Greece is officially a secular state. However, its religious and social landscape is deeply influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church. According to the CIA World Factbook, 98% of Greeks belong to the Greek Orthodox Christian faith, 1.3% of the population are Muslim and 0.7% affiliate with another or no religion.
While practice and adherence to one’s faith varies, almost all Greeks believe in God (chiefly the Christian Greek Orthodox God). A Gallup Poll in 2009 found that 71% of Greeks would say religion is important to their day-to-day life. However, many think that their country is less religious today than it used to be. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 87% of Greeks described their country as very/somewhat religious in the 1970s and 1980s, whereas only 60% said the same about the religious landscape of their country today (Pew Research Center, 2017). This might be attributed to the fact that church attendance is not widely practised. Only 17% of Greeks report attending church weekly. Nevertheless, almost 30% continue to pray every day, which may suggest that while faith is still strong, it is less publicly practised (Pew Research Center, 2017). People are more likely to show their faith by having pictures of religious figures and iconography in their homes.
Despite the prevalence of Christianity in Greece, it is still common to hear people make jokes about God, priests and the church. There is also widespread support of secular values. Most of the population think the government should not support the spread of religious values and 82% of Greeks oppose the idea of the government providing financial support to the church (Pew Research Center, 2017).
Greek Orthodox Church
Distinctions between the churches of Eastern Orthodox Christianity generally occur according to nationalities. Thus, in Greece, Eastern Orthodox is often referred to as Greek Orthodox. The Greek Orthodox Church has been the dominant religious institution for centuries and continues to be the most popular religion in Greece. It refers to a body of several churches within Eastern Orthodox Christianity. However, the leading figure of authority for most Greeks is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (based in Turkey). Those on Crete typically follow a special branch of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Many people embrace Greek Orthodoxy as an element of national belonging, even if they do not practise the religion regularly. The Greek Orthodox Church played a central role in the country’s bid for independence from the Ottoman Empire and continues to be strongly correlated with a nationalist sentiment. The Pew Research Center found that 76% of Greeks say that being Orthodox is important to being “truly Greek” (Pew Research Center, 2017).
The Greek Orthodoxy has significant social power and remains a strong cultural force in Greece. Important sacramental moments in the Orthodox tradition continue to act as significant timestamps in people’s lives, such as baptism, confession and holy communion. Matrimony (marriage), holy orders (ordination) and unction (anointment of the sick) are also important practices. Some Orthodox Greeks may fast in the weeks before Easter, Christmas and the Assumption of Mary. This involves a restricted diet as well as abstinence from indulgent activities.