Reaching the Nations

Greece

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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GreeceGeography

Area: 131,957 square km.  Greece borders Turkey, Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria in Southeastern Europe.  Aegean, Mediterranean, and Ionian Seas also surround Greece.  Greece experiences a temperate climate with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers.  Mountains dominate the landscape.  Forest covers much of the country and is home to many endangered species.  Most of the country consists of peninsulas and approximately 2,000 islands stretching to the western coast of Turkey.  Greece’s strategic location controls many seaways to the Black Sea.  Earthquakes are a major natural hazard.  Environmental issues include air and water pollution.  Greece is administratively divided into 51 prefectures and one autonomous region.

 

Population: 10,737,428 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 0.127% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 1.37 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: 77.11 male, 82.37 female

 

Peoples

Greek: 93%

Other: 7%

 

All citizens are regarded as Greek and account for 93% of the population.  Foreign citizens living in the country account for 7% of the inhabitants, many of which come from the Middle East, Europe, or East Asia. 

 

Languages: Greek (99%), other (1%).  Greek is the official language.  Other languages with native speakers include Slavic, Turkish, Romani, Albanian, Aromanian, and Bulgarian.  Greek is the only language with over one million speakers (10.7 million). 

Literacy: 96% (2001)

 

History

Greece has a long and rich history and regarded as the cradle of Western civilization.  The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations ruled present-day Greece prior to 1000 BC.  Greece was divided into independent city states during much of the ancient and classical eras.  Wars with Persia ensued and later Greece came under Roman rule by 146 BC.  Following Christ’s ministry, the Apostle Paul visited Greece several times to proselyte.  Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire from the fourth century to the 15th century following which Greece was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.  Greece gained independence in 1830 and included Central Greece, Attica, the Peloponnese, and the Cyclades.  Gradual territorial expansion occurred until 1947, much of which came from victories as a result of the Balkan Wars.  Greece was occupied by Germany during World War II and civil war broke out following liberation by Allied forces.  During the 1960s and 1970s government turmoil and instability ensued result in a temporary military dictatorship but a democratic government returned to power in 1974.  Greece joined NATO and the European Community (now the EU) shortly thereafter and has experienced marked economic growth.  The 2004 Summer Olympic Games were held in Athens. 

 

Culture 

The Greek Orthodox Church is the dominant cultural influence although most are nominal members who identify with the Church and its traditions.  Greeks have little tolerance for outsiders, especially foreign religious groups.  Greek cuisine includes lamb, salads, cheese, pita bread, olives, and vegetables.  A rich legacy of literature, science, and technology continue to influence modern culture.  Greece has the highest cigarette consumption per capita in the world whereas alcohol consumption rates are slightly higher than the United States.  The Olympic Games originated in Greece and soccer is highly popular.  Millions of Greeks live in other nations, notably the United States, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Albania. 

 

Economy

GDP per capita: $32,100 [69.2% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.942

Corruption Index: 4.7

Greece has rapidly developed its economy over the past several decades from a poor nation to one of the wealthiest in the region.  Services employ 65% of the workforce and produce 76% of the GDP whereas industry accounts for 22% of the workforce and 21% of the GDP.  Wheat, corn and barley are primary agriculture products and tourism, food processing, and textiles are the largest industries.  Primary trade partners include Italy, Germany, Russia, and Bulgaria.  The unemployment rate has risen in recent years due to increased economic instability reaching 8.9% in 2009.  Greek labor unions oppose many government policies which are handed down from the EU and sometimes lead to rioting and violence. 

 

Corruption permeates society and politics and is among the most severe in the EU.  Bribery allegedly occurs frequently, usually involving doctor fees, building permits, and tax evasion.[1]  Local governments Religious minorities sometimes experience harassment. 

 

Faiths

Christian: 98%

Muslim: 1.3%

Other: 0.7%

 

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Greek Orthodox  10,522,679

Catholic   200,000

Jehovah’s Witnesses   28,859  377

Latter-Day Saints  693  5

Seventh-Day Adventists   510  9

 

Religion

97% of the population adheres to the Greek Orthodox Church.  Religious minorities primarily reside in Athens.  Roman Catholics and Muslims are the two largest minority groups; the latter has a visible presence in Thrace.  The remainder of the population are Protestant Christians or belong to other religious groups.

 

 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index: 62nd

The constitution allows for religious freedom and the government generally upholds this right.  The Greek Orthodox Church is regarded as the prevailing religion and government finances much of its costs.  Non-Orthodox groups experience legal restrictions and difficulty obtaining official standing needed for meetinghouses.  No “house of prayer” permits have been issued since 2006.  Public proselytism is forbidden and religious groups which are active in the country must maintain social order.  Missionaries have been arrested frequently on charges of proselytism.  Membership in the EU has helped to liberalize laws limiting religious freedom for minority groups.

