Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mount Athos goes wireless.

This morning I read that six of the twenty Orthodox monasteries on Mount Athos now have wireless Internet access. My initial knee-jerk reaction to this news was something along the lines of "there goes the neighborhood," jarred as I was by the strange mental image of Athonite monks surfing the Internet - or, for that matter, pilgrims bringing their laptops to the Holy Mountain in the knowledge that they'll be able to check their e-mail and keep current on world news during their monastic sojourn. If the Internet has reached Mount Athos, I thought, is any oasis of faith safe from the influence of contemporary secular culture?

On further reflection, though, I felt a sense of surprise that the introduction of broadband Internet access in Athonite monasteries was even considered newsworthy. Mount Athos has had an official website for some time, which suggests that the monks may already have had access to the Internet (though I suppose that the website could be hosted elsewhere and maintained by other parties). Furthermore, I don't believe that living out a contemplative or monastic vocation obliges one to fast completely from modern technology. When I was in Jerusalem, I was surprised how many of the Orthodox monks I encountered had cellphones. For example, when I went to attend an Ethiopian vespers service at the Holy Sepulchre, I saw several monks remove cellphones from their pockets in order to turn them before prayer. One monk apparently forgot to do so, and to his visible embarrassment his phone started to ring during the service!

If monks can make prudent use of cellphones, they can certainly do the same with the Internet. Among the various blogs I check from time to time is one produced by Ukrainian Catholic Abbot Joseph Homick, Word Incarnate. By blogging, Abbot Joseph is able to share the riches of the Byzantine spiritual tradition with people far beyond the monastery in which he lives. Perhaps the monks of Mount Athos will make similar use of modern technology to bring Christ to others. Though the introduction of wireless Internet will perhaps inevitably bring more worldly influences to the Holy Mountain, I hope this development also brings more of Mount Athos to the world. AMDG.


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