Mount Athos - Orientation

Identification. Mount Athos is an autonomous republic of Eastern Orthodox monks situated on the easternmost Peninsula of the Chalkidiki in northeastern Greece. It is also known as the Holy Mountain (in Greek, "Hagion Oros," whence the ethnonym "Hagiorite"). Both names refer to the 2,039-meter mountain at its southern tip. The Holy Mountain is venerated throughout Eastern Orthodox Christianity as a holy land and place of pilgrimage. Its monastic Community has played a major role in shaping the theology of Eastern Orthodoxy and in the development of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. Most contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologians and ecclesiastical leaders have passed a novitiate in an Athonite monastery. Aside from the monastic and personal regimen required of monks and the higher levels of education prevalent today among contemporary abbots and Hagiorite leaders, the ethos and values of the Hagiorites in general reflect those of the rural, northern Balkan villages from which most of the monks come.

Location. The Athonite Peninsula, a promontory of about 360 square kilometers, about 8 to 12 kilometers in width, extending approximately 60 kilometers from northwest to southeast, is divided longitudinally by a steep ridge rising at its southern end to the mountain peak.

Demography. Mount Athos is occupied predominantly by Greeks, reflecting the present Greek protectorate, but also by brotherhoods of Bulgarian, Georgian, Romanian, Russian, and Serbian monks. The monastic population, in decline throughout most of the twentieth century, has grown in the last quarter of the century to over 2,000, owing in part to the worldwide revival of conservative religion. The revival on Mount Athos has also benefited from disillusionment with the pace and quality of life in the overpopulated major cities of Greece, nostalgia for the traditions and distinctive cultural identity of the past as Greece has been absorbed into the European Community, the problems of depopulation and Economic collapse in rural mountain villages, and the threats that materialism and atheism represent to traditional Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Greece.

Linguistic Affiliation. The major language of Mount Athos is demotic Greek colored with archaisms instilled in monks continuously through the language of the liturgy, the psalmody, and hagiographical readings that accompany the common meals in the refectory. The archaic quality of the language is also partly a result of conscious use of traditional monastic phrases that evoke central symbolic features of monastic life, a sense of unchanged adherence to the tradition of the fathers, and a sense of separation from "the world." As elsewhere in northeastern Greece, it includes an extensive vocabulary of Turkish loanwords. The languages of the other Orthodox ethnic groups are also spoken, with similar monastic and archaizing features.

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