The Rock Star Monks

By Matthews, Owen | Newsweek International, July 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Rock Star Monks


Matthews, Owen, Newsweek International


As a blood red dawn breaks over the hilltop monastery of Trikorfo in central Greece, a bearded young monk wearing a black robe emerges from prayers and heads to the monastery's small farm. Working fast, Father Panteleimon, 28, cleans the pigsties and feeds the goats. He is in a hurry, because that afternoon he has an appointment in Athens at his other job: starring in a pop video as one of Greece's hottest rock singers.

Panteleimon and 14 fellow monks make up Eleftheroi, or "The Free," a rock group whose two CDs have stormed the Greek charts and sold more than 150,000 copies. The monks sing catchy, classic rock songs about the dangers of materialism, technology and globalization. The video for one song, "Tsipaki," or "Little Chip," shows a gold-painted man implanted with a computer chip; the lyrics warn, "I am a little chip which will lead you to slavery... The Internet and information have consumed you." "It's good to see that priests can think about the same things that we do, that they're not formal and out of touch," says Katerina Panayides, a 21-year-old college student. "It's music that makes you think, not empty like most pop."

Their popularity signals a major revival in spirituality among Greece's Internet generation. More and more young people are showing an interest in the Greek Orthodox Church--despite the fact that it is one of the country's most conservative institutions (and has criticized Eleftheroi to boot). During the last five years applications from young men have surged for the monastic communities of Mount Athos, the heartland of Greek Othodoxy, where females--even, notoriously, female animals larger than hens--are banned. The number of monks has swelled from 1,500 to 2,200 during the last few years.

Many of the monks display a distinct nationalist spirit, heightening their appeal among the young. Last year 50,000 young people joined a rally in Athens--partly organized by Orthodox Church leaders--to protest erosion of Greek identity by the European Union. That's the kind of turnout that Greece's Communist Party, the fad of a generation ago, would have envied, says political analyst Georgios Smyrnos. "Young people feel that modern Internet culture is not giving them a spiritual dimension, or a separate cultural identity as Greeks," he says. …

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