Communications technology, including mobile phones and the Internet, are gradually making themselves felt on Mount Athos, the spiritual and monastic center of Eastern Orthodoxy, although it does not seem to be affecting monastic life.
The monks living in the 20 monasteries and 12 other church communities (known as brotherhoods or “sketes”) on the “holy mount” are “confronted with the evergrowing and dominating power of technology on a scale never experienced before,” writes Lukasz Fajfer in the journal Social Compass (September–December). The pace of the introduction of technology—from electricity to cell phone usage—is uneven in the various monasteries and does not necessarily correspond with which community is the most “modern” or ascetic: some of the more traditionalist monasteries have adopted electricity for practical reasons (refusing outside assistance, they may depend on their own hydroelectric plants).
Fajfer notes that there are no specific guidelines on the use of technology, although a large group of monks on Mount Athos see a contradiction between the spiritual life and reliance on technological conveniences.Just as many monks viewed the building of roads to the monasteries as making the world too accessible, they are leery of being overly connected to the outside through communications media. But cell and landline phones are now widely used, if only to coordinate work and workers within and between the various communities. Today at least 14 monasteries and most sketes also use computers, although there is an attempt to limit them for office use.
Yet a few monasteries use the computer to connect with and give advice to people outside of Mount Athos or engage in legal matters for self-preservation, including such social media as Facebook. Fajfer concludes that the use of technology on Mount Athos does not bear out the stereotype that the more traditionalist a monastery is the less it will use these means. The monasteries’ practical approach to technology reflects the Orthodox relation to modernity, attempting to protect the core of its spirituality and disciplines without rejecting modernity entirely.
(Social Compass, http://www.sagepub.com/journals/Journal200920)