3 September, 2018

The Zenith of Modern Times (1830-20th century)

The Zenith of Modern Times (1830-20th century)

Kriton Chrysochoidis

After the departure of the Turks from the Holy Mountain in 1830, an impressive revival of the Monastery began afresh. This was to last for about a century. The metochia in Chalcidice began to function again normally, the inflow of revenue from those in the Danubian provinces was resumed, though not without problems, new property was acquired and the exploitation of other possessions became more systematic – for example, the fish farms on the Vistonis Lake. Down to the beginning of the 20th century, the Monastery continued to buy large metochia, such as Sofoular in the Kalamaria region (1905).

The building complex of the Monastery underwent repeated alterations. The wings were repaired and extended, while a host of ancillary buildings were erected outside its walls. The west wing of cells was rebuilt twice, after the fires of 1854 and 1882. A large new infirmary was built, the monumental gatehouse was constructed and a lodging of some grandeur was built for Vatopaidi’s delegation in Karyes. Many of the building projects in the late 19th century are linked with the name of the energetic commissioner Chrysanthos, a prohegumenos.

Extensive work was done on the restoration of wall-paintings and new ones were executed in the katholikon and chapels. The sacristy was re-equipped, the library was re-organised and all its manuscripts bound, while at the turn of the 20th century its monumental archive was assembled.

However, after the mid 19th century major problems began with the Monastery’s landed property. In 1863 all the monasteries of the Greek East in Moldavia and Wallachia were confiscated by the Romanian Government. To this grave economic blow was added, ten years later, the expulsion of the monks from all the large estates in Bessarabia, which was under Russian occupation. Nevertheless, the Russian Government continued to pay the Monastery two-fifths of their revenues, down to the time of the First World War. Its property in those parts and its deposits in Russian banks were totally lost with the triumph of the October Revolution in 1917. After 1922 and the ceding of monastic land belonging to the Holy Mountain to refugees from Asia Minor, the Monastery was also deprived of the income from its property within the territory of Greece. By 1930, all that was left of the vast estates of the 19th century were the insignificant metochia on Samos and at Kalamata, and a part of the fish farms on the Vistonis Lake.

The zenith reached in the 19th century and the gradual decline of the 20th are reflected in the number of monks. We do not know the dimensions of the loss of monks during the decade of the Revolution. However, in 1837, seven years after the departure of the Turkish troops, Curzon states that more than 300 monks were living in the Monastery95. Riley, in 1883, puts the number at 320, while there were 130 lay workers96. According to the official census of 1885, there were 214 monks and 30 novices living in the Monastery, 38 monks and three novices in the Skete of St Demetrius, 54 monks and 10 novices in the kellia*, and in the Skete of St Andrew, 150 Russian monks and 18 novices97. In 1903, the total number of monks within the jurisdiction of Vatopaidi was 966, of whom 369 were Greeks and 570 Russians, the latter being chiefly at the Skete of St Andrew98. Immediately after the liberation of the Holy Mountain, in 1913, there were 318 monks (not including those at the Skete of St Andrew), while the census of 1928 recorded 485 (including the Skete), that of 1961, 127, and that of 1974, only 7099.

In spite of its great economic losses, the Monastery continued to flourish for a considerable time, and it was possible for its monks to make lavish grants and gifts, chiefly to educational institutions in the Greek world100. It seems that the tradition of the Athonite Academy, which had been founded on its initiative and at its expense, was still strong. The Monastery itself had maintained a school since before 1870; in 1885 this had 15 students, mostly young monks101.

Very typical is the instance of Archimandrite Ananias of Vatopaidi102. In 1859, as general commissioner of the estates in Moldavia and Bessarabia he presented the University of Athens with a large estate in Moldavia which he had bought for that purpose.

Retaining the usufruct of this for as long as he lived, he paid the University 200 Dutch gilders annually103. In 1866, after the confiscation of the Monastery’s estates, he sold it for 12,000 (probably Austrian) “floria”, which he also handed over to Greece’s first university104.

He also played a leading role in arranging Vatopaidi’s contribution to the foundation of the Great School of the Nation. When in 1875 it was decided to build it, Ananias promised on behalf of the Monastery to provide half of the cost, amounting to the huge sum of 3,750 Turkish pounds. After his death, the Monastery, which was numbered among the principal founders of the School, continued to fulfil the promise105.

