This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.


Life of St Athanasios of Athos, Vita B

This saint's life, Vita (= life) B, was likely written in the early twelfth century, around a century after the death in c. 1000 of the man whose exploits it describes. It provides fascinating information on the foundation of one of the greatest monasteries of Byzantium, the Great Lavra at Mount Athos. The time which elapsed between the saint's death and the compositon of this life has allowed the incorporation of many details which relate to later practices or conditions at the monastery, for example the construction of the chapels of St. Nicholas and the Forty Martyrs, described in the passage below, which were not built until after the death of Athanasios. Indeed, the information contained in this passage should be compared carefully with that provided in a number of original documents relating to the foundation and rules of the Great Lavra, conveniently translated with commentary in a Dumbarton Oaks volumes of monastic typika.

A second life of St. Athanasios exists, Vita A written c. 1025, which is longer and far more rhetorical than Vita B. It was formely held that Vita B was a simplified version of Vita A, but more recently it has been suggested -- by Dirk Krausmüller, developing a theory put forward by Alexander Kazhdan -- that both B and A are modeled on an ealier lost life.This possible Ur-Vita, it is imagined, was written by one Anthony, abbot of the Constantinoploitan monastery of Ta Panagiou, shortly after the death of Athanasios. Both extant lives make clear, when one reads between the lines, that monasticism on Athos was well established before the foundation of the Lavra, which has traditionally been held to mark the point from which monastic life on the mountain began to flourish. One can say with greater authority that the shift from eremitic (solitary) and lavriote (based on individual cells) to cenobitic monasticism on Mt. Athos was a consequence of Athanasios' promotion of the latter at the (therefore inappropriately-named) Great Lavra.

The following excerpt was translated for the Greek Reading Group at Dumbarton Oaks, under the guidance and direction of Alice-Mary Talbot and Denis Sullivan. Eventually, a full annotated translation will appear under their names in the series Byzantine Saints' Lives in Translation. The texts of both Vitae are expertly edited in J. Noret, Vitae duae sancti Athansasii Athonitae (Louvain, 1982).

Vita Athanasii, B, ch. 23-26: The Foundation and Rules of the Great Lavra Monastery at Mount Athos, AD 961.


Paul Stephenson, November 2003

Revised January 2012