What a Saint Looks Like Today: A Commentary on 55 New Maxims

Cover for Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at the Dark Side of Technology and Its Best Use: Volume Five, Longer Works

I am rereading The Chronicles of Narnia, and it reads differently from previous reads. Earlier when it came time for Pevensies to return from Narnia to England, I wanted to remain vicariously in Narnia. Now I see the things I loved most about Narnia and Aslan as miniatures reflecting good that is in the real world. Part of the picture is that when I read the Chronicles previously, I was not happy and I sought escape, whereas now I am happy and do not want escape. When I have set the books down and looked around, my sight came alive to the grass, trees, and stones. And, right now, the inside of an orange awning.

I have written before, and at length, about something that really needs saying, the saying that I tried to give in Why I'm Glad I'm Living Now, at This Time, in this Place, and God the Spiritual Father. Perhaps I have treated it in these and other times because it is a truth that so easily slips from fingers, especially my own.

Let us visit not Narnia but the Egyptian desert:

There is a story of the Desert Fathers where one monk asked a spiritual father, "What do we do?" The Abba answered, "The half of what our fathers did." The monk asked, "What will those coming after us do?" The Abba answered, "The half of what we do." The monk then asked, "What will those in the last days do?" The father answered, "They will not be able to do much of any ascetical explots, but those that keep the faith will be honored above our fathers who raised the dead."

Or, as I wrote in another work,

Furthermore the God who works in the heart of hearts to giants among the saints is also works in the hearts of the faithful. Monastic giants trample on scorpions with bare feet; many more faithful trample on pride. Majestic saints open the eyes of the blind; and men reject lust and find their sight truly opened. St. Paul the Apostle raised the dead more than once, and innumerable more among the faithful, across many centuries, have fed the hungry; and furthermore, in a point that many, many officially canonized saints have driven home across the centuries, feeding the hungry is greater work than raising the dead. The term "saint" referred originally to every member of the Church without exception, and one and the same God works in every stripe of saint to ultimately transcend the chasm between what is created, and what is uncreated. The wall between God and we who are merely created is there so that we may rise above it.

It is strongly recommended in the Orthodox Church to read the lives (i.e. life stories) of the saints. Daily lives on the new calendar are at oca.org/saints, which I endorse bookmarking if you are not already reading them. There is something different each day.

The lives of the saints are many things to different people. When I was new to Orthodoxy, I found in a more pure and concentrated form what I had read with yearning in the fairy tales of George MacDonald and in the Chronicles of Narnia, and that is quite a lot; I had sensed something good in fairy tales, and this was better. The lives of the saints are different things to different people; they constitute both pure milk for babies, and strong meat for the mature, and people who have progressed far on the spiritual path seem to crave them. They are a varied and interesting spiritual diet, and some (but not all) recall C.S. Lewis's remark that becoming good is like becoming visible: the more visible they are, the more sharply distinguished they are not only from evil, but also from other good. In reading the life of a saint, you see the face of a person, and through that person the Face of Christ.

So what does a saint look like today? Perhaps one could begin by saying that a saint today embodies the eight cardinal virtues: the natural virtues of Courage, Justice, Wisdom, and Moderation; the deiform (i.e. God-shaped) virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love; and the deiform cardinal virtue the Fathers of the Philokalia can least stop talking about: Humility. And to make any headway in any of them is significant.

Perhaps nearer at hand are Fr. Tom Hopko's 55 maxims; I think that advice like "Be simple, quiet, hidden, and small" goes a fair distance towards painting what a saint today might look like. However, I tried to comment on Fr. Tom's maxims and found it difficult to add significant comment; and Fr. Tom himself has commented on them on Ancient Faith.

But I have written 55 maxims of my own, 55 new maxims, and I thought I might comment on them. They are written disproportionately about not being controlled by technology, but not being controlled by technology is one of the major challenges today. But one newer saint smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey (my understanding is that she drank more than I would feel safe), and was a political activist to boot, and God calls saints from all walks of life. So there may be saints alive today who share none of these concerns.

1. Trust technology about as far as you can throw it, and remember that you can't throw software or the web.

Technologies are a slippery ally, and newer technologies are almost always more brittle than the precursors they replace. The second most Luddite saying I have heard was from a programmer-driven program to print out fortune cookie messages, and one was, "If builders built buildings the way programmers write programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization."

(The first most Luddite saying I've heard is, "Do not store up treasures on earth:" that is Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount.)

Once I was in charge of the next iteration of a billing site, and one key feature I implemented was an interactive pie chart where if you clicked on a wedge of the pie and further information was available, it would drill down to a pie chart giving more information for that wedge. Given that a common customer desire is to know a breakdown of charges, this was a snazzy and easy-to-use feature that helped the green version of our site be the best.

In retrospect, I believe that what I gave was a liability besides being glitzier, and that corporate customers (the company only really serviced corporate customers) would benefit from having old-fashioned paper records.

Furthermore, I got the system working parasitically, off of our billing provider's electronic versions of bills, and I do not count my changes to be future-proof. In fact, I consider my changes not to be future-proof. A slight change or addition, or reorganization of bill contents, would render this feature likely inoperable.

