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Author Topic: Dead Greek Orthodox monk baffles scientists 15 years after burial  (Read 6460 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: March 14, 2006, 09:43:43 AM »

Dead Greek Orthodox monk baffles scientists 15 years after burial  
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http://www.physorg.com/news11683.html

Medical experts in the town of Lamia, central Greece, are puzzling over the body of a Greek Orthodox monk that was allegedly found intact 15 years after his burial, the semi-state Athens News Agency (ANA) reported on Monday.


"I believe this to be a sign from God," Bishop Nikolaos of the local prefecture of Fthiotida told a press conference in Lamia. "Even the monk's soft parts are intact," he added.

The story of the deceased monk, Vissarionas Korkoliakos, has raised a media stir following his recent exhumation at Agathonos monastery.

Four local doctors summoned by Church authorities were unable to explain the alleged phenomenon. A fifth expert, an Athens coroner, wrote in his report that he has never seen such a case in his entire career, ANA said.

The church had also requested an opinion from head Athens coroner Philippos Koutsaftis, who declined to examine the body as the monk's death was not crime-related.

Hundreds of faithful are already flocking to the site where the monk's body was disinterred, ANA reported, but the local church is currently advising self-restraint.

"We do not intend to declare (this man) a saint, or to summon people to pray before him," Bishop Nicholaos said.

The monk's body will be placed in isolation in the monastery chapel "to let God speak through the passage of time," the bishop said.
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« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2006, 09:55:43 AM »

Oh my gosh! WHAT A SURPISE! LOL  (not!!)

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« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2006, 12:00:43 PM »

sweeeeeet.... Smiley
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« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2006, 02:03:54 PM »

And the public just realized these phenomena?
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« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2006, 08:49:25 PM »

Hold on a minute!!

I believe in miracles but . . .

First, why did they exhume the body in the first place??  That makes me wonder.  Hmmmmmm!

Second, I thought it was Orthodox practice not to disturb the deceased after they are buried... am I wrong??  

Back to my first question.
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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2006, 08:53:27 PM »

In Greece most monastics are dug up after a few years - it's standard procedure.  
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« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2006, 09:00:11 PM »

Last week, in Agathonos monastery in C. Greece, near Lamia (diocese of Phthiotis), the monks opened the grave - from what I have understood, it was more like a sarcophagus or a built monument, I mean not dug in the soil - of a pious hieromonk, Fr Bessarion. He had passed away in 1991. To their greatest surprise, his body was found completely intact. The doctor who was present testified that even the nails, eyes, the ears, the eyebrows, the hair and the beard are intact, in a perfect condition. The veins are also visible. The hieromonk's niece said that her uncle appears as she had seen him just before his death. The priestly vestments are also intact and soft. Some people say that they felt a nice fragrance in the air. The first medical expert who examined the body appeared on TV and just could not explain the fact.
Because of the afflux of pilgrims, metropolitan Nikolaos decided to put the body in the metropolis' headquarters and asked a well-known coroner to make a report after having examined the body. The chief coroner, Prof. Panos Giamarellos, a renowned and well-experienced doctor, says clearly in his 6 pages statement that the phaenomenon of the absolute incorruptibility of the body of Fr Bessarion Korkoliakos (body, sacerdocal vestments, coffin) cannot be given a scientific explanation. Furthermore, the coroner says that it is the first time during his almost 50 year carrer that he sees such a phaenomenon.
Metropolitan Nikolaos said that all the witnesses coming from believers in the region where Agathonos monastery is located point to the fact that blessed Fr Bessarion was a very humble, charitable and holy hieromonk. He suggested however that the believers must act in prudence, so that there will be no phaenomena of exploitation of the popular piety (and consequent attacks against the Church from people who don't love Her, I would add...). For the time being there will be neither icons or services to Fr Bessarion. The body of the blessed Elder will be put in a small chapel of the monastery and, as Metropolitan said, we'll wait until God Himself speaks.
The Church has not yet officially expressed its opinion, however there have been quite a few reportages in the news broadcasts and in talk shows. Of course, each journalist interpreted it according to his own views, I read even the __expression "perfectly mummified body" in a ironic comment by an atheist journalist. However, some journalists saw it with a deep respect, they even said the word "miracle". The fact remains that the pious people believe that Fr Bessarion is a saint.
I have heard that Fr Bessarion was a virtuous and very humble monk, who had helped secretly a lot of poor people in the nearby villages, even in a period where the monastery was almost in ruins, after the II WW and the Civil War. Then, some bad tongues had even slandered him of having sold icons of the monastery (you know, the village gossip). This was said by the priest of St Nicholas church in my neighbourhood, in Athens, Fr Elias, who had confessed to him when he was young. Fr Elias said that Fr Bessarion was a holy man, who had become even almost a beggar in order to help the rebuilding of the monastery in those difficult times.
Of course, we have to wait for the decision of the Church. However, It seems that God has showed us a sign of hidden sanctity in these difficult times.
http://uk.news.yahoo.com/13032006/323/dead-greek-orthodox-monk-baffles-scientists-15-years-burial.html
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« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2006, 09:22:24 PM »

