Optina Elder Barsanuphius on Football
Orthodox Life 1989 #3
A Conversation with The Elder Barsanuphius of Optina
About Holy Communion, Temptation, and Football
(Taken from Optina Hermitage and Its Epoch by I.M. Kontzevitch)
At 3:30 p.m. we attended vespers, at 8:00 Evening Prayers, and then immediately went to sleep since we had to rise at midnight for Matins. By the prayers of Batiushka we prepared for Communion without difficulty and received the Mysteries at the early Liturgy. We then went directly to the elder for tea. He received us joyfully, giving thanks to God. He served us and (in the conversation which followed) warned us that sometimes on the day one receives Holy Communion one suffers from a heavy feeling. He advised us to pay no attention to such a mood and not to be depressed, since on such occasions the devil especially arms himself against the communicant and acts on him by means of hypnosis. Batiushka added that hypnosis is an evil, unchristian force. By using hypnosis the devil troubles the clergy when they serve the Liturgy. The devil cannot draw near to the altar table, which is surrounded by angels and, therefore tempts them with blasphemies and doubts. By prayer and God's help these thoughts are chased away. The same tactics occur in the game of football, which has just appeared in the world . . . Do not play this game, and do not go watch it being played because this game has also been inspired by the devil and the consequences of it will be very unfortunate. After tea Batiushka sent us out for a walk. He advised us against sleeping during the day after we had received Communion.
R. Monk Hilarion
The devil especially acts upon us (by means of a form of) hypnosis . . . The same tactics occur in the game of football, which has just appeared in the world . . . Do not play this game, and do not go watch it being played because this game has also been inspired by the devil and the consequences of it will be very unfortunate.
Elder Barsanuphius of Optina
On 15 April 1989 at Hillsborough, England 93 people died and roughly 200 were injured when thousands of ticketless, young fans were admitted to a soccer stadium already filled to capacity with a crowd of 54,000 people. At English football grounds the area behind the goals called the "terraces," is allocated for standing room only. Therefore, it is possible to squeeze in extra spectators. It is on the "terraces" that the trouble, which has made English football notorious, usually occurs. Designed to prevent clashes between opposing groups of supporters and to control hooliganism, the "terraces" are more like high-tech prison compounds, with their high steel-framed fences, brick walls, and remote control televisions, than the setting for sport and relaxation. It was onto the already packed terraces at Hillsborough that police, moments before the beginning of the game, allowed several thousand additional fans to surge. Despite the presence of riot police and police on horseback outside the stadium they claimed afterward to have opened the gates for fear of the consequences of having to deal with this disappointed and angry mob of young Liverpool supporters. The surge of these extra spectators caused pandemonium inside. Most of the dead, pushed further and further forward to the steel-enclosed cul-de-sac were suffocated or crushed to death up against the retaining fences.
Soccer disasters are nothing new nor are they a uniquely British phenomenon. In this decade alone, from Mexico City to Katmandu in Nepal, more than 250 fans have died violent deaths and many thousands have been injured while "enjoying" this pastime. England particularly is noted for spawning a whole new subspecies of violent, psychopathic soccer hooligan.
It was, however, in Lima, Peru in 1964 that the worst disaster so far occurred when 318 fans died in violent rioting during an Olympic Games qualifying match. In January 1971, 66 people died in Glasgow, Scotland; in 1985 another 53 died and 211 were injured as fire swept through a stadium in Bradford, England, while two week later in Brussels 38 people died and 400 were injured trying to escape stampeding British hooligans. In March 1988, 77 people were trampled to death as fans panicked during a freak hailstorm in Katmandu.
While everyone deplores the atrocities when they occur, no one wants to take the measures to stop them. Why? Because soccer has become a multi-billion dollar business. The commercial value of the sport has become so enormous that no one involved can conceive of interrupting the flow of receipts. Soccer has simply outgrown the limits of a normal sport, appealing as it does so strongly to man's lower animal nature. As the sport has grown it has become commercialized and its fans have become true "fanatics" (the origin, after all, of the word fan), more and more possessed by a passion for violence and destruction – after all, they are playing to a world-wide audience. And just to get in the right mood for the game, they destroy the trains and boats which ferry them to the location of the matches. The nights before and after the games are given over to drunken rampages through the streets as in Dusseldorf, Germany last June where over 500 visiting fans were arrested over a two day period.
It is interesting to note that as far back as the Middle Ages the city fathers of London were forced to ban the progenitor of the game of football because of the uproar it caused in the city.
the clairvoyant elder is speaking about the hypnotic effect of the game
herein lies the demonic element in football
Regrettable though all these factors may be, it is not the occasional outbreak of blind violence or tragic accident about which the clairvoyant elder is speaking when he warned his spiritual children against having anything to do with the game of football. He is speaking rather about the hypnotic effect of the game. Herein lies the demonic element in football – be it American football or English football (soccer). The hypnotic effect of these games is seen in the consequences it has for the psyche of its devotees. They become obsessed with the game. The are mesmerized not only while watching the matches on television or in the stadium but also at other times. Their lives and their thoughts become focused on soccer or football even to the point of ignoring their own safety and the safety of others. What is more, the hypnosis that the devil casts over football's devotees makes them incapable of anything spiritual. When the matches are on such people are willing to give up the most important things in their lives in order to see them. And when the games are over they continue to live their obsession. Magazines, newspapers, and television feed their fixation, while the cult surrounding the lives of the game's heroes approaches that of pagan worship. How many countless millions of people have been drawn into this diabolical net is impossible to tell but can be guessed at when one hears of the astronomical sums advertisers are willing to pay the television networks for a few moments during the intervals in the game to air their products. The attention of these millions of souls is completely enrapt in the cult of the game. Herein lies the hypnotic obsession about which the Elder Barsanuphius was speaking, when so many souls are stolen from God because of football.
The truly prophetic words of the Elder are only now being made clear. What we see today on the terraces of European football grounds is only a symptom of the much worse spiritual cancer which has now gripped the Western psyche. And its reason? – Our abandonment of the Church and our rejection of God.