When one member of my parish was giving an account of his visit to the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and he commented that there was no concept of obsolescence in technology. New technologies were used side-by-side with mule carts. By contrast, America's culturally Protestant shape is big on "out with the old, in with the new," and older technologies, which are potentially useful, and almost certainly less brittle, are only to be found in computing museums. And we are now decades past the point where computing museums are in possession of electronic media which are believed to be probably intact, but all knowledge of how to read them is lost.

It is old news that we are in the digital dark ages and we should be getting hard copies of photos, memories, writing that we want to keep (this is why I have worked to put what is probably my signal contribution to the conversation in paperback). Because it is not far off that most of what we do not save will be lost and gone forever.

2. When facing a situation, ask, "What would a Boomer do?"

It has been said that Generation X is the last generation that will remember what life looked like before everything went digital. But Boomers not only remember; they have usually drunk much less technological Kool-Aid.

It represents a feat in formulating ethics to provide a simple criterion that applies to a wide range of circumstances. The Golden Rule, "Treat others like you'd like them to treat you," is one such criterion. Another, for people who know the Bible at all well, is "What would Jesus do?"

It's easy to look down on older adults, and regard seniors who do not get along with newfangled appliances as people who don't get it. But the reason Boomers are usually not too much au courant about technology is that they have lived much more of their lives than Generation X closer to the baseline of being human. And that baseline of being human does really represent something the rest of us could profit from.

"Honor your father and mother" is more than exceedingly wise advice. It is part of the Big Ten Commandments, and as Scripture itself points out, it "is the first commandment with promise; 'That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.'"

Honoring elders and our father and mother are more, not less, important when our elders have kept a finger on part of the pulse of being human that usually slips through our fingers.

3. If your priest is willing, ask for pastoral guidance in slowly but steadily withdrawing from technologies that hurt you. (Don't try to leap over buildings in one bound. Take one step at a time, and one day at a time.)

A good book for this is Tito Colliander, Way of the Ascetics: The Ancient Tradition of Discipline and Inner Growth. But better than any book knowledge is the living heart of someone who can guide you out of the Tradition.

It's cliché to speak of "getting out of your comfort zones," but what is less cliche is a distinction between comfort zones, a "stretch zone" which (true to its name) stretches you, and a "panic zone" where you are just panicking and maybe not growing at all.

The ideal situation is to move between your comfort zone and your stretch zone, and do not seek out being in your panic zone, though it is a legitimate thing for God to teach you by putting you in your panic zone to test you and help you grow. For a rule of thumb, you might aim to usually be in your comfort zone during days with no fasting, and try to be in your stretch zone in fasting days and seasons. And when territory in the stretch zone has become comfortable, your comfort zone has expanded and you need to recognize that your stretch zone is further out. (But a priest might offer more tightly tailored advice.)

In my own experience, there have been fewer big steps, and more steady progressions. My present position is one that I have reached over the course of decades, and the works in my flagship collection, Hidden Price Tags, were likewise formed over decades.

And if you do not have access to an Orthodox priest, you might ask a psychologist.

4. Practice the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, generosity, church attendance, the sacraments, silence, etc.

I remember one conversation with a friend where I mentioned something about ascesis and a friend said, "Don't try to be an ascetic. Try to love." And I remember being somewhat mystified about how to respond, and remembering Benjamin Franklin's "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for time's the stuff life's made of." And I thought about saying that ascesis is the stuff love's made of, or something close to it.

But that's not quite true, and I would quote the "all-purpose anecdote" of His Eminence Kallistos of blessed memory.

There was an old woman who fasted very strictly, and when she died, was greatly surprised to find herself in torment in a lake of fire. So she called out and said, "There must have been some mistake." And her guardian angel appeared and said, "Is there ever an act of kindness you have done to another?" And she explained that yes, there was; she had given a long, thin onion to a beggar once. The angel said, "It so happens that I have that onion here. You grab one end and I'll grab the other, and let's pull."

The angel succeeded in starting to raise her, and the other people in the fire, when they saw that she was rising, grabbed hold of her, so there was a whole cluster of people being pulled out of the lake of fire.

The woman said, "Let go! Let go! It's not yours; it's mine," and when she said "It's mine," the onion snapped and they all fell back into the fire, where I imagine she is to its day.

Ascesis is in fact not the stuff love's made of; it is a means and not an end. But it is an important means; it is the spiritual diet you are consuming, and a balanced spiritual diet is of incredible importance.

5. Use older technologies.

There was a list compiled of science fiction fandom's The Top 100 Things I'd Do if I Ever Became an Evil Overlord. It includes, for instance, "Shooting is not too good for my enemies." and "Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly."

One of the items is, "I will keep a special cache of low-tech weapons and train my troops in their use. That way — even if the heroes manage to neutralize my power generator and/or render the standard-issue energy weapons useless — my troops will not be overrun by a handful of savages armed with spears and rocks."

It's wise to have a finger in older technologies, for instance to save a copy of computer documents locally on your hard drive rather than a OneDrive that the powers that be cannot quite as easily neutralize. Earlier monastic literature, when cars were a newer technology, warned that using a car is a spiritual trap for monastics. In my monastery today, driving to town to do shopping is a step more lifelike than doing shopping online. Now I do shop online for many things, but there is something edifying about having a finger in the pie of using older technologies, and older technologies are less brittle than newer technologies.