[quote author=Νεκτάριος link=topic=8447.msg111617#msg111617 date=1142384007]
In Greece most monastics are dug up after a few years - it's standard procedure. ÂÂ
[/quote]

Actually it is not just monastics. In many small towns in small church graveyards they dig up the bones and place them in a box in a building so that there is space in the graveyard for more burials. I have seen this in numerous small villages and churches in Greece.

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« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2006, 10:04:43 PM »

Second, I thought it was Orthodox practice not to disturb the deceased after they are buried... am I wrong?? ÂÂ

Yes, you are wrong. Exhumation of deads (monastics or lay persons) is very common. In every monastery there is an ossuary, it has been like this in byzantine monasteries too. The ossuary of St Catherine's on Mt Sinai is one of the most ancient, there are bones who date from the early Byzantine period (you can see there even an incorrupt body, that of St Stephan the Sinaite).
Think a bit: since the Orthodox practice is supposedly "not to disturb the deceased", so how it happens that there are so many relics, ancient and recent ones (like these of St Nectarios, of St Savvas of Calymnos or of the Optina Starets?) Huh
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« Reply #9 on: March 15, 2006, 12:17:18 AM »

Some monasteries have so little soil available that they can only have a few people interred at any one time, so it is necessary to exhume the current occupants after a time to make way for the next occupants. Consider how much soil is available up on the pinnacles at Meteora. Simonopetra on Mt Athos has room for about six or eight to be buried at any particular time.

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« Reply #10 on: March 15, 2006, 12:28:40 AM »

Quote
Simonopetra on Mt Athos has room for about six or eight to be buried at any particular time.

I can't remember now whether you came with me to the cemetery or not, but Philotheou only had 6-8 burial plots as well.  Hilandar on the other hand had a much larger burial area - maybe because it is on a much better piece of land or do Serbs have a different custom?

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« Reply #11 on: March 15, 2006, 02:08:47 AM »

I don't recall seeing the koimitirio at Philotheou. The graves at Simonopetra are quite shallow (there isn't much deep soil anywhere around there) and are lined around the sides with stone. When a monk is buried, they place him in the grave and then put stone slabs on top of the stone lining, then fill in the last fifty or so centimetres with soil. It also makes exhuming their relics a much simpler process later on Cheesy

BTW, how was the restoration work going at Hilandar?

John
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« Reply #12 on: March 15, 2006, 02:21:58 AM »

Sadly Hilandar was still in bad shape when I was there (something like 5/8 of the outer wall was gone).  There was a lot of work being done, but it is such a massive project.  Despite all of the suffering they have endured, the fathers at Hilandar were wonderful.  I really wish I could have spent more time there.  Since I thought I would be spending the next five years in Greece, I timed things differently than if I had known I had only two months.  Soon enough though I should be back to Europe via the international programs at ASU - but I can't complain too much being only an hour away from a nice monastery here.
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« Reply #13 on: March 15, 2006, 04:33:04 AM »

Actually it is not just monastics. In many small towns in small church graveyards they dig up the bones and place them in a box in a building so that there is space in the graveyard for more burials. I have seen this in numerous small villages and churches in Greece.

It's not just the Greeks either. It's standard practice in Romania to exhume the bodies and rebury the bones in an ossuary to one side of the family plot, moving the grave marker over with them. For that reason you often see several standard graves laid out and then a forest of crosses to one side.

James
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« Reply #14 on: March 15, 2006, 07:22:41 AM »

Well, I tried to send you a photo of blessed Fr Bessarion, but I didn't find the way Embarrassed Cheesy
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« Reply #15 on: March 15, 2006, 09:05:06 AM »

In the local Greek villages I've been to, the families each purchased one familial sarcophagus, and will have multiple plaques on it... once a few years pass, they take out the body, mark the skull with the name, but the bones in a bag, and put them in a shed in the corner of the cemetary, so that the sarc. is ready for the next member of the family who will need it.
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« Reply #16 on: March 15, 2006, 06:52:46 PM »

[quote author=Νεκτάριος link=topic=8447.msg111617#msg111617 date=1142384007]
In Greece most monastics are dug up after a few years - it's standard procedure. ÂÂ
[/quote]

I stand, er, sit corrected.  Could you explain to me why that is done?  Forgive my ignorance on this topic.
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« Reply #17 on: March 15, 2006, 07:27:57 PM »

Quote
It's not just the Greeks either. It's standard practice in Romania to exhume the bodies and rebury the bones in an ossuary to one side of the family plot, moving the grave marker over with them. For that reason you often see several standard graves laid out and then a forest of crosses to one side.

