Clergy in the Russian Orthodox Church are engaged in an intense debate.

The Church has enjoyed something of a revival among ordinary Russians who, in Soviet times, were discouraged from openly practising the faith.

Now, the Orthodox clergy says, with the increasing use of computers in daily life, the time has come to designate an Orthodox Church saint to serve as spiritual guide to internet users.

A few years ago, the Roman Catholic Church nominated a patron saint for the internet - St. Isidore, the Bishop of Seville.

However, the Vatican's decisions hold no sway for Russian Orthodox believers, and the choice for them has been narrowed down to two contenders: Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Theofan the Hermit.

While some of the more traditional clergy may see the world wide web as a tool of Satan, Deacon Andrey Kurayev, a Russian Orthodox missionary who lectures at Moscow State University, is a big fan, Ren TV reported.

Missionary scope

"What is the internet?" Father Andrey asked. "It is a typically monastic pursuit. I am totally hidden from the public, it is quite impersonal - but at the same time I can take part in various discussion forums."

He believes the thousands of Russian Orthodox internet users could only benefit from a patron saint dedicated to them.

Surfers can already browse hundreds of Orthodox Church web sites - some of with streaming audio carrying the Orthodox mass online, and weighty liturgical texts can also be found at the click of a mouse.

The Church's future plans include the creation of the world's largest virtual library of Christian literature.

"If we get a patron saint for the internet," said Father Andrey, "the next logical step will be to formulate a prayer to deal with viruses."

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Related links:

• Prayers at Use of the Internet (colour bookmark)

• Original BBC report of this article

"Ours must be an orthodoxy of the heart, not just the mind."

-St.Tikhon of Zadonsk