Religion In Greece – Churches, Greek Easter And Christian Names

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 about what it means to be a Greek Orthodox Christian.

The importance of religion in Greece

In comparison to most other European countries, religion is rather 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 the Greek Orthodox religion on national Greek ID cards was mandatory until 2001.

A Byzantine church in Athens - Religion in Greece

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!

The church of Agia Fotini near Tripoli

Apart from the official churches and chapels, you will also 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 baptized 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!

A Greek christening

Quite often, people choose to shorten their names – so for example, Konstantinos can be called Kostas, and Panagiota can be shortened to Penny. My parents shortened my own name, Vassiliki, to Vanessa. (Apparently, I owe this to Vanessa Redgrave, who was popular at the time I was born).

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

Most Greek people have a nameday. A nameday is the day when the Orthodox Saint who we were named after celebrates. Traditionally, a nameday used to be more important than a birthday.

Inside a Greek church

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. Constantine 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).

Traditionally, people received friends and relatives at home on their nameday. No invitation was needed, and it was just assumed that people would drop by. This is becoming less common these days.

Read more here: Name Days in Greece

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 specific diet on about 180 days in total throughout the year. The longest streak begins on Clean Monday and continues throughout the whole of Lent.

The fasting calls for an almost vegan diet, where 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.

A church in Greece

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? You are not alone. However, there are several people in Greece who follow a strict fast throughout the whole year!

Greece Religion – Easter

In most countries where Christianity is a major religion, Christmas is the biggest religious holiday. In Greece, however, Easter is traditionally more important 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. The Epitaphios is carried around the church and the neighbourhood, and people follow in a procession.

The Epitaphios procession before Greek Easter

Unlike Christmas, Greek Easter is not really commercialized. There is no tree to decorate, no stocking fillers, no socks over the fireplace.

The only things bought for the Easter ceremony 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 Food

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.

Read Easter eggs for Greek Easter

Finally, the star of the day, lamb on the spit, which means the WHOLE lamb on the spit.

Greek Easter - Lamb on the spit in Arachova

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. 

Here is some more information about what to expect if you are visiting during Greek Easter. As for Greek food, take a look here: 50 best Greek dishes to try!

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.

Religion in Greece

In many areas, the church is not only a place to worship God, but also a place to meet like-minded people and to socialize. In fact, many activities, like choirs or excursions, are organized by the local churches.

Masses and services are in Greek, and in fact in an old-fashioned form of the language.   

Religion in Greece – Panigiria

A panigiri is a local feast in celebration of a saint. Since there are several saints in Greece, there is an abundance  of panigiria throughout the year, everywhere in the country.

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. My favourite choice for a panigiri? Ikaria!

If you are planning to go to a panigiri, have a look at this article with some useful words in Greek which may come in handy.

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 arguably of a pagan nature, the Orthodox church accepts it nevertheless.

Getting rid of the evil eye in Greece

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.

Here is some more information on the concept of the evil eye. 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 literally hundreds of monasteries and nunneries throughout Greece.

Monks in a Greek monastery

You can visit most of the Greek monasteries and nunneries at specified times. Just remember to be modestly dressed and behave accordingly.

FAQs about Religion in Greece

Here are some questions that people often ask about religion in Greece:

What is the main religion in Greece?

The main religion in Greece is called Christian Orthodoxy, or Greek Orthodoxy. Over here, we just call it Christian Orthodoxy.

How many religions are there in Greece?

Apart from Christian Orthodoxy, there are small percentages of people who follow other religions in Greece. Examples are Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and people who follow the Greek National Religion, which is related to the 12 Olympian Gods. 

Is Greece an Islamic country?

Greece is not an Islamic country. There are, however, Muslim people in Greece. The Muslim minority is about 1% of the population.

What are the Greek religious beliefs?

The main religion in Greece is Christian Orthodoxy. With that said, not everyone in Greece follows these principles. Some people identify as agnostics or atheists.

Is Christianity a Greek religion?

This question cannot be answered in a couple of lines. We’d first need to define what it means to be ‘Greek’, which is a whole different chapter.

More blog posts about Greece

You might also be interested in these other articles about Greece:

Vanessa at Meteora MonasteriesHi! I am Vanessa from Athens. Religion in Greece is tied to our long history, and is a fascinating subject. While you are likely to meet people who self-identify as agnostics, the truth is that religion is still tied to what we call “Greek culture”. I’d love to hear your opinion on our religious traditions, so feel free to comment below.

Monks in a Greek orthodox monastery

Religion in Greece

9 thoughts on “Religion In Greece – Churches, Greek Easter And Christian Names”

  1. For the fasting the week before Greek Easter, what food is allowed to eat and not eat? Is it only meat and fish or other foods too? What else must be acidified during this fasting period?

  2. You don’t say nothing about other religious groups. No mention of the Hellenic ethnic religion, no mention of Islam, no mention of Hindus, no mention of Buddhists. It’s a clear article on Eastern Orthodoxy. No spherical, no relation to reality. and the real Hellenic world. There is also a large part of the population where they are atheists or angnosists.

    • I won’t disagree that many people are atheists or agnostics, but even they celebrate many of our religious holidays. I know plenty of atheists that are happy to go to church for Easter… whether we like it or not, religion is tied to the culture in Greece. As for the other religious groups you are mentioning, I don’t think a visitor to Greece would notice any of them. For us living here, sure, we may know a few people who follow these religions, but they are definitely not major.

    • Thanks! I am not sure I understand your question. For religious Greeks, Easter is the most important religious celebration of the year. And I am not talking about the holiday aspect, but the religious and cultural one. You might want to have a look at this article?

  3. Hello! Nice article Vanessa, it’s really respectable that you wanted to write about our religion as an undivided aspect of our culture. I just wanted to mention that Greek Orthodoxy does not accept the “evil eye”. As you said it is of pagan nature, and it doesn’t fit into Orthodox Christianity. I know that the “evil eye” is very popular in our country, but I assure you, and you can actually check on it, the Greek Orthodox Church does not accept or approve it. The symbol of Cross is more than enough to protect a Christian, there is no use for the “eye”. Thank you for reading till the end!

    • Thank you for your comment Evi! I have actually discussed this sensitive matter with religious people and my understanding is that the Greek Orthodox church accepts the vaskania. And while the church does not accept any symbols other than the cross, I think that many religious people do. Please check this other article I’ve written on the evil eye which goes a little deeper and let me know what you think!

  4. can you tell me about the little medallions sometimes hung over a statue of Mary in some of the churches? They might have a leg or an arm, or an infant embossed in them. What are they called and what is their usage? And are they left forever? Thanks!! Great description.

    • Hi and thanks for your question! These medallions are usually called τάμα (tama – singular) / τάματα (tamata – plural), though the proper word is ανάθημα (anathima – singular). As far as I know they are left forever, I have been to churches on the islands where there are literally hundreds of them. People leave them in the church either when they are praying to a saint for something to happen, or as a token of appreciation when they had a wish granted. I’ve written a few more things here, have a look 🙂 Btw, there was a similar practice in Ancient Greece, and in many other religions…


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