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ATH´OS: The easternmost of the three tongues of land projecting into the Ægean Sea from the Chalcidian peninsula. It is about 35 miles long and culminates at the southern extremity in Mt. Athos proper, 6,780 feet high. Grand forests, murmuring brooks, clear air, and charming combination of rocks and sea, make it one of the most beautiful spots of Europe. By the Orthodox Greeks it is always called ” the Holy Mount.”
The Various Monasteries.
According to the legend, the Holy Virgin Christianized Mt. Athos and Constantine the Great founded the first monasteries there. But the Athos monasticism does not appear in church history before the middle of the ninth century. At that time the monks formed a laura of the old fashion, with its center at Karyas, presided over by a prōtos appointed by the emperor in Constantinople. With the founding of the Laura of St. Athanasius, the first great monastery there, in 963, Athos rises in historical importance. The founder of this monastery (which still bears his name) and of the whole monastic life on Mt. Athos, belonged to a noble family in Trebizond. Through Michael Maleīnos, the famous hegumenos of Mt. Kyminos in Asia Minor, where he himself lived at first as monk, he became acquainted with the future emperor, Nicephoras II (Phocas). The two men became good friends and the laura was founded at the instance of the emperor. Ever after Athos enjoyed imperial favor and monasteries were founded in rapid succession. To the tenth century belongs the founding of Iveron, Vatopedi, and Philotheu; to the eleventh, Xeropotam, Esfigmenu, Dochiariu, Agiu Paulu, Karakallu, and Xenophontos; to the twelfth, the two important Slav monasteries, Russiko and Chilandari; to the thirteenth, Zografu; and to the fourteenth, Pantokratoros, Simopetra, Dionysiu, and Gregoriu. The most recent is Stauronikita, founded in 1542. There were others which long ago disappeared, such as a Latin monastery of the Amalfines.
The Monastic Life to the Fifteenth Century.
Until the fifteenth century all the monks lived together, according to rules laid down by Athanasius in his three writings, the Kanonikon, the Diathēkē, and the so-called Diatypōsis (of. Meyer, Haupturkunden). Any man of unblemished character could be received; but women, children, beardless youths, and people of royal descent were forbidden entrance. After a three years’ probation admission into the holy company of the brethren took place and the tonsure was received. At the head of the monastery stood the hēgoumenos, assisted by a council of ” the chosen,” i.e., the higher monastic officers and the priest-monks. Two ephors, generally a noble layman outside of Athos and a monk not belonging to the monastery, formed a non-resident directorate. Approved monks could live by themselves, and received a special dwelling (Gk. kellion), whence they were called kelliotes, or after their mode of living, ascetics or hesychasts, but were dependent on the monastery. The relation of the monasteries to each other and the entire constitution of the holy mount was regulated at that period by the typica of 975, 1045, and 1394 (printed in Meyer). The prōtos stood at the head, by his side the synaxis, consisting of the representatives of the monasteries, which as before met at Karyas. At first the life during this period was austere, but in the eleventh century it relaxed, and at one time nomads with wives and children were sheltered at Athos (Meyer, 163 sqq.). The Latin rule at Constantinople was an especially sad time for the monasteries. In the Hesychastic controversy (1341-51) western science was rejected especially through the influence of the Athos monks and quietistic mysticism was received into the teachings of the Greek Church (see Hesychasts).
Changes after 1500.
With the fifteenth century a new period commences in the constitution of the holy mount, which by degrees transformed the entire life. The idiorrhythmic life begins, which consisted in the abolition of the common life in the monasteries and the adoption of a plan whereby every monk, sometimes with a few friends, lived by himself. The common roof and the church alone are common to all. Since every one lived at his own expense, the power of the hegumenos was soon crippled. But the influence of idiorrhythm went still further. As the monasteries following it soon became worldly, the stricter tendency, which was by no means extinct, reacted upon the monks and new places of earnest asceticism were established outside of the monasteries, such as the skētai, monastic villages, the first of which was founded by St. Anna in 1572. Here one could live an ascetic life after the old fashion. Such sketes were dependent on their monasteries; their rights are set forth in separate collections of canons (cf. Meyer, 248). The last regulation of the rights of the kelliotes, who still remained, and of the sketists took place in 1864 (Meyer, 254). The influence of idiorrhythm was ultimately of such a character on the general constitution of the holy mount, that 349the office of protos was abolished and the entire constitution became democratic. The last typicon is of 1783 (Meyer, 243). In the nineteenth century half of the monasteries returned to the common life, but the old constitution was retained. Down to the eighteenth century the religious and moral life was of a low type. After 1750 there seems to have been a revival. At that time Eugenios Bulgaris (q.v.) was teacher in the academy of Vatopedi. At the end of the eighteenth century there were certain lively religious controversies on Mt. Athos, among others the so-called kolyba controversy—whether the memorial days of the dead could be celebrated on Sunday instead of Saturday.
On the whole the life on Athos has remained unchanged, and is still a remnant of pure medievalism. The great number of manuscripts and documents there offer to the scholar a rich field of activity. The student of art finds all that Byzantine art produced gathered together. The student of religion can study the Eastern piety of all Christian centuries, for each period has left behind distinct remains. It is to be hoped that the struggle of the nationalists, especially the struggle of Panhellenism against Panslavism, will not deprive the Athos monachism of its universality.
Bibliography:The Historiæ Byzantinæ of Nicephoras Gregoras, book xiv. in MPG, cxlviii, and of John Cantacusenus, book iv, in MPG, cliv, 15–370, passim; John Comnenus, Προσκυνητάριον τοῦ ἀγίου ōρους, Venice. 1701, and often; J. P. Fallmerayer, Fragmente aus dem Orient, Stuttgart, 1845; M. I. Gedeon, ὁ Ἀθως, Constantinople, 1885; Porphyrius Uspensky, Geschichte des Athos und seiner Klöster (in Russian), 3 vols., Kiev and Moscow, 1845–92; Philipp Meyer, Die Haupturkunden für die Geschichte der Athosklöster, Leipsic, 1894; A. Schmidtke, Das Klosterland des Athos, Leipsic, 1903; H. Gelzer, Vom heiligen Berge und aus Macédonien, Leipsic, 1904; H. Brockhaus, Die Kunst in den Athosklöstern, Leipsic, 1891. Catalogues of the documents are given in V. Langlois, Le Mont Athos et ses monastères, Paris, 1867; J. Müller, Slavische Bibliothek, Vienna, 1851; and in the Περιγραφικὸς Κατάλογος, published at Constantinople in 1902 at the instance of the patriarch Joachim III. A catalogue of the manuscripts in most of the libraries is given in S. Lampros, Κατάλογος τῶν ἐν ταῖς βιβλιοθήκαις τοῦ ἀγίον ὄρους Ἑλληνικῶν κωδίκων, 2 vols., Cambridge, 1895–1900. Many documents have been published in Greek and Russian periodicals. A new collection has been begun by Regel, Χρυσόβονλλα καὶ γραμμάτια τῆς τῷ Ἀγίῳ Ὀρει μονῆς τοῦ Βατοπεδὶον, St. Petersburg, 1898. For special literature, consult Krumbacher, Geschichte; the English works of R. Curzon. Visits to Monasteries in the Levant, London. 1849, 1865, and A. Riley, Athos or the Mountain of the Monks, London, 1887, may also be mentioned.
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