 

Largest Cities

Urban: 61%

 

Athinai, Thessaloniki, Piraieus, Patrai, Peristerion, Iraklion, Larisa, Kallithea, Nikaia, Kalamaria.

 

Three of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  20% of the national population lives in the ten largest cities.  The Athens metropolitan area accounts for up to 30% of the population.

 

LDS History

The first known convert from Greece was taught by the president of the mission in Turkey and baptized in 1905.  Many Greek-Americans joined the Church in the 20th century.  The first small congregation in Greece was organized in the 1960s.[2]  Elder Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated Greece for missionary work in 1972.[3]  The Greek translation of the Book of Mormon began in the 1970s and was completed in 1987.  A native Greek in the United States named Lica Catsakis Bywater translated the full edition.[4]  Full-time missionaries began serving in Greece in 1986 and numbered 20 in 1990.[5]  The Austria Vienna East Mission administered Greece prior to the creation of the Greece Athens Mission in 1990.[6]  Greece became part of the Europe/Mediterranean Area in 1991.[7]  The first youth conference was held in 1995.[8]

 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 693 (2008)

In 1980, there were 200 members.  In 1990, membership remained unchanged.[9]  32 attended the creation of the Thessaloniki Branch in 1992, which had 25 members.[10]  By 2000, membership reached 515.

 

Membership grew slowly in the 2000s, numbering 591 in 2002, 631 in 2005, and 693 in 2008.  Growth rates have dropped from over 6% prior to 2003 to less than 5% since.  Foreigners constitute the majority of Church members in Greece.  In early 2010, only one native Greek member was active in the Thessaloniki Branch. 

 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 4 Groups: 2

In 1988 there were three branches, increasing to four in 1992 and seven in 1994.  In the early 1990s, a district functioned in Greece.[11]  A branch was organized in Thessaloniki in 1992 after many years of diligent work from missionary couples and elders.[12]  Branches decreased to six in 1996, four in 1998, and returned to five by 2000.  An additional group began meeting in Kavala in the late 2000s.  A group has functioned in Patra for many years.  Kavala was closed to missionary work in late 2009 and the group was discontinued.  In 1997, there were 58 missionaries serving in Greece.[13]  The number of missionaries serving in Greece and Cyprus has fallen dramatically during the 2000s from around 100 in the mid-2000s to less than 30 in early 2010.

 

Activity and Retention

The groundbreaking for the first meetinghouse in Greece occurred in 1997 with 73 in attendance.[14]  Over 200 attended the dedicatory services for the meetinghouse in 1999.[15]  23 were enrolled in institute during the 2007-2008 school year.  40 attended a young adult youth conference in June 2004.[16]  In 2007, there were around 100 active members in Athens.  In mid-2009, there were less than 20 attending meetings in Patra.  In early 2010 there were less than 15 active members in Thessaloniki.  Active membership is likely between 100 and 200, or 15% to 25%.  

 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Greek, English, Turkish, Albanian, Bulgarian.

All LDS scriptures are available in Greek, English, Albanian, and Bulgarian.  Only the Book of Mormon has been translated into Turkish.  Many unit, temple, priesthood, relief society, Sunday School, young women, primary, missionary, and family history materials are available in Greek, Turkish, Albanian, and Bulgarian.  Several CES manuals are available in Albanian and Bulgarian; only one is translated into Greek.  The Liahona has one Greek issue and four Bulgarian and Albanian issues a year.  

 

Meetinghouses

Elder Didier dedicated the first Church-built meetinghouse in 1999 to house the three branches in Athens.[17]  In early 2010, only the Halandri Branch met in the meetinghouse.  The Acropolis Branch and other congregations met in rented spaces. 

 

Humanitarian and Development Work

Missionaries have offered service in protecting Greece’s forests through watching for fires.  This resulted in positive relations with the city of Patra and media exposure for the Church.[18]  Missionaries served as volunteers during the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.[19]  Missionaries have cleaned up debris around areas of Athens including Mars Hill.[20] 

 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

 

Religious Freedom

The Church is recognized as a known religion and enjoys protection granted through the constitution.  LDS Missionaries have been arrested by police many times in the past two decades.  In 2008, LDS missionaries were detained for two days on charges of proselytizing and were acquitted.  Although legal issues have not greatly limited the Church’s progress, societal pressures have caused major setbacks for missionaries and members. 

