Mount Athos (Ελληνικά. Όρος Άθως, Oros Athos) is a mountain on the peninsula of the same name in Macedonia, of northern Greece, called in Greek Agion Oros (Άγιον Όρος, transliterated often as Hagion Oros), or in English, "Holy Mountain". In Classical times, the peninsula was called Aktí (Ακτή) (sometimes Acte or Akte). Politically it is known in Greece as the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. This World Heritage Site is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and forms a self-governed monastic state within the sovereignty of the Hellenic Republic. Spiritually, Mount Athos comes under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The peninsula, the easternmost "leg" of the larger Chalcidice peninsula, protrudes into the Aegean Sea for some Шаблон:Convert at a width between 7 to 12 km and covers an area of Шаблон:Convert, with the actual Mount Athos and its steep, densely forested slopes reaching up to Шаблон:Convert. The seas around the end of the peninsula can be dangerous.
Though land-linked, it is accessible only by boat. The number of visitors is restricted and all are required to get a special entrance permit before entering Mount Athos. Only males are allowed entrance into Mount Athos, which is called "Garden of the Virgin" by monks, and Orthodox Christians take precedence in the permit issuance procedure. Only males over the age of 18 who are members of the Eastern Orthodox Church are allowed to live on Athos. There are religious guards, who are not monks, that assist the monks, and any other people not monks are required to live in the peninsula's capital, Karyes. The 2001 Greek national census counted a population of 2,262 inhabitants.
The sovereign monasteries, in the order of their place in the Athonite hierarchy:
In the context of Greek mythology Athos was the name of one of the Gigantes that challenged the Greek gods during the Gigantomachia. Athos threw a massive rock against Poseidon which fell in the Aegean sea and became the Athonite Peninsula. According to another version of the story, Poseidon used the mountain to bury the defeated giant.
Herodotus tells us that Pelasgians from the island of Lemnos populated the peninsula, then called Acte or Akte. (Herodotus, VII:22) Strabo reports of five cities on the peninsula: Dion (Dium), Cleonae (Kleonai), Thyssos (Thyssus), Olophyxos (Olophyxis), Acrothoï (Akrothoön), of which the last is near the crest. (Strabo, Geography, VII:33:1) Eretria also established colonies on Acte. Two other cities were established in the Classical period: Acanthus (Akanthos) and Sane. Some of these cities minted their own coins.
The peninsula was on the invasion route of Xerxes I, who spent three years excavating a channel across the isthmus to allow the passage of his invasion fleet in 483 BC. After the death of Alexander the Great, the architect Dinocrates (Deinokrates), proposed to carve the entire mountain into a statue of Alexander.
The history of the peninsula during latter ages is shrouded by the lack of historical accounts. Archaeologists have not been able to determine the exact location of the cities reported by Strabo. It is believed that they must have been deserted when Athos' new inhabitants, the monks, started arriving at some time before the 7th century AD.
According to the athonite tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary was sailing accompanied by St John the Evangelist from Joppa to Cyprus to visit Lazarus. When the ship was blown off course to then pagan Athos it was forced to anchor near the port of Klement, close to the present monastery of Iviron. The Virgin walked ashore and, overwhelmed by the wonderful and wild natural beauty of the mountain, she blessed it and asked her Son for it to be her garden. A voice was heard saying "Шаблон:Polytonic" (Translation: "Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved"). From that moment the mountain was consecrated as the garden of the Mother of God and was out of bounds to all other women.
Historical documents on ancient Mount Athos history are very few. It is certain that monks have been there since the 4th century, and possibly since the 3rd. During Constantine I's reign (324-337) both Christians and pagans were living there. During the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-363), the churches of Mount Athos were destroyed, and Christians hid in the woods and inaccessible places. Later, during Theodosius I's reign (383-395), the pagan temples were destroyed. The lexicographer Hesychius of Alexandria states that in the 5th century there was still a temple and a statue of "Zeus Athonite". After the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the 7th century, many orthodox monks from the Egyptian desert tried to find another calm place; some of them came to the Athos peninsula. An ancient document states that monks "...built huts of wood with roofs of straw (...) and by collecting fruit from the wild trees were providing themselves improvised meals..."
is one of the most ancient monasteries on Athos, founded during the reign of Leo VI the Wise.]]
