“Religion in Present-Day Greece: Facts and Challenges”: a discussion with Dr. Bert Groen

February 24, 2012 • Blogs, The World at Yale • Views: 5345

By Willa Frej:

On Tuesday afternoon, the Hellenic Studies Program at Yale’s MacMillan Center invited Dr. Bert Groen, Fellow at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and the director of the Institute of Liturgy, Christian Art, and Hymnology at the University of Graz, to address current-day religious trends in Greece. Held in a classroom in Luce, the intimate talk took the form of a seminar in which the audience drove the conversation.

Groen began by upholding the commonplace belief that Greece is a nation defined by the Orthodox religion. There is no denying that the vast majority of Greeks are Orthodox and strictly abide by their faith. “The further North you go,” explained Groen, “the more cremations occur. The further South you go, cremations remain scarce.”

Orthodoxy is an integral part of modern Greek life. Orthodox churches, like this one in Athens, are numerous and visible in cities and towns all across Greece. (Flickr Creative Commons/David.Kamm)

Groen quickly changed gears to focus on the underlying religious diversity that exists in Greece, despite constitutional recognition of the Orthodox Church. Islam is the country’s largest minority group and is found in pockets of Thrace, an area near the Turkish border. Geographically isolated, Greek Muslims also face general economic hardship and constantly find themselves, according to Groen, needing to justify their faith to their country and to the world. Official mosques or imams have yet to appear across Greece, and so Muslims resort to worshipping in hotel restaurants, while those less fortunate practice their religion in more precarious locations carefully watched by police.

Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, Jews, Classical Greeks, Free Masons, and atheists also sprinkle the Greek religious scene. For these minorities, Groen notes that today’s challenges lie in the Orthodox Church’s consistent marginalization, even though many Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses are, in fact, ethnic Greeks who share a common history with Orthodox Greeks. He hopes that societal changes can lessen these divides.

How to reconcile Greece’s intense religious identity with its significant diversity? Greece can be commended for its efforts to enhance tolerance and approve regulations on religious freedoms, yet there is a staunch reticence to intermingle or dissolve prejudices.

Groen begs outsider nations to limit their judgments and generalizations on Greece’s religious makeup; his mission is to dispel the myth of the Greek monolith and reveal that, for better or for worse, diversity and some level of intolerance come hand in hand.

Willa Frej ’13 is in Pierson College. Contact her at willa.frej@yale.edu.

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