James
It depends on what region you talk about. In our region (Transylvania-Banat), for instance, this practice of digging up the dead, is completely unheard of. Quite the opposite-but I do not know wheter this is the universal Orthodox practice or just the local use-after the coffin was lowered into the grave, the priest, making the sign of the Cross over the grave, says:"This grave is sealed until the second glorious Coming of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen"
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« Reply #18 on: March 15, 2006, 11:28:05 PM »

It depends on what region you talk about. In our region (Transylvania-Banat), for instance, this practice of digging up the dead, is completely unheard of.

I am pretty sure that for the laity it came about due to the limited amount of burial space.
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« Reply #19 on: March 15, 2006, 11:30:41 PM »

Thank you all for your posts on this topic.  It was very enlightening.  I was going by what I learned over the years from family members.  I'm beginning to find out (in my old age) that a lot of it was wrong.
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« Reply #20 on: March 16, 2006, 08:29:49 AM »

Maybe it wasn't wrong per se, but rather just localized, and not universal truth.  There are plenty of cultures out there, Orthodox ones even, that do not dig up their deceased.  In our Mediterranian cultures, it is more common, largely because of the lack of suitable burial ground and such.

One of the nice side-effects of having to dig up your deceased relatives is that it forces the people to not avoid the subject of death - there is less denial than in places like the US where often the bodies are whisked away and buried immediately (or cremated) without ceremony or viewing, thus assisting our paranoia about death.  It also helps with the grieving process methinks to have to deal with things like the removal of the body.
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« Reply #21 on: March 16, 2006, 08:36:47 AM »

It depends on what region you talk about. In our region (Transylvania-Banat), for instance, this practice of digging up the dead, is completely unheard of. Quite the opposite-but I do not know wheter this is the universal Orthodox practice or just the local use-after the coffin was lowered into the grave, the priest, making the sign of the Cross over the grave, says:"This grave is sealed until the second glorious Coming of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen"

Yeah, traditions do vary a lot in Romania (and probably elsewhere also). The burial custom I refer to is that of the rural area (not sure about the cities) in northern Moldova and Bucovina. I'm actually very interested in the local customs and have been ever since describing our wedding to my godmother (from Sibiu) and finding that she was completely unfamiliar with some of the customs (e.g. throwing sweets at the bride and groom as they process around the tetrapod with the priest after the crowning).

James
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« Reply #22 on: March 16, 2006, 12:57:10 PM »

A peculiar burial custom of our region, now nearly extinct, is that, in isolated villages and hamlets up in the mountains, the dead are not buried in the graveyard, but in the backyard/garden/orchard of their own house. This practice continues in some very isolated villages, though.
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« Reply #23 on: March 17, 2006, 10:13:55 AM »

Greece May End `Barbaric' Grave Rental as Cremation Ban Lifted

March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Antonis Alakiotis was 14 when his father's body was dug up from an Athens graveyard.

``The brown jacket he was wearing was still there,'' Alakiotis, 55, said in a telephone interview from his home in Athens. ``The face of the person I remembered was bones. It was macabre, barbaric, an insult to the dignity of death.''

Most Greeks are forced to rent graves for just three years because a dearth of space pushed burial-plot prices to 150,000 euros ($179,000). The government on March 1 passed a law allowing cremation to ease the space shortage, overturning a ban that's existed since Christianity arrived 2,000 years ago.

The Greek Church says the ruling doesn't apply to Orthodox Christians, who make up 90 percent of the nation's 11 million people, because burning a body conflicts with teachings on the resurrection. Still, many welcome the law.

``This retrieval of bones is just too much,'' said Tony Savidis, 47, a taxi driver in central Athens. ``You've already gone through the trauma of losing someone, then going back to dig up the body and reliving everything is just too much.''

The change comes nearly 20 years after the Holy Synod, the Church of Greece's ruling body, ignored a request to allow cremation by the then Mayor of Athens Miltiades Evert, according to the Athens-based National Commission for Human Rights.

