C. SHORT HISTORICAL OUTLINE OF THE ATHOS PENINSULA (3.Main Byzantine period)
An effective impulse in the coenobitic form of monasticism on Athos was given by a powerful personality of the 10th century, monk Athanassios from Trapezounda. He was an orphan from an early age but managed to educate himself with assiduity and initially followed teaching.
He soon, however, changed his program, after meeting the abbot of the monastery of Kimina, Micheal Maleinos. After a short period with him, Athanassios became a monk, changed his secular name Avramios to Athanassios and was occupied with zeal in this way of life. There he met Michael’s nephew Nikiforos Fokas, who was a general then and later became an emperor (963-969), who told him his wish to become a monk.
After a short but prosperous exercise, his colleagues ordained him as successor of their elder abbot. Athanassios, however, in order to avoid his election, resorted in 959 to ‘Zygo’ of Mount Athos, where as a "bushman" served a simpleminded elder.
Meanwhile, Nikiforos Fokas had already arrived in Crete in order to fight the pirates and was uselessly looking for him everywhere. As soon as he was informed the place where he lived, he kindly asked him, with his envoy, to come to Crete.
Athanassios accepted. After the arrival of Athanassios, Focas conquered the region of Handaka and considered this event as particular benediction; for this reason, as well as for others, not only did he renew his wish to the hermit but also prompted him to build on Athos a big monastery, where he would go as well to become a monk.
After this assurance, Athanassios returned to Athos, where with the economic support and the spoils provided to him by Nikiforos Fokas, began in 963 to build, despite his hesitations due to the negativism of older monks of Athos, a big monastery in the south-eastern edge of the peninsula. However, Athanassios was forced to interrupt the construction of his monastery and personality check his friend Nikiforos Fokas since he, emperor by now of the Byzantium and spouse of the widower of his predecessor Romanos II, had changed prospects. He had violated the promise he had given to Athanassios. Nikiforos Fokas convinced him once again to finish his work and gave him an important amount of money from the royal fund. At the same time, he assured him that he would follow him in monastic life as soon as he was released from his complicated administrative duties.
Thus, the building on Athos was completed and the institution started functioning as a big coenobitic lavra.
After the violent death of the emperor (969) from his wife Theofano and his nephew Ioannis Tsimiskis, the monks who were not pleased by the innovations of Athanassios, sent the Protos of Athos, Athanassios and Paul the Xiropotaminos as representatives to the new emperor in order to protest. They denounced among others to Ioannis Tsimiskis that Athanassios “had built buildings and churches and ports and had changed the mountain to look like the rest of the world…” The emperor sent to Athos in 971 the abbot Eftimios, of the monastery of Stoudiou, in order to examine all accusations ad loc. After the relative research, the first charter (typiko) of Athos was drawn up in Karyes “with the common opinion and request and wish of all the sitting holy monks and abbots” that was named Tsimiskis's Charter (972); it was signed by 56 abbots and elders. This charter is called Tragos “Goat” from the goatskin on which it is written, it is three meters in length, it is kept today in the Tower of Protatos and it is surrounded by the known story of its signing by the emperor.
The main provisions of this first charter that set the bases of an organized monastic life are summarized in the following:
The administration of the Peninsula was assigned to Protos of mount Athos and to the Holy Assembly, which assembles once a year in Mesi on August 15th. The admission and living conditions of the monks in the monastery were regulated, as well as the relations of other monks to the sovereign monastery that seem to have been put aside at that period. The entrance on Athos of eunuchs, beardless men, children of workers and builders and even flocks and oxen, except for a pair in the monastery of Laura “because it was very populous” was restricted. At the election of Protos, the type previously prevailed would definitely be followed. The annual authority of the Financier of Mesi was also defined as an executive who would give an account to the common Assembly each August.
Thus, with this charter, Athos was recognized as an independent and autonomous State that included cells, lavres and monasteries (hermitic, ascetic and coenobitic life).