I might comment briefly that a little old Singer sewing machine may have more life in it than any newer model. As Dorothy Sayers said in "The Other Six Deadly Sins:"

The gluttonous consumption of manufactured goods had become, before [World War II], the prime civic virtue. And why? Because machines can produce cheaply only if they produce in vast quantities; because unless the machines can produce cheaply nobody can afford to keep them running; and because, unless they are kept running, millions of citizens will be thrown out of employment, and the community will starve.

Things are made today to last just a little bit longer than the warranty period, and not that much longer. This is not because it is in principle difficult to have factories make things built to last; it is because of the reasons Sayers articulates. Factory made items from a certain time were normally built to last, and there are exceptions of things made today that are built to last: Swiss Army Knives, Duluth Trading Company's Firehose trousers, and rugged computers such as those made by Getac. But from earlier days of mass production, people were still making things to last, and a friend I have has pots from the 1940's or 1950's that can be expected to last longer than top-notch cookware that is new. Right now I'm trying to practice non-acquisition, but if I were looking for equipment that would really last, I wouldn't look at pricey department stores so much as dig in at Salvation Army stores and garage sales.

6. Fast from technologies some of the time, especially on fasting days.

My original collection, a small fledgling collection called The Luddite's Guide to Technology, had a subtitle of Fasting from technologies, and I think I would have been well to keep the subtitle unchanged. Among classic Orthodox ascetical practices, fasting may in general be one spiritual tool among others, but as regards technologies, fasting is really not one tool among others. The only other ascetical practice that becomes that important in this context is silence as discussed in item 8.

It may be good to eliminate all use of a particular technology (for instance, video games on your cellphone), but a good way to reach that goal is to temporarily abstain. In earlier days of the Internet, it was a recognized practice for computer types to take "net.vacations," meaning abstaining from Internet use for a time, and The Plug-in Drug talks about week-long "TV turnoffs." People seemed to return to the comfort of the screens, but they almost always found life better during a well-executed TV turnoff that had planned activities and things to do.

In an earlier day I might have said, "If you watch TV, it might be a good stretch to limit yourself to one hour a day on fasting days." Today I would just change it to "social media," and briefly mention that Facebook leaves you feeling OK after a quick hit but depressed if you stay logged in for hours.

7. Use your phone only for logistics, never for games, entertainment, or killing time. (You cannot kill time without injuring eternity.)

Phones are in general terrible. A great deal of the sting, however, is removed if you have the discipline to only use your phone as logistically necessary, take control, and not as some sort of treasure from another world.

I might put a plug in for SunbeamWireless.com flipphones. They have various options in features including talk, text, and GPS, but no web browser, email, or app store. It's a good choice if you don't want to be sucked into addictive games—or porn.

(And maybe do not be quick to pull out your phone for "spur of the moment" research. If research is not important enough to justify going to a library you probably don't need it. Brilliant people have lived for ages without amusing and informing ourselves to death.)

8. Unplug your intravenous drip of noise, little by little. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it's worth it.

All Orthodox ascesis has bearing on right engagement with technology, but there are two I would point out as capital: fasting and hesychastic silence. The phone's marketing proposition is as a spiritual noise delivery system. Wean yourself.

9. Own and read paper.

eBooks are worse than regular books. People have an odd assumption that if they have downloaded a book to their reader, actually reading the title is superfluous. In terms of being brittle, they can be confiscated in an eyeblink.

And the main reason I as an author would like you to own my own books in paper is that my website will be confiscated in a few years, and Amazon will delist my books as it has started to delist my reviews.

10. Leave your phone at home some days.

Emperors and kings, popes and patriarchs have lived regally, grown old, and died without this ball and chain.

Or as a more attenuated form of this suggestion, keep your phone but also order a flipphone from SunbeamWireless.com. And limit yourself to a Sunbeam Wireless phone, perhaps even one of their cheaper and more limited models, for logistic essentials.

11. Read The New Media Epidemic.

This may be largely irrelevant if you have read The Shallows, but this offers a salient analysis of the problem, more or less opening with a clever Biblical quote: "For death has come through our windows..."

I might briefly comment that titles like Amusing Ourselves to Death, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, and The Plug-in Drug age remarkably well with regard to newer technologies. I believe Nicholas Carr in The Shallows did very well with keeping the main text unaltered despite the intervening onset of ubiquitous phones, and saying that if anything his points apply more strongly.

Jerry Mander's point about "artificial unusualness," which is how television managed to be sticky when it was black and white and low-definition, describe something that the folks in power have held on to and not relaxed in the days of (now) high-definition television and anti-social media that TV can no longer keep up with for addictiveness.

12. Read Hidden Price Tags: An Eastern Orthodox Look at the Dark Side of Technology and Its Best Use, with particular attention to The Consolation of Theology.

This offering is distinguished from the previously mentioned offerings in that it offers some analysis of the problem, but also includes extended pastoral efforts to describe how we can live in a setting where technologies are socially mandated. It has extended efforts about how to defang phones, for instance.

13. Minimize or cut out completely your use of anti-social media. (By the way, spending time sucked into Facebook is a good way to enter a depression.)

One former friend said that Facebook was the #1 social hack in history.

