Relations between the Orthodox Church of Finland and Mount Athos

25 February 2016

What is the relation between the Orthodox Church of Finland and Mount Athos?

The following paper is derived from papers presented at a Symposium on “Byzantium and the North”, held on 12th June 1981. The intention of the current work is to define the tradition of the Byzantine ascetism in the Northern Europe. “Since in the Scandinavian countries, apart from Finland, there are practically no traces of the tradition of Byzantine ascetism” according to the writer, the subject will be confined to examination of the tradition of the Orthodox Church in Finland.

The writer points out that the monastic life in Finland came from Byzantium and particularly Mont Athos. For that reason, he believes that is necessary first to examine the origin and evolution of Byzantine monasticism and then to proceed to the examination of the transmission of this monasticism into Finland and its evolution there.

The paper is divided into two parts:

  1. Byzantine monasticism and its formation and
  2. The tradition of Byzantine monasticism in the Orthodox Church of Finland. 

Byzantine monasticism and its formation

Byzantine monasticism owes its formation to the Desert Fathers in Egypt and especially to the Father of the ascetic and monastic life, St. Antony (1), to his disciple, St. Pachomius (2), who was the founder of the coenobitic life, to the two renowned ascetics Macarius the Egyptian and Macarius the Alexandrine (3), and Evagrius of Pontus (4), who was the latter’s disciple.

The monastic life was transplanted from Egypt, which is considered the cradle of monasticism, into the rest of the East and West.

In the East monasticism was organized in Asia Minor and Armenia by Bishop Eustathius of Sebasteia in the middle of the 4h century and in Pontus at Caesarea by Basil the Great a little later. St. Basil was pre-eminently the founder of the monastic life in Byzantium. For this purpose he visited all the monastic centers in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia and met the great personalities of the monastic life and the monastic ideal. When he returned to Caesarea of Cappadocia he retired to the desert of Pontus near the river Iris and began to practice a strict ascetic life.

In a letter to Eustathius of Sebasteia Basil the Great describes how the pious ascetics and hermits and monks with whom he was in touch in Egypt and Palestine influenced him in his decision to devote himself to the ascetic life (5). Pachomius, through his Monastic Rule (6) which he drafted for his disciples in Egypt, changed the life of the hermits from anchoritic to coenobitic. So he was honoured by the name of Patron and was recognized as the first founder of the coenobitic life, not only in his country but in the history of monasticism as well. The importance which is ascribed to Pachomius in Egypt for his contribution to the foundation of the coenobitic life, should undoubtedly be ascribed to St. Basil in the East and to the Church of Byzantium for its great contribution to the foundation and evolution of the coenobitic life in monasticism.

St. Basil was the founder and prominent organizer of the coenobitic life inAsia Minor. From there this life spread to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Coenobitism was the work, inspiration and practice of St. Basil.

[Το Βe Continued]
  1. (PG) 26, 837.
  2. Sozomen, Eccl. Hist. III 14. Rufinus, Hist.Monachorum,Ch.28.
  3. Socrates, Eccl. Hist. IV 23. Sozomen, Ibid.
  4. Socrates, Ibid.
  5. Epistle 223 to Eustathius of Sebasteia, Deferrari III 229/3.
  6. Sozomen, Ibid.

From Acta Byzanitna Fennica, v. 1, 1985.