Great Lavra is the earliest and biggest foundations on Mount Athos.It was founded in 963 by monk Athanasios and this event marks the change-over on Athos from the individual ascethic life to organized monasticim.
The chosen site for the monastery was probably the spot where ancient Pelasgian city of Akrothi had stood. According to biography by Athanasios, he first enclosed the site with a wall.Aftewards the katholikon was built within the enclosure, and lastly rows of cells for monks. This colossal work was funded by Nikephoros Phocas – emperor at that time and a close friend to Athanasios.Later he endowed the monastery with various properties and dependencies. He also presented Great Lavra many gifts of relic, inluding fragments of the True Cross, and many works of art.
Thanks to the genereosity of successice emperors, the monastery prospered. The number of monks soon exceeded the original 80. The coenobitic way of life took firm root not only at Lavra, but throughout Mount Athos. Athanasios, who lived until the end of the tenth century, was succeeded by Eustaratios, whose signature was found on a document of 1016.
Great Lavra, in common with all Athonite monasteries, experienced many fluctations in fortune. At some periods it flourished, at others it declined, and there was even a period in 17th century when it was virtually deserted. During Ottoman Occupation Lavra recieved assistance in many ways from the rulers of the countries of the Danube basin and from the Tsars of Russia.
Today Great Lavras follows the coenobitic way of life, and at the present moment numbers 420 monks, of whom 50 live in the monastery and 370 are divided between its many dependencies.