The Church’s relationship with the secular media
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It is no secret that for a wide audience the Church’s point of view, voiced by a well-known and influential sec-ular journalist, will be of much greater interest than the same view stated by the official representative of the Church “by position”.

Among good journalists; however, there are many people who sympathize and are compassionate towards our Church. What prevents us from working with them, to be their inconspicuous helpers and kind counselors in understanding the sometimes unfamiliar life of the Church? 

For this to happen, we need to learn to respectfully, tactfully, and purposefully work with our secular colleagues, to understand the specifics of their pro-fessional interest, not to scare or alienate them from ourselves, and finally, to be able to speak with them in their language. This means, of course, a lot of work, and a lot of meticulous work, from which one should not expect a quick nor large return on investment. Those of us who will be able to ascend in this specific and delicate area of   journalistic communications will require certain missionary, catechist, and pastoral gifts, as well as certain qualities of dedication, openness, and respectability, being both personable and highly professional. 

Report at the Diocesan Assembly of Moscow, December 22, 2010 

It is important to remember that they judge the whole Church by each priest, and “thanks” to the media, any unpleasant incident causes a wide resonance. It is also important to remember that there are pastoral questions, and there are questions associated with church-social or church-state relations. Only specially authorized per-sons can speak on behalf of the entire Plenitude of the Church.  We must remember this and try to remind everyone of this, including journalists. The opinion of even a famous priest or lay activist should not be presented as a church-wide position.

Of course, you should not completely refuse to communicate with journalists. In addition, this problem largely depends on the interpretation of the commentary received by the journalist. All the same, it will not be superfluous in some cases to consult first in the specialized synodal structures or to forward the question to the representatives of these structures. 

Report at the Diocesan Assembly of Moscow, December 22, 2009

Today our priests conduct author’s programs on authoritative radio stations, they regularly make comments and present expert opinions on television, in the print media, and in the news blocks of news agencies.

This situation is strikingly different from the state of affairs that existed in the domestic media 10-15 years ago. At the same time, the pastoral word of our brothers does not always sound weighty and convincing for a secular spectator, listener, or reader.

Sometimes our constraint and lack of persuasiveness are explained by the accidental guest syndrome, which has not been eliminated from previous times, when representatives of the Church were forced to feel grateful to the editorial board for the very fact of being invited to a conversation. But times have changed, and some of us have failed to change. 

In other cases, our Fathers and even individual bishops are unable to go beyond the limits of their usual set of ethical maxims already well known to the audience, and perceived by the listeners and readers as predictable godly platitudes. Such words cannot touch the mind and heart or captivate a modern person.

It is no secret that even now the secular mass media are reluctant to honestly and comprehensively inform their viewers, readers and listeners about the most important initiatives of the Church, unless they find elements of sensationalism in them. 

For example, the national press practically ignored at one time about a dozen statements of the Holy Synod in connection with the dramatic situation in Chechnya. The voice of one crying in the wilder-ness (Isaiah 40, 3) also remained the Church’s appeal to the secular authorities, that was made in a rather harsh tone in connection with the massive delays in wages. The situation is the same with the coverage of the position of the Interreligious Council of Russia on the most acute and painful problems facing our multiethnic society. 

Some of our brethren, striving to ensure that any opinion expressed by them would be sure to hit the feeds of news agencies and cause a wave of comments on the Internet and on the radio, begin to clothe their statements and initiatives in extravagant, provocative forms. The expected effect, of course, is achieved, but along with this, unflattering epithets are heard against our Church, and our critics and ill-wishers receive fuel for the next attack, irony, and sarcasm. As a result, a distorted and sometimes repulsive image of Orthodoxy develops in the public consciousness.

Many are well aware that there are times when journalists deliberately put clergy in an awkward position by violating the previously reached agreements with the Church representatives directly on the air.

It often seems that our brethren come insufficiently prepared to discussions and debates, but often have to conduct a conversation with very sophisticated people, who skillfully turn our unpreparedness against the Church of God.

Of course, it is impossible to completely abandon con-tact with the press. This is the path leading the Church to self-isolation and surrender. It is also the path to a voluntary renunciation of our vocation, for if I preach the gospel, then I have nothing to boast of, because this is my necessary duty and woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor. 9, 16). 

