Religion in Greece

December 3, 2011
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The main religion in the country of Greece is Greek Orthodox. In fact, Greek Orthodox is the religion that about 98% of the population celebrates. Because of this vast amount of followers of this faith, the Greek Orthodox religion plays a very important role in the lives of its people. Festivals and Saint’s days, as well as other holidays on the religious calendar in Greece, throughout the year characterize this religion. Food plays a key role in society, particularly in respect of these holidays. The Greek’s firm religious beliefs are reflected in altars and facades of many Greek homes, and the religion has its roots deep in the history of Greece. The beliefs, customs and holidays are intricately woven into what is known as the Greek Orthodox religion.
A worshipper of the Greek Orthodox religion believes in the old Christian ways. ‘Orthodox’ means, “correct belief” in Greek, which emphasizes that the religion is devoted to the original faith. After Jesus died, Paul of Tarsus took the Christian message to Asia, Minor (Turkey), and to Greece and Rome. The Greek Emperor Constantine was the first ruler to accept the Christian faith. Constantine gave the Christian Greeks the freedom to worship openly, gave them special privileges, and built the first great Christian churches. The role of the Greek Orthodox Church is maintaining Greek ethic and cultural identity, as they did during the 500 years of Ottoman rule, which has only strengthened the bond between religion and government. The religion became orthodox in the eighth century when the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and the Patriarch of Constantinople came into conflict, a time known as Schism. Among the Christians and Roman Catholics, the two figures were known to be equal in power, but, because the Pope believed he held power over the entire church, and the Patriarch believed a council should make matters of faith, the two churches separated. Since then, the Greek Christians, now known as Orthodox Greeks, believe in the original message of Christ’s Resurrection, and often pray to the Saints of Jesus. The basis of the Greek Orthodox religion is the old Christian belief.
Greek Orthodoxy is celebrated in churches and chapels. There is not one church that stands out from the other in size or attendees, most are named ‘The Greek Orthodox Church’, and some have even adopted the names of Saints. The Patriarch represents Greek Orthodoxy, as well as other Eastern Orthodox religions. The priests, usually men, of these churches can marry, though there are a few rules and exclusions. One of these is that if the man is unmarried at the time he is ordained, he cannot marry, another is if his wife dies, he cannot remarry. After a priest has been married, he cannot become a bishop- only those who are young and celibate are eligible. Monasteries are another place of worship. Greeks have practiced spiritual discipline, passing day in prayer and meditation. Mount Athos, near Thessaloníki, is famous for the many monasteries that dot its surface, some of which date back to the tenth century. Orthodox monks, who live as laymen, live in these places of worship. Greek Orthodoxy is observed in churches and chapels.
Holidays and festivals are celebrated almost everyday in Greece. Women of Greece prepare food for Saints days, which are like birthdays. Many Greeks are named after Saints, and children do not celebrate their own birthdays, but rather the birthday of the Saint they are named after. These days do not involve presents, but there is an open house where friends and family visit. Before Easter, there is a Lenten festival known as ‘clean Monday’. Because Greece is a matriarchal society, women are known to fast in their husband’s place during the 40 days of Lent. Easter is the most important festival in Greece. During holy week, the churches in Greece are decorated in black. On Good Friday, the woman decorate Christ’s bier, which is carried through the streets that echo with voices singing hymns. On the Saturday before Easter, the churches are re- decorated in white. On the midnight of Saturday, Greek churches and chapels are plunged into darkness and the priest lights a candle to represent the Resurrection of Christ. The congregation then lights their own candles and they break their fast with Easter soup. Other holidays include August 15, the Assumption of the Virgin, March 25, Independence Day, April 23, Agios Geogious- feasting and folk- dancing for St. George, and May 21-23, Anastenaria, which is when people walk on hot coals to celebrate the rescue of icons from a burning church near Thessaloníki in 1250. Visitors are welcomed into all celebrations and cannot fail to feel the spirit of their religion as expressed by their festivals. These many festivals and holidays are celebrated almost every day in Greece.
Relics and holy icons are found in almost every Greek home. All orthodox Greek homes have a special corner for devotion containing icons, lamps, and holy oil. A guest who enters a Greek home will, upon entrance, greet the icons by crossing himself. Only then will he greet his host. As well as icons, Saints are respected and have a type of problem, feeling or situation that they are charged with. People often pray to these saints, using the Saint’s full name and purpose. Icons and Saints are the Greek Orthodox religion’s main rituals practiced in the faith.
Orthodox Greeks tolerate other religions, but the constitution refers to the Orthodox Church as the established religion and proselytizing by other religious groups is forbidden. There is a small Muslim population, 1%, and the other 1% of the population are Jewish, Protestants, and Roman Catholics. A Muslim is a person who practices Islam. Islam was founded in Arabia by Mohammed in 570- 632 A.D. Islam teaches that there is one God, Allah. It focuses on submission to God and acceptance of Mohammed as the chief and last prophet of God. Islam takes its name from the Arabic word for “devout submission to the will of God.” Muslims accept their scriptures, the Koran, as the speech of God to Mohammed, and they believe God Himself is the author. They observe the five “pillars” of Islam: (1) the declaration of faith, (2) prayer, (3) fasting, (4) giving alms, and (5) a pilgrimage to Mecca. In Islam, the distance between God and humanity is so vast that even those most devoted to Allah never get close to him. Because this distance between Allah and his followers is impossible to cross, followers practice repetition and submission designed to bring the worshipper closer to Allah. Muslims worship in Mosques, two of which were built in Greece inside the old city walls of Ioánnina. They practice many periods of fasting, the most widely known period is called Ramadan, which is the holy month of daytime fasting. The Muslims have an interesting religion compared to the others, even though it has so few followers in the country. Though believers of the Greek Orthodox faith tolerate other religions, the constitution refers to the Orthodox Church as the established religion.
The Greek Orthodox religion is considered to be a part of Greek culture. Most Greeks revere and respect the faith, attend church and major feast days, and are emotionally attached to the religion. It’s unique style, belief system, exciting festivals, and meaningful holidays make it an interesting religion. Orthodox Christianity has been in Greece from the time of Constantine the Great when he saw a vision of the cross, and it seems as though it will outlast the other religions in the country for a long time.

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Spottedpaw said...
Apr. 3, 2013 at 12:42 pm
I loved your article! :) i'm also an Orthodox Christan Greek too! I'm from Cali. I really wish i can go to Greece , it seems like a beautiful place to live! Thank you for writing the article. May the Lord bless you! Please pray for me! 
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