Mount Athos, comprises today monastic foundations which can be divided into six categories; monasteries, skites, cells, huts, seats and hermitages.
The number of the monasteries- which cannot be increased or decreased-is twenty. Seventeen of them are Greek (Megistis Lavras, Vatopediou, Iviron, Dionysiou, Koutloumoussiou, Pantokratoros, Xiropotamou, Dohiariou, Karakalou , Phitotheou, Simonos Petras, Agiou Pavlou, Stavronikita, Xenofontos, Grigoriou, Esfigmenou, Constamonitou), one is Russian (Saint Panteleimona), one is Serbian (Helandariou) and one is Bulgarian (Zografou).
The number of the other monastic foundations is subject to changes. Today the monks are about 1650.Usually the monasteries are surrounded by four-story buildings where the monks’ cells are placed into different sections. Externally the buildings have balconies which are called aplotaries.
In the monasteries each monk has a small rectangular room with very few things in it. Each monastery acts as a separate patriarchical basilica. All the monks acquire the Greek citizenship when they become novices or when they become monks, without any further procedures in Mount Athos. Besides the twenty monasteries, there are also fourteen skites, huts, seats and hermitages. At Karies-the capital of Mount Athos -, an Ecclesiastical School operates for the novices and monks who wish to be educated. Today the population of Mount Athos consists of Greek, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Romanian monks.
Each monastery is surrounded by a strong wall which in the earlier days was fairly competent enough to provide safe residency. On the walls there are towers with battlement loopholes which made fighting with the pirates more effective. Most of the temples have wall paintings and they are rebuilt in a special architectural form which is called Agioritikos. The monasteries are all cenobetics. In the cenobetics everything is common. Building, work, food and prayer.
The legislative authority is conducted by the senate which comprises eminent monks. The administrative authority is conducted by the abbot who is the lifelong master and the spiritual father of the monastery. He is elected by the monks who are in the monastery’s service for at least six years.
The Skites are groups of monks’ houses which have been founded in a monastery’s area. The founding is done by a Monastery’s Act and is ratified by a decree from the Patriarchate. The number of the monks has been defined by the Act of Founding. The regulation of the interior operations of the Skite is approved by the monastery. The Skites are peculiars or cenobitics.The peculiars are a gathering of huts around a main temple which is called “Kyriaco”.
Each cell has its own very small temple. Anyway, all the monks on Sundays and holidays, have their divine services in the Kyriako, while during the rest of the days they have their services in their cells.
The head of a skite is called Dikeos and he is elected by the older monks of the cells for a period of one year. He takes care of matters such as caring for the hospitality of the pilgrims as well as for the performance of the divine services in the Kyriako.
He also represents the skite wherever it’s needed. At the cenobitic skites the Dikeos who is called Abbot, heads and leads the skite until his death and his election is approved by the monastery. Their buildings are like those of the monasteries but they can never become monasteries. Today there are 14 skites in total.
THE CELLS (KELLIA)
The Cells of Mount Athos are foundations with one temple and a building which consists of cells and auxiliary rooms. Head of the cell is the Old-Man and the rest are his attendants. The number of the monks cannot be more than nine.
They support themselves, by cultivating a small piece of land, painting and sculpturing the wood to form icons, making mortars and worry-beads.
THE HUTS (TA KALIVIA)
The huts are small and isolated residences for two or three monks which have been granted to them for life by the monastery to which the territory belongs. The monks in the huts support themselves with their handiwork.
THE SEATS (TA KATHISMATA)
The seats are small huts with only one monk. The monastery grants the seat to the monk. He lives for life there and he takes from the monastery only the absolutely essential food which is called coumbana.
The hermitages are small seats. They are at deserted and sacred places, sometimes on rocks and inaccessible summits and sometimes in caves and clefts of rocks where the monks establish their inaccessible refuges. They live there on fasts, wakefulness and endless prayers, studying the Testaments and the phenomenon of death.-
–All the establishments at Athos operate according to the Byzantine twenty-four hour system and according to the Julian calendar. When the sun sets, the time in Athos is 12:00 during all seasons with the exception of the Iviron monastery where the time is 12:00 when the sun rises.