The chroniclers Theophanes the Confessor (end of 8th century) and Georgios Kedrenos (11th century) wrote that the 726 eruption of the Thera volcano was visible from Mount Athos, proving that it was inhabited at the time. The historian Genesios recorded that monks from Athos participated at the 7th Ecumenical Council of Nicaea of 787. Around 860, the famous monk Efthymios the Younger came to Athos and a number of monk-huts ("skete of Saint Basil") were created around his habitation, possibly near Krya Nera. During the reign of emperor Basil I the Macedonian, the former Archbishop of Crete (and later of Thessaloniki) Basil the Confessor built a small monastery at the place of the modern harbour ("arsanas") of Chilandariou Monastery. Soon after this, a document of 883 states that a certain Ioannis Kolovos built a monastery at Megali Vigla. On a chrysobull of emperor Basil I, dated 885, the Holy Mountain is proclaimed a place of monks, and no laymen or farmers or cattle-breeders are allowed to be settled there. The next year, in an imperial edict of emperor Leo VI the Wise we read about the "...so-called ancient seat of the council of gerondes (council of elders)...", meaning that there was already a kind of monks' administration and that it was already "ancient". In 887, some monks expostulate to the emperor Leo the Wise as the monastery of Kolovos is growing more and more and they lose their peace. In 908, the existence of a Protos ("First monk") is documented, who is the "head" of the monastic community. In 943, the borders of the monastic state was precisely mapped while we know that Karyes is already the capital town and seat of the administration and has the name "Megali Mesi Lavra" (Big Central Assembly). In 956, a decree offered land of about 1/4 of an acre (2 500 m²) to the Xiropotamou monastery, which means that this monastery was already quite big.
In 958, the monk Athanasios the Athonite (Άγιος Αθανάσιος ο Αθωνίτης) arrived on Mount Athos. In 962, the big central church of the "Protaton" in Karies is built. In the next year, with the support of his friend, Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, the monastery of Great Lavra was founded, still the largest and most prominent of the 20 monasteries existing today. It enjoyed the protection of the emperors of the Byzantine Empire during the following centuries and its wealth and possessions grew considerably. The Fourth Crusade in the 13th century brought new Roman Catholic overlords which forced the monks to complain and ask for the intervention of Pope Innocent III, until the restoration of the Byzantine Empire came. The peninsula was raided by Catalan mercenaries in the 14th century, a century that also saw the theological conflict over the hesychasm practised on Mount Athos and defended by Gregory Palamas.
was the last monastery to be founded on Athos.]] The Byzantine Empire was conquered in the 15th century and the newly established Islamic Ottoman Empire took its place. The Athonite monks tried to maintain good relations with the Ottoman Sultans and therefore when Murad II conquered Thessaloniki in 1430 they immediately pledged allegiance to him. In return, Murad recognized the monasteries' properties, something which Mehmed II formally ratified after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. In this way the Athonite independence was somewhat guaranteed.
The 15th and 16th centuries were particularly peaceful for the Athonite community. This led to relative prosperity for the monasteries. An example of this is the foundation of Stavronikita monastery which completed the current number of Athonite monasteries. Following the conquest of the Serbian Despotate by the Ottomans many Serbian monks came to Athos. The extensive presence of Serbian monks is depicted in the numerous elections of Serbian monks to the office of the Protos during the era.
Sultan Selim I was a substantial benefactor of the Xiropotamou monastery. In 1517, he issued a fatwa and a Hatt-i Sharif, "noble edict" that "the place, where the Holy Gospel is preached, whenever it is burned or even damaged, it shall be erected again." He also endowed privileges to the Abbey and financed the construction of the dining area and underground of the Abbey as well as the renovation of the wall paintings in the central church that were completed between the years 1533-1541.
Despite the fact that most time the monasteries were left on their own, the Ottomans heavily taxed them and sometimes they seized important land parcels from them. This eventually culminated an economic crisis in Athos during the 17th century. This led to the adoption of the so called "idiorrhythmic" lifestyle (a semi-eremitic variant of Christian monasticism) by a few monasteries at first and later, during the first half of the 18th century, by all. This new way of monastic organization was an emergency measure taken by the monastic communities to counter their harsh economic environment. Contrary to the cenobitic system, monks in idiorrhythmic communities have private property, work for themselves, they are solely responsible for acquiring food and other necessities and they dine separately in their cells, only meeting with other monks at church. At the same time, the monasteries' abbots were replaced by committees and at Karyes the Protos was replaced by a four member committee.