I am a person who, at least in immediately looking at things, would profit from curating a well-established personal brand on social media. I have books to offer, and some people think what I am saying isn't getting nearly as much attention as it should.

Nonetheless, when my abbot was asked what if any social media engagement would be optimal, he said "Not more than a few minutes per day." And I don't really see why I should still be involved in Facebook when I've met the inhuman trolls who gave me harassment such as I have never else seen.

14. Read up on Humane Tech and advice for how to take control, but do not limit yourself to that.

I knew to set my phone on black and white to limit its stickiness to what Humane Tech and its advice on how to take control matter. I would take much of its advice as worth considering, but I do not think it goes as far as pastorally-oriented wisdom literature such as I attempt goes. To quote an addendum to my thesis:

Part of what makes the optimism so ridiculous is that it is comparatively trivial to convince people, on any sort of sane understanding of nuclear weapons, that you do not want global thermonuclear war. Golem class AI's can help deliver human happiness, and it's a much harder sell to list the major benefits of Golem class AI's and then say "But you could not possibly really want that." The same goes for the Great Reset.

Humane Tech tries to defang technology in a way that is value-neutral, as is aimed for in counseling. You can go a lot further if you drop the goal of prescriptions that will be value-neutral and work for people of any persuasion.

As I reflect back, though, I have doubts about whether my prescriptions are as effective as aiming for abstinence. Michael Davis mentioned a prescription of the only acceptable moderation being abstinence, and I am wary of dismissing that perspective.

15. Do not own a television.

In Bridge to Terebithia, one of the ways that Leslie is marked as Privileged with a capital 'P' is that they do not own a television.

Not owning a television is if anything a mark of privilege. Not owning a phone, or not owning a full smartphone that makes it easy to get porn, is at very least worth considering.

16. Do not feed the trolls.

Trolls on anti-social media offer the vilest hate I have ever encountered in my life. I have never else thought that I was dying and found my body seem to shutting down than harassment on Facebook, and it is easy on anti-social media to find a danger genuinely worse than porn.

17. Choose face-to-face meetings over Zoom meetings if you have a choice, and Zoom over any instant messaging.

At present, Zoom meetings are at freemium and easy access, much as the world's literature heritage was once available on books.google.com at free and easy access. And many people are constructing a soclal world that is mediated by Zoom, and a generation is called Zoomers.

There is a damned backswing just waiting on Zoom and related technologies, where we can connect with people all over the world but not our next-door neighbors.

It is said that the end of things will come after people no longer go to visit their friends, and confiscatible Zoom meetings set the stage for this to happen.

18. Consider screen time, and multitasking, to be a drain on the mindfulness we are seeking from the East because we have rejected it in the West.

It used to be considered a part of basic manners to give undivided attention to the person you are with; this is essentially the same thing as Buddhism's cardinal virtue of mindfulness, and I am not interested in debating whether paying attention is part of manners or a moral virtue (or, perhaps both).

What I am interested in saying is that we have a procession of technologies by which to increasingly divide our attention. An older generation could object that tape-eating Walkmans did no good by letting you go running and not pay attention to your surroundings.

Screen time and multitasking are aids to a divided attention and an intravenous drip of spiritual noise. The more we can reject the marketing proposition of both, the more we will be free to live at the stature the human race was meant to live at.

19. Turn off all phone notifications you have a live option to do.

Phones are designed to push notifications that engage you. Turn off any and all notifications you can afford to, and limit its intrusion.

20. Look at your phone when it rings or buzzes. Do not check your phone unprovoked every five minutes to see if you missed a text.

This is a complement to the previous one.

I have been doing both for over a year, and life is much more enjoyable than being prodded every five minutes and checking my phone every minute to see if I've missed a prod.

21. When you are reading on the web, don't just scan the page. Read it, like a paper book, slowly.

Jakob Nielsen's research on how users read on the web is simple. They don't. They scan text on pages, and only 16% read word for word.

His advice to writers is to write in a style specifically optimized for scanning. My advice to readers is to limit attention as much as possible to content that is worth reading, and opt in to joining the 16% who read webpages word for word.

22. When you type, type full words, not txtisms.

Write for the main body of English (or whatever is your language) writing. Txtisms may have been advisable when you had to press repeated digits to get most of the alphabet. However, most of us are not on archaic phones too primitive to let people type letters directly, and it is best to communicate to be read in continuity with intelligible English from the past and present, and the future, if there is one.

23. Don't trade your adequate, existing, working gadgets for the latest and hottest gadget.

In Papers and Paychecks, I wrote:

Perhaps a good place to start might be to say that they live in harmony with strange and wondrous technology. Now this may be expressed in ways odd to us, for most of us upon acquiring a really good magic item, want to keep it, but to them good technology is almost always new.

And an old model of a darling brand is deemed to be a mere abacus: mention it not.

I have an iPhone 8 that I plan on keeping until it is inoperable or I have interests in concretely using something the newer models sport that my vintage phone does not. At present it does everything essential, and I am glad not to have with a new phone chains to my present carrier.

24. Set a fixed bedtime, and then lights out is lights out.

Part of the "natural" way of using various technologies decimates our winding down process. It is best to know and practice good sleep hygeine.

