Αγιον Ορος, Αθωνική Μοναστική Πολιτεία
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Agion Oros

Agion Oros, or officially known as Holy community of Agion Oros is an "Autonomous Monastic State" in Greece (and perhaps unique in the world, except the secular Lasa in Tibet), in peninsula of Atho of Chalkidiki in Macedonia, which is considered the centre of Orthodox monasticism.
It is one of the most important parts of not only the Balkans but of Europe and of the Eastern Church due to its great national, historical, religious, secretarial and cultural value, and also considered an important centre for the conservation and maintenance of rich material and rightly it is described as "shelter" and "museum" of unique treasure of Greek art and letters.

Agion Oros is also named as "Garden of the Virgin", a name derived from the history: When Madonna travelled with John the Evangelist to visit Lazarus, the rough sea forced the boat to tie up in the safe harbor on peninsula. There, the Virgin Mary was impressed by the rare beauty of the place and asked from her Son to give it away to her.

Video for Agion Oros by Eddy Vicken

Agion Oros, a holy place, wrapped over the centuries by legends and history, religion and art, for a thousand years ago, now is designated as a precious world cultural heritage by UNESCO.

The imposing Athos induce to people to associate it with myths due to its imposing volume, they personifie it as a giant who took a cliff from Thrace and threw to Chalkidiki created the Mount of Athos or when Neptune, god of the sea, threw a rock against Athos, killing him.

The peninsula of Athos is the easternmost and roughest of the three individual parallel peninsulas of Cassandra or Pallini, Logos or Sithonia - centred and Atho or Mountain of Agion Oros, that make up the peninsula of Chalkidiki. This peninsula is covered by mountain of Athos, which culminates in a marble pyramid of height of 2033 m. from where it took its name, and ends at the Cape of Nympheo or Akrothoon. There are no rivers and lakes in the region. It is linked to Chalkidiki with narrow isthmus, low strip of land, 2 km long, known back to the Persian Wars in 480 BC. Between the peninsula of Athos and Sithonia or Logo, is the Gulf of Siggitikos or gulf of Agion Oros, while northeast the gulf of Ierissos.

A few miles southeast of Mount of Athos is found the largest gulch of Aegean sea which from 80m in depth, abruptly reaches the 1070m.

The first monks who settled at Mount of Agion Oros are recorded at the beginning of the 9th century, who initial lived in caves, while the monastic way of life changed radically with the arrival of Saint Eftimio of Mikrasia.

In 883 the monks of Agion Oros according to imperial decision of Vassilios the First, ensured their right to be hermits freely, keeping it up today, while in the mid of 10th century the peninsula begins to get the name "Agion Oros".
The Saint Athanasios the Athonite marked the monastic community with its intense presence and with the drastic changes who made and after ensured a major government owned funding, built the "Basilica" in Karyes, in the position of small temple of Protaton. "Basilica" was the beginning for further important structures, such as the monastery of Great Lavra, the Monastery of Zigo, the monastery of Iviron, of Vatopedi and others.

The sacrosanct of Agion Oros occurred in the 12th century, when cattle-breeders settled in the peninsula, creating turmoil to the monastic life of monks.
Thus, a royal intervention evicted the cattle-breeders and all secular, as well as the women, by introducing the ban on entry of them, which was only guaranteed in the 20th century by the European Union.
Saint Athanasios the Athonite

During the Ottoman Empire and in particular in 1387, the Mount of Agion Oros was subjugated by the Ottomans for a while, until it returned in the sovereignty of the King of Thessaloniki. In 1423, it had been subjugated once again, this time volunteering, ensuring the milder treatment of the conquerors. The monks, taking advantage of this, managed to strengthen the sector of education and inter alia they found the Athoniada, a school that affect significantly the poor state of education of the enslaved Hellenism. Nevertheless, in 1821 the Mount of Agion Oros sided with the Chalkidiki and helped the Revolution, a fact which later paid dearly and economically but also with victims, men, women and children that had found then a shelter in Agion Oros.

The first formal state which was ratified by the Emperor Ioannis Tsimiskis, Athos was simply called "Mount" that perhaps this was then the usual name of the land.
The prevalence, however, of the name "Agion Oros" seems to be done in the first half of the 12th century, concretely with a golden seal document that Emperor Alexios I Komnenos send to the Monastery of Great Lavra in 1144 that was recognized finally and officially and was imposed the new name as this:
"Henceforth the name of the Holy Mount Athos is this despite everything"


To Agion Oros you can go only from the sea and has two ports of embarkation, Ierissos and Ouranoupoli.
The most pilgrims are served by the port of Ouranoupoli due that it is more protected from the weather than the port of Ierissos.

