Greece Religion

Greek Orthodox Christianity is an official religion and formally professes almost all Greeks to this belief. The Greek church is nationally self-governing, but the patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) is recognized as the spiritual head of the church.

The Greek Orthodox faith is an important part of national identity. To most people, being Greek is the same as being an Orthodox believer. Resistance to the Turkish empire in the early 19th century was often organized in churches and monasteries, which means that the church still meets today with respect, even among non-religious. The church has also helped to preserve the Greek language and build a national school system. Its ties to the state are strong and the church is considered to have great political, economic and social influence.

The former left government under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had far-reaching plans to more clearly try to separate the Orthodox Church and the state, including by implementing a constitutional change so that priests would no longer be paid by the state. From the left, it was also advocated that the state should be “religiously neutral” and relate equally to different religions. However, the Conservative government that will take office in 2019 scrapped these plans.

Greece’s largest religious minority is the Muslims, most of whom are Turks. There are also small groups of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others. Religious freedom prevails, but Muslims are the only officially recognized minority. Furthermore, it is forbidden to convert Orthodox to another religion. In primary school, orthodox religious education is compulsory.

A special position is the autonomous Greek Orthodox monk republic of Athos. It was founded in the 960s and consists of 20 medieval monasteries on a mountainous promontory on the Chalkidiki Peninsula. A total of a few thousand monks live there. The Republic is governed by a parliament consisting of 20 monks, one from each monastery, and a board of four. Only men and male animals are allowed to stay in Athos; exceptions are made for cats and chickens.

Greece Population Pyramid 2020

  • Countryaah: Population statistics for 2020 and next 30 years in Greece, covering demographics, population graphs, and official data for growth rates, population density, and death rates.



UNHCR is concerned by the rise of unaccompanied children

November 2

The UN refugee organization UNHCR and Greek officials say there has been a 40 percent increase compared to last year by the number of migrants coming to Greece via the border in the northeast to Turkey. So far, about 11,000 migrants have crossed the border. A large proportion of these are particularly vulnerable people such as unaccompanied children and adolescents or families with young children.

Flight connection to Macedonia

November 1st

For the first time in twelve years, it is possible to fly again between Greece and Macedonia after an airline was opened between Athens and Macedonia’s capital Skopje. Air relations will resume after Macedonia’s parliament on October 19 took a first step towards renaming it to Northern Macedonia.


The Foreign Minister resigns as a result of the Macedonia issue

October 17

Greece Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias resigns after a quarrel with Defense Minister Panos Kammenos on an agreement with Macedonia on a change of name. Kotzias was the main negotiator when the two countries decided last summer that Macedonia would change its name to Northern Macedonia in exchange for Greece agreeing that neighboring countries would become members of NATO and the EU, among others. But Kammenos and his party Independent Greeks are against the agreement and have threatened to leave the government. Prime Minister Tsipras is now taking over the leadership of the Foreign Ministry.


Hundreds of migrants are relocated following criticism of overcrowding

September 21

Since aid organizations have criticized overcrowded refugee camps on the islands of Lesbos and Samos and warned of severe health consequences for migrants, the authorities are beginning to move hundreds of migrants to a refugee camp in the northwestern part of the country. According to official statistics, over 10,000 migrants are in Lesbos, of which 9,000 are in the camp of Moria – three times as many as the camp is adapted for. The camp in Samos holds 650 migrants but currently houses 3,600.


Declining unemployment

9th of August

Greece’s unemployment rate has dropped below the 20 percent mark for the first time in seven years, reports the statistical agency Elstat. The proportion of unemployed Greeks is 19.5 percent. In August 2017, the figure was 21.7 percent. Despite the improvement, Greece has the highest unemployment rate in the EU. Still, 40 percent of the country’s youth are unemployed and one in four women go unemployed.

Tsipras: “Black building to be demolished”

August 7th

Prime Minister Tsipras says thousands of illegally built homes and other buildings will be demolished. The decision is a result of the fact that it is clear that the black building in Mati and other areas around Athens hampered the rescue work in the fires and prevented people from fleeing the fire. According to Tsipras, more than 3,200 buildings are to be demolished with immediate effect.

Diplomatic quarrel with Russia

August 6th

Russia calls on Greece’s ambassador to Moscow to inform about “mutual action” after Greece expelled two Russian diplomats accused by Athens of interfering in Greece’s relations with Macedonia. At the same time, two Russians were stopped from entering Greece. According to the Greek TV channel ERT1, Russia has tried to stir up protests among the Greeks against the naming agreement between Greece and Macedonia.

Last payment on the emergency loan

August 6th

Greece receives the final payment (of EUR 15 billion) in the eight-year financial rescue program. The program ends formally on August 20.

Police and fire chiefs are dismissed

5 August

The government replaces both the national police chief and the head of the country’s fire brigade. This happens as a result of the criticism of the rescue efforts during the severe fires outside Athens in July.

