The abolition of the state church was not carried out in a very clear-cut way: article three of the constitution defines the Christian Orthodox religion as “the prevailing religion.” There are several competing and mutually excluding interpretations of this article. Some lawyers say this term has only descriptive value in the sense that the majority of the Greek people belong to it, whereas others hold that it has normative value and implies a privileged treatment. This article rejoins Peter Zervakis’s and Gustav Auernheimer’s interpretation, which declare that separation has taken place because the church administers itself and no longer enjoys the protection by the head of state. But one cannot say that no privileges for the Orthodox Church persist. The state finances it almost completely. This also applies to other churches, but one has to take into account the dimensions of the Orthodox Church’s domain: due to the lack of an aristocracy in Greece, the church and its monasteries were the main estate holders throughout the centuries. There is no church tax; every religious community lives on donations by its members, apart from its revenues (if it has any). Criminal law punishes sacrilege against religious symbols; furthermore, there is a church criminal jurisdiction only applicable to the clergy. Even though article four of the constitution declares all Greek citizens to be equal before law and article thirteen guarantees religious freedom, the majority of law scholars see no contradiction between these articles and article three because the principle of the prevailing religion concerns the church as an institution and not single citizens. The Orthodox Church is a corporate body organized under public law, but so are the Jewish communities and the mufti offices. The other religious communities of the “known religions” (a term often used in jurisprudence, but never defined) have the legal status of private associations. [...]
Both the percentage of the population formally belonging to Orthodoxy and the percentage attending the Sunday liturgy are high. The latter even increased from 1985 (less than 10 percent) to 2000,63 although 45.9 percent only attend services on Christmas, Easter, and special holidays. Baptisms, religious weddings, and funerals are the social norm: 82.9 percent think it is important to have a religious wedding and 87.2 percent to have a religious funeral. Ninety-one percent believe in God, but only 65.9 percent in a personal God; 60.8 percent believe in life after death. The percentage of people who pray to God daily outside of religious services stands at 35.3 percent.64 Until the year 2000, religious education was part of the university entrance diploma. Schools still require students to attend liturgy on major religious and public holidays.
* Maria Grazia Martino,
"“We Need to Promote the Dialogue between Christians and Protestants”: State, Church, and Religious Minorities in Greece, Italy, and Sweden",
Journal of Church and State (2011),
Oxford University Press,
pp./σσ. 17, 18, 20.