Other educational institutions too were supported by Vatopaidi in a variety of ways. One of the last general commissioners at the metochia in Romania, Iakovos, Bishop of Traïanoupolis (consecrated at Vatopaidi in 1857,)106 made a grant to the schools of the Kingdom of Greece of 2,000 gold pieces107, while in 1880 the Monastery itself gave the Holy Community 150 Turkish pounds for the purpose of re-opening the Athonite Academy108. In 1882, the monks of Vatopaidi donated its Adrianople metochi for the expansion of the Zarifian schools of the city109, and in 1902 still continued to subsidise the Theological School of Chalki with 40 Turkish pounds per annum from the endowment of Ananias of Vatopaidi110. In 1903, at the request of Patriarch Ioakeim III, the Monastery professed itself ready to finance with 2,500 Turkish pounds the school of languages which was being set up111, while in 1907 it ceded for ten years the revenues from the Spilaiotissa Monastery at Meleniko for the maintenance of the city’s Greek schools.

These facts make up a small sketch of Vatopaidi’s activities in a particular area, rather than an evaluation of the whole of its benefactions. But it would be no exaggeration to say that until the early years of the 20th century Vatopaidi was considered a generous supporter of for every good work in the Greek East112, while in the view of the diplomatic representatives of the Greek State in Thessaloniki before liberation, it was on Vatopaidi “that the national interests on Athos depend”113. It was some survival of its old prestige perhaps which led the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in 1930, to choose for the work of the first meeting of the ‘Inter-Orthodox Committee’ the spacious halls of the Monastery114.

Nevertheless, as early as the 1930s, the weaknesses of the idiorrhythmic system, combined with economic shrinkage, the ills of the last Great War, and later the more general crisis on Mount Athos in the early post-War years, produced marked symptoms of dissolution and decline, which were halted only in 1990 by the conversion of the Monastery into a coenobium and the systematic efforts in the direction of its regeneration which have been made since then.


