Religion in Greece is quite important, in comparison to most other European countries. It is tied to every aspect of the culture. Read on to find out more!
In comparison to most other European countries, religion is quite important in Greece. It is tied to every aspect of the culture, and the percentage of self-identified religious people is among the highest in Europe. The official religion in Greece is Eastern Orthodoxy, known also as Greek Orthodoxy. Reference to Greek Orthodox religion on Greek ID cards was mandatory until 2001.
Religion in Greece – Churches around Greece
If you are driving around Greece, the number of churches that seem to be everywhere will surprise you. Wherever you are, chances are that if you look around you will be able to see at least one church. Given our long and varied history, many of those churches are over 500 years old, not to mention the Ancient Greek temples that exist in several parts of Greece. The church of Agia Fotini near Tripoli, uniquely combines several elements in one church!
Apart from the official churches and chapels, you will definitely notice several tiny churches on the roadside, all around the country. Unfortunately, many of those little shrines were built in the memory of someone who died at a car accident. Sometimes, however, they were built by those who survived an accident, thanking the saint who protected them.
Religion in Greece – How are names chosen?
In Greece, children are baptised Christian Orthodox in church, when they are a few months old. They are traditionally named after their grandparents, who were typically named after a Christian Orthodox saint. During the ceremony, the baby is immersed in a large tub of water. Babies are typically 6-12 months old when they are baptised. As you can imagine this ceremony is not all that pleasant for the baby – there is normally a lot of crying going on!
Quite often, people choose to shorten their names – so for example, Konstantinos can be called Kostas, and Vassiliki can be Vasso, Vickey or Vanessa. These days, many couples choose to give their children a name they like rather than name them after their grandparent. Nevertheless, baptisms in church still take place for most children.
Religion in Greece – Namedays
If you are Greek, chances are that you have a nameday. A nameday is the day when we celebrate the Orthodox Saint whose name we have, and it was traditionally more important than a birthday.
Some of the most important Greek namedays are the following:
- Giannis – St. John (January 7)
- Giorgos – St. George (April 23, or the first Monday after Easter)
- Kostas and Eleni – St. Konstantine and St. Helen (21 May)
- Maria (the Assumption of Mary on 15 August and the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 21 November)
- Dimitris – St. Dimitrios (26 October).
On their nameday, people traditionally receive friends and relatives at home, though this is becoming less common these days.
Religion in Greece – Fasting
For most religions, fasting is a custom related to cleansing, and there are several fasting periods throughout a year. The Greek Orthodox church follows a rather strict fasting regime. It consists of a vegan diet on about 180 days in total throughout the year. Confusingly, seafood (but not fish) is also allowed. The fasting regime also includes abstinence from “anything pleasurable”, which makes one wonder how religious Greeks make babies.
The longest periods of fasting are the weeks before Easter, before Christmas and before the Dormition of Virgin Mary on 15th August. Also, Wednesdays and Fridays are days of fasting. A few foods like olive oil and wine have their own special place in the fasting regime, so they are not allowed on all fasting days.
Confused? So are we. However, there are several people in Greece who follow a strict fast throughout the whole year!
Religion in Greece – Easter
In most countries where Christianity is a major religion, Christmas is the most important religious holiday. In Greece, however, Easter is a lot bigger than Christmas. On the week before Easter, fasting becomes extra strict, and there is a daily ceremony in churches all around the country. One of the highlights of those ceremonies is the Perifora tou Epitaphiou, on the evening of Good Friday. This consists of a flower-adorned cubicle, the Epitaphios, representing the grave of Jesus Christ, which is carried around the church.
Unlike Christmas, Greek Easter is not really commercialised. There is no tree to decorate, no stocking fillers, no socks over the fireplace. The only things bought for the Easter holiday are candles, to be lit up in the church on Holy Saturday. These are traditionally bought by a person’s godfather or godmother.
Greek Easter traditions include LOTS of food. Tiropita, spanakopita, and various types of salads. Local meat delicacies with weird names, such as kokoretsi and gardoumpa. A tasty, hearty meat soup called magiritsa, made out of animal parts that are not even allowed in some countries. Red hard-boiled eggs, which are meant to be crushed into each other.
Finally, the star of the day, lamb on the spit, which means the WHOLE lamb on the spit.
Easter is a big day and an even bigger feast, and it’s celebrated in traditional style all around Greece. In some places it is celebrated for several days. Schools remain closed throughout the Good Week and the week after Easter. Watch out for our upcoming article on Greek Easter!
Religion in Greece – Going to church
Although attending church on Sundays is not extremely important in big cities in Greece, it is quite common in rural areas and smaller towns. In many areas, the church is not only a place to worship God, but also a place to meet like-minded people and to socialise.
Religion in Greece – Panigiria
A panigiri is a feast in celebration of a saint. Since there are several saints in Greece, there is an abundance of panigiria throughout the year. Apart from the religious element, there is live music, and lots of food and drink.If you are on a Greek island, make sure you ask around. If you are lucky, you will witness one of the best examples of religion meeting Greek culture. Our favourite choice for panigiria? Ikaria!
Religion in Greece – The evil eye
The evil eye is a common idea around the Mediterranean, and not only. It is a curse, believed to be given to a person by someone looking at them. Although the evil eye tradition is arguable of a pagan nature, the Orthodox church accepts it nevertheless.
If you walk around any of the touristy areas in Greece, you are likely to come across several pieces of jewellery or decoration that will keep the evil eye away. The resemblance to the Eye of Horus might not be entirely a coincidence!
Religion in Greece – Monasteries
Last, but definitely not least, religion in Greece is tied with the hundreds of monasteries. The Meteora monasteries, as well as the peninsula of Agion Oros / Athos, are world famous. But there are plenty more monasteries and nunneries throughout Greece.
You can visit most of the Greek monasteries and nunneries at specified times. Just remember to be modestly dressed and behave accordingly.
Do you have any questions about Greek Orthodox religion? Let us know in the comments!