Mount Athos

The “holy mountain” on which developed a famous monastic community. During the tenth century there were two dominant monastic centers in the Byzantine Church. One was the monastery at Studium, the other was the monastic community on Mt. Athos. The Athos community went on to become the more important center of the two. The mountain is 6,350 feet above sea level, located on a rocky peninsula protruding into the Aegean Sea in northern Greece. There are over 900 places of worship (churches, chapels, etc.) on this mountain. As early as the fourth century there appears to have been hermit monks carrying out their asceticism at Athos. The style of monastic life went from the secluded hermit existence, to the monastic community, and then to very regulated monasteries.

Today the mountain contains about twenty semi-independent monasteries, plus smaller houses and hermit cells. Seventeen of the twenty identify themselves as Greek. Also included are a Russian house, a Serbian house, and a Bulgarian one. In Byzantine times there were Georgian and Latin houses also. It is said that at one time the population of Athos was about 40,000 monks, but by 1965 the numbers had dwindled to a little less than 1,500.

When the Ottoman Turks conquered Greece, Mt. Athos submitted quickly to their conquest. The monks were well treated, and the monastic community was allowed its independence subject to a tribute.