The monasteries (μονες)

(Courtesy of


Karyes - the capital

  1. Megistis Lavras
  2. Vatopediou
  3. Iviron
  4. Chilandariou
  5. Dionysiou
  6. Koutloumousiou
  7. Pantokratoros
  8. Xiropotamou
  9. Zographou
  10. Docheiariou

  1. Karakalou
  2. Filotheou
  3. Simonopetra
  4. Agiou Paulou
  5. Stavronikita
  6. Xenofontos
  7. Grigoriou
  8. Esphigmenou
  9. Agiou Panteleïmonos
  10. Konstamonitou
Megisti Lavra

The founder of cenobitic monastic life on Mount Athos is thought to have been Saint Athanasios of Trebizond who, with the support of his friend the emperor Nikephoros Phokas (A.D. 963-969), founded the Great Lavra, the first monastery on the peninsula (A.D. 962/963).

A few years later in A.D. 971/72, at the instigation of the emperor Ioannis Tzimiskes (A.D. 969-976), Euthymios, the Abbot of the Studite monastery in Constantinople, composed the first typikon (a charter governing the organization and administration of the Athonite State). This text, known as the Tragos (because it was written on a parchment of a goatskin, tragos=goat), and now housed at Protaton (the katholikon at Karyes, the capital of the Athonite State, formed the basis for the later typika and the subsequent development of all the monasteries on Mount Athos.

It has been claimed that the intervention of the state in the creation of a monastic polity was dictated mainly by the spiritual need for the Byzantine Empire to become more involved in the Balkans, with a view to defending and strengthening the Orthodox Church after the conversion to Christianity of the South Slavs and the Bulgars (A.D. 864/65), and in response to attempts by the Roman Catholic Church to penetrate the spheres of influence of the Eastern Church. The eminent men of the cloth who took an active part in the enterprise, the personal interest shown by members of the imperial family, and the fact that from as early as the 10th and the beginning of the 11th centuries A.D (A.D. 965 ff.), Amalpheni (A.D. 981), Slavs, Russians and Bulgars flocked to Athos to man the new monasteries, were all factors leading to the place acquiring an ecumenical character and becoming a crusading center for the True Belief.

These were the years of "Romiosyni" and the establishment of a Greek-Orthodox consciousness, during which the great monasteries were founded (the Great Lavra, the monastery of Vatopedi and that of Iviron), and the foundations were laid for other, smaller monasteries (those of Docheiariou, Xenophontos and Philotheou). From these times, and from the period of generous royal gifts of huge landed estates, of domes decorated with gold, of richly adorned katholika and of echoing cells - multi-story, fortress-like defensive structures - down to the enslavement of the nation by the Turks, Mount Athos knew moments of grandeur and of decline. Periods during which monasticism thrived and new monasteries and annexes were built (11th/12th and second half of the l4th centuries), and difficult times of abandonment and pillaging (13th and beginning of the l4th centuries), during which the undefiled mother of endurance - the immaculate Mother of God - enfolded the inner sanctum of her house in love and tenderness.

Mount Athos became acquainted with the Franks of the Fourth Crusade, the oppression of Michael VIII Palaiologos, a fervent supporter of the Unification of the Churches, and the plundering invasions of the Catalan pirates. It was also the object of the active interest of the emperors of Trebizond and the kings of Serbia.

Faced with a "fait accompli," the monks were reconciled with the Ottoman conqueror and during the first half century or so that followed their subjection to the Sultan, they retained the privileges they had been granted by the Byzantine emperors. One indication of their prosperity was the renovation, at about the middle of the l6th century, of the Monastery of Stavronikita (1536)and the decoration of a large number of katholika, refectories and chapels by named painters of the period (Theophanes the Cretan, Tzortzes and Frangos Katelanos).

Fresh buffetings, however, lay in wait for the ship of the Orthodox faith in the stormy ocean of the three centuries that remained before liberation: swingeing taxes and confiscations of estates led to the abandonment of monasteries, to the replacement of the cenobitic way of life by the "idiorrhythmic" and to the foundation of scetes, and spiritual unity was undermined by religious strife. Even in these moments of adversity, however, the spirit succeeded in achieving great things and producing a host of scholars and wise men of the stature of Nikodemos of Naxos, Eugenios Voulgaris, Kosmas Aitolos, Athanasios of Paros - all teachers and pupils at the famous "Athonite School."

The territory of the Athos Peninsula is now an integral part of the Greek State, though it is self-governing, on the basis of a special charter (Treaty of Lausanne, 1923), and is distributed between the twenty sovereign monasteries, which follow a traditional hierarchy based on their imperial titles and other privileges. Monasteries to which the centuries have bequeathed rare examples of illustrated manuscripts and codices, brilliant wall-paintings, silver-clad icons of saints, and clerical vestments studded with precious stones, endowing them with imperial gifts, imposing buildings, boat-houses and scetes, old peoples homes, hospitals, kathismata (a kind of monastic building), and hermitages. Beacons and bastions, safe harbors, refuges of the soul and the spirit.

Mount Athos is t a part of Greece that for over a thousand years has preserved the Greek-Christian traditions, literature and Byzantine worship. It is a sacred repository housing still unknown sources for scholars investigating theology, philosophy, history, Byzantine and post-Byzantine art and eastern mysticism, and a boundless museum containing invaluable treasures and heirlooms of the Orthodox tradition.

Mount Athos








Some materials by courtesy of Zbigniew
Kosc, Agion-oros., Alexia
Monachos. net,,
newadvent. org/cathen,, Techni Editions

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