Evert appealed to the Synod after a 10-day heat wave in July 1987 killed as many as 1,000 people, resulting in bodies piling up outside cemeteries. Since then, human rights groups have campaigned for cremation, saying Greece was denying other religions their rituals as the country took in more immigrants.

Opposition

For Orthodox Christians, the Church ``ordains in favor of burial and not for cremation,'' Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos said March 2 this year.

Greeks are among the European Union's most religious citizens. More than 80 percent of Greeks say they believe in God compared with an average of 16 percent in the 25-nation European Union, according to a June 2005 Eurobarometer poll.

The Vatican, which states a preference for burials, stopped opposing cremation for Roman Catholics in 1963.

``Burial is part of our tradition, of who we are as people,'' said Helen Hatziladas, a 29-year-old Athens office manager. ``When you go back after three years and the flesh is a little gone from your bones, it says something: you've been a good Christian.''

Many Greeks are keen to reduce the costs associated with dying. Cremation is almost half the price of a traditional burial and in countries such as the U.K, Sweden and Switzerland, cremations account for more than 50 percent of funerals.

Pricey Plots

Demand at the Athens First Cemetery can drive prices for a permanent burial plot to as high as 150,000 euros, according to Katerina Katrivanou, 50, the deputy mayor of Athens who's in charge of the Greek capital's three cemeteries. That's roughly the price of a two-bedroom apartment down the road. A three-year plot rents for between 550 and 1,800 euros.

``We have a huge problem when you consider that there are only about 20,000 plots for rental and there are about 5 million people,'' Katrivanou said in a telephone interview.

Overworked soil in most urban cemeteries means that bodies don't fully decompose in three years. Relatives are required by law to be present at the exhumation before the remains are stored indefinitely in an ossuary box.

Before this month's law, non-Orthodox Greeks could choose to have their bodies dispatched abroad. A cremation in Bulgaria, the nearest destination, can cost 6,000 euros, according to Anestis Daravigas, 62, who runs a funeral home in Thessaloniki.

More Choice

Under the law, those baptized into the Orthodox faith must ``consciously choose to diverge'' from the Church if they are to be cremated. That may deny them and their families funeral rites should the Church continue to insist on burial.

After witnessing his father's exhumation, Alakiotis went on to set up the Committee for the Right of Cremation in Greece in 1997 to help others avoid the trauma. He expects the shift to cremation to be gradual.

Of 100,000 deaths a year, about 3 percent will opt for cremation in the first three years, he predicted. One cremation facility will be enough for Greece for the next decade, he said.

``More families will opt for cremation rather than having to endure this sight,'' says Alakiotis. ``We've been struggling all these years. This is a new thing for Greek society.''



To contact the reporter on this story:
Maria Petrakis in Athens at  mpetrakis@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: March 15, 2006 19:05 EST
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« Reply #24 on: March 17, 2006, 12:24:35 PM »

Greeks are among the European Union's most religious citizens. More than 80 percent of Greeks say they believe in God compared with an average of 16 percent in the 25-nation European Union, according to a June 2005 Eurobarometer poll.
Wow.  I guess western Europe really has gone down the tube religiously speaking.

``More families will opt for cremation rather than having to endure this sight,'' says Alakiotis. ``We've been struggling all these years. This is a new thing for Greek society.''
Yes, no one should ever have to "suffer" anything.  Roll Eyes  Sounds like western psychobabble creeping in to Greek society.
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« Reply #25 on: March 17, 2006, 01:19:55 PM »

Quote
Sounds like western psychobabble creeping in to Greek society.
Both cremation and digging up the dead sound awful to me. The ideal would be to let them sleep undisturbed in their graves. But I was not aware that the cemetery plots are so scarce in Greece. Is it the same all over the country, or is it a problem in large cities only?
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« Reply #26 on: March 17, 2006, 01:41:25 PM »

I guess I am just weird, but I don't get bothered by the idea of exhuming bodies and putting them in an ossuary.  The French did this in Paris in the 1790's.  In the end we're going to be resurrected regardless of whether we are here or there.

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« Reply #27 on: March 17, 2006, 03:46:14 PM »

Both cremation and digging up the dead sound awful to me. The ideal would be to let them sleep undisturbed in their graves. But I was not aware that the cemetery plots are so scarce in Greece. Is it the same all over the country, or is it a problem in large cities only?

