Protaton of Mount Athos

Protaton of Mount Athos Monastic life in the Mountain dates back to the seventh century, with its main characteristic being the plethora of kalyve (small dwellings) and a lack of any whatsoever form of organisation. From the ninth century and forth, the life of the monks appeared more organised. The Assembly of the Elders (the Kathedra) was founded during the heights of Zygos (the Turkish yoke) and the institution of the protaton was slowly established.

The First Typikon of Mount Athos ( the Rule of a monastery, a book containing its rules and regulations) which was published by the emperor John Tzimisces in 972, recognised the first authority of Mount Athos which is elected by the monasteries. During the centuries that followed, the institution of the First would at times flourish and at other times decline.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century the Typikon (Charter) of 1810 was published, which assigned the Protos (Primate) along with four overseers and with a holy synod which comprises the representatives of the twenty monasteries making up the Mount Athos community. This format is generally enforced to this day.

The administrative authority of Mount Athos is exercised by the Holy Community composed of twenty members, one from each monastery, while the executive authority is exercised by a separate committee of four overseers, the Holy Epistasia.

The most significant building at the Protaton in Karyes is the church dedicated to the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the oldest church on Athos. It belongs to the type of the three-aisle basilica and has two narthexes (the transverse vestibule of the church).

The church's interior is adorned with the frescoes of the famous painter Manuel Panselinos (beginning of the fourteenth century). These frescoes are considered to be masterworks and are representative of the Macedonian School. The marble templon (iconostasis) dates back to the tenth century. Preserved in the sanctuary is the miracle-working icon of the Virgin, the "Axion Esti".

The library of the Protaton contains 117 manuscripts, among them the first Typikon of Mount Athos, referred to as "Tragos" (Billy goat) because it is written on goatskin and features the signature of John Tzimisces.

© 1997 Macedonian Press Agency