Minister resigns after the fires

August 3rd

The minister responsible for the police resigns as a direct result of the handling of the fires in the Athens area in July. More than 90 people were killed in the fires, including many children. Around 40 remain in hospital. The opposition has accused the government of not going out in time with warnings to residents in the risk areas and that an evacuation was not started before the disaster was a fact. New democracy demands the departure of Prime Minister Tsipra. The government has defended itself by saying that the rapid fire course in the seaside resort of Mati on July 23 made a rescue effort almost impossible and that many of the cheat buildings in an unauthorized location contributed to the development of the event.


About 90 dead in severe fires

23 July

Around 90 people are killed and around a few hundred injured when strong warm winds cause forest and bush fires to spread rapidly on the outskirts of Athens, where many Greeks are in their summer homes. Among the dead are several children. Hundreds of houses turn into ashes and large areas of pine forest burn up. Twenty-five people are missing in the fires. There are strong suspicions that the fires are on fire. The government announces three days of country grief.

The majority of Greeks reject the agreement with Macedonia

July 8

A survey published in the Ethnos daily newspaper shows that 58 percent of 9,800 Greeks surveyed are against the agreement with Macedonia that the neighboring country should change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Forty-five percent call the agreement “treason.” Opponents are mainly upset that the language in the neighboring country should be called Macedonian and that the residents should be called Macedonians. Eighteen percent of the Greeks surveyed sympathize with a neo-Nazi army commander who recently proposed that the country’s political leaders be arrested to stop the deal. In order to get the name change, Greece has pledged to no longer oppose Macedonia’s attempt to join the EU and NATO.


“Greece’s crisis is over”

June 23rd

The Eurozone’s 19 finance ministers note that Greece’s debt crisis is over, while agreeing to pay an additional € 15 billion to the Greek government to facilitate the country when it leaves the rescue program on August 20. The Greek government has received a total of € 274 billion in three rescue packages since 2010. The price has been a series of economic reforms that have led to high unemployment and the economy shrinking by a quarter in just a few years.

Preliminary agreement on change of name is signed

17th of June

Greece and Macedonia sign a preliminary agreement saying that Macedonia will be renamed the Republic of Northern Macedonia to resolve the 27-year-old name conflict between the two countries (see Foreign Policy and Defense). The agreement is signed in the fishing village of Psarades on the southern shore of Lake Prespa, which forms part of the border between the two countries. At the same time as the agreement is signed, about 500 protesters are joining forces with the riot police in the village of Pisoderi, just over two miles away. Six protesters and as many police officers are injured in the violent protests against the agreement. A permanent agreement can only be concluded when both countries’ parliaments approve the agreement and submit it to a referendum in Macedonia.

Protests against the naming agreement with Macedonia

June 16

Prime Minister Tsipras and his government win a vote of confidence in Parliament with the numbers 153-127. The vote is an unsuccessful attempt by Opposition New Democracy to issue a declaration of confidence to the government for the agreement it plans to sign with Macedonia to reach a resolution in the conflict over its neighbor’s name. Under the agreement, the neighboring country is called the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Outside Parliament, hundreds of protesters gather in protest of the deal. Some throw stones and petrol bombs at the police who respond with tear gas. The opposition mainly concerns the fact that the language and people of the neighboring country should be called Macedonian and Macedonian respectively.

Last payment from the emergency loan

June 14

Euro countries agree to pay one billion euros to Greece as a result of further economic reforms. Thus, Greece looks to be able to leave the third rescue program in August as planned. Since 2010, the country has received three rescue packages from the EU, IMF and ECB (European Central Bank). This is the last payment from the third package.

The solution of the name question: Northern Macedonia

June 12

The protracted conflict with Macedonia may be over after the parties agreed that the Republic of Macedonia should change its name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia (Republika Severna Makedonija). The change of name will now be the subject of a referendum in Macedonia and a vote in the Greek parliament.


Greece rejects Turkish proposal for prisoner exchange

April 22

President Pavlopoulos rejects a proposal by the Turkish government to exchange two Greek soldiers imprisoned in Turkey against eight Turkish soldiers in Greece that the Ankara government wants to extradite. Both Greek soldiers have been charged with espionage in Turkey since crossing the border on March 2, 2018. The soldiers say they got lost in the fog. The eight Turkish soldiers fled to Greece following the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. The government of Ankara suspects them of participation in the coup attempt.

Parliament cancels bribery investigation

April 18

Parliament closes a bribery investigation targeting ten high-ranking politicians, including two former prime ministers, who are accused of allowing a subsidiary of Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to bribe doctors to prescribe its drugs at underpricing (see February 2018). Parliament’s committees say it lacks the competence to assess the case and returns it to the judiciary.

Combat pilot dies in crash landing

April 12

A Greek fighter pilot is killed when his aircraft fails with a landing on an island in the Aegean Sea. The accident occurs after the pilot completes a flight in an airspace that Greece regards as his but which Turkish fighter jets sometimes find themselves in. It happens that the Greek and Turkish pilots chase each other in the area.


Varoufakis form grass root party

March 26

Former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis presents a new political party called MeRA25, an acronym for the Democracy Movement in Europe 2025. It is an EU-friendly grassroots party that opposes the establishment and has members from the “left, liberalism, environmental movement and feminism “. MeRA25 is to be a candidate in both the EU elections and the Greek general elections in 2019. The party promises “responsible disobedience”. The party’s agenda includes a restructuring of central government debt, reduced taxes and the establishment of a state-owned company that will manage household debt and protect those who have bank debt.