Good sleep hygiene is far from limited or being centered on use of our gadgets, but shutting off digital interactions, and shutting off blue light (one can use i.e. Windows Night Light cranked to max), are particularly important, and deal with one of the more aggressive hindrances to sleep.

25. Keep and charge your phone in some room that is away from your bedroom.

And remove an obstacle to "lights out is lights out."

26. If you use porn, stop. If you find yourself unable to stop, bring it to confession, and seriously consider Sexaholics Anonymous (sa.org, meeting locator at sa.org/meetings) and XXXchurch.com.

Porn is one of the most destructive and easily available features of the Internet. Enough so that I almost feel it is far less significant to say, "If you are innocent and have not bitten into this enchanted Turkish delight, here's why you shouldn't," as "Since most of us including myself have started eating this enchanted Turkish delight, here's how we can fight it."

(In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch gives Edmund a trap in several pounds of enchanted Turkish delight. Not only does enchanted Turkish delight destroy your ability to enjoy good foods, someone who has started down this poisonous road will want to keep on eating enchanted Turkish delight until it kills them.)

In The Benedict Option, porn is not just one technological pitfall among others; it is front and center about how the Internet can be destructive, and one of the strongest reasons he offers for forming separate communities where kids do not have regular smartphones is introduced by kids who went to a school that forbade cellphones, but whose friends introduced them to watching porn. And the author says, to the best of my recollection citing a previous figure, that when porn enters the picture, childhood is over.

I got my start as a student in fourth to eighth grade French class reading mainstream French magazines that include the periodic pornographic image. If I could go back, I would gladly give up my knowledge of French and every other ancient, medieval, and modern language I have read the Bible in if only I could not have swallowed that hook and that bait. (But my high school would prove to have endemic use of porn and what I saw when actively fighting it would probably have been enough to hook me.)

27. Do not store up treasures on earth, but own and use technology only so far as it advances the Kingdom of Heaven.

"Do not store up treasures on earth" is the #1 most Luddite thing I have heard. (The #1 runner up for that title is a quote immortalized in Linux's fortune program, "If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.")

At a monastery I have just begun to taste non-acquisitiveness. Repenting of acquisition, and only buying what you really need, is a treasure I barely would have guessed at.

28. Live by a Silicon Rule of, "What technologies do Silicon Valley technology executives choose for their children?" Steve Jobs, for instance, gave his kids walls of paper books and animated discussion, and so far as I am aware no iPads.

In the formulation of ethics, one great feat is represented by a simple criterion that sheds light on a wide selection of situations. Perhaps the best known is the Golden Rule: "Treat others the way you'd like them to treat you."

The more I learn about what people who are pushing technology on the rest of us want for their children, the less I want what they are pushing.

29. Reject contraception and Splenda.

We live in a society obsessed with pleasure that cannot see that pleasures are intended for greater purposes. So God has assigned one pleasure to eating food, including naturally sweet foods like natural fruit where the higher the sugar content pretty much the more nourishing the fruit will be to eat, and another much more intense pleasure to continuation of the species, which might be why the best sex ever is reported to be when you specifically want to make a baby.

We do not see food as meant to nourish the body or sex as intended for procreation, so these pleasures are conscripted to be pleasure delivery systems even when we are not pursuing the goods they are naturally fecund with. But part of being wholly human is to live above seeking pleasure for its own sake and to seek nourishment of the body and the continuance of the human race (and here I might briefly add that marriage and monasticism are the heritage of all Orthodox Christians, and monastics can and should work for the continuation of the Christian race even if their own role does not permit their further continuation of the family line).

I've found the article at the start of the misconception some Orthodox have that contraception is fine if you obey a few rules, and tried to unmask how horrible it was.

30. Shop in real, local stores, even a local Wal-Mart, rather than making Amazon your first port of call.

In years back, the recommendation was to shop local and patronize local businesses rather than buy things at the cheapest department store, and especially not Wal-Mart, which notwithstanding a Sam's Club marketing slogan of "We're in business for small business," dries up a local economy and then abandons it.

Amazon is worse news than Wal-Mart.

31. Hang the fashions. Buy only what you need.

This terse quote is taken from Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, which I was given for my baptism and contains an Evangelical appreciation of key ascetical practices.

It is difficult to produce one-size-fits-all lists about what to own and what to buy. It has been pointed out that the Ten Commandments do not prescribe limits on property but just forbid coveting, even if the Old Testament Law, as discussed by economist Bob Goodzward in Aid for the Overdeveloped West, had the effects of making it both fairly easy to have enough and hard to become rich. Furthermore, this maxim has heavy overlap with the liberating monastic practice of nonacquisition. It may be the closest description of Orthodox nonacquisition that I've read in a Protestant source.

32. When you want to go shopping like some feel-good sacrament, do not buy it. You may buy it after you've let go of coveting after it and probably let go of buying it at all, and not before.

This has been something I have found to be a very helpful practice that no one has really articulated to me. Connected to it is the concept of "sacramental shopping", an ersatz sacrament of buying something for a mood that has nothing to do with necessity. Furthermore, I have found that there is a quite direct connection between whether something gives me lasting satisfaction to own and whether I have purchased it only for rational need, as opposed to sacramental shopping.