  1. Muraviev, 1858, p. 143. The generous donations of the Russian Prince cannot have been unconnected with the efforts which he was making to have himself recognised as Tsar in the Orthodox world.
  2. Regel, 1898, No. XVIII, pp. 56-58 (the permit), No. XXI, pp. 68-70 (the renewal).
  3. Regel, 1898, No. XXII, pp. 71-72 (document of Tsar Alexei Michalovich of 1656, by which a total sum of 1,800 roubles is donated, on condition that the sacred relics will remain in Russia for 20 years); No. XXIV, pp. 78-82 (document of the co-regents John, Peter and Sophia of 1688, by which money is granted for building and permission is renewed for Vatopaidi monks to visit Russian cities every four years, in consideration of the relics remaining longer in Moscow).
  4. See the chapter by Florin Marinescu on the metochia in Romania; Nasturel, 1986, pp. 102-105.
  5. Research into the very rich Romanian, Russian – and Greek – archive of the Monastery, not yet investigated, will reveal the extent of the presence of Vatopaidi in this area of the Balkans.
  6. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 5, No. 15. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1930, p. 55, No. 45.
  7. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, No. 153. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1930, p. 59, No. 60.
  8. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, No. 152.
  9. According to evidence which it has not yet been possible to confirm, the total sums which he donated to the Greek uprising amounted to half a million piastres. Some years after his death, in 1846, his relatives made claims on his estate (Eustratiadis, 1930, pp. 64-65, Nos 80-84). For Grigorios, see Ikonomou, 1860 (a work more rhetorical than providing information on the man himself). Gedeon, 1932, pp. 154-155. There is considerable archival material on Grigorios in the Monastery’s archive.
  10. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, No. 37. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1918, p. 88.
  11. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, No. 73.
  12. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 2, No. N 13 and Square 5, No. 43. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1930, p. 52, Nos 32 and 34.
  13. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 2, Nos Ξ 5 and 6.
  14. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, Nos 43-45. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1918, p. 89.
  15. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 5, No. 23. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1930, p. 57, No. 51.
  16. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 2, No. O 1.
  17. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, No. 75. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1918, p. 167.
  18. For example, in 1618, agricultural land was bought from Christians and Muslims at Aghios Mamas, in 1623 the cultivation of the mountain near Revenikia was taken over in consideration of a loan of 22,000 aspra to the inhabitants (Square 3, No. 83), in 1633, 16 hectares of land at Proavalakas were bought from the villagers for 20,000 aspra (Square 1, Nos Φ/Z and H), in 1660, 60 hectares were bought at Ormylia for 10,000 aspras (Square 2, No. M 27), and land at Meleniko in 1706.
  19. The following donations could be mentioned indicatively: in 1654, a house and orchard at Moudania by Metropolitan Klimis of Proussa (Square 2, No. § 1). In 1718, 180 olive trees at Aghiassos on Lesvos (Square 3, No. 41). In 1749 and 1753, 176 olive trees, houses, and fields at Kaki Rachi on Thasos (Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, Nos 40 and 43. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1918, p. 89). In 1756/57, a metochi in Arta (Square 3, Nos 73-74).
  20. It is interesting that of the Vatopaidi inscriptions (inscriptions on buildings, on paintings and on objects) known to and published by G. Millet, J. Pargoire, L. Petit (Millet, 1904), only five date from the 15th and 16th centuries. By way of contrast, 17 inscriptions date from the 17th century, 33 from the 18th, and 38 from the 19th. The recording of all the inscriptions on buildings, as well as those which concern the execution of paintings of a monumental character, will undoubtedly greatly increase the numbers, but will not significantly alter the ratios by century.
  21. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, No. 23. Cf. Eustratiadis, 1917, p. 771.
  22. Gasparis, 1991, p. 14, No. 25.
  23. Gasparis, 1991, p. 21, No. 44.
  24. Arkadios, 1919, p. 441 (publication of an old Greek translation of the Morosini document: Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 3, No. 110).
  25. Manoussakas, 1983, pp. 436-438 (collection of income for the purchase of a large clock in 1745) and 439-442; Volidis, 1952, pp. 75-81; Kissas, 983, pp. 248-263.
  26. For lists – though not complete – of Dikaioi and Sacristans, see Theophilos, 1972, pp. 112-114 (Dikaioi) and 118-119 (Sacristans).
  27. Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 1, No. Ω 58 (the document is an undated copy).
  28. The earliest example which we have identified up to now dates from before 1485 and concerns the Spilaiotissa Monastery at Meleniko. The priest-monk Grigorios undertakes the administration of the monastery against a payment of 900 aspra per annum, regardless of whether the yield of the metochi is good or bad. He also undertakes the payment of the dosimata to the subashi, together with any other, extra-ordinary, charge [Archive of the Vatopaidi Monastery, Square 2, No. Ξ 3 (2)].
  29. The terms of operation of the infirmary of Vatopaidi, self-financing in a sui generis manner, are given by Arkadios, ms., pp. 195-197.
  30. Papadopoulos-Kerameus, 1888, p. 122.
  31. For minimal information on Symeon-Synesios, whose presence at Vatopaidi is reminiscent of the stay there 100 years previously of Maximos the Greek, see Sathas, 1868, p. 410; Zaviras, 1872, pp. 526-527 (contradictory information); Paschos, 1988, pp. 829-879. On his manuscripts, see also the contributions by Erich Lamberz on the library of Vatopaidi and its manuscripts, and of Triantafyllos Sklavenitis on the library of printed books.
  32. See the chapter by Paschalis Kitromilides on the Athonite Academy.
  33. Gedeon, 1884, pp. 618-620; Haralambidis, 1965, cols 82-83. see also Lamberz-Litsas, 1978, pp. 47-48 (ms. 14) and 80.
  34. Βίος καί Πολιτεία Ιεροθέου το Μακαρίου Γέροντος᾿, publ. the Holy Monastery of Our Lady Chrysopodaritissa, Athens 1994, pp. 94-150 (on the time of his stay at the Skete of St Demetrius). See also Mastroyannopoulos, 1986, pp. 27-33.
  35. The relationship between the ‘wordly’ Monastery of Vatopaidi and the Kolyvades movement is a subject which remains open for investigation.
  36. For the particulars given by Georgirinis, see Gothoni, 1994, p. 59. For Covel, see Hasluck, 1910-11, p. 124.
  37. Gothoni, 1994, pp. 77-78.
  38. Walpole, 1817, p. 199; Anghelou, 1965, p. 40.
  39. Alexandros Lavriotis, 1963, p. 260 (monks at the dependencies are also included); Alexandros Lavriotis, 1966, p. 25 (the 26 laymen in residence have not been subtracted).

94. Krastanov, 1994, pp. 96-97. The number of those living in kellia has not been calculated. The figures given for the Monastery are excessive, as are those for the total population of Mount Athos (7,150 monks).