Greek Orthodox Church Aims for Olympic Revival | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 14.08.2004
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Greek Orthodox Church Aims for Olympic Revival

As the Olympics return to their home country, the Greek Orthodox Church and the government are making an effort to show the country is cosmopolitan when it comes to religion.


The Greek Orthodox Church aims to show its openness

Christianity owes Greece a big debt: The New Testament, Christianity's founding document, was originally written in Greek and the first people to spread the new gospel to Europe were from the cradle of democracy.

More than 95 percent of the Aegean nations's 10.5 million citizens belong to the Greek Orthodox Church. But only 2 percent of them go to church regularly, despite the fact that Greek Orthodoxy is a pillar of Greek identity. But the church has appeared to be stuck in the past for a long time, and its self-confidence -- its primacy is practically guaranteed in the country's constitution -- has made relations with other churches difficult.

Members of other religious communities in Greece have criticized the Greek Orthodox church's place in the constitution, but believers see it as a way to protect their traditions.

"There are groups in Greece -- a range of people of Western origin, mainly from free churches or Protestant churches -- who proselytize," Professor Theodor Nikolaou, head of the Institute for Orthodox Theology at the University of Munich, told DW-RADIO. "That's the reason why the Greek constitution has had a sentence banning proselytizing in Greece almost since Greece's liberation from the Turks."

Open for all

However, the Olympic Games in Athens could signal the beginning of a change towards openness. The Greek Orthodox Church has said it will hold religious services for athletes from throughout the world.

"The church, the religions will accompany the players and the athletes," Professor Theodor Nikolaou, head of the Institute for Orthodox Theology at the University of Munich, told DW-RADIO. "In the words of the Archbishop of Athens Christodulos, the most important contribution religions make, including the Greek church, is to the spirit of the games being peaceful."

And to encourage religious tolerance, the Greek government authorized construction of the country's first mosque shortly before the start of the Olympics. The mosque is set to be built near the Athens airport, a location that met with protest. Opponents of the project feared that visitors to Greece would think the country was Muslim, Nikolaou explained. But the decision certainly sent a positive signal to the 120,000 Muslims who do live in Greece.

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