Meanwhile, Athanassios had already composed since 970 the charter of his monastery based on the ascetic terms of Vasilios the Great. In this charter, the following were defined: the abbot’s permanence and the three-year ordeal of the candidate monk, the institution of the dependent cells and all the details of the coenobitic system. In the same text, we find for the first time the term Agion Oros that prevailed ever since then and which in 1045 became the official name of Athos by the emperor Konstantinos IV Monomahos. In the next decades, the number of the monks on the Athos peninsula increased while at the same time, the lavras and monasteries outside the mountain started to decay, such as the monastery of Kolovos, etc, that finally ended up as dependencies of the monasteries of Athos.
The monastery of Xiropotamos was founded in the middle of the 10th century by monk Paul, who was later on identified by tradition with the son of emperor Micheal of Ragkave (811-813) and brother of Patriarch Ignatios. Paul, who along with Protos of Athos is mentioned in the Tsimiskis’s charter as the leaders of the dissatisfied monks, those who were against the perceptions and work of Athanassios, is also known by the surname Xiropotaminos. After the foundation of the aforementioned monastery, he decided to withdraw to the inner part of the peninsula where he built a small cell for more quietness and continuous prayer. During the 14th century, this cell was transformed to the homonymous monastery. The student and friend of Athanassios Ioannis Iver, sovereign of Meshias and his son Efthimios, as well as their relative Ioannis Tornikios, general of Byzantium, founded in 980 the eminent monastery of Iveron with the money and spoils they received from the emperor Vasilios Voulgaroktonos (867-886). They were remunerated because Ioannis Iver intervened to king David of Iviria to send hard boots and Ioannis Tornikios led the army and dominated in 979 in Amorio of Frigias against cruel rebel Vardas. Thus, that monastery became an important spiritual center of the Iberian Church.
The monastery of Amalfinon was founded in the place where today is the beach of Morfonos and where a great Tower is saved today. This Tower was raised in the days of Athanassios and was financed by the tradesmen of Istanbul. The decline, however, of the community in Vasilevousa involved progressively in the decline of the monastery, which was finally abandoned during the IV Crusade.
At about the same period, monks from Axrida and its region arrived to Athos. Georgios Zografos was probably one of them, who signs Tsimiskis's charter and is presented as the founder of the homonymous monastery.
At the end of the 10th century, the great monastery of Vatopediou was founded by the monks Athanassios, Nikolaos and Antonios from Andrianoupolis.
Xenophon, a monk who lived at the same age as he founder of G. Lavra, built the homonymous monastery in the middle of the southwestern side of Athos.
This monastery is saved today, like the others we have already mentioned, except for the monastery of Amalfinon and is known by the same name, monastery of Xenophontos.
In 1004, in the monastery of G. Lavra, its founder, Athanassios, died.
However, the future of the monastic community of Athos had already been determined.
During the 11th century, a great growth of monasticism was noted in entire Athos.
This growth is manifested by the foundation of many new monasteries, by the II Charter of Agion Oros and by the expulsion of the Vlachs that had taken refuge in the peninsula.
The small and big lavras and monasteries that were functioning in Agion Oros in the middle of the 11th century reached one hundred and twenty-five or even more. However, many data regarding the beginning of those monasteries are lost in various testimonies and in the haze of the legends and the various traditions. The data that we have for some monasteries are very little, for some we know only their names and for others not even that. The foundation of the monastery of Konstamonitou is said to be owed to a monk from Kastamona, the monastery of Dochiaria to Eftimios, student of Athanassios, the monastery of Karakalou to a monk called Nikolaos from the city of Karakalla, the monastery Philotheou to the homonymous venerable and the monastery Koutloumousiou to a member of a Turkish family with the surname Koutloumous who became a Christian. The monastery of Esfigmenou is reported for the first time in a comminatory letter written by Paul Xiropotaminou in the year 1001.
