While organizers of the Olympic Games promote a progressive Greece that resolutely looks forward, Greek Orthodox Church thrives far beyond the reach of the Olympiad, sources say.
“They might think we live in the Middle Ages, that we’re anachronistic, and they don’t want to show this side of the Greek culture too much,” Father Eirinaios Nakos told the Boston Globe. “Some politicians on the left tried to separate church from state, but the Greek people don’t want that to happen.”
According to the Globe, at least 2,000 volunteers working for the Athens 2004 organizing committee during the Games came from the Church. In addition, most of the Greek Olympic team attended a special service at the main cathedral with Archibishop Christodoulous, the Greek Church’s leader, August 1. And the tightly choreographed Olympic opening ceremony depicted Greek history from ancient times, and featured several saints and priests.
“If the Church hadn’t been so active, and pushed so hard, they wouldn’t have shown our central place in Greek history,” Eirinaos said.
The Church’s love for tradition hasn’t stopped it from piggybacking on the Olympics marketing. Throughout the city, churches feature a multilingual pamphlet entitled “Welcome to the Olympic Games” which directs visitors to Orthodox services in a variety of languages and advertises books about the church. Meanwhile church officials stand by to answer questions and sell books about the Church’s art, history, and dogma.
“The point is to show another side of Greek society,” one church official said. “Everything is tied into the church here. Greek people are born into the church, baptized, married, sometimes ordained, and when they die, the funeral rites are read.”
“There is no state without the Church,” the official added.
On almost every block in the city center, there’s a church or shrine, as well as on most rural hilltops. In downtown Athens, some of the most visible secular landmarks, like the ministry of education and the Evangelismos hospital, are located on land donated to the government by the Church, which is Greece’s largest property owner.
“The Church here obviously has huge influence,” said Steve Harrison, 29, from Virgina Beach, who is in Athens coaching an Olympic swimmer.
In Greece, there is no official separation of church and state. The government pays salaries to 12,000 priests, and provides health care and pensions to thousands more monks and nuns. Less than 10 percent of those who marry choose a civil ceremony over a religious one.
An estimated 97 percent of the country belongs to the Church.
[Source: The Boston Globe]