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Miloš Velimirović

Semi-autonomous monastic ‘republic’ comprising numerous Greek and other Christian monastic communities. It is located on a peninsula of the same name, east of Thessaloniki in northern Greece; the peninsula is also known as the ‘Holy Mountain’ (Hagion oros) or the ‘Garden of the All-Holy Virgin’. Since the Middle Ages, and especially since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Athos has been an important centre for Byzantine chant. A number of notable musicians and composers worked there, including Joannes Koukouzeles, who lived near Lavra in the 14th century, and many important manuscripts were produced in its monasteries. The Athonite monastic communities are now unusual in their adherence to the regular recitation of the Byzantine Offices.

Because of its isolation and semi-desert nature, Athos is an ideal monastic site. Monasteries were first established there in the 9th century (references to earlier foundations are unsubstantiated). Great Lavra, the oldest continuously inhabited monastery, was founded in 963 by St Athanasius of Athos with the support of the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phocas. The number of subsequent foundations grew rapidly; there are references (perhaps exaggerated) to some 180 monastic settlements in the 11th century and close to 300 by the early 13th century. Later, however, the number of monasteries diminished. In the early 13th century crusaders conquered Constantinople and many monasteries lost their property and suffered economic decline. In the early 14th century Athos was ravaged by Catalan soldiers, and for over 20 years in the middle of the century it was a part of the Serbian Empire. During this century, too, the monks were sharply divided by the theological controversy over the views of Gregory Palamas....