Though Greece is officially a secular state, the Christian Orthodox Religion is an important aspect of Greek culture and has great influence on the Greek religious and social landscape. About 98% of the Greek population is Christian Orthodox. The Orthodox Church is strongly connected to the Greek Nation since the Byzantine times and played an important role for the preservation of the Greek language, culture, traditions during the Ottoman occupation.
Regarding other religions in Greece, less of 1% are Greek citizens of the Muslim religion, mostly living in Thrace and the rest are Catholics (less than 1%), Jewish (about 7,500 people), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others. Many of Catholics live on the island of Syros and other islands of Cyclades.
Quite recently, in 2017, Hellenism – the modern version of worshipping the 12 Olympian gods, was legally recognized in Greece as a “known religion”, after being banned for centuries, granting to the people who follow it certain religious freedoms in the country. However, only a minority of people in Greece follow it. (Leaders of the movement claimed in 2005 that there are as many as 2,000 adherents to the Hellenic tradition in Greece).
Another interesting element that depicts the power of the Orthodox Church in Greece is the existence of a self-governed part of the Greek State, called Agion Oros which is politically under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece, spiritually under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, while the administrative part is in the hands of the 20 monasteries of Agion Oros. This place, geographically located in North Greece, is like a living museum of art, history and spirituality. Sticking to the ‘harsh’ rule of Christianity, the rule of “avato“, i.e. the prohibition of entry for women, is in effect as well as the entry is forbidden to people under the age of 18 – so basically only adult men can visit this sacred spot.
Despite the rule of the Christian Orthodox religion in Greek society, some customs derived from ancient times have been infused to the modern Greek traditions.
For example, on New Year’s day, some people in Greece follow the tradition of ‘breaking the pomegranate’ which constitutes an ancient Greek holiday tradition. The family goes to the church on Sunday to attend the Divine Liturgy of Basil of Caesarea, welcoming the New Year. The man of the house takes a pomegranate with him to the church to bless the fruit and when returning home he smashes the pomegranate in front of the main door. In Greek folklore, the pomegranate has been a symbol of strength and it is considered the fruit of life and good fortune.