Sunday visitors crowd the monastery
of Saints Augustine and Seraphim Sarof in Tríkorfo,
in central Greece. The monastery is dedicated to serving
In Greece, national identity has been a hot topic since long before
the country declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in
1821, and the Greek Orthodox Church has always been at the center
of the discussion. The Church took a leading role in the war of
independence, and has considered itself the guardian of Greek identity
ever since. Until recently, few Greeks challenged that.
In the last few years, things have gotten a little more complicated.
Greece is now part of the European Union (EU); immigration is gradually increasing; Greeks travel abroad and
use the Internet; tourism and mass media have exposed almost everyone
to foreigners and their ways.
For a country that takes great pride in its ethnos (the
word means "nation"), the outside world is both a temptation
and a threat. Not surprisingly, Greeks are divided on how to move
Fr. Nektarios Moulatsiotis started
the Free Monks and approves their lyrics. Some in the
Church are uncomfortable with his celebrity. Others
credit him with making Orthodoxy "cool".
The Orthodox Church has always been resistant to change—especially
change that comes from outside. That resistance has hardened under
the leadership of Archbishop Christodoulos, who has been highly
vocal in his opposition to the forces of western-led globalization.
The archbishop was particuarly visible during a recent
controversy over national identity cards. The previous government,
which was socialist, wanted to replace the old cards with new ones
that would comply with EU standards. That meant, among other things,
eliminating any mention of religious affiliation.
Christodoulos led the battle against the proposal, ultimately collecting three
million signatures out of a total population of just under 11 millon.
The government prevailed, but the popular view was that the prime
minister had caved in to foreign pressure and foreign ideas.
The idea for the "Rocking Fathers"
grew out of the monastery's summer camps. The hope was
to reach millions, rather than hundreds, of teens.
Fr. Nektarios Moulatsiotis, founder of the Free Monks music group
(and of the monastery of Saints Augustine and Seraphim Sarof), has
made it his mission to keep young Greeks from caving in. He turned
to popular culture after working for years in youth recreation programs
and summer camps and seeing the power that the media had over teenagers.
He hosts regular call-in shows on TV and radio, and publishes two
magazines (one for youth, one for adults). Each of these efforts
is part of a larger campaign to reach out to the nation's youth
through the mass media.
Christian media (and Christian Rock) may be old news in the US,
but in Greece the idea is revolutionary. For generations, the Church
has been seen as benign and dignified, appreciated for its stability,
its historic importance, and its role in celebrating rituals like
baptisms, weddings and funerals. Because nearly all Greeks
are born Orthodox (more than 95% of the population is baptized),
the Church has seen little need to reach out to youth. The belief
has been that if teens need help, they will come and seek it.
25, learned of the monks when Fr. Nektarios visited
Australia, and joined the monkhood at age 18. All of
the monks at the monastery except for Fr. Nektarios
are in their 20s or 30s.
Citing new threats to the Greek ethnos, Fr. Nektarios
blasts priests for their complacency, accusing them of being more
interested in collecting their paychecks (priests and bishops are state employees) than in defending the Church and the nation.
But his message to youth is even stronger. The
Free Monks' songs are not just about the redeeming power of God's
love or the importance of Christian values.
Lyrics speak of
Satan disguised as western culture, of the brainwashing of Greeks by multinational corporations, of the dangers of electronic
surveillance, of a global conspiracy to steal away souls. Whether
young people are internalizing the message or not, they are buying
the albums. Although the media frenzy has died down since Free Monks'
debut in 2000, the group has remained a fixture on the Greek pop
Thanks to: Lina Molokotos Liederman, Effie Fokas, Maria Paravantes, Fr. Athinagoras, Matthew Brunwasser, Faidra Papavasiliou.