Mount Athos

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An important site in both ancient Greek and modern Christian religions, Mount Athos has been the center of the Hesychasm sect of Christianity since the fourteenth century. Fortean Picture Library.

Mount Athos (Greece)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Mount Athos, the most famous Greek orthodox monastic center in the world, is located on Halkidiki Peninsula, south and east of Thessaloniki. Prior to the emergence of Christianity, the area was considered the home of the gods; however, Christian tradition suggested the area was visited by the Virgin Mary in the company of the Apostle John. Christian ascetics (in the sixth century) and monks (in the tenth century) eventually established themselves there. In 1060, the Byzantine emperor decreed that the peninsula would be a male-only area, and in succeeding centuries it emerged as a primary center of Christian monasticism. Monasteries serving monks of a number of nationalities were built, and its continuing status as a male-only domain was set. By 1500 the population of monks had reached around 20,000.

Mount Athos became a center of Hesychasm, a system of prayer advocated by Saint Gregory Palamas (1296–1359). Hesychasts believe it is possible—through an exacting format of activity that includes asceticism, detachment, submission to a spiritual guide, and constant prayer—to see the very uncreated Light of God. Contemplation of the Light is the true purpose of humanity. They tie the experience of seeing the Light to the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–6). Dedicated Hesychasts were known to sit all day in a chosen spot while repeating silently the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” Gregory Palamas was a monk at Athos before becoming bishop of Thessalonica in 1349. The teachings set off a considerable controversy in the Greek Church, with opponents accusing the Hesychasts of a variety of heresies from pantheism to the dividing of God (which could not be seen) from His Light (which could be seen).

Throughout the fourteenth century, the practice was argued throughout the Greek Church and became the focus of several councils. In the end, opposition was identified with the Roman Catholics (with whom the Greek Church had split), and the Hesychasts won the day. The theological presupposition upon which the practice at Athos was built was accepted as orthodox, even though the practice itself remained primarily a practice of monks. Hesychast practice remains alive and well at Athos.

Today, male visitors are allowed on the peninsula and number in the tens of thousands annually. Some come merely as tourists, others to visit the different monasteries, a few of which possess items known for their miracle-working powers, or to visit with a particular monk who serves as a spiritual counselor. At least three of the monasteries claim a fragment of the True Cross.

Athos is now home to around three thousand monks. There are some hermits, but most of the monks reside in one of twenty monastic communities.


Bryer, Anthony, and Mary Cunningham. Mount Athos and Byzantine Monasticism. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing, Very Fine/Fine, 1998.
Kadas, Sotiris. Mount Athos: An Illustrated Guide to the Monasteries and Their History. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon, 1989.
Valentin, Jacques. The Monks of Mount Athos. London: Andre Deutsch, 1960.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Silouan the Athonite (Crestwood: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1999).
Not only will the All-Merciful God receive the penitence of the sinner, but He will also allow anyone to repent: "An old man once said: 'God indulges anyone to repent as long as the sinner asks for it and it is within one's wit, as it is written that one has to confess his sins so that one can practice repentance.'" (Pateric 2009: 269) A testimony to this is offered by the Pious Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938), who, as a young layman, after going out from Russia came to Mt.
Gothoni, the distinguished Senior Lecturer of Comparative Religion at the University of Helsinki, has already published a study on Buddhist monasticism in Sri Lanka, and proposes here a similar exploration of Athonite monasticism.
986), and an alleged meeting with St Athanasius the Athonite (d.
In the heart of Greece, but also in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Athonite community enjoys a special position in Orthodoxy and in the world and its own "canons" are insurmountable.
Part two is comprised of three essays on spiritual life: the role of prayer in scripture and tradition, the image and example of St Silouan the Athonite, and the issue of discernment in the human condition.
Bienert's treatment of the Athonite fragments of Dionysius and Peter is shown to be insufficiently alert to editorial tampering in the age of Justinian.
The churches of rectangular shape, even the shorter ones, are long in proportion to their width, and have been built to a three-apsidal plan of trefoil shape at the east end and on the north and south sides of the chancel, a feature of Byzantine architecture and of Byzantine-inspired architecture (Athonite, Serbian, Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian).
The Orthodox world owes an immense debt to this Athonite monk, who edited and published the Philokalia (1783), as well as numerous other works of a patristic, pastoral, and liturgical nature.
The Name-worshippers were an expression of the centuries-old Athonite tradition of the activity (prayer) of the mind (Greek nous), while the "synodal" theologians were backed by the traditions of Russian academic science.