Monastic Institutions of Mount Athos (Agion Oros)

Monastic institutions

The monastic institutions of Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (Agion Oros), is located at an altitude of 300 meters above the shore. On the left, is visible the nearby aqueduct. 

All Monasteries of Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (Agion Oros) to heterodox or schismatic. 
All the monks of Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (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 Mount Athos (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.


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