I remember spending time hunting for a computer that would take me to Cambridge (and Fordham), and eventually found a ThinkPad that had a 1GHz processor and 1G RAM, very useful specs for the entire time I owned it. It was the perfect match, but I wanted it with covetousness as well as rational reasons, and my conscience kept telling me "No." After struggle, I remember bleakly submitting to my conscience and letting go of it—and an instant after I submitted, my conscience gave me the green light and I purchased it for my needs and without covetousness. And it served me well for several years.

33. Limit your consumption of TED talks, and recognize them along psychology as something of a secular religion. (But if you need help, get help, without fear or shame.)

I have written How to Think about Psychology: An Orthodox Look at a Secular Religion. Let me say briefly here that while I watch a few TED talks and include a few on my site, I am in general wary.

TED talks share many of the same liabilities of one-size-fits-all psychology, and while I would repeat St. Siloan's monastic lineage in not wishing to take psychology away from people where that's all they have, psychology is a secularized replacement for good pastoral guidance and spiritual direction.

At present, I usually only watch TED talks that someone else has pointed out to me—although they have been very fruitful for me (see one place where I pass on a TED talk someone pointed out to me).

I have backed away considerably from surfing from one TED talk to another, and I would encourage others to back away, too.

34. Write snailmail letters, preferably with your own handwriting.

Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club extols this time-honored practice, and that's what I'm really doing when I inscribe one of my books.

35. Recognize that from the Devil's perspective, the Internet is for porn—and he may have helped inspire, guide, and shape its development.

I got a dressing-down once for not believing in the goodness of God's creation if I had certain reservations about technologies.

I believe that some things in life are demonically inspired, and in fact it is standard in the Philokalia that demons are attacking us all the time, fortunately only within parameters which God allows for our strengthening.

Furthermore, given what the Philokalia says about the limitations of demonic powers, which can inject but not read thoughts in a person's mind and cannot read the future, that what might loosely be called "surveillance from Hell" might in fact more strictly be called "surveillance from Hell" as well, in that demons have more information about our thoughts and plans as one yield of the present nexus of technology and disintegrating society.

Albert Einstein famously said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." We may in fact not need to wait for World War IV. We have an increasingly brittle set of technologies, and it is entirely conceivable that things could break without our knowing how to recreate the stack.

36. Expect Amazon and Google Books to delist priceless treasures. (This is already happening.)

Amazon has delisted a review of C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength in which I quoted my work That Hideous Impotence and tried to change the subject to "Even Gollem may have a part to play." Amazon is refusing to post it live, even with originally approved links stripped out.

Amazon has stopped listing new volumes from or relating to the Classic Orthodox Bible. That is the only point so far in which they have blocked my making new releases, but my expectation is that my works will be delisted there, too. (They did delist the volumes which came in from IngramSpark.)

37. Cultivate the virtues.

How can I comment here? One could write volumes and barely scratch the surface.

Let me reiterate the seven or eight cardinal virtues of Courage, Justice, Wisdom, Moderation, Faith, Hope, Love, and Humility. All of these are virtues, and furthermore cardinal or hinge virtues, meaning not only that they are virtues, but they are virtues that other virtues hinge on. Buddhism's Eightfold Noble Path, including Right Mindfulness, is a separate conception of eight cardinal virtues.

When in the Sermon on the Mount Christ exhorts us to "Store up rather treasures in Heaven," he is in fact exhorting us to gain virtues, which are useful in this life and the next.

A virtue is an inner state, or more than that a disposition, that inclines a heart towards embracing good and abstaining from evils both in the heart and as acted out in our lives.

There is a secondary meaning to virtue that means a power, for instance, of an herb. This meaning is connected to the general English meaning in that virtue is a power to be good and do good.

38. Cultivate social skills, especially for face-to-face.

One deacon of blessed memory said, "Conversation is like texting for adults." And communication skills, especially face-to-face, are much harder of a target to the youngest generation, and harder to see why they should have them.

One of many casualties of the COVID cyber-quarantine.

39. If your conscience and applicable law permit, maybe consider owning and learning to use a gun. It's safer for everyone to have most criminals and some law-abiding citizens be armed than only have criminals be armed.

I don't want to push hard on this one, but gun criminals go on shooting rampages at places like schools where all law-abiding citizens are disarmed. As far as official places like the President, the Senate, courthouses, and so on, people include guns in their plans to protect them. In schools, people include the knowledge that law-abiding citizens are unarmed to deter school shootings.

As a monastic novice, it is not my place to bear arms, but I feel safer in places where criminals do not know if there are armed law-abiding citizens.

40. Seek theosis in the acquisition of the Spirit.

This is another "How many volumes?" question.

Perhaps on the topic of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit there is nothing better than the conversation between the great Seraphim of Sarov and the pilgrim Motovilov.

An ancient hymn says, "Trying to be god, Adam failed to be God. Christ became man, to make Adam god." Theosis is the entire point of our existence as created for divine humanity; man as such is the exteriorization of God, or is meant to be.

41. When shopping, use a debit card before a credit card, and use cash before either if you have a choice. Giving away paper bills and wondering what to do with change is a partial deterrent to buying things you do not need.

Another practice that can avoid trouble down the road. A credit card can be very dangerous apparent "funny money" that doesn't connect with real cost until you are trapped. A debit card is ideally combined with daily alerts about your bank balance.