Report at the Diocesan Assembly of Moscow, December 23, 2011 

The spiritual state of society, engenders anxiety and even sorrow first among pastors. If, for many sec-ular observers, the processes that are going on today are the result of the development of modern cul-ture, including the Internet and youth culture, then the Church, which has inherited succession from the holy apostles, measures life by a different criterion. It helps the Church to maintain a spiritual keen-ness without succumbing to the temptation to accept fiction for truth. If someday the Church is carried away by error, it will no longer be the Church. When the Lord says: the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt. 16, 18), He points out that until the end of the age, until the last moment, when the angel sounds and the dead will rise as living, and we will change, according to the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15, 52), the Church will preserve the ability to discern spirits (1 John 4, 1), given to it by the Lord Himself.

Superficial people, including, unfortunately, some clergymen, adopt the mindset of the Internet to assess what is happening, which leads to hasty and often false conclusions, based not on spiritual experience, prayer, humility, or cross-bearing, but on the transitory tastes of our age, the whims of public opinion. God forbid that we, the people of the church, be tempted by opinions of us in blogs or even in the media. Having done this once, we fall into a trap and begin to do everything in order to maintain the existing rating. How easy it is to cross the fatal line and forget about your pastoral responsibility!

Our task is to never betray either Christ or the work that He has entrusted us with. Therefore, the guiding principle for us is not public opinion, not the positive or negative reviews about us, not the number of “likes” in Internet posts, but what God reveals to us in prayer and in spiritual experience. 

What we do in public space, as indeed in any other, we must base in prayer and verify with the experience of the holy fathers, ascetics, and intercessors, with the unchangeable and at the same time eternally young heritage of the Church.

Our answer today to detractors, slanderers, and liars is not the answer that sounds biting on the Internet, or in the press, or in the so-called talk shows, whose nature is precisely to entertain people... These discussions often turn into the discussion of the tragic destinies of people, a vanity fair; where the participants in the show compete with each other, wanting to win the sympathy of the audience. 

I urge priests not to participate in talk shows. Often it is not known why they participate. Perhaps it is to protect a person or an idea, or to prop themselves up, or to win against someone and wrestle them down. This is neither our style nor our word. 

We have lay people who can, if they wish, participate in talk shows without condemning the Church, but defending a Christian moral position, because it would be wrong to completely withdraw ourselves from the sphere of public television discussion.

I would like to call all of you to a firm standing in faith, strong prayer, to sober thinking and, most importantly, to the ability to resist temptations, no matter how brilliantly these temptations are packaged and presented to us. Our ancestors coped with it, and we must cope with all of this in order to continue walking along the historical path and to remain ourselves. 

Word at a fraternal meal in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow, April 22, 2012

We must be responsible for everything we say, especially in public. I am aware that discussions often excite people emotionally so much that it’s like the brakes are released. You and I are witnesses of shocking statements from the clergy, which often are, I am sorry to say, without rhyme or reason. Either it is the result of emotional inertia where the person is carried away and cannot stop; or it is a lack of responsibility for what the priest says.

In this case, I am talking specifically about the clergy, because it is the words of the priests that are most often quoted, interpreted, and used for the purpose of attacking the Church. Therefore, there is no need to shock the audience. Being outrageous is not our mission. Let the others be outrageous. 

In general, people are tired of the outrageous. At first it was interesting when freedom of speech appeared. Back then everyone listened with bated breath. Today, many are tired of biting words that have little meaning but a lot of desire to impress, and most often are not even said in order to achieve a goal but in order to promote themselves.

Therefore, I would urge all Orthodox speakers and all of those who participate in public activities, to use words responsibly. I think we remember many of the unsuccessful jokes from our priests. One jokes, another foolishly blurts out, and then the entire Internet buzzes for two or three months, sorting out those jokes. At the same time, the Church makes important statements regarding relations with society, touching upon many issues related to family, marriage, and childbirth, which are important factors of the Church’s testimony to the outside world. All of the attention was absorbed in the comments to the joke that sounded so unfortunate or to the outrageous statement, and all of the positive impulses emanating from the Church were then drowned.