DafneTo go to Mount of Athos you will need to call the Office of Pilgrims in Thessaloniki (2310.252.575) in order to given to you the relative staying-list, the official document issued by the Holy Supervision which ensure you three overnight stays.
You should ensure timely validation, especially during summer months since many pilgrims are arriving every year from each side of the planet and the number of daily visitors is limited to 120 individuals.
The necessary data that required are: name, father's name, year of birth and the identity card number with the issuing authority.
Once the procedure of staying-list is completed, you should contact the monasteries you want to visit.
You will receive the staying-list from the Office of Pilgrims in Ouranoupoli, the day of your departure from 8:00 until 9:30 in the morning, with your ID. Then get the tickets for the ferry. The embarkation is from 9.30 until 9.45, departure time for "Daphne". The trip is enchanting and mysterious so it is necessary to take a camera with you.

Agion Oros is an autonomous and self-governed department of Greek state, which belongs politically to the Ministry of Foreign and religiously to the Jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul. Geographically, it is divided into twenty self-governed territories. Each region consists of a cardinal monastery and some other monastic settlements that surround it (cloisters, cells, huts, "kathismata", hermitages).
All the monasteries are communes, that is, they have common liturgy, prayer, shelter, food and work among the monks. Head of the monastery is the Abbot, who is elected by the monks of the monastery for lifelong. The Abbots of monasteries constitute the Holy Bevy and exercise the legislative power.

Its is governed with base the Constitutive Charter of 1924. The Greek State is represented by the Political Governor of Agion Oros, who is responsible for keeping the regime of Agion Oros and is governed by the Ministry of Foreign and religiously is governed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul.

  • The executive power in Agion Oros is represented by the Holy Supervision of which the Chairman brings the name "Protepistatis". The Holy Supervision consists of 4 members elected by the 5 first hierarchical monasteries.
  • The legislative power is represented by the Holy Community of Agion Oros, also the Holy Community has, inter alia, jurisdiction in affairs of Urban Right on delinquencies that occurred within the geographical limits of Agion Oros. For all remainder (crimes, etc.) responsible trial courts are those of the city of Thessaloniki.
  • As High Judicial and Ecclesiastical Authority in Agion Oros is recognised the Double "Eniafseos" Bevy which meets regularly once a year, except if it is required differently and it can decide for all issues.
  • And finally, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul is acting as Supreme Court for Ecclesiastical - Intellectual issues.
Monastic institutions

The monastic institutions of Agion Oros are divided into six classes: the Monasteries or Abbeys, the Cloisters, the Cells, the Huts, the "Kathismata" and the Hermitages.


The Simonopetra Monastery in Agion Oros, is located at an altitude of 300 meters above the shore. On the left, is visible the nearby aqueduct.

All Monasteries of Agion Oros, are also called "Athonic", are religious and spiritual institutions and all classified as "Major", "Royal", "Patriarchal" and "Stavropegic".
  • "Major" λbecause are retaining a self-maintaining ownership of their space, not a subject to any restriction on the number of the monks.
  • "Royal" because their foundation is due to instruction or assistance of the Byzantine Empire, or their foundation was confirmed by the imperial bull.
  • "Patriarchal" named after the issue of patriarchal relevant sigils when they were associated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul which took over their intellectual and supervision only.
  • "Stavropegic" from the cross which the emperors or the patriarch were sending to it and is placed in the foundation.

The Athonic monasteries are all communes today, with nothing in private. Previously some of them had been peculiar.
  • In the communes, the brothers have everything shared and nothing proprietary. The Abbot directs it for life, having around the Elder and the Commissioners. He is elected by the majority of the Elder with a secret ballot from a list of candidates, which is established by the majority of those voting (after 6 years since the monastic initiation) from the monks.
    For Abbot are required some mental and moral qualifications. There may be dismissed by decision of the Elder and from the majority of the Brotherhood, of those that have obtained the voting rights. If the elected Abbot has not the rank of Archimandrite, he takes it immediately after the election.
  • In peculiar monasteries the monks are staying singularly, and the issues of the Monasteries are regulating by the Commission the Bevy of the Heads.
Accordingly, the Administration of the Communes is almost monarchical but with common ownerships and for the peculiar is aristocratic oligarchic. The 20 operated dominant monasteries, are all communal. The number of 20 monasteries, was always recognized by the Church and the State, but may not be increased nor reduced. The 17 monasteries of them are Greek, one is Serbian, one is Russian and one is Bulgarian.

