Greece’s many houses of God

A new re­port by the Gen­eral Sec­re­tariat of Re­li­gion lists coun­try’s places of wor­ship

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY APOSTOLOS LAKASAS

In Greece, ev­i­dence of Ortho­doxy Chris­tian­ity, whose roots are in­ter­twined with those of the na­tion, is ev­ery­where: Count­less churches, chapels and shrines, in squares, on moun­tain tops, in caves, carved into the rock, as if crafted by in­vis­i­ble, allpow­er­ful hands, by the sea or in pri­vate spa­ces. Of­fi­cial fig­ures point to a to­tal of 9,792 parish and monastery churches, but this fig­ure does not in­clude the hun­dreds of pri­vately owned places of wor­ship and chapels in ceme­ter­ies. Many have been de­clared World Her­itage sites.

Most churches are ded­i­cated to the Vir­gin Mary (Theotokos, Panaghia etc) Saint Demetrios (Aghios Dimitrios), Saint Ni­cholas (Aghios Niko­laos), Saints Con­stan­tine and He­len (Aghioi Kon­stanti­nos kai Eleni) and the Holy Trin­ity (Aghia Tri­ada). Most is­land churches are ded­i­cated to Aghios Niko­laos, pa­tron saint of sailors and fish­er­men, due to the fact that tra­di­tion­ally, most is­land fam­i­lies re­lied to a greater or lesser de­gree on the sea – which could of course be deadly – for a liv­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port by the Gen­eral Sec­re­tariat of Re­li­gion, of the 9,792 reg­is­tered churches, 9,146 be­long to parishes and 646 to monas­ter­ies. Th­ese in turn fall within the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Church of Greece. Most parishes, and thus parish churches – a to­tal of 249 – come un­der the Me­trop­o­lis of Ioan­nina.

As the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Sec­re­tariat for Re­li­gious Af­fairs, Ge­or­gios Kalantzis, ex­plained, each parish and church are con­nected to a num­ber of vil­lages, and the num­ber of churches each dio­cese has does not have a di­rect cor­re­la­tion with the num­ber of res­i­dents in that re­gion.

Preser­va­tion

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, in Greece, numer­ous Byzan­tine era (330-1453) churches have been pre­served. Many were built on an­cient tem­ples and shrines in an ef­fort to purge the re­gion of its pa­gan past. In the pe­riod from 1453 to 1830, sev­eral no­table cul­tural mon­u­ments and churches were built, mainly on Crete (be­fore the Ot­toman con­quest) and the Io­nian Is­lands (which were not con­quered by the Ot­tomans).

In to­tal, 350 Chris­tian places of wor­ship are con­sid­ered cul­tural mon­u­ments and, as such, are pro­tected. Un­for­tu­nately, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the Byzan­tine churches and monas­ter­ies of Athens were de­stroyed and looted over the cen­turies. Thus, af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of the dec­la­ra­tion on the in­de­pen­dence of the Greek Church with a se­ries of de­crees, monas­ter­ies with fewer than six monks were dis­solved and their prop­erty con­fis­cated. And then there are chapels in gorges, in caves or in other in­ac­ces­si­ble places, many of which are on the is­lands. For ex­am­ple, it is es­ti­mated that Ti­nos has more than 1,000 small churches. “Be­hind ev­ery good Chris­tian is a mother who taught them their faith. In ev­ery Greek land­scape there is a small chapel at least, if not a splen­did cathe­dral.” says Mar­ios Beg­zos, pro­fes­sor at the Theological School of Athens.

“And on the smaller is­lands you will find hun­dreds of churches, not dozens. The rea­son is the ex­pe­ri­ence of the dan­ger of a life at sea prompts the build­ing of churches ded­i­cated to the pa­tron saint of sailors and chapels to women in their lives, such as a mother or wife.”

In terms of other Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tions, more than 129 churches and monas­ter­ies be­long to the Catholic Church.

The churches tend to be small, in­cor­po­rated into pri­vate prop­erty and de­signed to serve as a place of wor­ship for a limited group of peo­ple, al­though there are a few free-ac­cess churches. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port by the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Sec­re­tariat for Re­li­gious Af­fairs, legally li­censed churches num­ber around 300. The num­ber of legally li­censed places of wor­ship for other re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties is 20. Th­ese be­long to re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties of Jews (11), Bud­dhists (seven), Hin­dus (three), Mus­lims (four) and Baha’is (six).

Of­fi­cial data point to a to­tal of 9,792 parish and monastery churches, but do not in­clude hun­dreds of pri­vate chapels.

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