Let’s ask: is there benefit or harm from such performances? We are not clowns! Therefore, in the first place there should be responsibility for the word. Why did I urge priests not to participate in public talk shows? The very nature of talk shows involves shocking the listener. This is not a serious discussion; nobody is trying to find out the truth there. Was there at least one talk show that resulted in a decision? Alternatively, whose results were incorporated into political actions or documents of national importance? The presence of priests there is participation in a game by someone else’s rules. This is not our business.

Our business is to testify by life, by the word, and by sacrificial deeds. Our business is to go to hospitals, orphanages, to deal with the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics, with atheists, who rush about and still cannot understand themselves where they are, what they believe in, what they don’t believe in; to save youth. Yes, such work brings less publicity and ratings are lower, but there is no need to chase these ratings.

Of course, there is always a personal element in public speaking that cannot be removed. A person always wants to show his best side. This is natural. That is why I hate very much intimate conversations with correspondents. Some people say, “Well, let’s talk,” and invite me to such conversations, but in all these intimate conversations there is an element of artificiality – a person will not speak badly about oneself. The journalist asks the question to the world: “Tell me, what your greatest weakness is?” This means that I will tell either a lie, or something that will work to develop people’s sympathy towards me. Again lies, again hypocrisy!

We must avoid this. We should not be before the throne of God, raising our hands at the time of the celebration of the Eucharist, and then different when answering journalists’ questions.

Meeting with participants of the 5th International Festival of Orthodox Media “Faith and Word”, Moscow, October 31, 2012

In the modern information environment, any news related to the Church is considered “under a magnifying glass”. Any unworthy act of a person connected to the Church causes a flurry of negative publications. Undoubtedly, a number of the media resort to the use of inaccurate, deliberately false information, they practice the technique of stove-piping. These methods, characteristic of information warfare, are sometimes used against the Church. The Church teaches people a righteous life, and we, its members, are called to be an example for unbelievers and those of little faith, not only in words, but also in deeds. Then we will win any information war without engaging in it.

This does not exempt priests from the need to study and understand the contemporary media situation. The Church is obliged to respond to the challenges of the time, and the clergy must be aware of the main trends in the development of the information environment. 

Report at the Diocesan Assembly of Moscow, December 28, 2012 

We are already accustomed to living in the information age, but how often do we think about what values  this era imposes on us, what changes it has brought to the intellectual, emotional and spiritual life of a person?

With the advent of mass culture, many aspects of cultural life have acquired the features of mass culture. The public word has also become popular, the value and influence of which today does not always depend on the intellectual gifts of the speaker. Now the podium often belongs not to someone who is smarter, more experienced or more competent, but to someone who wants to assert himself and prove his superiority to others. On the one hand, modern media, especially the Internet, has given everyone the right to speak freely. On the other hand, it has also become a kind of vanity fair, a noisy bazaar in which the one who shouts louder wins. 

In conditions of intense competition between ideas and points of view, the most severe methods of struggle for the attention of the audience are used. But, unfortunately, the sender and the recipient of the information often do not have time for rational persuasion. It is much easier therefore to capture the audience’s attention through emotion. That is why modern mass media more often appeals to instincts and trashy feelings than to reason and conscience. For the sake of increasing ratings, some media resources do not only use low quality and unreliable information, but often do not hesitate to resort to outright lies in order to attract people’s attention with hot news.

Often such laws are imposed on us. Priests who attend television and radio programs are seen as partying for the amusement of the public. Unfortunately, some of us, willingly or unwillingly, become victims of this format of communication. This shames the dignity of a clergy-man, whose vocation is not to be the loudest participant in the dispute, but to be a witness to the truth. Defeating a person in an argument is a “Pyrrhic victory” for a shepherd, if it causes bitterness and hatred of the opponent. If the cleric is unable to maintain pastoral dignity in the discussion, it is better not to get involved in it at all... 

Every clergyman must be aware of the enormous responsibility that presence in public space imposes on him. In an effort to draw public attention to the problem, it is necessary to remember the inadmissibility of giving provocative forms to one’s statements or initiatives.