 

Cultural Issues

Faith is often viewed as an extension of the Greek ethnic identity. The fifth-century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus identified the Greek people as sharing common blood, common language, common culture, and common religion. Twenty-five centuries later, Herodotus' observation remains largely true: The religion of Greeks remains highly homogenous with little pluralism, and  converting to non-Greek faith is often seen as cutting oneself off from family, heritage, and culture.

 

Interest in religion is very low despite nearly all the population identifying as Greek Orthodox.  Missionaries have had a very challenging time finding those interested in the Church and are usually very poorly treated.  Service activities have come as unwelcomed by many Greeks.  Members, missionaries and Church leadership in Greece face ostracism from society and are often heavily persecuted.  Tradition is a very strong force which produces anger and confusion when broken.  Members face cultural challenges such as accusations of not being Greek for not belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church.  Those who become ostracized often lose employment and many social connections.  Similar intolerance occurs in Greek communities in other nations, such as the United States, but members tend to cope with these challenges by removing or distancing themselves from Greek communities.  Widespread tobacco use creates additional challenges for investigators and members to overcome in order to live Church teachings. 

 

National Outreach

Most the population does not live near Church outreach centers located in Athens, Thessaloniki, Kavala, and Patra.  The unreached population accounts for at least 65% of the national population, or seven million people.  Athens is the most reached city by the Church as it headquarters the mission and has two congregations.  Of the 51 prefectures, only four have a reported congregation.  Non-Greeks, particularly East Asians and Africans, have seen the greatest mission outreach as they are the most receptive.

 

Many of the prefectures are very difficult for the Church to reach as they are isolated from current Church centers or located on islands.  Over half a million live on islands in the Aegean Sea, such as Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Cyclades, and Dodecanese.  Over 600,000 live on Crete.  About 200,000 reside on islands in the Ionian Sea.  Millions more unreached Greeks populate prefectures far from established congregations and any modern Gospel witness. 

 

Few convert baptisms and the limited number of missionaries assigned to Greece limit additional outreach.  The city of Kavala opened in the mid-2000s with high ambitions and enthusiasm but only had a few baptisms over several years and closed to missionary work.  The greatest opportunities for outreach are in cities with over 100,000 inhabitants without a Church presence, including Piraieus, Peristerion, Iraklion, Larisa, and Kallithea. 

 

The Church has an Internet site for Greece in Greek, http://www.churchofjesuschrist.gr/, which provides news, information on Church teachings, and times and locations for Church meetings.  Many Greek Americans have joined the Church and demonstrate interest in expanding mission outreach in Greece, particularly among friends and relatives. 

 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Members of the Church are often severely persecuted by friends, family and the community.  Ostracism can become so severe that many active members have left the Church.  Active Greek members have strong testimonies as they have had to weather the persecution heaped upon them from society.  Persecution has made many members stronger in their testimonies, but at significant costs in sacrifice and endurance. 

 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The majority of active membership is non-Greek and poses a significant challenge for integrating native Greeks into congregations.  This congregational demography has originated from non-Greeks greater receptivity to the Church’s teachings. 

 

Language Issues

The Church benefits from a wide body of materials in Greek and many minority languages despite a small active membership that are native speakers of Greek.  Missionaries report challenges becoming proficient in the Greek language.  Limited membership results in the diverse membership communicating in a second language in Church meetings.  Slavic, Romani, and Aromanian have no language materials. 

 

Missionary Service

Few local members have served missions.  During the decade of the 2000s, just four members from Greece, only one of whom was an ethnic Greek, served missions.  Member-missionary participation has been limited, in part due to hostility and isolation from the surrounding culture.

 

Leadership

The Church in Greece has a very limited native leadership which is reflected in the lack of a district.  Mission leadership helps mentor and supervise congregations.  The small number of congregations within the mission may have resulted in local members relying on the mission to run the Church on the local administrative level.  Very few Greek members have served in leadership positions. 

 

Temple

Greece belongs to the London England Temple district.  Temple trips likely occur infrequently due to few active members, long distance from the temple, and constraints on time and money.  The assignment of Greece to the London England Temple district may indicate that the few active members predominately speak English and that the entire mission falls under the temple district due to strong ties between Cyprus and the United Kingdom. 

 

Comparative Growth

Greece has arguably seen the slowest membership and congregational growth in the world for any nation in which the Church has had a mission for over two decades.  The Greece Athens Mission was one of two missions worldwide to not have stakes or districts organized within its boundaries until the creation of the Nicosia Cyprus District in 2007 (as of early 2010 the Russia Vladivostok Mission still did not have a stake or district).  The fact that native Greeks form only a small minority of membership provides an even more disappointing dimension on comparative growth.  Missionaries reported in 2010 that the mission was the lowest baptizing in the world.  Activity rates appear consistent for the region.