There are various other traditions regarding the beginning of other monasteries of the 11th century that are unfortunately not saved today. The great fame that surrounded Agion Oros is also manifested by the fact that at the end of the 11th century, the Russian monk Antonios, who later founded the monastery of Kiev, arrived and lived there for a short period of time as a hermit in a cavern near the monastery of Esfigmenou.
The foundation of many new institutions did not only create problems of provisioning. At the same time, serious doubts were created regarding the hierarchical order and the primacies of the representatives in common meetings, because some of these institutions were old and others emanated from the merging of the cells. These doubts gradually became conflicts, which along with the opposition of the abbots regarding the traditional rights of Protos forced many monks of Mount Athos to resort to the emperor Konstantinos IV Monomahos and ask for his protection. He followed Tsimiskis’s example and sent the monk Kosmas to Athos, who was the abbot of the monastery of Tzitzilouki. The discussions and negotiations Kosmas had with the institutions resulted in (1046) the II Charter of Agion Oros, which was verified by a golden bull by the emperor. The general provisions of this charter that was signed by 158 abbots and reputable men of the monasteries are summarized in the following: All general problems will be solved by General Meetings of the monks and especially by Protos, who will be supported by a small number of abbots of the neighboring monasteries to the monastery that will have the problem. The number of monks that will accompany the abbots, when they arrive in the General Meeting, will not be the same for all of them. Protos shall arrive with three attendants, the abbots of G. Lavra with six, of Vatopedio and Iveron with four and of other monasteries with one. Ordination according to age and entrance to Agion Oros of beardless men and eunuchs is restricted, as well as the exit of monks during the period of the Lent. It also prohibits the breed of animals apart from the monasteries of G. Lavra and Vatopediou; the first one can have three pairs of oxen and the second one due to their large number of monks. It also prohibits the use of big boats, except for the monastery of Amalfinon, because of its justified needs. It censures the transformation of the monastery of Karyes into a market where even objects prohibited to monks were provided.
By the signatures of the II charter, we suggest that from the twenty monasteries that function today on Athos, thirteen of them exist since then.
At the end of the 11th century, the monks were upset by the entrance and installation in Agion Oros of 200 in the beginning and 300 later on families (nomads Vlachs) and their flocks. This tradition is contained in no. 328 manuscript of the monastery of Iveron that dates in the 15th century. It is strongly noted that the presence of women in the monastic community was a reason for scandals. A written command from Patriarch Nikolaos III Grammaticos regarding the immediate removal of the nomads was considered by the palace as an effort of reduction of the exclusivity of the emperors in the protection of Athos. For that reason, Alexis Komninos with his documents guarantees once again the autonomy of Athos and stresses its royal protection. It appears that the nomads were finally expelled in the beginning of the 12th century.
In this expulsion, the abbot Valmas of the monastery of Ioanikios played the leading role.
Life in the 12th century was calm. The emperors Alex I 1081-1118, Ioannis II 1118-1143,Manuel I 1143-118É, Alex II 1181-1183 and Ándronikos I 1183-1185 were very busy with their wars against the Nomads, the Arabs and the crusaders and did not had time to deal with the problems on Athos.
During this century, two important monasteries were founded by foreign monks, Panteleimonos and Chelandariou.
A Russian monastery in Agion Oros is reported with explicitly in 1142. It is the monastery of Xilourgou, which was founded within the limits of Pantokrator and particularly in the place where the hermitage of Vogoroditsa is found today. Monks requested from Protos in 1169 and received as a gift the monastery of "Sfrantzi'" or "Thessalonikeos" that had already been depopulated.
It was placed where today stands Palaiomonastiro. It was then renamed to monastery of Saint Panteleimonos. Later on, however, the inmates of the monastery renamed it to monastery of the Russians and in 1765, they went down to the beach, where they built a big monastery with the name Rousiko or Rosikon (=Russian).
