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Sunday, 16 February 2020

From Odessa to Constantinople and Mont Athos: the Christou Collection



The text which follows is my Introduction to the Christou Collection which will be sold at Heinrich Koehler, Wiesbaden, on 24 March 2020 as Lots 507 - 643. To view the Lots go to




https://www.heinrich-koehler.de/en/373rd-heinrich-k%C3%B6hler-auction?f%5B0%5D=field_catalogue_part%3A3802&f%5B1%5D=field_catalogue_part%3A3473&f%5B2%5D=field_item_type%3Asingle


There has been a Russian Orthodox religious presence on Mont Athos for a thousand years, of which the great monastery of St Panteleimon was and remains the centre. But in the nineteenth century, especially from the 1840s onwards, successive Tsarist governments supported financially and diplomatically the creation and expansion of newer institutions, technically inferior to monasteries but in practice coming to exceed in the size of their estates and the number of monks they housed the old ruling monasteries. Three institutions stand out: the Skete [ monastic community] of the Prophet Elijah (Ilinski Sikt), a dependency of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Pantokrator but housing first Ukrainian and then Russian monks; the Kellion [cell] of St John Chrysostomom (Ioanna Zlatousta), a dependency of the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Hilandar; and the Skete of St Andrew (Andreeveski Sikt and sometimes called Serail), a dependency of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Vatopedi.

Until 1912, Mont Athos was part of the Ottoman Empire with a Turkish governor in residence and Ottoman customs, immigration and postal agencies located in the port of Daphne and the small administrative town of Karyes. In addition, and as elsewhere in the Levant, the Russian company ROPiT maintained a shipping agency and a post office on Athos with significant autonomy from Turkish control. For example, mail from Russia could travel by ROPiT ship from Odessa direct to Athos and be distributed to the Russian communities by Russian postal officials. But Russian mail could also be transferred to the Ottoman system in Constantinople for onward transmission, and some was.

Spiritual  authority over the monasteries rested (and still rests) with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. When secular authority over Athos passed to Greece in 1912, the spiritual arrangements remained unchanged.

From 1912 on, the Russian Orthodox communities suffered a succession of blows from which they did not recover.

First, in 1913 the Imperial Russian government responded to perceived heretical tendencies among the monastic communities by sending in gunboats and troops and, after violet clashes, forcibly deporting about eight hundred monks who were returned to Russia, tried, defrocked and internally exiled. The number of monks was thereby reduced by somewhere between a third and a half.

Second, the First World War led to a reduction in contacts and financing from Russia. 

Third, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 cut the remaining contacts almost to nil. 

The Russian communities went into long term decline and by the 1960s the few remaining elderly monks were completely unable to maintain the vast properties which they occupied. The significant library of the Andreevski Skete was destroyed by fire in 1958; the last  monk there died in 1971 and the Andreevski estate reverted to the Greek monastery of Vatopedi. Even though it was re-occupied by Greek monks in the 1990s, modern photographs show the skete’s original pharmacy, candle factory and photographic studio untouched except by the mice and the weather.  

As recently as 2017, online photographs of the Kellion of St John show a ruined building with administrative offices from which furniture has been removed but where the paperwork has been left in heaps to rot on the floors.

At some point in the 1970s, in an attempt to raise funds, monks on Mont Athos packed up old and unwanted administrative papers into suitcases and travelled to Thessaloniki and elsewhere attempting to sell them to collectors and dealers. They had only limited success and most of the old paperwork was left to rot (as shown by the St John photographs already mentioned) or was used for fire lighting in communities which still had no access to electricity. 

Just one collector appears to have taken a serious interest in what the monks were offering, the late Stavros Christou, and it is his collection of Athos-related material which is offered in this sale. The collection includes material from many other sources, but at its core is what was offered to Mr Christou in the 1970s. It is dominated by material from the period 1840s - 1913 which was the hey-day of Russian monasticism on Mont Athos when ships arrived almost daily, mail came in sackfuls, and goods needed by the monastic communities arrived not only from Odessa but from suppliers across Russia.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Just Published: Trevor Pateman, Philatelic Case Studies from Ukraine's First Independence Period


Now available as a full-colour paperback:

Philatelic Case Studies from Ukraine’s First Independence Period
by Trevor Pateman
ISBN  978 1 734 52222 0 4




Glenn Stefanovics in Connecticut has edited my Blog posts about Ukrainian philately into a beautiful 140 page full-colour book with all my original illustrations and  an Index which makes it much more readily useable than this Blog.  It is now available. The book has been printed in the USA and will be distributed from there though I will service individual orders for some countries in order to reduce postage costs.

The book is priced at $20 plus postage.To obtain a copy for despatch within the USA or to Canada email Glenn at veldes1@hotmail.com giving your name and address. You will be able to pay by bank to bank transfer, by PayPal, or in the USA by cheque. He will quote you the postage charge, currently about $8. 

To order a copy for despatch within the UK, Europe or Australasia, email me at patemantrevor@gmail.com. I will quote you a price based on actual postage costs and offer the choice of paying into a UK sterling or German €uro denominated bank account. 

For all other destinations, contact Glenn for a quote.

The book is published by Glenn’s Morea Research Group and with an ISBN - which ensures that copies can appear on Amazon. It is already available in the USA  on amazon.com

Glenn plans to recycle revenues from sales of this Ukraine volume into the production of a second volume assembling some of  my Blog posts about Russian philately.