According to the hierarchical order (from time of establish) the Monasteries of Agion Oros, also called Athonics, are as follows:
  1. The Monastery of Great Lavra (963)
  2. The Monastery of Vatopedi (972)
  3. The Monastery of Iviron (976))
  4. The Monastery Chiliandariou or Chelandariou (1197, Serbian)
  5. The Monastery of Dionysios (1375)
  6. The Monastery of Koutloumousios (12th century)
  7. The Monastery of Pantocrator (1363)
  8. The Monastery of Xeropotamos (11th century)
  9. The Monastery of Zografos (1270, Bulgarian)
  10. The Monastery of Docheiariou (11th century)
  11. The Monastery of Karakalos (1070)
  12. The Monastery Philotheos (992)
  13. The Monastery Simonopetra (1363)
  14. The Monastery of St. Paul (11th century)
  15. The Monastery Stavronikitas (1542)
  16. The Monastery of Xenophon (1070)
  17. The Monastery of Grigorios (14th century)
  18. The Monastery of Esphigmenos (11th century)
  19. The Monastery of St. Panteleimon (or Russian) (since 1169 was given to the Russians)
  20. The Monastery of Konstamonitou or Kastamonitou (1086)
All other institutions, the cloisters, the cells, the hermitages are parts of the monasteries.
Except from the twenty sovereign monasteries, no one else has the right of property in Agion Oros.
All the monasteries, as patriarchal and Stavropegic, are under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul and the reference of any other bishop, except the Ecumenical Patriarch, is forbidden (excluding the monastery of Esphigmenos, whose monks do not refer the Patriarch).
The living is forbidden in Agion Oros to heterodox or schismatic.
All the monks of Agion Oros, of whatever nationality they are, automatically entitled to Greek citizenship.
The justice is awarding by the monastic authorities and the Holy Community, except the criminal cases.

The Monasteries are self-governed and they are managed in accordance with their internal rules, which are voted by themselves and approved by the Holy Community. The Holy Community consists of twenty representatives of the monasteries and is located in Karyes as a permanent institution.

At the peninsula of Athos, according to the old Byzantine system, the access is denied to women. This restriction is based on the spiritual virginity of the monks and on the dedication of Oros to the Virgin Mary. It is called "sacrosanct" and is effective from the beginning of the creation of the peculiar state, although in the past, at some times of need, had been nullified.


The cloister is a monastic institution belonging to the cardinal abbey or monastery. The Cloisters are small monasteries that are divided, as Athonics Monasteries do, into communes and peculiar.
They are organized communities formed by several monastic huts. In the middle of each cloister there is the "Kyriako" which is the common temple for all built huts around it. The head of the cloister is the so-called "Dikaios" who is elected each year, usually in May 8, by the "Elders" of the cloister with the assistance of 2 or 4 consultants, of which half come from the Cloister itself, and half from the dominant Monastery where belongs the Cloister.

The resident monks are called cloisters and dealing with agricultural and livestock tasks as well as the painting of Saints, the wood carving, the music, etc.
In Greece the main Cloisters are the Athonics.
At Agion Oros are located twelve Cloisters across the peninsula. Of these, communes are four:
  • The Cloister of Prophet Elias (Russian), subject to the Monastery of Pantocrator,
  • The Cloister of Baptist of Great Lavra (Romanian), subject to the Monastery of Great Lavra,
  • The Cloister of St. Andrew, also called Seraglio, (Russian), subject to the Vatopedi, and
  • The Cloister of Virgin Mary or Vogoroditsa (Bulgarian), which belongs to the Monastery of St. Panteleimon.
The remaining eight are all Greek, peculiar or archetypal cloisters, which are:
  • The Cloister of the Annunciation or Xenofontiki Cloister, which belongs to the Monastery of Xenophon
  • The New Cloister or The Cloister of the Tower, which falls under the Monastery of Saint Paul
  • The Cloister of St. Anna belongs to the Monastery of Great Lavra
  • The Holy Trinity Cloister or Kafsokalyvia Cloister, which belongs also to the Monastery of Great Lavra
  • The Cloister of St. Demetrios or Lakkoskiti falling to the Monastery of St. Paul
  • The Cloister of Baptist, which falls under Iviron
  • The Cloister of Saint Panteleimon, which falls under Koutloumousio and
  • The Cloister of St. Demetrios, which falls under Vatopedi.


The monastic cell, like cloister, is a monastic institution belonging to the dominant Abbey or Monastery.

