By Nicholas Fennell
Paperback: 280 pages
The Holy Mountain of Athos is a self-governing monastic republic on a peninsula in Northern Greece. Standing on the shores of the Aegean Sea is one of the twenty ruling monasteries that comprise the republic, that of St Panteleimon, known in Greek as the Rossikon. Its building, fully restored in recent years, can accommodate up to 5,000 men, reflecting the scale of the settlement at its apogee in the nineteenth century and prior to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 the monastery has experienced a strong revival and is now among the most numerous of the twenty. But the vast buildings that can be seen today are a reflection of only the past two centuries. That the Russian presence on Athos goes back more than one thousand years is much less well known.
This book is the first comprehensive account in the English language of this millennium of history. The author has been able to draw from previously inaccessible archival materials in gathering the wealth of information he shares in this work. The history of the community is not described in geographical isolation but shown as interacting with the much wider worlds of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and the modern nation state of Greece, together with that of the Russian homeland whose political character is constantly evolving. There are shown to be three distinct phases in this history:
- from the tenth to the twelfth centuries when Russian Athonites inhabited the ancient Russian Lavra of the Mother of God, also known as Xylourgou;
- then the six hundred years from the mid-twelfth to the mid-eighteenth century when the ancient Monastery of St Panteleimon was the Russian house on Athos, more commonly referred to as Nagorny or Stary Rusik;
- the most recent 250 years, that are naturally covered in greater depth thanks to the wider availability of sources.
Amongst the themes explored in the book are ethnic relations, the Pan-Orthodox ideal, the role of money and political pressure, sanctity and heroism in adversity, and the importance of historical memory and precedent. The author seeks to arbitrate fairly between often strongly opposing ethnic viewpoints.
It examines in detail the fluctuating fortunes of the monastic community of St Panteleimon during the past 250 years, when its ethnic identity was frequently questioned. St Panteleimon's is a history that has been blighted by Greek-Russian quarrels, mass deportation of dissenting brethren, troubles in the Caucasus, and even tangential implication in the present-day dispute between the Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchates over Ukraine.
This text will be invaluable to both academic historians and the general educated reader who does not possess specialist knowledge. It is complemented by a timeline, glossary, comprehensive bibliography, index, full-color illustrations and photographs.