I Will Not Speak of Thy Mysteries

“For I will not speak of thy Mysteries to thine enemies…”

–From the Communion hymn for the liturgy for Holy Thursday,

and one of the prayers before communion

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

This past Holy Week has given me many points to consider in a topic I’ve been ruminating on for some time: the issue of photos and videos of Orthodox sacramental rites being placed on the internet in an unrestricted fashion. I am encouraged by the growing use of media technology by Orthodox parishes for the sake of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. Technological advances in the past decade have made this possible, with good-quality digital still and video cameras available at bargain prices. For those eager to share the Orthodox Faith (which should be all of us), this has been turned into a real opportunity to make Orthodox worship more visible to all.

However, I admit to some unease with the way this is being done in practice. I have benefited greatly from the ready availability of photos and videos (particularly on YouTube, to help a young choir learn new settings by hearing others sing them), but I am not sure this justifies the unrestricted disclosure of “family affairs” to the world. Consider some photos easily found online (all open in a new window/tab), available for anyone to view:

Of Holy Communion

Of Baptisms

Of Ordinations

There are many others that can be found, on Google and Bing Images, YouTube, Vimeo, and more.

Why am I uneasy? My concern is that making these images available to all leads to either scorn or indifference to the Holy Mysteries (to include all the sacraments of the Church). The risk of the former is still very real, even from people calling themselves Christians. Consider this greatest hit (admittedly, an extreme example) from Chick Tracts. Does showing someone with a hostile perspective the details of what we do in the Eucharist accomplish anything, or does it just give them more ammunition? (“See! They worship that bread!”)

As for indifference, our entire culture has been desensitized to sexual innuendo and varying degrees of public nudity simply by putting more and more of it into the public sphere. We now hear talk at the office that would have made sailors of another era blush. If the special thing is put out there often enough, its perception as special is bound to decrease. (See what St. Basil has to say about this, below.) What previously required one to visit an Orthodox church to see is now available to anyone at any time.

It seems to me to be a form of spiritual promiscuity. We speak about the intimacy of our participation in the Holy Mysteries, particularly the Eucharist, but then readily display not only the Body and Blood of Christ, but also those who, in piety and faith, draw near to receive them. In most cases, their permission for such photos is never asked, as if attendance at the Divine Liturgy includes an implicit photographic release. Anonymity in unattributed photos will not last, either. It’s only a matter of time until faces are searchable by name, with that technology already available in consumer products like Apple’s iPhoto. I wonder how well that will work out for those who renounce, say, Islam in favor of Christ.

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