 

Christian groups report that slow growth has occurred over the past several decades.  Seventh-day Adventists have similar growth trends, membership size, and national outreach compared to the LDS Church.  The only group which has seen consistent growth and wide-reaching proselytism efforts are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who represent the largest non-Orthodox and non-Catholic denomination.

 

Future Prospects

Cultural and societal challenges continue to slow and limit the Church’s progress in Greece.  Increased materialism from recent economic growth has exacerbated negative attitudes toward foreign religious groups.  These social views continue to weigh heavily upon native Greek membership and intimidate potential converts.  Pressure from the EU for greater religious tolerance may help the Church in the long term.  However Greece still lacks a native membership base to assist in the Church’s national outreach, leaving this responsibility primary to the foreign missionary force.  The cutback in the full-time missionary force likely reflects the low receptivity and slow growth.  Large, currently unreached cities may oneday open for missionary work, yet it is difficult to justify the manpower and resources needed for expansion when there has been so little response in regions with established congregations.  The formation of additional branches and a district seem unlikely in the near future.  There has been little receptivity to foreign missionaries; well-trained member-missionaries may one day be able to achieve greater success, although intensive efforts will be necessary in a challenging environment.  The future of the Church in Greece will depend heavily on the development of a strong, indigenous member base and on finding more effective ways of working, although such goals appear distant. 

 



[1]  Gerboin, Lydie.  “Survey says Greek bribery up,” Transparency Watch, February 2009.  http://www.transparency.org/publications/newsletter/2009/february_2009/anti_corruption_work/bribes_in_greece

[2]  “Greece,” Country Profiles, retrieved 18 March 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/greece

[3] “Meetinghouse is dedicated, first in Greece,” LDS Church News, 12 June 1999.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/35907/Meetinghouse-is-dedicated-first-in-Greece.html

[4]  Warnick, Lee.  “Book of Mormon in 80th language,” LDS Church News, 9 January 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18233/Book-of-Mormon-in-80th-language.html

[5]  Kinnear, John G.  “Bearing testimony where Paul preached,” LDS Church News, 4 October 1997.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29423/Bearing-testimony-where-Paul-preached.html

[6]  “Eight new missions announced,” LDS Church News, 3 March 1990.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/19805/Eight-new-missions-announced.html

[7]  Cannon, Mike.  “Diversity in land, people and climate,” LDS Church News, 7 December 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21327/Diversity-in-land-people-and-climate.html

[8] “From around the world,” LDS Church News, 28 January 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/25994/From-around-the-world.html

[9] “Eight new missions announced,” LDS Church News, 3 March 1990.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/19805/Eight-new-missions-announced.html

[10] “From around the world,” LDS Church News, 9 May 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/22238/From-around-the-world.html

[11]  “From around the world,” LDS Church News, 16 January 1993.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/23439/From-around-the-world.html

[12] “From around the world,” LDS Church News, 9 May 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/22238/From-around-the-world.html

[13] Kinnear, John G.  “Bearing testimony where Paul preached,” LDS Church News, 4 October 1997.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29423/Bearing-testimony-where-Paul-preached.html

[14]  Kinnear, John G.  “Ground broken for first meetinghouse in Greece,” LDS Church News, 4 October 1997.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29498/Ground-broken-for-first-meetinghouse-in-Greece.html

[15]  “Meetinghouse is dedicated, first in Greece,” LDS Church News, 12 June 1999.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/35907/Meetinghouse-is-dedicated-first-in-Greece.html

[16]  “Young adult conference in Greece,” LDS Church News, 5 June 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/45662/Young-adult-conference-in-Greece.html

[17] “Meetinghouse is dedicated, first in Greece,” LDS Church News, 12 June 1999.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/35907/Meetinghouse-is-dedicated-first-in-Greece.html

[18]  Kinnear, John. G.  “Missionaries donate time protecting forests in Greece,” LDS Church News, 15 November 1997.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29151/Missionaries-donate-time-protecting-forests-in-Greece.html

[19]  Stahle, Shaun D.  “Mission reflections: ‘Sweet experience’ in Greece Athens Mission,” LDS Church News, 23 September 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49462/Mission-reflections-Sweet-experience-in-Greece-Athens-Mission.html

[20]  “Missionaries in Greece clean Mars Hill,” LDS Church News, 14 May 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/47295/Missionaries-in-Greece-clean-Mars-Hill.html