The sovereign of Serbia Stefanos Nemania Rastkvo, following his son Rasko, who was already a monk on Athos with the named Savvas, came to Agion Oros and became himself a monk with the name Simeon. After of a short stay in the monastery of Vatopediou, they installed in 1198 in the devastated then monastery of Chelandariou and changed it to the big homonymous monastery, which was economically supported by the sovereign of Serbia, Savva’s brother, Stefanos II. This monastery was soon developed considerably. It shaded the monastery of Zygos that was founded within its limits and later on absorbed it and even took its Episcopal chair in the Common Assembly of the representatives of the monasteries. During the next centuries, this monastery became an intellectual and cultural center of the entire Serbian nation.
The 13th century and the first decade of the 14th are considered from historians as a period of great trials and disasters for Athos. The rapines and violence that had begun from Normans during the last 15 years of the 12th century increased in a tremendous degree not only by the Crusaders of the IV Crusade (1204-1261), but also by Italian and Greek pirates and particularly by Catalan pirates at the end of this and in the beginning of the next century.
Especially during the years of the Frank Kingdom of Thessalonica (1204-1223), generals ravened whatever precious they could find in the monasteries killing many monks, under the tolerance and sometimes even the impulsion of the bishop Sevastis, to whom Cardinal Benedictos had allowed the supervision of Athos.
After the abolition of the Latin state of Thessalonica and the protection of Mount 's Athos monks by the Latin king of Istanbul Eric Flanders, the situation on Athos was slightly improved. However, monks were forced to resort to Pope Innokentius III and ask for his protection because Latins continued to pressure them.
He dispatched then in his generals two letters, with which he was demanding the cessation of the assaults. In this documents, the Athos is called "saint place ", "house of God" and "celestial Gate". However, even that intervention did not bring positive results, because at the eve of the abolition of the Frank sovereignty in the East Latin’s started once again the rapines. The monastery of Iveron was then destroyed but rectified after a while. The removal of the crusaders from Agion Oros was achieved after the dominance of Istanbul by Michael I Palaiologos (1261).
However, the policy of the new emperor, who did not wish a new crusade, was in favor of the subjugation of the Eastern Church to the Pope but he was faced with a great resistance by the monks of Athos, who sent a letter against the union to the emperor Micheal VII Palaiologos.
The most horrible destructions in Agion Oros were provoked by Catalan adventurers, supposedly free lancers of the Byzantine State, that after disagreeing with it, occupied Kalispell, devastated Thrace and Eastern Macedonia and around 1307, settled at the peninsula of Cassandra.
From there, they attempted periodical raids against the monasteries of Athos until 1309, when they finally withdrew. During these raids, they ravened treasures and heirlooms, they slaughtered many monks, they burned many monasteries and destroyed a great number of holy institutions. It was such a big destruction that from the 180 monasteries that existed in 11th century on Athos, 25 hardly remained in the 14th century. It was then when almost all smaller monasteries were depopulated and ended up dependencies of the nearest bigger monasteries that were preserved but in a very bad condition.
The bereavement of this tragedy was not only evident in the next generations but was also getting stronger from one generation to the next. Because in deed the reaction of Mount’s Athos monks against Michael Palaiologos did not abstain chronologically from the destruction of Catalans and because any raid of westerners was considered by Easterners as an action provoked by the Roman Catholic Church that was seeking for the sovereignty of the pope in the East with any means, a different tradition was later shaped. According to this tradition, those crimes were committed by the emperor Michael VII Palaiologos and the Patriarch Ioannis Vekkos (1275-1282), who were friends of the Latins.
Thus are explained the narrations of hagiographies which deal with the visit of the emperor and the Patriarch to Agion Oros, where they killed, burned and slaughtered many monks, even the Protos, Kosmas, whose relic was recently discovered in the grounds of the Protatos temple.
