Originally created 12/30/00

Monks challenge stars of pop for teen-age ears



TRIKORFO, Greece - The monks keep rocking.

After soaring up the pop charts in the summer, a group of Greek Orthodox monks is working on another music video for an upcoming single about the dangers of technology without restrictions.

The video features a gold-garbed man who represents an evil computer user, armed with personal data. The bearded monks belt out the lyrics to Tsipaki, or Little Computer Chip: "I'm a chip, so small, that will lead you to slavery."

Somehow, these monks, known as Eleftheri or "the free," compete with Madonna and dozens of superstar Greek singers.

"It is not the music but the lyrics that are an issue," said Archimandrite Father Nektarios Moulatsiotis, one of five monks who contributed to the 10-song compact disc, I Learned to Live Free, released last year. "Today's music is sterile of messages."

The CD went platinum in Greece, selling more than 52,000 copies. It was distributed without a bar code, which some Orthodox faithful consider a sign of technology's encroachment.

The group's new disc, SOS, is scheduled for release early next year.

The monks turned to music after complaining about the lyrics of songs popular among young boys at the monastery's camp in the mountains overlooking the Corinthian Gulf about 185 miles northwest of Athens.

"We kept telling kids not to listen to this or that," said Father Augustine Syrros. "Then they asked, `What's left?"'

Their songs offer traditional Christian themes as well as views on the possible dangers of globalization and rampant technology - all with a modern beat.

"I don't want a big boss because I learned to live free. ... The nation is not for sale, the church doesn't die," they sing on the CD's title track.

Mass marketing of religious recordings is nothing new. In the mid-1990s, a group of Benedictine monks in Spain was a worldwide hit with serene Gregorian chants. The handful of remaining American Shakers, a sect devoted to extreme simplicity, released a CD of chants and songs in 1996.

Even Pope John Paul II became a top-selling recording artist last year with Abba Pater, a collection of Vatican Radio broadcasts of the pontiff reciting psalms, the Gospels, inspirational passages and occasionally singing.

But the Greek monks have taken it a step further with slick music videos.

"Young people listen to a certain type of music," Father Nektarios said. "We needed a modern rhythm with good lyrics."

The monks' message is especially resonant across Greece these days. Greek Orthodox leaders have mounted intense campaigns against modernization and government reforms they fear will erode the church's traditional power and influence. Nearly 97 percent of Greece's native-born population is baptized into the Greek Orthodox church.

The church's outspoken leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, organized huge rallies this year against new state identity cards that no longer include religious affiliation. Other followers have protested data collection and sharing mandated by the European Union.

"We're trying to break the mold of the monk as being stiff," Father Nektarios said. "Christ was social. He was friendly."