Russian tsars, and princes from Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia (until the end of the 15th century) helped the monasteries to survive, offering large donations. The population of monks and their wealth declined over the next centuries, but were revitalized during the 19th century, particularly by the patronage of the Russian government. As a result, the monastic population grew steadily throughout the century, reaching a high point of over 7000 monks in 1902. In 1912, during the First Balkan War, the Ottomans were forced out by the Greek Navy, which claimed the peninsula as part of the peace treaty in 1913.
, traditional home of Russian monks, was the main theater of the Imiaslavie dogmatic controversy during the early 20th century.]] In June 1913 a small Russian fleet, consisting of the gunboat Donets and the transport ships Tsar and Kherson, delivered the archbishop of Vologda, and a number of troops to Mount Athos to intervene in the theological controversy over imiaslavie (a Russian Orthodox movement). The archbishop held talks with the imiaslavtsy and tried to make them change their beliefs voluntarily, but was unsuccessful. On July 31 the troops stormed the St. Panteleimon Monastery. Although the monks were not armed and did not actively resist, the troops showed very heavy-handed tactics. After the storming of St. Panteleimon Monastery the monks from the Andreevsky Skete surrendered voluntarily. The military transport Kherson was converted into a prison ship and several imiaslavtsy monks were sent to Russia.
After a brief diplomatic conflict between Greece and Russia over sovereignty, the peninsula formally came under Greek sovereignty after World War I.
The self-governed region of the Holy Mountain, according to the Decree passed by the Holy Community on the 3rd October 1913 and according to the international treaties of London (1913), Bucharest (1913), Neuilly (1919), Sèvres (1920) and Lausanne (1923), is considered part of the Greek state. The Decree, "made in the presence of the Holy Icon of Axion Estin", stated that the Holy Community recognised the Kings of Greece as the lawful sovereigns and "successors on the Mountain" of the "Emperors who built" the monasteries and declared its territory as belonging to the then Kingdom of Greece. Later a "Special Double Assembly" of the Holy Community in Karyes passed the "Constitutional Charter" of the Holy Mountain, which was ratified by the Greek Parliament. This regime originates from the "self-ruled monastic state" as stated on a chrysobull parchment signed and sealed by the Byzantine Emperor John Tzimisces in 972. This important document is preserved in the House of the Holy Administration in Karyes. The autonomy of the Holy Mountain was later reaffirmed by the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos in 1095. According to the constitution of Greece, Mount Athos (the "Monastic State of Hagion Oros") is, "following ancient privilege", politically self-governed and consists of 20 main monasteries which constitute the Holy Community, and the capital town and administrative centre, Karyes, also home to a governor as the representative of the Greek state. The governor is an executive appointee. The status of the Holy Mountain and the jurisdiction of the Hagiorite institutions were expressly described and ratified upon admission of Greece to the European Union (then the European Community).
In modern times, the Mount Athos monasteries have repeatedly been struck by wildfires, e.g. in August 1990, and in March 2004, fire gutted a large section of the Serbian monastery, Hilandar. Due to the secluded locations of the monasteries, often atop small hills, as well as the unavailability of suitable fire fighting gear, the damages inflicted by these fires are often considerable.
On September 12, 2004, the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Peter VII, was killed, together with 16 others, in a helicopter crash in the Aegean Sea off the peninsula. The Patriarch was heading to Mount Athos. The cause of the crash remains unknown.
The monasteries of Mount Athos have a history of opposing ecumenism, or movements towards reconciliation between the Orthodox Church of Constantinople and the Roman Catholic Church. The Esphigmenou monastery is particularly outspoken in this respect, having raised black flags to protest against the meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople and Pope Paul VI in 1972 . Esphigmenou was subsequently expelled from the representative bodies of the Athonite Community. The conflict escalated in 2002 with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople declaring the monks of Esphigmenou an illegal brotherhood and ordering their eviction; the monks refuse to be evicted, and oppose their replacement with a new brotherhood.
After reaching a low point of just 1145 mainly elderly monks in 1971, the monasteries have been undergoing a steady and sustained renewal. By the year 2000, the monastic population had reached 1610, with all 20 monasteries and their associated sketes receiving an infusion of mainly young well-educated monks. Many younger monks possess university education and advanced skills that allow them to work on the cataloguing and restoration of the Mountain's vast repository of manuscripts, vestments, icons, liturgical objects and other works of art, most of which remain unknown to the public because of their sheer volume. Projected to take several decades to complete, this restorative and archival work is well under way, funded by UNESCO and the EU, and aided by many academic institutions.