42. Never form an identity around the brands you patronize, and do not adopt a personal brand.

One teacher asked students, "Imagine your future successful self." He continued, "With what brands do you imagine yourself associating?"

He didn't see any puzzled or confused looks, something that should have registered loudly on his teacher's radar if it were happening.

Instead, his students successfully named over 100 brands they would collectively want to associate with.

Branding is an ersatz buffet of spiritual disciplines; but we need fasting and almsgiving, not Apple and BMW. The best and most human response is to engage brands as such as little as possible, and pick a brand where there is direct non-feel-good evidence that it outperforms leading brands (when going through a box of partly old batteries with a voltimeter, I found that Duracell alkaline batteries were a head above every other brand of alkaline battery I tested). The Thinkpad I used earlier, and the non-mainstream-branded Getac I have now, were from brands with a solid track record. But it has to be explained to a marketer that "building a brand on quality is like building a house on sand." Some brands are better products than others, but this is not hinted at if you buy into the brands.

Don't buy into brands.

43. If you have the luxury, check email once per day. If your job or obligations do not permit a literal once per day checking of email, check it as often as you must. (If that is once per hour, don't keep checking your watch, but set an hourly alarm bell to remind you.)

When I first set myself on checking email once per hour, I checked my watch to know when an hour had passed with a disturbingly high frequency.

Checking email once per day, with exceptions only as logistically indispensible, cuts down wonderfully on how disruptive email, which can usually wait, is to our lives.

44. Limit new technological intrusions into your life.

I have seen the rise of Oculus virtual reality goggles, drones, and ChatGPT. It was a Christian who tried to sell me on Oculus as a way to virtually be in the middle of a church, but I prefer in-person church attendance. My abbot rightly asked parishioners if anybody had a drone they could use to take certain pictures of the monastery facilities, and he asked the owner to bring it over and shoot some pictures. I haven't engaged with ChatGPT, and the more I have learned about it, the more I slowly back away.

In C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Filostrato the scientist has succeeded in keeping alive a murderer's severed head, and there is a point with a somewhat grotesque detail I will not quote here to make the point that the scientists have added stimulants to try and overclock the brain. Up until almost the end of his life, Filostrato believes the head is alive with the murderer's mind operating through it, when in fact it has been used as a gateway for dark eldils to manifest.

As far as porn goes, I straightly regard it as demonically inspired, but the implementors of porn sites know very well on what principles their traffic keeps returning to them. With regards Golem AI and ChatGPT, the very implementors have been repeatedly surprised with the AI being able to do things where nobody has any idea where they came from.

One very sensible response to something that smells that bad spiritually is to slowly back away.

45. Repent of your sins.

Repentance is Heaven's best-kept secret. St. John the Forerunner and Christ alike called people to repent. Before repentance, repentance seems to be and is an unconditional surrender; after repentance, repentance seems to be and is an awakening to everything good and pure. Monasticism is called, and is repentance. Repent!

46. Read aloud some of the time.

Texts were originally meant to be read aloud, including the Bible and Orthodox prayers.

The practice of putting spaces between words to enable silent reading (rather than reading the characters aloud and hearing how it sounded) has been around for a few centuries. Writing has been around for a few millennia. Read your Bible, and your prayers, aloud. Mental prayer is a small part of Orthodox prayer, or at least should be for most of us.

48. Drop it and drive.

After highway signs saying "Drop it and drive," Illinois tollways did post a further clarification, "'Drop it and drive' means your phone, not your trash." However, driving requires full attention, not the active engagement that causes wrecks.

It has been suggested by at least one cognitive scientist that the rule of "hands off for online driving" does not guarantee adequate attention to the road. However, he did implicitly agree that we should focus on adequate attention driving rather than fiddling with my phone.

49. Drop it and pay attention to the person you're with.

Even more important.

I have seen one friend explaining the rules of chess to another to be able to play chess, and the person explaining the rules kept on saying "Phone goes away" when his friend kept on pulling out and fiddling with his phone instead of paying attention to the rules of chess.

It's a good idea to put your phone in airplane mode when you are dealing with other people. Or better, turn it off. You can get plenty of beeps and boops after the conversation has reached its natural conclusion.

50. Keep good posture and take steps to avoid the diseases of civilization. Some approaches that have been taken to all be important include using Paleo diet (with fasts, eating vegetables in lieu of grain and saving bread for ceremonial purposes) and exercise, have a balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, get real sleep, get hours of sunlight, have engaging activities, and have social interactions.

This may not come anywhere near the brevity of saying with Fr. Tom, "Eat good foods in moderation and fast on fasting days," but there is something very essential here.

It has been said that the Orthodox diet needs the review of another Ecumenical Council, which would be the proper place for this to be discussed, but since the Eighth Ecumenical Council isn't going to happen anytime soon, this needs to be addressed at a pastoral level with your priest. And I would underscore that if your priest is more strict or lenient than what I outline, please go with his authority and not my writing.

We know how to make food that looks good and maybe tastes good, but without the real health benefits that come with truly good-tasting food. Furthermore, and I do not believe this statement would strike my superiors provocative, a meat-laden feast today is probably a good deal less truly nourishing than a day of strict fasting as engaged in antiquity.

