The name Athos, according to the ancient Greek tradition, comes from the Giant Athos, which in the Battle of Gods and Giants cast a rock on God Poseidon. The rock landed on the present peninsula and gave it its name. Athos is mentioned by Homer in the Iliad (Rhapsody X219), while ancient cities in the area of Mount Athos such as Sani, Holofiixos, Akrothonas, Thyssos etc. are reported by Herodotus. Some centuries later, Plinios refers to the cities of Ouranoupolis, Paleotrion, Thyssos and Apollonia. These cities were mainly inhabited by Thracians and Pelasgians, subjugated to Philip II the Macedonian and later in 168 bc. were captured by the Romans.
During the pre-Christian period the legend says that on the way to meet Lazarus, the Virgin Mary, together with St. John, were forced by a storm to land on the land, now is the Iviron monastery. Virgin Mary was very excited about the place, so she asked Jesus to give her as a gift. The Mount is therefore dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is its orchard, no women live in it and AVATON is valid.
The area seems to have been inhabited by monks ascetics, perhaps even before the 8th century, because the ecumenical council of 843 reported that ascetic monks participated from the Byzantine Olympus, Aida and Athos. The population of the ascetics monks at Mount Athos is small in the beginning, but it continues to increase and at the end of the 9th century small monastic communities are created (notable are Petros the Athonite and Efthimios of Thessaloniki), while according to a sigilio of the Vasilios the 1st (is lost) the Kolovou monastery (872) is founded near today’s Ierissos. Due to the spread of monasticism to the Mount Athos, the seat of the First, the Monastery of the Elders, the monk who is elected by all and is their spiritual leader, is transported in 911 to a new location, named Messi, today Karyes . Most monks continue to live alone until the first half of the 9th century, suffering from the many pirate raids until the appearance of St. Athanasius the Athonite that changes the situation.
Saint Athanasius the Athonite was born in Trebizond by a wealthy family. He became a monk, lived for four years in Bethiny of Asia Minor and then came to Mount Athos. He met with the general and later Emperor Nikiforos Fokas and in 961 he began to build the Great Lavra a monastery in which Nikiforos Fokas himself spent his aging. This activity of Saint Athanasius caused the opposition of many ascetics, that erodes the character of Mount Athos, rallied around Paul Xeropotamitis and accused him of the emperor John Tsimiskis. The emperor then brought out an imperial golden tree, the Tragos, the oldest document with an imperial sign, the first rule for Mount Athos that supported most all that St. Athanasius did. Saint Athanasius died in 1000 but until then had built the imposing buildings of the Great Lavra, secured funding to preserve the monastery and laid the goddesses of the communal character of monasticism.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, while in Asia Minor the monastic communities are destroyed by the invasions of the Seljuk Turks, the Mount Athos is developing very much and evolving into one of the most important monastic centers of the Byzantine Empire. Many monasteries are founded, the Byzantine emperors issue chrisovoula and sigilia and give the monasteries a lot of privileges and too large land. During the 4th Crusade with the occupation of Greece, the Latino conquerors discomfort and destroy the monasteries of Mount Athos, until the monks seek the protection of Pope Innocent the 3rd. The problems of the monks do not stop even after the liberation of Constantinople by Michael Palaiologos the 8th, because they resist the efforts of the Byzantines for the union of Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Mount Athos continues to prosper until the early 14th century when Catalan mercenaries (1307-9) invade it, destroy monasteries, drive monks and plunder their treasures. Of the 300 monasteries, only 35 remain, until Serbian leader Stefan Dousan visits Mount Athos (in the middle of the 14th century). It supports many monasteries economically, new ones are created, the quality of monastic life is improved and the movement of hesychasm appears and accepted by the monks of Mount Athos.
According to Gregory of Sina, the founder of hesychasm, the monks, if they were virtuous and devoted exclusively to prayer, could see the light of God, what was shining for Christ in his transformation on Mount Tabar. They were hoping to come closer to God by silently repeating the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ beg me”. The question of hesychasis divide the society. Many argued, as the Byzantine aristocrats prevailed in the councils of 1341, 1347 and 1351, was supported by Gregory Palamas Archbishop of Thessaloniki, but he was very much fighting by the monk Vlalam and the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III.
