The Treasure of the Orthodox Church and the Internet
Everyone, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, agrees that the Church is the guardian of a treasury of great price. The treasure consists of the saving words and actions of Christ, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, and of the life and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as manifested in the lives of the Saints, and in their writings.
In this treasury lay the Holy Gospels, written down by saints of the Church, and put together by other saints of the Church. In this treasury lay the beautiful and God-inspired prayers of the Divine Liturgy and of the other Church services. In this treasury lay the writings of Holy Fathers, the wonderful examples of Christian life contained in the lives of the Saints, the glorious hymns of the Church, as well as the Spirit-inspired words of many contemporary fathers and elders.
Anybody who has touched this treasure, who has drunk from its springs of living water, can only thirst for more. I have known people who had grown up in other non-Orthodox churches, and who were very zealous and well established in their denominations. So magnificent is this great treasure of the Church, that upon finding it, upon reading the lives of the Saints and the writings of the Fathers, upon participating in the divine services, these people did everything they could (this sometimes included angering one`s friends and family, quitting well-paid jobs in the ministry, and most often changing one`s life) to be able to drink further from its living waters. Seeing these people, one cannot but be reminded of the parable of the man who sold everything he had in order to buy the field under which a treasure was buried (Matthew 13:44).
Unfortunately, many of us who have grown up in the Orthodox Church have little knowledge or use of this treasure. We kiss the Holy Gospel book at Church, but how often do we open it at home and read it? We venerate the icons of Saint Nicholas or Saint George, and we might even know one or two of their miracles, but how many of us have read their lives, or tried to imitate their virtues? We cross ourselves when the priest mentions "Saint John Chrysostom whose divine liturgy we celebrated," but how many of us have read any his homilies? (try them - they are so full of inspiration and love for Christ that one cannot but cry when reading them).
We Romanians also boast of belonging to a Church that has gloriously witnessed Christ in the midst of communist oppression, and has produced wonderful spiritual fathers, theologians, confessors, and Spirit-inspired elders like Elder Cleopas, Fr. Arsenie Boca, Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Fr. Arsenie Papacioc, Fr. Teofil Paraianu, and, closer to us here in America, Fr. Roman Braga and Fr. Felix Dubneac. Yet how many of us have read their writings, or have given heed to their instructions, or have tried to shine the light of Christ around us as they have?
Looking from the outside, one gets the feeling that we Orthodox are like somebody sleeping near a spring of living waters, having but a vague idea of its existence, and certainly no intention of drinking from it. And this lethargy is not completely our fault. Most of us have grown up without reading an iota from the lives of the Saints, not because we did not want to or care, but simply because they were not available. Most of us have never read Elder Cleopas or Fr. Teofil Paraianu, because their writings have just emerged from the darkness of the the communist times. And most of us do not pray the Paraklesis Hymn to the Mother of God, not because we think her intercessions for us are not effective (by the way, they always are), but because we are not used to it; and, maybe we do not have the book containing this service.
Thus, it seems that one of the great challenges of our Church is to shine forth this treasure to her children, to bring them to and water them from the springs of living water which she has been guarding unpolluted for 2000 years. The challenge seems quite daunting, given the immensity of the task. However, some very encouraging steps have already been taken, with the help of a tool which God seems to have put into our hands just at the right time - the Internet.
For several years, many people, both in Romania and in the United States, have put a great deal of effort into making available to us hundreds and hundreds of jewels from this inexhaustible treasure of the Church: writings of the fathers, lives of the saints, prayers, services and hymns of the Church, writings and sermons of contemporary Romanian fathers and theologians, as well as the entire Holy Scripture. Everything is available almost instantaneously, and can be read, listened to, copied, or printed with the click of the mouse.
Another great effort (this time of just one man) consisted in gathering almost all of these pearls, putting them on a fast US-based Internet server (to minimize the downloading time), and sorting them into "boxes" from where they can be easily accessed.
Thus, one can find the Akathist hymns at Acatistier.org, listen to the Divine Liturgy, at Liturghie.org, Christmas Carols at Colinde.org, contemplate on the lives of the saints at VietileSfintilor.org, find the services of the church, and most of the daily prayers at Rugaciuni.org, read the psalter at Psaltire.org, and listen to the Holy Week Services at PasteOrtodox.org.
Many spiritual writings of the Holy Fathers, as well as large portions of the Paterikon can be found at the site Spiritualitate.org. These make for wonderful inspirational readings, which warm up the heart and can rekindle the flame of faith in the coldest of souls. The site Duhovnici.org contains the writings of contemporary Romanian elders and spiritual fathers, both in Romania and abroad.
If one wants to brush up on the basics of the faith, or wonders why infants are baptized by triple immersion, the site Catehism.org provides just the right starting point.
Perhaps the most spectacular fruit of these efforts has been the creation of a searchable online Romanian Bible at RomanianBible.org. The search-power of computers is used there to find any phrase or word in the Holy Scriptures. If one is perplexed about who the pharisees were, and what the Lord said about them, it is enough to type fariseu in the search box, and get all the verses where this word appears in the whole Bible. To obtain an idea of the magnitude of this project, it is enough to say that each chapter of the Bible was put in a different web page (for a total of 1337 web pages). This is a very useful tool both for those who want to deepen their understanding of the Holy Scriptures (which should be all of us), and for the scholars who now can link passages on similar subjects with much more ease than before.
One can also use the above search engine on the site Biserica.org, which is the umbrella site for all the sites mentioned above, to search among the thousands of jewels gathered on these sites, all the way from the lives of the saints to the sermons of Elder Cleopa’s.
I believe it is time for us to begin using this richness of resources which for the first time in history is becoming available to ALL the faithful. Let us not forget that but a few decades ago the largest part of this treasure of spirituality could only be found in monasteries, and in Romanian written with Cyrillic characters. To listen to a famous choral piece, one had to own a tape, or go to a cathedral where this piece was performed. To ask a priest for spiritual advice, one had to go to an Orthodox Church in person, which might not have been so easy if you lived in Montana. Now all this can be done - and has been done - from any home with an Internet connection (those who do not have a computer at home can access the Internet from a public library, local school, or from work).
I have been using the Internet to receive a devotional letter which my spiritual father sends daily, to read the communion prayers before evening pre-sanctified liturgies, to read the holy fathers, to find Orthodox churches when traveling in another town, to search in the Bible, to view icons and to listen to music. Moreover, I have known of people who through the Internet have found local churches, and have sacramentally reconnected to the Church after years of being away.
The time is ready for us to shake off our lethargy, and to use the wealth of resources available to strengthen our faith and grow nearer to God. Taste from the life-giving spring of the tradition of our Church, and you will not be sorry - nobody who has tasted has ever been.
Reader (dr.) Iosif Razvan Bena
Los Angeles, California