Athanasius the Athonite, St.
ATHANASIUS THE ATHONITE, ST.
Byzantine founder of cenobitic monasticism on Mt. Athos; b. Trebizond, c. 920; d. Mt. Athos, c. 1000. His well-to-do family had him baptized Abraham. He studied at Constantinople and became a monk at Mount Kiminas under Abbot Michael Maleinos, uncle of nicephorus phocas (later emperor). While still a general, Nicephorus employed Abraham as his spiritual director. Abraham changed his name to Athanasius and retired to Mt. Athos as a hermit to escape court honors; however, he was persuaded to accompany the general during his campaign against the Saracens in Crete. With imperial support he founded the Great Lavra on Mt. Athos in 963 and introduced a Typicon, or rule, for cenobites based on the common-life ideals of St. basil the great and theodore the studite. Opposition to this innovation developed on the death of the emperor (969) and was combined with the accusation that the success of Athanasius's experiment was a result of imperial influence. But the new emperor, John I Tzimisces, rallied in favor of Athanasius, who had fled to Cyprus. Strengthened by a vision as well as by financial support, Athanasius returned to Mt. Athos, where he was killed c. 1000 when the masonry collapsed as he was laying the keystone of a dome. The Athanasian Hypotyposis was based upon the Studite rule but shows strong traces of Benedictine influence. A third document, the Diatyposis, deals with the succession and station of superiors and the rights of the epitropos, or adminstrator, and provides a directory for the Easter Liturgy and other rites. A factual life of Athanasius was written by a younger Athanasius who seems to have obtained most of his information from the founder's disciple, Anthony, and a John Hexapteryos. A second anonymous Bios, or life, seems to have been based on the first. Athanasius is named in the preparatory part of the Byzantine Eucharistic Liturgy.
Feast: July 5.
Bibliography: k. baus, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 1:976. p. meyer, Die Haupturkunden für die Geschichte der Athosklöster (Leipzig 1894). l. petit, "Vie de Saint Athanase l'Athonite," Analecta Bollandiana 25 (1906) 5–89. j. leroy, "S. Athanase l'Athonite et la règle S. Benoît," Revue d'ascétique et de mystique 29 (1953) 108–122. e. amand de mendieta, La Presqu’île des Caloyers: Le Mont-Athos (Paris 1955). h. g. beck, Kirche und theologische Literatur im byzantinischen Reich (Munich 1959) 578, 588–589. p. lemerle, "La Vie ancienne de S. Athanase l'Athonite," Le Millénaire du Mont Athos (Chevetogne 1963–) 1:59–100.
[g. a. maloney]