Report at the Diocesan Assembly of Moscow, December 28, 2012 

To be honest, the level of public discussion we have is very low. Our discussion often turns into a dispute, and a dispute turns into a scandal. How the heart breaks when millions of people become involved in this riot of human passions on the central national channels!... Whether the clergy should participate in such scandals is a very difficult question. To what extent are you, being in such turbulence, able to adequately present the Church’s point of view? Will it be heard, and understood or, on the contrary, interrupted? Unfortunately, the presence of the clergy in public discussion very often looks flawed and inferior. Everyone expects more from the priest - and he cannot say more because of the format of the discussion and its atmosphere.

If what the priest says then is not fully accepted by the people, and this depends not only on the priest but also on the people, the negative attitude towards the priest’s utterance automatically spreads to the whole Church at once. If an academician spoke unsuccessfully at a discussion no one would judge the Academy of Sciences based on this, but if a Father said something off the top of his head, especially if he said something that provoked a negative reaction, the conclusion would follow immediately that, “The Church is to blame! This is the position of the Church! “

Taking into account this ambiguity of the Church representatives’ participation in public debate, we at one time limited the circle of persons who may speak at such venues. Today these are mainly officials from church institutions; and this is done not to limit others, but to at least raise the bar of responsibility. People who are constantly involved in this kind of activity are more or less prepared for such discussions - psychologically, emotionally, and theoretically. Although here, too, we encounter problems from time to time - when a separate thought or word is taken out of context and used in the media to provoke a negative wave, or to give a negative dimension to the discussion of the problem. 

In this ministry, which our clergymen carry, there are remarkable achievements and certain defeats. But the main question is: what to do? To leave? But then society would lose all opportunity to hear the word, which at least bears a reflection of God’s righteousness, because in every word of the priest there is some kind of appeal, whether formulated or unformulated, to the Divine Authority, the tradition of the Church, and the Holy Scriptures. If this voice is completely silenced in modern society, people will have no idea at all about the opinion of the Church on the issues that concern them today.

Today, the exchange of information is not an exception to the rule, but a part of our life. In this new information society, the Church cannot distance itself from the reality in which the church flock is immersed. We are working to ensure that as many priests as possible can carry out their pastoral ministry in this responsible and risky area of   the testimony of Christ for the Church, which is for them personally very difficult. The new reality that is our reality today requires the Church to be present where it has never been before. Not so that we have television “stars in cassocks”, but so that with humility and with the hope of God’s help, we may transmit the message of salvation to the people. 

Speech in the TV program “Word of the Pastor” July 30, 2011

We need new workers in the media space from among the clergy and parishioners who have appropriate talents. To change the society vector of development, our efforts are not enough yet. We should strive to set the rules of the Church’s presence in the information environment ourselves, and not live according to the rules that the secular environment offers us. Then we will be able to change the information world around us.

In this regard, it is impossible to fully support the practice, whereby clergy, citing a lack of blessing, do not interact with the media at all. This can lead to the limitation of the presence of the clergy even in the district or neighborhood publications where unfortunately, we are still not active and visible enough. After all, a priest will not always have the desire to ask for his vicar’s blessing for every appeal from the district newspaper; for example, their request to congratulate on a holiday. For some, it will be easier to refuse than to contact their superiors. I believe that the opportunity to interact with the media on indisputable issues - educational, catechism issues - should be provided to each abbot. As for other priests, it is advisable for them, in the event media representatives ask for a contact, to coordinate the issue with their rectors. 

However, taking into account the existing experience, it is possible that the vicars will have to impose a ban on the communication of certain clerics with the media. After all, there are, unfortunately, some priests who express their distorted ideas about piety in front of the camera, post videos on the Internet - and then, because of one unreasonable father, all the clergy are censured.

Of course, one should be especially careful when it comes to controversial topics and sometimes scandalous situations. Here it is better to consult with the dean or the vicar, and perhaps with the Synodal Information Department. The same applies to invitations from federal channels to take part in programs. 

Report at the Diocesan Assembly of Moscow December 20, 2013