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eligious traditions may be the oldest social contracts that we still solely respect and haven’t altered since their creation. These traditional rituals are well rooted in our cultures and are used as a way to define ourselves in such a varied and unique world. One great example is a ban that has been imposed for the last 1000 years.

Mount Athos is a small peninsula in the North-West of Grece and women are banned from coming as close as 500 meters from the coast of Mount Athos. There is a lot of great history behind this peninsula and what is even more interesting is that not much has changed in the past 1000 years. There are over 2,000 monks from different parts of the world living in the 20 monasteries scattered around the peninsula.

Even all the men that want to visit the monastery have to go through a rigorous check process before they are allowed to stay for three nights. Every week 100 orthodox men are welcomed to come and pilgrim Mount Athos. Everyone who visits must have a clean record otherwise no entrance is permitted.

History of Mount Athos

There is a lot of history behind Mount Athos. It has been first inhabited during the 1st century by monks who were seeking refuge from the Roman Empire since they have set to persecute the Orthodox church. The biggest migration was during the 8th and 9th centuries when the Byzantine Empire created an edict banning Orthodox paintings and later on other documents associated with Orthodox Christianity.

Painting of Saint Athanasius the Athonite (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In 885 Emperor Basil I, also known as the Macedonian wanted to offer protection to the monks so he stopped any illegal crossing over the river Xerxes and declared Mount Athos a holy place for the monks to find refuge. As long as the monks stayed on their peninsula without affecting those outside of the peninsula the Byzantine Empire was ok with this. The monks living on Mount Athos were also excused from paying any taxes to the Byzantine Empire.

In 963 the first big Athonite monastery (Great Lavra) was built on the peninsula with the help of General Nikephoros II Phokas and under the supervision of Saint Athanasius the Athonite. Athonite was a Byzantine monk that founded the monastic community on Mount Athos which lead to the creation of Athonite Orthodoxy, a stricter subgroup of the Orthodox religion.

Why are women banned?

Around the same period when Saint Anthonite was seen as the leader of the monks within the peninsula, he had set some strict rules for the monks to obey for the rest of their lives. Saint Athonite was declared the first Monarch of the monks who imposed a descriptive list of guidelines that followed the beliefs of these Orthodox monks.

Part of the typikon bearing the Greek goldenseal (Source: Christian Orthodox Church)

These new rules imposed by Saint Anthonite were legally accepted in 970 when Emperor John I Tzimskes approved the typikon written by the monks. A typikon is a liturgical book that contains instructions about the order of the Byzantine Rite office and variable hymns of the Divine Liturgy. Within it, the monks have declared religious laws that had to be legally enforced and followed by anyone approaching Mount Athos. The most significant laws are:

  • Monks aren’t allowed to hold any valuable possessions.
  • All monks must be treated the same and not decriminalized based on their birthplace.
  • All monks had to follow the Protos-Orthodox beliefs set in the 4th century.
  • All women are banned from Mount Athos.

There is even a big sign at the entrance of Mount Athos which states some of the most important rules, including The Entrance of Women is entirely forbidden”.

Post at the entrance of Mount Athos stating some of the most important rules in different languages (Source: Public Domain)

Some people think that it is because the monks hate women, but they actually respect them and love them so much that this rule is instated. To truly become a saint and live a holy life based on the orthodox liturgy, a woman will lead a man to sin. These monks are so into their religion that they need their minds clear, meaning that even the sight of a woman can lead them to sinful thoughts which goes against the typikon.

There is also another Orthodox tradition that is used as reasoning for banning women. One of the traditions is that the Virgin Mary was blown off course when she was trying to sail to Cyprus and landed on Mount Athos. And she liked it so much that she prayed to her son that she should be given it as her own and he agreed. “It’s still called ‘the garden of the mother of God’, dedicated to her glory, and she alone represents her sex on Mount Athos.”

For years the Greek government had tried to change this law in order to allow women to visit this place, but no luck. Even an equality law was created in 2017 to remove the ban on women, but the monks on Mount Athos will defend their rules with the same dedication to their religious beliefs. Some may say this is bad, but their religious lifestyles should be respected.

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know in the comment section.

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