]] The Holy Mountain is governed by the "Holy Community" (Iera Kinotita) which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries, having as executive committee the four-membered "Holy Administration" (Iera Epistasia), with the Protos being its head. Civil authorities are represented by the Civil Governor, appointed by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose main duty is to supervise the function of the institutions and the public order. Spiritually, Mount Athos comes under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In each of the 20 monasteries - which today all follow the coenobitic system - the administration is in the hands of the "Abbot" (Hēgoumenos) who is elected by the brotherhood for life. He is the lord and spiritual father of the monastery. The Convention of the brotherhood is the legislative body. All the other establishments (cloisters, cells, huts, retreats, hermitages) are dependencies of some of the 20 monasteries and are assigned to the monks by a document called "homologon".
Beyond the monasteries there are 12 skētae, smaller communities of monks, as well as many (solitary) hermitages throughout the peninsula. All persons leading a monastic life thereon acquire Greek citizenship without further formalities, upon admission as novices or monks. Visits to the peninsula are possible for laymen, but they need special permission.
Of the 20 monasteries located on the Holy Mountain, the brethren of 17 are predominantly ethnically Greek and of the other 3 is drawn from the monks of other origins, who become Greek subjects notwithstanding: the Chelandari Monastery — Serbians, the Zografou Monastery — Bulgarians and the Aghios Panteleimon Monastery — Russians. Among the 12 cloisters, two are Romanian, the coenobitic "Skētē Timiou Prodromou" (which belongs to the Monastery Meghistis Lavras) and the idiorrythmic "Skētē Aghiou Dēmētriou tou Lakkou", also called "Lakkoskētē" (which belongs to the Aghios Pavlos Monastery) and another one is Bulgarian, "Skētē Bogoroditsa" (which belongs to the Aghios Panteleimon Monastery).
Entry to the mountain is usually by ferry boat either from the port of Ouranoupoli (for west coast monasteries) or from Ierrisos for those on the east coast. Before embarking on the boat all visitors must have been issued a diamonētērion, a form of Byzantine visa that is written in Greek, dated using the Julian calendar, and signed by four of the secretaries of leading monasteries. There are generally two kinds of diamonētērion: the general diamonētērion that enables the visitor to stay overnight at any one of the monasteries but only to stay in the mountain for three days, and the special diamonētērion which allows a visitor to visit only one monastery or skete but to stay as many days as he has agreed with the monks. The general diamonētērion is available upon application to the Pilgrims' Bureau in Thessaloniki. Once this has been granted it will be issued at the port of departure, on the day of departure. Once granted, the pilgrim can contact the monastery where they would like to stay in order to reserve a bed (one night only per monastery). The ferries require reservations, both ways.
Most visitors arrive at the small port of Dafni from where they can take the only paved road in the mountain to the capital Karyes or continue via another smaller boat to other monasteries down the coast. There is a public bus between Dafni and Karyes. Expensive taxis operated by monks are available for hire at Dafni and Karyes. They are all-wheel drive vehicles since most roads in the mountain are unpaved. Visitors to monasteries on the mountain's western side prefer to stay on the ferry and disembark at the monastery they wish to visit.
Monks feel that the presence of women alters the social dynamics of the community and therefore slows their path towards spiritual enlightenment, though they deny that the prohibition is in order to reduce sexual temptation. Female domestic animals are also forbidden, with the exception of cats, which keep down the rodent population, and chickens, which lay eggs that provide the fresh egg yolk needed for the paint used in iconography. The interdiction is punished by imprisonment from one to two years.Шаблон:Failed verification
Athos did shelter refugees including women and girls twice in its history: during the aftermath of the failed 1770 Orlov Revolt, and during the Greek War of Independence in 1821.
In the 14th century, Tsar Stefan Uroš IV Dušan brought his wife, Helena of Bulgaria, to Mount Athos to protect her from the plague.
There was an incident in the 1930s regarding Aliki Diplarakou, the first Greek beauty pageant contestant to win the Miss Europe title, who shocked the world when she dressed up as a man and sneaked into Mount Athos. Her escapade was discussed in the July 13, 1953, Time magazine article entitled "The Climax of Sin".
A 2003 resolution of the European Parliament requested lifting the ban for violating "the universally recognised principle of gender equality".
