Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Monasticism (11)

Mount Athos / Holy Mountain   (part 2)

The Byzantine Empire was conquered in the 15th century and the Ottoman Empire took its place. The Athonite monks tried to maintain good relations with the Ottoman Sultans and therefore when Murad I conquered 
Thessolonika in 1430 they immediately pledged allegiance to him. In return, Murad recognized the monasteries' properties, something which Mehemed II formally ratified after the fall of Constantinople  in 1453. In this way the Athonite independence was somewhat guaranteed.

The 15th and 16th centuries were particularly peaceful for the Athonite community. This led to relative prosperity for the monasteries. An example of this is the foundation of  Stavroniktia monasterywhich completed the current number of Athonite monasteries. Following the conquest of the Serbian Despote by the Ottomans many Serbian monks came to Athos. The extensive presence of Serbian monks is depicted in the numerous elections of Serbian monks to the office of the protos during the era. 

Sultan Salem I was a substantial benefactor of the  Xiropotamu monastery. In 1517, he issued a fatwa and a Hatti Sharif ("noble edict") that "the place, where the Holy Gospel is preached, whenever it is burned or even damaged, shall be erected again." He also endowed privileges to the Abbey and financed the construction of the dining area and underground of the Abbey as well as the renovation of the wall paintinin the central church that were completed between the years 1533–1541.

 Despite the fact that most time the monasteries were left on their own, the Ottomans heavily taxed them and sometimes they seized important land parcels from them. This eventually culminated in an economic crisis in Athos during the 17th century. This led to the adoption of the so called "idiorrhythmic" lifestyle by a few monasteries at first and later, during the first half of the 18th century, by all.

This new way of monastic organization was an emergency measure taken by the monastic communities to counter their harsh economic environment. Contrary to the cenobitic system, monks in idiorrhythmic communities have private property, work for themselves, they are solely responsible for acquiring food and other necessities and they dine separately in their cells, only meeting with other monks at church. At the same time, the monasteries'abbots were replaced by committees and at Karyes the Protos was replaced by a four member committee.

In 1749 with the establishment of the Athonite Academy near Vatopedi monastery, the local monastic community took a leading role in the modern Greek enlightenment movement of the 18th century.This institution offered high level education, especially under Egenius Valgarus, where ancient philosophy and modern physical science were taught.

Russian tsars, and princes from Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia (until the end of the 15th century) helped the monasteries survive with large donations. The population of monks and their wealth declined over the next centuries, but were revitalized during the 19th century, particularly by the patronage of the Russian government. As a result, the monastic population grew steadily throughout the century, reaching a high point of over 7,000 monks in 1902.

complied from several sources 

grahic:top left: Mount Athos
         : bottom right: The Holy Mountain of Athos has a long and elaborate history

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