The charter of Mount Athos
Thursday, 18 January 2007
Τhe prohibition of
men's entry and sojourn in convents and the prohibition of women's entry and
sojourn in monasteries, that is, the
avaton in its strict sense, is a very old concept deriving from the very
essence of the monastic movement,
especially since the abandonment of every material pleasure
by the first anchorites included sexual continence in the broadest sense.
The avaton principle has
been faithfully observed by all the Monasteries
of Mount Athos without exception ever since they were founded. Α brief introduction to the status of Mount Athos would
perhaps be useful at this point.
Pursuant to Article 105 of the 1975/1986/2001
Greek Constitution, the Athos peninsula, beyond Megali Vigla, and constituting
the region of Mount Athos (Holy Mountain/ Άγιον Όρος), is, in
accordance with its ancient privileged status, a self-governed part of the
Greek State, whose sovereignty thereon remains intact.
On Mount Athos
there exist a total of twenty sovereign Monasteries,
which are legal entities of public law. Attached to them , as dependencies are
other monastic establishments, such as sketes, kellia, kalyves etc., with no separate
of Mount Athos, which are all coenobitic again today, are directly subject to
the spiritual jurisdiction of the Oecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Mount Athos is also supervised by the Greek State
through the Governor of Mount Athos, appointed by presidential decree on a
recommendation from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and having, according to
the new Internal Regulation of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the rank and
remuneration of the Secretary General of a Region.
Within Mount Athos,
there is a clear distinction between the administration of the monastic
community of the twenty Monasteries and the administration of each
The administration of the entire Mount Athos is
exercised by the Holy Community, which consists of twenty members
representatives of the twenty Monasteries,
with its seat at the capital municipality
of Karyes. These
representatives are elected pursuant to each Monastery's
By-Law and hold office for one year. The executive authority is exercised by
the four-member Holy Epistasia, i.e.
representatives chosen by rotation on the basis
of a tetrad system: the twenty Monasteries
are divided into five tetrads, with one of the five senior Athonite Monasteries as
the first member of each tetrad. Each tetrad in turn takes over the Holy Epistasia for a year, headed by a member of the senior
monastery of the tetrad as chief monk, the Protepistates (or Protos, i.e.
The supreme administrative organ, meeting twice a
year, namely fifteen days after Easter
and on 20 August, is the extraordinary twenty-member Holy Assembly, consisting
of the Abbots of the twenty Monasteries.
Each one of the Holy Monasteries
of Mount Athos is administered by the Abbot, the Assembly of the Elders and the
Abbot's Council. The abbot is elected by secret ballot for a life term of
office by all the members of the brotherhood, who have completed at least six years after their tonsure. The Assembly of
Elders is elected for a life term of office according to the provisions of the
internal organisation of each Monastery.
Finally, the Abbot's Council consists of two or three members, depending on the
provisions of each Monastery's
internal organisation, and is elected every year by the Assembly of Elders from
among its members.
Within the Mount Athos
territory, only the twenty Holy Monasteries
have the right of ownership. The entire peninsula of Athos
is divided among them and its territory is exempt from expropriation, according
to express constitutional provision (Article 105 of the Constitution). The monastic brotherhood attends to the administration of
the movable and immovable property of the Monasteries,
which is, however, exercised by the Abbot and the Abbot's Council.
The customary origin of the avaton is also
confirmed in the legislation in force, namely Article 186 of the Constitutional
Charter of Mount Athos (1924), effective since 1926 through its ratification by
the Greek State by the Legislative Decree of 10/16 September 1926. According to
this provision of the Constitutional Charter, the entry of females in the Athos
peninsula is, according to the ancient custom, forbidden. However, from the
point of view of public law, this provision was
a lex imperfecta, since it did not provide for sanctions in the event of
violation. Only the measure of
deportation from the Mount Athos territory
could be taken against a woman violating the avaton.
However, this provision was
subsequently complemented by a law penalising the violation of the avaton, as a result of the disembarkation of several ladies
on the Mount Athos territory during the 9th
International Congress of Byzantine Studies, convened in April 1953 in Thessalonica.
Legislation Decree 2623/1953 stipulated that the violation of the avaton incurs
a penalty of imprisonment for a period between two months to one year, which,
according to the general provisions of the Penal Code, can now be commuted into
a pecuniary penalty.
We shall now proceed with the discussion of the
possible reservations that have been raised from time to time as to constitutionality of the legal provision
establishing the Mount Athos avaton.
A first superficial approach might lead to the
conclusion that the prohibition of women's entry into the Mount
Athos territory contravenes the principle of equality and/or
constitutes a restriction of personal freedom. Both the principle of freedom and
free movement of persons are enshrined not only in the Constitution of Greece,
but also in many international treaties that have been ratified by Greece and
constitute an integral part of Greek law and, what is more, prevail over any
opposite provision of law as
prescribed by the Constitution.
a. The principle of equality, enshrined in Article 4 of the
Constitution, obligates the legislator to treat in an equal or similar manner
all Greek citizens under the same or similar conditions and prohibits any
favourable or unfavourable treatment of the same by way of exception from the
However, the principle of equality does not
preclude the different statutory regulation of dissimilar or different cases, or cases
occurring under different or special conditions. On the contrary, in such cases different treatment is imperative, because
various special reasons, social,
economic, religious etc., fully justify different treatment, provided that such
different treatment is objective and is based
on general and impersonal criteria.
