A short stay on Mt. Athos

As you would expect, quite a few readers have sent emails requesting my opinion of that "60 Minutes" Easter piece the other night about the monks of Mt. Athos. Here's one from Bob Koch that was delivered with a bit of wit:

Concerning the CBS report on Mt. Athos that aired on Easter Sunday evening: I think they get religion. It almost looked like Bob Simon GOT religion.


It has taken me a few days to get to this piece, in large part because of have been under the weather for several days, to say the least. Insert your favorite kidney-stone joke right here. I am delaying a pain-killer for an hour or so just to clear my eyes and write this. So there.

The problem I have evaluating the piece is that it really isn't a news story. It's more of a spiritual travelogue. Period.

In fact, it almost seems that the crew went out of its way to avoid recent controversies involving the Holy Mountain, including a much-reported land swap deal involving troubled Greek officials. I would have appreciated some coverage of tensions between the leaders of the 20 or so monastic communities and the leadership of the European Union, as well.

In one of the online extras, producer Michael Karzis talks about the differences between doing this spirituality piece and a "regular story." It appears that the goal here was simply to describe the details of the daily lives of the monks and their spiritual goals and traditions. A sample:

Father Iakovos is one of a few Americans on the mountain; he's been there more than half his life. "You have to understand, the words that we're saying in today's liturgy, are the same words that Christ was saying, are the same words that saints from the first century, the second century, the third century, the fourth century," he told "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon.

And nothing has changed in orthodoxy since then -- it's the only branch of Christianity that can make that claim.

That's fine, although I am sure some non-Orthodox viewers will be frustrated that some of their claims (Nothing has changed in Orthodoxy, ever?) go completely unchallenged.

At the same time, the Orthodox may be frustrated that there are glimpses of huge theological questions that going flying past and then vanish. We are given brief looks at the worship rites, but are never really told what is being said, beyond, "Lord have mercy." It's all Greek, so to speak. We are introduced to this "blast furnace of prayer," but we know little about what they are saying.

We see pilgrims from around the world. What are they doing there? That monk who used to teach at Harvard Divinity School? What's up with him? How did he get to the mountain?

The total package is beautiful. The history is amazing. But I am sure many viewers were left wanting more.

Oh, and one more thing. The biggest mystery of all, for me? Who, at CBS, thought it was a good fit to have this entire online package sponsored by Viagra?

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