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GREECE: Religion

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The majority of Greeks (95-98%) have at least nominal membership in the Eastern Orthodox Church, although religious observance has declined in recent years. Greek Muslims make up about 1.3% of the population, and live primarily in Thrace. Greece also has some Roman Catholics, mainly in the city of Patras and the Cyclades islands of Syros, Paros, Tinos, and Naxos; some Protestants and some Jews, mainly in Thessaloniki (which was once a major Jewish city until the Holocaust). Some groups in Greece have started an attempt to reconstruct Hellenic polytheism, the ancient Greek pagan religion. See also: Greek Orthodox Church.

One small part of Greece, Mount Athos, is recognised by the Greek constitution as an autonomous monastic republic, although foreign relations, however, remain the prerogative of the Greek state.

Spiritually, Mount Athos is under the Patriarchate of Constantinople and is therefore in communion with all the monasteries on Mount Athos and with the Orthodox Church based in various countries. One monastery has recently broken away and has formed a completely independent schism on the Holy Mountain -- Esphygmenou Monastery. Esphygmenou is composed of 117 Zealot monks who stubbornly oppose the head of the Church and do not commemorate him any more. They believe that they are the last remaining true Christians in the world and that Orthodoxy has been corrupted by having dialogue with other faiths. They also object to the lifting of the anathemas against the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960's by Patriarch Athenagoras.

Jews have been present in Greece for the last 2000 years. The earliest reference to a Greek Jew is in an inscription, dated c. 300-250 BCE found in Oropos, a small coastal town between Athens and Boeotia, and refers to him as "Moschos, son of Moschion the Jew" who was in all likelihood, a slave. The first Greek Jewish population became known as the Romaniotes and their language became known as Yevanic (from the Hebrew word for Greece: יון/Yavan). From the 16th century onwards, Salonica, a city in northern Greece, had one of the largest (mostly Sephardic by then) Jewish communities in the world and a solid rabbinical tradition. On the island of Crete, the Jews played an important part in the transport trade. During World War II, when Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany, 86% of the Greek Jews were murdered by the invading Axis and only a minority survived and most of them have emigrated to Israel. Greece's Jewish community today is estimated at 4,500.

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