New payment is made

March 28

Eurozone countries pay an additional EUR 5.7 billion from the third and final rescue package. A final payment of one billion euros will be made later this spring.

Controversy about the teaching of religion

21 March

The Supreme Court finds that the government’s bill to modernize religious education in Greek schools is contrary to the Constitution. The left-wing government seeks to separate the church from the state and therefore wants to reform the religious teachings that today are based on traditional Greek Orthodox values. But the influential Orthodox Church opposes this, and the current constitution gives the Greek Orthodox Church a special position compared to other religions, even if religious freedom prevails. However, the government promises to continue working for “renewal, pluralism and democratization of the study programs”.

The government facilitates capital controls

March 5th

The government is further releasing the capital controls introduced in June 2015. Now the Greeks can withdraw a maximum of EUR 2,300 in cash per month, compared with EUR 1,800 earlier. When traveling abroad, EUR 2,300 in banknotes can be withdrawn from the bank. The limit for bank withdrawals from abroad has also been increased, to EUR 2,000 every two months. Capital control was introduced to prevent bank customers from plucking out too much money too quickly during the culmination of the debt crisis. The Greek economy has slowly strengthened since then, showing GDP growth of 1.4 percent in 2017. EU economists approve a loan payment of EUR 5.7 billion. The rescue program from the lenders expires in August 2018. Then Greece is expected to stand on its own.


The Minister of Migration is replaced

February 28

Prime Minister Tsipras dismisses Minister of Migration Ioannis Mouzalas, who, during the refugee crisis of 2015, sharply criticized the EU’s migration policy. During the crisis, hundreds of thousands of migrants came to Greece via Turkey, straining the already burdened economy of the Greeks. New Migration Minister becomes Dimitris Vitsas, former Deputy Minister of Defense and member of Syriza’s ruling party.

The Minister of Finance resigns

February 27th

Finance Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou resigned just a few hours after his wife Rania Antonopoulos was dismissed as minister responsible for reducing unemployment. Antonopoulos, who is well off, had to leave after it was discovered that she had received a housing allowance of about € 1,000 a month for not having a permanent residence in Greece, but in the US.

Ten politicians are being investigated in suspected bribery

February 22

Parliament opens a review of ten high-ranking politicians, including two former prime ministers, who, by prosecutors, are suspected of allowing the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis to bribe doctors to prescribe the company’s drugs at underpriced prices. According to prosecutors, the price settlements have cost the Greek state around EUR 3 billion. Some of the politicians are also suspected of receiving bribes themselves and of money laundering. They must have held their political records during the period 2006-2010.

Conversations resume on naming dispute with Macedonia

February 4th

Large demonstrations are being held in Athens and Thessaloniki against the resumption of talks under the auspices of the UN on the dispute with Macedonia (see Foreign Policy and Defense). Negotiations in the protracted dispute, led by UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, have been down since 2014. But both Prime Minister Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zaev have now expressed hopes that the name issue can be resolved.


The final payment of the emergency loans is approved

January 19

Greece’s lenders provide the final sign for a final payment of the equivalent of SEK 44 billion on the rescue package. Since the Greek parliament, a few days earlier, it has voted in favor of yet another austerity package demanded by international lenders. A number of planned pension cuts are implemented and the sale of property belonging to indebted persons must be accelerated. Several protests and strikes, including in the Athens metro, are held before the vote. However, the Government points out that unemployment is now falling and that growth has accelerated and that the package also contains increased child allowances with several contributions. In August 2018, Greece is expected to stand on its own as the emergency loans expire after eight years.

Muslims are allowed to settle family disputes in ordinary court

January 10

Parliament amends the law to allow the country’s Muslim minority to choose between an ordinary Greek court and the Muslim Sharia law to resolve family law disputes such as divorce, custody disputes and inheritance issues; In the past, Muslims have usually turned to a mufti (a Muslim jurist) whom critics often consider to be in favor of the man. In criminal cases, sharia does not apply in Greece.

Migration problems in focus for southern Europe

January 10

Leaders of seven EU countries in southern Europe (Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal) gather for a summit in Rome. In a joint statement, they express their support for the EU’s common migration policy. They agree that the EU needs to strengthen the guarding of the Union’s external border, fight human smuggling and do more to address problems in migrant homelands. They call on all EU members to provide more assistance to the countries receiving the most asylum seekers / migrants.

Asylum to Turkish helicopter pilot canceled

January 8

An appeal court in Athens temporarily suspends the political asylum granted by the Greek authorities in December 2017 to a helicopter pilot who brought seven Turkish military to Greece after the Turkish coup attempt in July 2016. The issue has created tensions for Turkey, which has requested the pilot and the seven military to to be extradited to Turkey. However, the Greek authorities considered that the pilot’s human rights would be in danger of extradition and that there was no evidence that the man was involved in the coup attempt. The decision was appealed by the Greek government, which said it could “jeopardize diplomatic relations”. The case is due again in court on February 15, 2018.

Greece Religion