Even the narrative hagiographies are explained, according to which the monasteries that accepted the sovereigns who supported the idea unification, for example the sovereign of G.Lavra which on time joined with the king of Aragon Jacob II and was saved by the destruction that Catalans provoked - and the sovereign of Xiropotamou - which was powerfully fortified – did not suffer the trials the opposing monasteries did. Those disasters finally stopped the year Michael VII (1282) died and Patriarch I. Vekkos was forced to deposition. Thus, the Catalonian destructions, which are historically certified, were wrongly attributed to the Byzantines, who believed in the unification. In favor of this idea (against the unification), Agion Oros participated actively with many victims.
A particular blossoming during the next century succeeds this great fall during the 13th century. First of all, monks had faith in God and their ideals and substituted with patience their great losses.
Moreover, the care the State and the Church showed was very important. More than 45 golden bulls, referring to Agion Oros were signed by Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282 - 1328), the successor of the emperor Michael VII; they are saved in huge libraries in the monasteries of Athos. One of these, dated in 1313, recognizes as intellectual head of Agion Oros the first one (Protos) who would be elected by the monks on Athos and would have the ratification of the Patriarch of Istanbul. This subordination of the monasteries in the Patriarchate remains until today.
The effort of the Patriarch of Tirnavos during the ephemeral sovereignty of the new Bulgarian kingdom to receive jurisdiction on Agion Oros, via the bishop of Ierissos, whom he had ordained, failed from its early beginning, after the common reaction of monks. Monks were addressed to the emperor of Nice, Ioannis Vatatzis, who released a relative decision and was later on recognized by the king of the Bulgarians, Ioannis Asanis.
Moreover, during the Serbian sovereignty (1345-1355), when Stefanos Dousan was presented as the natural protector of the State of Athos, something reported in a great number of golden bulls written in Greek and in the Slavic language that are saved until today in various monasteries, the Protos of Athos, probably after an indication of the conquerors, limited the rights of the bishop of Ierissos, regarding issues that had to do with rituals and the establishment of temples in Agion Oros and at the same time, accepted those who where ordained by the Serb bishops.
A little later, however, the Patriarch Filotheos Kokkinos, after a decision by the Assembly (1368), restored the prelatic rights of the patriarch of Ierissos. Thus, through him, the Patriarchate of Istanbul could check the situation in Agion Oros. The eminent movement of hermits began due to an insignificant reason, as it happens with all big matters. After an essay regarding “the method of the holy prayer” that circulated in the beginning of the 14th century with the name Simeon the New Theologian, Nikiforos the Hermit and Gregorius of Sinai wrote a few more things on the same subject.
The later taught the empiric way of intellectual concentration to hermits in the hermitage of Magoulas, which was near the monastery of G. Lavra.
According to this method, followed by neophyte monks, it was possible to “see the Divine spirit”, if the prier was concentrated on the Divine and not on the human thoughts. In 1336, the lettered monk Varlaam the Calabrian was informed of this method by its imitators; he himself had different anthropologic and theological aspects – he believed that the human body does not constitute together with the soul a single and indecomposable total and that God is not only invisible, but also completely inapprehensible. In this way, he rejected the possibility of something like that being true. The Slav monk Gregorios Akindinos, the historical mathematician and theologian Nikiforos Grigoras, Manuel Kalekas and others accepted his opinions. On the contrary, the monks of Mount Athos insisted on their opinions. Their defense was undertaken by a wise colleague, Gregorios Palamas (1296-1359), who arrived in Thessalonica and with discussions and theological treatises, established the hermit’s tactic. He also distinguished substance from God’s acts and he taught that the first one is distant from men but the second one is close to them. Moreover, he accepted that man participates as a whole in intellectual enjoyments, that is to say a mental and bodily participation. Filotheos Kokkinos, who later became Patriarch of Istanbul, believed the same. However, when for political reasons Ioannis Kantakouzinos, an encroacher of the throne who was against the legal emperor Ioannis V sided up with them, and his political opponents went against Palamas, this theological question became also political. After many Assemblies that took place in Istanbul from 1341 and afterwards, the opinions of Varlaam and of those of the same ideology were finally condemned.