The direction I have been given is that the big line in fasting is not to consume red meats or food containing blood, but that some protein should be taken in, "protein" here meaning eggs and/or cheese. Plant proteins like soy are no substitute for good old-fashioned animal proteins.

More broadly, God saves people in all places and all times and he has saints who ate nothing but bread, but the best we have now, the sort of cultural equivalent of eating good foods in moderation and fasting on fasting days, is the nexus which is concisely summarized in this item, and to people who are familiar with it, it will be recognized that I have not pulled together a bunch of separate recommendations from various unrelated sources; the items listed represent a boilerplate list of recommendations as found in e.g. Depression is a Disease of Civilization. Possibly I could have stated this item simply as "Live so as not to suffer diseases of civilization," but that would be needlessly opaque to people who are not in the know about what prevents the diseases of civilization.

It's in the Zeitgeist for people with limited means to spend good money to get good food, and this is one rare point where I would applaud the Zeitgeist. The core of these things, like the spiritual disciplines enumerated in maxim 4, are to live in a way that respects what God made us to naturally live in, and here I would remind the reader that civilization has been around for around or less than 1% of the time humans have been hunter-gatherers. The Paleo or, I would rather say, neo-Paleo movement, such as for instance Robb Wolf, The Paleo Solution, are not Christian even in pretension, but does discuss conditions of flourishing for the human race. Perhaps most of us do not have an option of living as part of a hunter-gatherer community, but we are a life form adapted to certain conditions and we ignore at our peril what conditions we have been adapted for (and lived in for 99% of the time humans have been around). I might briefly add a suggestion that vegetables should preferably organic, meats preferably grassfed and organic, and raw cheese (raw cheese is the one form in which nutritionally raw milk is sold commercially in the U.S.; realmilk.com has options to getting raw unpasteurized milk). If I could pick one, I would focus on the meats, because factory farmed cheap meats raise animals under conditions of what can only be called torture, and it is incidentally true that meat raised under those conditions is nutritionally poisonous compared to humanely raised organic meat. Beef is the easiest meat I've found to buy grassfed and organic; I might comment briefly that much as all animals are clean but not all conditions of raising animals are humane, forbidden meats under the Mosaic law are mostly bottom-feeders and have other nasty characteristics, and much like fast food, the fact that all foods are now clean does not mean that eating pork is nearly as good for you as eating grassfed, organic beef.

51. Do not be surprised if you live to see the Antichrist rise to power, and recognize that we are already in an apocalyptic singularity.

The Balrog has been pounding at the gates with a resounding battering ram: "BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!"

Some of these more historically recent booms have been:

  • BOOM! Internet porn!
  • BOOM! Anti-social media!
  • BOOM! Islamic ascendency!
  • BOOM! Smartphones!
  • BOOM! Gay marriage!
  • BOOM! Vaccines!
  • BOOM! Transgender!
  • BOOM! ChatGPT and Gollem AI!

The Antichrist is knocking at the door, and it is not God's will that the gates will forever resist the Balrog.

But even Gollem may have a part to play.

There is good news in all this, though:
For genuine Christians there is no Antichrist, only Christ,
And all these shadows are shadows of the Lord's quickly coming return and the ultimate victory of good over evil.

And if you ask "How shall we live in such trials?" the answer is, "Just live the Sermon on the Mount," and do what you can with what you have where you are. Martin Luther, when he was asked what he would do if he knew Christ would return the next day, said, "Plant a tree." The response is scatological: he intended to plant a tree, and not as any stripe of environmentalist, and if he was right to intend to plant a tree, he would be OK with the returning Christ coming and finding him planting a tree. And this is one of the points where Martin Luther was right.

52. Learn survival skills.

RationalWiki's entry on "crank magnetism" seems to include almost everyone the authors disagree with as some kind of cranks, and that includes preppers. But the more things unfold the more sense learning to survive seems to make sense.

Preppers who disproportionately focus on the apocalyptic tend to be mentally unbalanced and be losing already, and my abbot has warned me about focusing on the apocalyptic. However, it is worth knowing how to live off the web.

53. Recognize that it will be easier to get the people out of the cyber-quarantine than to get the cyber-quarantine, our new home, out of the people.

The cyber-quarantine has made people much more comfortable with certain increasingly brittle technologies, and a Zoom chat may win out over a moderate drive to meet someone face-to-face.

Nonetheless, when it is done people will stick with the familiar, and for instance not get back to face-to-face church services yet.

This is of incredibly serious concern. Whether or not it was right to stream church services during a pandemic lockdown watching a canned service is no substitute for the real thing. Furthermore, there are many other things like this.

54. Keep a reasonable amount of cash available, at home or in a money belt.

We may be moving towards a cashless society, but cash is harder to freeze, and it is good sense to have some money. You can put 15 or so $100 bills in a good money belt.

55. Read, and live, Fr. Tom Hopko's 55 Maxims.

If you have read these and you haven't read Fr. Tom Hopko's 55 Maxims them, please do yourself 55 favors and read them. This is a derivative work that stands in Fr. Tom's shadow and would never have been written had not Fr. Tom paved the way.

And if you like the swirls, eddies, and eclectic surprises in my writing here, that's there partly because I was imitating the writing and reader's experience of the lives of the saints such as you can find at oca.org/saints, and there's a lot more where that came from!