Such is the case
with the avaton. All women are forbidden entry in Mount
Athos, without any exception. There would be a case of violation of the principle of equality, only
if specific categories of women or only women meeting some specific criteria
were allowed entry.
b. Personal freedom, which according to Article 5 paragraph
3 of the Constitution is inviolable, is not unlimited - as
indeed is the case with any other
individual right. The Constitution expressly mentions that freedom of movement
may be restricted, when and as
stipulated by law.
Naturally, such restrictions on personal freedom
and particularly the free movement of any person cannot be arbitrary. They
should be justified by sufficient reasons
serving the general public or social interest and it is up to the courts to
examine whether such conditions concur.
none has ever thought of contesting
the constitutionality of other restrictions on the free movement of persons,
such as the prohibition of entry
into military areas or the
prohibition of hunting or fishing in several areas
or during certain seasons etc., for
the same legal reason there is no
violation of the Constitution in the case
of the avaton.
the article by Ioannis M. Konidaris
”The Mount Athos Avaton”
The author is Prof. of Ecclesiastical Law at Athens Univ.,
and Secretary General for Religious Affairs at the Ministry of Education and
Religious Affairs of Greece.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 01 October 2008 )
Athos in Orthodox history
Thursday, 18 January 2007
From an antiquity the Athos peninsula has been populated with Thracian and Macedonian tribes, then colonists from continent - aciant greeks and pelags. All sea routes connecting Greece with the East, passed through Athos. Its two-kilometre peak was as a leading light visible for tens of miles.
Towards the end of Trojan war (1000 years B.C.) on a place of present big monasteries pagans have based their cities with democracy and greek multi-deity: Olofix, where nowadays is Esfigmenos, Dion -
where is Vatoped, Fissos - where is Pantokrator, Kleon - where is Iver, Akroafos at the top of Athos, Haradary near the Dafni, Skolos at Zografsky landing stage.
Powerful tsar Phillip Macedonian has subordinated to itself Athos
cities. They prospered and at thesuccessor and the son its Alexander
the Great (336-323 b.c.), directed the efforts to the East
conquering. According the legend, between the victorious campaigns he
had a rest three days on Athos - within present Karei. Alexander the
Great's architect, saying that peak of Athos was symbol of the eternity
for the civilisation of that time, has suggested to the greatest
conqueror to change white-marble top in an enormous statue of Zeus with
a city in the left hand and a stream flowing in the sea - from the
right hand. Alexander has reasonably refused to a vain invention,
having told that «inhabitants of a such city will have nothing to eat,
and from such water source there will be nothing to drink».
In 168 year b.c. Afon together with Macedonia has fallen under
sovereignty of Rome, and settlements of its became quickly to fall
into decay. Till bringing here Christianity not a lot villages have
survived, engaging of cultivation of grape and olive groves.
Light of evangelical's true has lighted up Athos in number of first
enlighted places of Roman empire. Holy Mater has selected it in her
lot. About the middle of I century of a Christian era in Apollonii
Athos (near the small town Ierissos standing on border of Athos with
continent) St. apostle Pavel preached on a way from Amfiopolja in
Solun. In first three centuries AD, at the time of severe persecutions
on Christianity, Athos with its dense woods, deep gorges and
unapproachable rocks sheltered Christians escaping from prosecutions.
Then have appeared and the first eremites. Apostle Konstantin the Great
(306-337), like the actions that has made in the Sacred Earth,has
decorated with Christian temples and Athos. Under the legend, them was
three - about settlements, on which place now ia Karea, Vatopedsky and
Iversky monasteries. At these temples appeared the first inhabitants.
a short while detained at Juliane the Turncoat the Christianity has
quite affirmed as development already at Feodosiya Great (379-395 ??),
destroyed on Athos last traces of paganism. The daughter Feodosiya,
tsarina Plakidija, wished to see Sacred Mountain and the Vatopedsky
monastery restored by the father when has arrived to Athos (382) and
entered into the Blagoveshchensk temple, has heard from an icon of
Bozhiej of Mother named subsequently "Predvozvestitelnitsej", a voice,
ruling to it to leave from limits of Athos. This event has formed the
basis to the initial establishment forbidding to women to appear on the
Sacred Mountain. In V century AD tsarina Pulherija has created two
monasteries - on a place of present Esfigmena and Ksiropotama.
Ancient Athos monasteries have been controlled by saint authorities of
Solun metropolitans. Pauperisation of Athos owing to invasion in V-VI
centuries of barbarians - Bulgarians, the Slavs,cutting off its (Athos)
sea trades with Asia Minor, Constantinople and seaside Thrace, has
drived to eviction from Sacred Mountain of inhabitants and to a
settlement on Athos only monks and then Athos has become «Belly of
Emperor Konstantin IV (668-685) after heavy wars
with hazars and Persians has been compelled to conclude the agreement
with the Arabs who have accepted Mohammedanism, on a lasting peace by
refusal of Syria, Palestin and Egypt in which were concentrated the
most ancient centres of Christian self-sacrifice. On VI Universal
Cathedral, in 680, it was accepted the church decision (a rule 18) to
give in the order of Mohammedans who persue the monks, the monasteries
of Athos destroyed by Arabs. Imperial stuff confirmed for monks Sacred
Mountain as exclusively their property (Konstantin's IV decree, 676),
protected their calmness from encroachments imperial servants and
simple people (Vasily Makedonianin, 872). After these fatal decisions
for Orthodoxy, despite a triple devastation of Athos by barbarians (in
670, 830 and 866), monastic population at the time of emperor Vasily
Porfirorodniy (976-1025) has reached to 50 000 persons.
Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 January 2007 )