Their days are spent in a centuries-old cycle of work, worship and meditation. But Trappist monks here have a new tool in their labor to glorify God--the World Wide Web.
Silence is an integral part of their day, and study, and prayer. And now so is e-mail, the Internet and CD-ROM versions of ancient religious texts.
Though some might think them stodgy, monasteries have always been on the leading edge of technology, leaders of the Mepkin Abbey said. The only difference is that in the past, that meant iron plows, ways of herding sheep, even writing itself.
"Technologically speaking, they were always on the cutting edge," said the Rev. Aelred Hagan, the abbey's director of vocations.
The Cistercians, commonly known as Trappists, were founded 900 years ago. They are one of the stricter branches of the Benedictine Order. The abbey here, nestled among live oaks and rustic gardens overlooking the Cooper River, was founded in 1949.
"It's a question of historical perspective," said the Rt. Rev. Francis Kline, abbot for the 30 monks who live here. "They were absolutely advanced, looking in any way at things that would serve them in their quest to live the gospel and the monastic life."
The abbey's 25,000-volume library already attracts scholars and clergy of all faiths to the dim basement of one of the monastery's buildings.
There are plans for a new library on compact disks to make religious volumes available to scholars worldwide.
"There are all sorts of things available on CD-ROM--the complete writings of St. Gregory the Great, certain editions of the Latin vulgate [Bible], the writings of saints and theologians," Kline said.
The abbey hopes to break ground for the new library and a new infirmary next spring.
There are 17 Cistercian abbeys in the United States and 10 now have Web sites.
At the Mepkin Web site, visitors can find out about the abbey and its structured schedule of prayer, worship and work, learn about becoming a monk, or click on "Monastic Wisdom" to access religious writings.
The abbey increasingly is consulted about religious debates and gets as many as 10 e-mailed questions a week.
"One was from an ecumenical study group trying to resurrect several dead theological issues," Kline said.
Mostly it is the younger monks who are involved in bringing the Word to the Web, Hagan said. Computers don't seem to appeal to the older monks, he said.
But this is an abbey, and there still are limits. "The community policy is you just don't surf the Web," Kline said.
The Web site address is www.mepkinabbey.org