On May 26, 2008, five Moldovans illegally entered Greece by way of Turkey, ending up on Athos; four of the migrants were women. The monks forgave them for trespassing and informed them that the area was forbidden to females.
For the purposes of the European Union treaty, Mount Athos is a part of a member state, only outside EU VAT territory. Because of its strict entry requirements, it is considered to be exempt from the Schengen Agreement.
The Athonian monasteries possess huge deposits of invaluable medieval art treasures, including icons, liturgical vestments and objects (crosses, chalices), codices and other Christian texts, imperial chrysobulls, holy relics etc. Until recently no organized study and archiving had been carried out, but a EU-funded effort to catalogue, protect and restore them is under way since the late 1980s. Their sheer number is such, it is estimated that several decades will pass before the work is completed.
Greek is commonly used in all the Greek monasteries, but in some monasteries there are other languages in use: in St Panteleimonos, Russian (35 monks in 2000); in Hilandar, Serbian (46); in Zographou, Bulgarian (15); and in the sketae of Prodromos and Lacu, Romanian (64). Today, many of the Greek monks also speak English. Since there are monks from many nations in Athos, they naturally also speak their own native languages.
Шаблон:See also The Julian Calendar, nowadays having a difference of 13 days from the Gregorian calendar, is the calendar still used on Mount Athos. In 1923, as a means to eliminate the divergence existing between the religious and civil dates, after a synod in Constantinople, part of the Eastern Orthodox Churches dropped 13 days and adopted the Revised Julian Calendar, which will be in sync with the Gregorian one until 2800. However, the Easter date, based on the lunar cycle, is still calculated following the original Julian calendar, making the Eastern Orthodox world celebrate Easter on the same day. It is to be noticed that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the spiritual head of the monastic state, follows the revised calendar.
Also, hours are not in sync with the civil time. The liturgical day begins at sunset in accordance with the Old Testament practice (not at midnight as in civil time measurement), so the difference between Athonite time and ordinary time is not a fixed offset. Some of the clocks in the monasteries are in pairs, one of them displaying the civil time for the pilgrims who are not familiar with the Byzantine time followed on the mountain.
Шаблон:See also The sketae are monastic communities living separately from the 20 monasteries of the Holy Mountain, but each directly subordinated and in obedience to one of them. Generally, they are more isolated than monasteries, but the monastic life in the sketae is diverse, some of them resembling a tidy farmhouse, others being poor huts, others having the gentility of Byzantine tradition or of Russian architecture of the past century.
Both types of Orthodox monastic communities are expressed: there are coenobitic and idiorhythmic sketae. The first ones, both in architecture and life-style, follow the typical model of a monastery, that of a community living together, sharing and distributing work, and praying together daily. In contrast, the idiorhythmic community (intermediary between the ceonobitic community and the seclusion of a hermit) resembles a hamlet, and the daily life there is much like that of a cell. The monk of a cell, having to take care of the worries of everyday life, makes up his program by himself. But there are also some duties for the community. Near the centre of the settlement is the central church called Kyriakon (that could be translated "for Sunday"), or the main church, where the whole brotherhood meets for the Divine Liturgy service, on Sundays and on greater feasts. Usually there are also an administration house, a library, storehouses and a guesthouse. For the pilgrim, it is worth experiencing this side of monastic life, but most of the cells have very little or no capacity for hospitality.
A Russian post office was established at Karyai in the last years of the 19th Century. This post office was selling Russian Levant stamps and, from 1910, special ROPIT (Р.Ο.П.и.Т.) stamps overprinted with "Mont-Athos" and values in Ottoman currency.
]] In the winter of 1915-1916 the Allied forces were considering occupation of the Holy Mountain. In anticipation of this they prepared a set of stamps which were intended for issue on 25 January 1916 for the use of the Governing body of the Monastic Community.
These stamps were produced in sheets of 12, (3 rows of 4), on board the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. Six values were produced, ranging up to one shilling, and all were printed in black but on various different paper types.
The design of these stamps consisted of a square border with the name MOUNT ATHOS at the bottom in English, the left in Russian and on the right in Greek. At the top was inscribed THEOCRACY. The denomination appeared at each corner with the English in the lower corners, Greek in the top left and Russian in the top right. The inner section showed a double headed Byzantine eagle with the effigy of the Madonna and Child in an oval on its breast.
These stamps have no official status but fall into the category of prepared for use but not issued.