Basically, two different tendencies existed in Byzantium at that period. Hermits and their friends had an intense religious sentiment, believed that the mentality of humans was superior to their rationalism and were against any unification. On the contrary, their opponents had rationalistic tendencies; they overestimated the classic education and were in favor of unification. At the end of the 14th century, when the dogmatic teaching of the Divine spirit of Christ had prevailed and monasticism presented a great growth, five other monasteries were built:
The monastery of Gregoriou that was probably founded by students of Gregorios of Sinai, the monastery of Simonos Petras by the hermit Simona, the monastery of Pantokrator in 1350 by the Byzantine sovereigns Alexandros and Ioannis (1357), the Saint Paul monastery, a monastery that emanated from the development of a cell in Xiropotamos and the monastery of Dionysiou by an homonymous monk. Thus 19 from the 20 monasteries that function today in Agion Oros existed from the 14th century. However, there were also some smaller monasteries, such as Alipios monastery, Xaritonos monastery etc. that were later absorbed by bigger monasteries.
Regarding the ethnologic form of Mount Athos during the 14th century, it could be noted that the number of Serbs was increased and they became the second nation after Greeks. Russians do not appear in the monastery of Saint Panteleimonos, Amalfians had disappeared a long time ago, the Bulgarians were very few and Ivirians had decreased in such as extend that in 1355, in their monastery, the Greek language was established and their administration was given to the Greeks with a decision of the Patriarch and of Protos of the State of Athos.
Due to the fact that certain monasteries, after the recuperation of their former forces, made unacceptable interventions in regions of other monasteries and of the monastery of Protos, he was forced to resort, along with the abbot of Lavra, to the Patriarch Antonios, who later on and with the Assembly’s decision, sent to Athos the Metropolite of Thessalonica Gavril and the Metropolite of Veroia Daniel. They gathered the monks in the capital of Karyes, where in 1394, the charter of Antonios, also called ‘the third charter of the Mount’ was composed. This charter adjusted the status of the bishop of Ierissos, determined the hierarchical order of the existing monasteries in their Common Assemblies, gave many administrative and intellectual rights to Protos, whose region it determined, compelled the hermits to give to Protos annually benediction, legislated the monitoring of the Patriarch, who preserved his privileges and prohibited the entrance on Athos to beardless men and animals.
With the intellectual growth of monasticism on Athos, with the foundation of many monasteries, with the activities of many monks, wise men and Saints inside and outside of the peninsula and with the culture of the orthodox religious and philosophical spirit, the prestige of Agion Oros significantly increased. The opinion of the Mount’s monks regarding great and important problems of the State, as for example the unification of the Churches and various other problems, presented particular gravity and prestige.
At the end of the 14th century, a preference is noted, small in the beginning and great later on, in the idiorrhythmic system of life.
A golden bull by Manuel II Paleologos (1406) refers to, among several other relative issues known by other documents, the recognition of lifetime possession of real estate by monks and defines that the administration of each monastery shall be the obligation of a council of 15 monks - “deputies” with the abbot as the chairman. Thus, the imperatorial system in the administration of many monasteries started being used, a system that was established by the emperor.
Moreover, the entrance of women in Agion Oros was prohibited, a rule that already existed.
At the end of the 14th century, when the first Turkish troops arrived on Athos, clear-sighted monks received providences and the Sultan Murat I ensured them that they would have privileges and internal autonomy instead of an annual payment of 130.000 coins.
The next sultans also ratified those privileges: Murat II (1430) and Moameth Porthitis (1453). In those institutions, they said, not only the name of God is blessed and glorified, but also they become shelters for the poor, the foreigners, the grieved and the fighters of this life!