Agion Oros has a rich and turbulent history that goes back for more than 1000 years. During that time, many administrative changes happened. Sometimes the monks were scarce and sometimes numerous. In the beginning of the 19th century they were around 6000 monks but just a few decades later only around 1000 remained. Habits and customs also changed in the course of time. It is only reasonable to assume that the monastic foundations also went through changes. Some were burned or deserted while new ones were founded. In the 10th century there were around 56 monasteries. A few centuries later the monasteries went to 180.
At present 20 monasteries are still active. They form the administrative backbone of the Agion Oros community. Apart from the large monasteries, a number of smaller monastic structures also exist. These are the Sketes (Σκήτες), the Cells (Κελιά), the Huts (Καλύβες), the Seats (Καθίσματα) and the Hermitages (Ησυχαστήρια). The Sketes and the Cells also provide a monastic life. In the Huts, the Seats and the Hemitages the number of monks is smaller and the conditions of living much harsher. The people there usually feed on what the earth around them can offer and their “homes” are usually caves and rocks over the cliffs of the sea. These remote places administratively and spiritually are sheltered by a nearby monastery. A monk before retreating to this seclusive way of life has to obtain the permission, the blessing of the prior monk of the monastery.
The 20 monasteries are divided in five groups of four monasteries each. The monasteries have a hierarchy that goes back in time, according to their history, wealth and privileges obtained by the byzantine emperors. Representatives of each of the 20 monasteries reside in an annex(konáki) in Karies where they form the administrative command, the Holy Community.
The 20 monasteries according to the hierarchy are: