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Greek Easter brioche: Sociological influences of the Greek Orthodox Church in the twenty-first century Greece
On Easter Sunday, in April 2007, Greek families, in Greece or in the worldwide Diaspora, share the traditional Easter brioche. The consumption of this cake ends the period of Lent in the orthodox religious calendar. Beyond the symbol of the Jesus's resurrection and its subsequent promise of Eternal Life, Easter epitomizes the features of the interrelations the Greek Orthodox Church with the Greek society. What is the uniqueness of those relations? How do those distinctive interactions materialize?
Greek clergy helped create the independent Greek State and the Greek Church has maintained a powerful influence on the public administration. During the Ottoman rule ranging from 1453 to 1821, the Greek Church sheltered and distributed supplies to the opponents of the Muslim invaders. Moreover, the Orthodox clergy taught the Greek language to children at night. By actively participating in the liberation of the nation, the Greek Orthodox Church preserved the national identity personified by its multi-millenary language and culture. This commitment is currently observable in several elements of the Modern Greek State. First, the national flag displays a cross in the upper left corner that emphasizes the recognition of the Greek nation to the crucial role of the clergy for its four centuries of fierce cultural and physical contribution in the resistance to the invaders. Second, the Greek constitution does not establish an unambiguous separation of the Church and the State. Indeed, the constitution secures the Greek Orthodoxy as the nation's official religion and legally assures its moral and cultural acknowledgement as an institution of the Greek State. Consequently, the Greek government disburses the salaries of the personnel's Orthodox clergy on public funds. In addition, the Greek government authorizes the civil servants to exhibit their orthodox faith through religious icons in public administrations. Lastly, religion affects the education in public schools. For instance, the school year customary commences with a religious benediction administered by a papás, a local priest. Prayer is mandatory every morning. Orthodox religious education is derogatory for the pupils and has a formal assessment during the examination for the High School Diploma. Although The Greek Orthodox Church retains restricted direct political influence, its leader His Grace Christopoulos stands firmly for conservative and ultranationalist opinions. He remains the spearhead of the highly controversial concept of the "Great Idea" that promotes the physical reconquest of Byzantium and institutes this city as the foundation of a brand new Helen Empire.
In reference to the biblical shepherd, the Greek Orthodox Church acts as a guide and a safeguard, who leads and protects his flock, for mainstream Greece. Primarily, the most obvious signs of the Greeks' devotion emerge from daily occurrences encountered by foreigners. For example, icons, which portray and above all convey the presence of religious characters such as the Virgin Mary, Jesus or saints, hang in numerous shops, offices, taxis, buses, or houses. That attachment to the icons reaches its climax when entering a place of worship, the faithful kisses those sacred representations. Strolling through the streets of the capital city or a tiny village, one can notice that approximately twenty five percent of Greeks cross themselves when they pass a church. Orthodoxy accompanies the Greeks from their birth, with the baptism, to their death, with a religious celebration in a house of worship, not to mention their religious marriage or, more surprisingly, the benediction of new firms. Nowadays, ninety-eight percent of the Greek population is Christian Orthodox. This facet has always been so profoundly ingrained in the Greek identity that identity cards mentioned the religious membership until December, the thirty-first, 2000, contrary to all other countries belonging to the European Community. Orthodoxy has forged the national union and has continually cemented the construction of the national identity. On the other hand, Greece has only acknowledged civil marriage since 1982. Traditionally, Orthodox Church conditionally authorizes remarriages but definitely reproves divorce. Therefore, divorce rate is low. However, because of its traditional acceptance in this area, wives habitually condone their husbands' adultery. That convention generates a flourishing market of prostitution and stimulates human trafficking from Eastern Europe. For another thing, priests encourage the married couple to produce offspring since family is the crux of the Christian theology. Orthodox reactionary vanguard promotes procreation to increase the birth rate. The ultimate goal is to strengthen the Greek nation in front of the Islamic Turkish menace. Furthermore, the Greek Orthodox institution allows married men with children to enter the become priests. However, the supreme authorities, the bishops, are exclusively bachelors. That imperative accentuates the disparities between urban and rural religious communities. Actually, metropolitan priests are usually educated and thus have a bright future ahead of them whereas country ones have often entered the priesthood to escape pauperism. That situation emphasizes the gap between a provincial clergy sensitive to the preoccupations of its parishioners and an essentially Athenian hierarchy out of touch with people's predicaments.
Orthodoxy is the bedrock of the contemporary Greek society. Greeks share a common culture that derives from collective Christian beliefs that have produced a relatively homogenous society. Actually, the Greeks' attitude amalgamates the Church and the State, and often the Hellenism integrates the Orthodoxy. The sociological weight of the Greek Orthodox Church in this third millennium Greece is manifest and palpable in all aspects of both public and private life. However, in an era of Europeanization and globalization, the Modern Greek State will face the ancillary effects of migrations from the Near East and Africa. Forthcoming religious and political leaders will have to conduct the evolution of Greece. In the next years, the debate over the official acknowledgement of religious minorities might arouse. Religious and political leaders will compromise with question of the woman's emancipation and the ensuing crisis of identity that will shake the family cells of this patriarchal society. Will Greece be able to handle those issues in the same way as the nation has managed the necessary transition of its language, from the Ancient Greek language to the internet and cell phone-based Greeklish (portmanteau word for the Greek language written with the Latin alphabet)?