At the end of the 14th century the area was occupied by the Ottomans. The monks, however, manage to secure their privileges and administrative autonomy from Sultan Murad the 2nd and his successors, giving a large annual tax (haratsi) and other taxes. The Ottomans, despite the guarantees of the Sultans, tried twice to occupy Mount Athos monasteries. First time with Murad in 1432-3 and second with Selim the 2nd in 1568. In both cases the monks managed to redeem their allegiance with large sums of money. The high taxes, however, reduced the number of monks and so many monasteries were abandoned. Also the monasteries changed and from communes became strange.
At the end of the 16th century, the Patriarchate of Constantinople tried to bring the monasteries back to the communal system without success. The monks were constantly decreasing until the middle of the 17th century when the abbots turned to the leaders of Russia, Vlachia and Moldavia, who began to make courageous donations to reverse the situation.
In the middle of the 18th century the Athonian School was founded within the framework of the movement for the dissemination of learning in the area of Mount Athos. Its purpose was to teach theology, philosophy and logic to the monks and to those who wanted to become monks. In the years when Eugene Voulgaris was the director, the school gained a great reputation, but when it left, it was closed in 1799. Many attempts were made to reopen and since 1932 he opened and gave seminars. In 1953, it was completely renovated, called the Athonian Ecclesiastical Academy, operating in a wing at St. Andrew’s Cave in Karyes, following the program of secondary Greek education combined with ecclesiastical education.
Until the early 19th century, Mount Athos is prospering and many monasteries have returned to the communal system free from debts. With the declaration of a liberating struggle for the independence of Greece in 1821, because the monks took part in the first conflicts, the Turks entered the Holy Mountain, imposed heavy taxes and installed a guard in some monasteries. With the end of the war the monks began to return to Mount and increase their number. Not only Greeks but also Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs, Russians and other ethnicities. This is because some Slavic countries first and also Russians viewed it as an opportunity to expand their influence in the region, offering large sums of money to rebuild old monasteries or create new ones. Thus, the monastery of Zografou came under Bulgarian influence, the monastery of Chilandarion in Serbian and Saint Panteleimonas in Russian. The Bulgarians also founded Bogovoritsa’s Cloister, the Russians the Cloister of Saint Andrew and the Romanians the Cloister of John the Baptist. In 1912, with the first Balkan war, the Ottoman domination ended and a Greek naval squadron occupied the area. With the Treaty of Lausanne, the Athos Peninsula finally passes into Greek sovereignty as a self-governing section, politically subject to the Ministry of Greek Foreign and religion at the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the Second World War, after the occupation of Greece by the Germans, the Eustace (a four-member committee appointed by the holy community each year) asked Hitler and he accepted it, placing Mount Athos under his own personal protection . So neither the Germans nor the Bulgarian conquerors intervened in Mount Athos, and after that liberation, it was for a while passed into the hands of the partisans until the Greek authorities took over.
Thus, the Holy Mountain, the oldest monastic republic, has been there for more than 1000 years (officially since 963), on the easternmost peninsula of Halkidiki, Macedonia, there are 20 monasteries along with the smaller communities, the skeletons, the cells, huts, chairs and retreats, all of which support the monks’ communal, lonely and lonely or hermitic life. All these years have influenced the culture and the spiritual life of Orthodoxy, have passed through times of peace and wars, have lived with Macedonia from the Middle Ages until today, the glory of Byzantium, Ottoman tyranny, revolutions, disasters, victories, defeats and finally liberation with Greece. Mount Athos is ultimately unique for many reasons. It is unique to its history, its art, its contribution to education, music, ecology, unbelievable natural beauty, flora and fauna, but also to worship and isolation. Are all the previous reasons for visiting Mount Athos? The Mount Athos stands there and awaits us.