I was texting with a Greek Orthodox priest friend this summer about celebrity in ecclesiastical culture, after sending him a clip from a popular Orthodox nun on YouTube. After a number of comments on that, he said:
In American culture, the cult of celebrity is a dangerous field to enter. Especially in a digital age. Popularity carries a high cost. In our [Orthodox] tradition, achieving celebrity in the church is highly discouraged, especially for clerics and monastics. It’s seductive because it seems so effective.
I’ve seen it happen again and again with people I know. It changes you imperceptibly, your mindset. Pride, envy, competitiveness. But especially your ability to seek out and receive criticism — which is the only salvation for any who exercise public influence. Being ready for your own humiliations and setbacks, even grateful, is the only safe way to sustain high profile evangelism.
We exchanged more texts on that point, and then he wrote: “The more famous you get, the more severe the criticisms should be. I mean, you should welcome them. If you want [to be well known] and still be saved, stay sober. 2 Cor. 11.” I looked it up and, especially in this part, immediately got his point as St. Paul outlines signs of apostolic pedigree:
Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
I shared this whole exchange with another friend, and, after forwarding him an article about the fall from grace of someone we admired, I texted him:
Scary. It’s so dangerous when you get power and influence, it’s almost, it seems, beyond human strength to endure. Which is probably why God had to become incarnate to show the only path of safety through power. Crucifixion. James and John aspired to power and influence, and Jesus said: sure, along with martyrdom.