Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Historically the economy of the monastic community has depended upon income from profitable farms and other properties ( metochia ) dedicated to the monasteries as endowments by royal or other wealthy patrons. The property acquired in this fashion during the Byzantine period, much of it located in the northern Balkans, was confiscated during the Turkocrateia or in more modern nationalistic confiscation. The pattern continues, however, with many monasteries deriving income from endowment properties in or near Thessaloniki.
Today as in the past the monasteries and the smaller Institutions depend on subsistence farming, with maintenance and other services provided when necessary by hired resident lay workers, but otherwise by monks trained in the requisite specialties (masonry, carpentry, shoemaking, tailoring, etc.). Some monks and kellia support themselves or contribute to the economy of their ruling monasteries by such traditional arts as icon painting and wood carving. The monasteries also harvest and package for sale herbs, hazelnuts, tea (especially herbal and linden teas), incense used in the church services, and other products.
Extensive chestnut forests on the central ridge provide the monasteries with building materials, as they always have, and increasingly in today's income-based economy, supply Greece with much-needed hardwood. Lumbering is managed by outside syndicates employing local lay workers and, in the past decade, increasingly sophisticated equipment. The monasteries practice a method of clear-cutting, harvesting yearly on a twenty-year cycle about one-twentieth of the timberland, a practice that has drawn protest from those concerned to preserve the unique Athonite ecosystem.
Land Tenure. All land on Mount Athos is allotted to one of the twenty ruling monasteries, which grant to monks or small brotherhoods nonheritable short-term or lifetime leases of kathismata, kellia, or other properties.