebook account. He lived on this earth from 1815 to 1894, and we believe that he now intercedes for us from heaven.

Nevertheless, I have recently become acquainted with some of St. Theophan’s writings, and have found his heart to speak with much clarity to our own day, as it relates to modern technology such as Facebook. In his work The Path to Salvation, St. Theophan discusses a general sketch for what is needed to both grow into a mature Christian, and to also raise children along the same path of maturity which we should all be seeking.

In discussing this path, St. Theophan warns his readers to avoid curiosity. Now clearly, creative writers such as Tolkien and Dostoyevsky are not the true focus of his work. To clarify what he means by curiosity, he defines it as “…an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose-what is being done where, and how things are.”

He goes on to clarify how true investigation and learning differ from curiosity, and offers sound advice on how to master our passions and imagination so that we may live (and think!) according to the truth.

He writes:

“Investigation is already inevitably curiosity. Curiosity consists of trying to know everything without order, without aim, without distinguishing whether it is needful or not. It is only necessary that one should preserve a measure and order in exercising the senses, and direct them only to what is needful and to awareness of what is needful-then there will be no food for curiosity. That is, one must train the child to investigate what is considered to be essential for him, but to refrain from and avoid everything else. Then, in the very act of investigating, one should preserve a progressive order-not jumping from subject to subject, or from one feature to another, but looking at one thing after another and taking care afterwards to picture the subject in the mind in a fitting way.

Such a method of study will save the child from distraction even in the midst of what is allowed; it will train him to master the senses, and through them-the imagination. He will not jump from one thing to another without need; nor, consequently, will he dream and be distracted by images and thereby give no rest to his soul, muddying it with the ebb and flow of his loose fantasies. One who is unable to master the senses and imagination will inevitably be distracted and inconstant, being overcome by curiosity, which will chase him from one subject to another until he is exhausted, and all this without fruit.” (emphasis added)

As I read and reread these words, I am struck by their application to our own society. We are overcome by curiosity and exhausted from chasing one subject after the next.

Now, I cannot be certain of what St. Theophan would say about Facebook and other technological “advances” that we have had. However, I can say that his diagnosis of how curiosity weakens one’s focus and attention is quite in keeping with my own experience as a human being, and with my observation of the world in general.

We see so many times where people are completely up to date with every latest fact about the world through Facebook and the like, but how to make sense of the world and the facts about it seems to be completely beyond our means. Many times, people do not even believe or aspire to make sense of life for that matter! And perhaps it is because of what St. Theophan states–perhaps we are exhausted by the barrage of facts and pictures and images conceived by our own imaginations, to the point where how they are connected one to another is bewildering and overwhelming.

We miss more than the forest for the trees, we end up missing everything out of an inordinate curiosity about things. We cannot investigate anything in truth because our curiosity has given us so many random images and thoughts that are not interconnected. We are overwhelmed and weakened through such an overload of curiosity.

Through St. Theophan’s prayers and his advice, may we overcome this dominance of curiosity. May true investigation never cease, but may our obsession with the latest and the greatest images die down in our hearts. In its place, may the love of the truth as a Person and a consistent Message to us from Him and His world reign and flourish in our lives.

Holy Father Theophan, Pray to God for Us!

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