The monastic cells are relatively spacious buildings, look like rural houses, incorporating temple or church and to these have been granted a sovereign territory of by the major monastery, according to their size and their history.
These are usually granted to very small groups of 2 to 3 monks who are working alongside with their religion duties in agricultural, farming, construction and other works.
Besides the above, there are also cells in sanctuaries that granted specifically to cover the needs of pilgrims. They are one-floored or two-floored buildings around the holy shrines, or besides one side, e.g. the Monastery of Panagia in Tinos, of Argokoiliotissas in Naxos and others.

Most monastic cells in Greece are located in Agion Oros, in Meteora, and in Monemvasia.


The monastic huts, as the cloisters and the cells, are monastic institutions that belong to an Abbey sovereign or Monastery.
The monastic huts are also buildings of smaller size of cells that also have a temple, to which is not granted land by the sovereign Monastery, in contrast to the cells.
The monks in these monastic institutions are living in small groups like the cells, mainly engaged in various crafts and needlework. It is possible several huts together to seem as a small town but do not maintain among themselves any organization or relationship.
Most monastic huts in Greece are at Agion Oros and in particular at the south west end of Athonic Peninsula, in the areas: Little St. Anna, Katounakia and Holy Kingdom.


The monastic kathismata are monastic institutions such as the huts, belonging to a dominant Abbey or to a Monastery.

These are small buildings, almost like the huts, which are usually very near and around the monastery they are belong to. These are small and mainly used for the residence of monks "individually", and are more for a temporary use. The monks of these institutions ensure their food from the dominant Monastery paying a small amount of money.

The Monastic Kathismata are found in almost all the major monasteries, the most famous are these at Agion Oros.


It is an area that is generally characterized as a monastic institution and is subject to the sovereign Monastery. Besides the name "hermitage" are also used the words ascetic or ascetic cave. The hermitages are usually simple form and are most like huts or caves where monks live in stricter exercise, completely unobstructed and away from any secular challenge. The monks who live in them are the hermits. Their catering is done about once a week from the dominant Monastery.

The hermitages are normally in remote and isolated areas mainly in rocky places designated as "eagle nests". The access to these areas is particularly inaccessible and difficult with narrow trails and steep slopes.
Over the years many original hermitages developed to monasteries like those of Meteora.

In Agion Oros there are several hermitages and are classified as settlements, such as the famous settlement of Karoulia, which is on the road after the Hut of St. Anna to the monastery of Great Lavra, on a steep area.

Hermitages are found almost all over the Greek land, near the monasteries.

The inclusion of Agion Oros to Greek state

The regime of Agion Oros was there for the monks before the recognition of the sovereignty of the Greek state in Chalkidiki, with the Treaty of Berlin in 1878.
By this treaty, Greece is obliged to recognize and preserve the traditional rights and the freedom of the monastic community of Agion Oros.
The Greek state has ratified with the law 10/16 of September 1926 the statute map of Agion Oros, which under Article 186 prohibits the entry of women in Athos.

Agion Oros was released by the Greek Navy. Specifically, in November 2, 1912 sailed and anchored in the bay of Daphne, the flagship of the Greek fleet, the legendary battleship "Averoff", the destroyer "Thyela" and the detectors "Ierax" and "Panther" with the accompaniment of joyous peal of the hundreds bells of the monasteries which were alerted for the mooring of the Greek fleet.
A contingent disembarked and the head officer, "in the name of the King of Greece", confirmed the landing action featuring the Kaymakam, the employees and the small Turkish force "as prisoners of war without any military power", and then the Greek flag was raised.

The next day, in November 3, there was a meeting of the representatives of all the monasteries, except the Russian, and signed the code of the practice session, with which declared the abolition of the Turkish authorities. The official session completed in November 5, 1912. During this period, were living there nine to ten thousand monks. Then the number decreased dramatically, when it was celebrating the Millennium from the establishment of organized monastic life from Saint Athanasios the "Athonite", the lack of monks was such that the celebrations were under intense pessimism about the future. The celebration typically characterized by some as the funeral of Agion Oros.
After the mid-'70s was started a new revival in Athos. Men started coming in, many young people, often with one or more university degrees and generally highly educated, seeking the ascetic life.

When the Germans occupied Greece during the World War II, the Holy Supervision asked Hitler to take the Athonic state under his personal protection and he agreed. Thus German and Bulgarian occupiers did not bother the monasteries. After the Germans had withdrawn, the Athos remained for a short time under the authority of the rebel groups, before the Greek authorities take over it.

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