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Mount Athos also known as “Monastic Community of Mount Athos, Holy Mountain” Alexopoulos, Lampros


The Monastic Community of Mount Athos is geographically defined by the boundaries of the Athos peninsula, the easternmost leg of the larger Chalkidiki peninsula, being a self-governing community within the Greek territory. Mount Athos is a living worshiping and hesychastic community with continuous and uninterrupted presence that spans over a millennium. It consists of twenty sovereign Monasteries, skētes (smaller communities of Christian hermits with a common area of worship), cells and kathismata (units with a small church operated by the monks living under the spiritual and administrative supervision of a monastery) scattered throughout the peninsula. For more than a thousand years successively, the Holy Mountain operates as one of the most important cultural conservatories for both the Orthodox Christian and the Greek civilization. Directly and tangibly associated with the Byzantine world in all of its religious and cultural manifestations, the twelve-century years old monastic community constitutes a living record of human activities, preserving an enormous wealth of historic, artistic and cultural elements. At the end of the 9th century, there were many hermits and small monastic communities on Athos. However, most of the monks were still hermits, living in improvised huts, eating the fruits of wild trees, and suffering the effects of frequent pirate raids. This situation changed with the arrival of St. Athansius the Athonite. In 961, Athanasios began to build the Great Lavra, a monastery to which the Emperor Nikephoros Phokas himself retired in his old age. Athanasius’s vigorous building activity provoked the opposition of most of the ascetics, who accused him before Emperor John Tsimiskes of corrupting the character of Mount Athos. The Emperor responded with an imperial chrysobull, the “Tragos”, which is the oldest document bearing an imperial signature. The “Tragos” was the first rule for Mount Athos, and lent further support to what Athanasius was doing. By the time he died in 1000, Athanasius not only had constructed the large and imposing group of buildings that make up the Great Lavra, but he had also secured sufficient funding to maintain the monastery and laid the foundations of coenobitic monasticism. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Mount Athos became one of the most important monastic centers in the Byzantine Empire. Many monasteries were founded and the Byzantine emperors issued "chrysobulls" and "sigillia" granting numerous privileges and vast tracts of farmland. At the time when the monastic communities in Asia Minor were being wiped out by Seljuk Turk raids, the monasteries on Mount Athos were flourishing and their landed property was constantly increasing, as was their influence. Mount Athos is a self-governed part of the Greek state, subject to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its political aspect and to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in regards of its religious aspect. The Greek State is represented by the Governor of Mount Athos, who answers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and who, together with the deputy governor, resides in the capital of Mount Athos, the village of Karyes. He ensures that the Charter is respected, attends the sessions of the Holy Community in an advisory capacity, and presides over local public services (police, customs, etc.). All women without exception are forbidden to enter to Mount Athos. Mount Athos has been divided into twenty self-governed territories. Each territory consists of a cardinal monastery and some other monastic establishments that surround it. All the monasteries are communes (of a convent nature). That means that there is common liturgy, prayer, housing, nourishing and work among the monks. The Abbot of the monastery, being elected by the monks for life, is responsible for the affairs of the monastery.

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