Why awful? Should we be afraid of seeing the bones? I have seen and touched the bones of my father, I was deeply moved but I didn't feel anything awful. On the contrary, I felt a deep contact with him, through prayer. Our modern secularized societies tend to "ignore" the death and the deceased. They are afraid of them, because they "disturb" our "comfortable" life and remind us that everyone is going to die, sooner or later. Unfortunately, even many Christians tend to adopt this view, because the vast majority of us - this is a sad truth - we have adopted a very secular way of life, with some religious "sauce" (Sunday liturgy, reading of spiritual/theological books, talking "theology", sometimes giving something to the poor), just to put off our conscience. How many among us, the good, theologizing Orthodox Christians, pray for the departed, not in a typical manner, but making a true spiritual effort? How many of us feel that these people do need our prayers? Many contemporary holy men and women have talked about the need to pray for the souls of the deceased and I do know cases where the deceased have expressed their gratitude to people who had prayed for them.

Even in villages there are ossuaries. It is a common thing and it is very normal. As I wrote in a previous post, ossuaries exist even in monasteries.
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« Reply #28 on: March 17, 2006, 05:03:36 PM »

I have never witnessed any exhumation, let alone that of a close relative, because we simply don't do that.
I come from a rural Orthodox region where death is something one comes across very often and certainly not in the aseptic, sanitised way of the Western world (we keep our dead, for the  two day wakes and the third day burial service, inside our houses, not at a funeral home) and yet I wouldn't feel confortable with the sight of my grandfather's bones. But this is strictly a cultural issue.
I wonder whether the custom of digging up the dead is known in Russia, Ukraine and other Orthodox lands.
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« Reply #29 on: March 20, 2006, 08:46:44 AM »

I just hate to see the fear of death creep into Greek culture from the west.  It is our "religiousness" and our overwhelming belief in a Resurrected God that allow the exhumation to take on special meaning, and allows it to help with the grieving process.

I did have to laugh that cremation is a matter of "human rights."  And the attitude of the reporter is interesting; you can see all the western mentality you want in her statement (emphasis mine) "That may deny them and their families funeral rites should the Church continue to insist on burial."
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« Reply #30 on: March 20, 2006, 09:07:23 AM »

Typical Greek mentality...
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I just hate to see the fear of death creep into Greek culture from the west.

It's always the fault of the West.  It couldn't be Greeks themsevles that are turning away from the Church and embracing secularism.
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« Reply #31 on: March 22, 2006, 07:54:18 PM »

So who is getting them to turn away?  Tell me, o wise one!  In the words of my dogmatics professor, "what does Mount Athos have to say?"
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« Reply #32 on: March 22, 2006, 08:20:33 PM »

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"what does Mount Athos have to say?"

Well, most Athonites that I know would actually blame the "West"  (or Israel) for all the bad things that happen in Greece.  

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So who is getting them to turn away?

Greeks themselves are turning away of their own free will.  If the Church is marginalised to some ethnic marker and nothing more, why would someone choose to be anything more than nominally Orthodox?  
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« Reply #33 on: March 22, 2006, 11:06:25 PM »

i'm just skeptical of the concept that they're turning away without getting the idea from someone else...
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« Reply #34 on: March 23, 2006, 01:09:54 AM »

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i'm just skeptical of the concept that they're turning away without getting the idea from someone else...

I think there are several factors involved in this (and I think this applies to most Orthodox nations, not just Greece):

A lot of this comes back to phyletism/ the ethnic issue and is a hold over from the Ottoman classification of ethnicity almost entirely by religion (which leads to some very strange things, such as Slavs who claim to be "ethnically Muslim" in BiH).  Suddenly, even if I go to Church on Pascha only, am essentially amoral and honestly don't even care one iota about religion - being Orthodox Christian is still the center of my identity.  And before you cry fowl about the Ottomans imposing this on the Orthodox, this same phenomenon of secularizing and ethnicizing religion also happened to non-Turkish Muslims living in Ottoman lands.  The heavy secularization traditionally Orthodox cultures are under going is simply the long term result of intertwining religion, culture and ethnicity.

Another problem is the State Church of Greece is incompetent and inept in many areas.  Most parishes don't have much in terms of outreach and programs designed to keep people involved and active.  At root here though is the assumption that since all Greeks are Orthodox and the church is supported financially by the state anyway - so why bother?  

The way other Orthodox Churches have dealt with competition (i.e the proliferation of protestant sects) is also telling.  In Romania and Russia both churches have gotten back in bed with their old communist comrades to attempt to stiffle religious freedom (look at what an uphill battle it is for Greek Catholics to get their property returned in Transylvania!).  The Orthodox/nationalist reaction is to used governmental authority to impose Orthodoxy (even if it is only nominally so) opposed to converting people to Orthodoxy and/or promoting Orthodox revival.  

Going back to Greece, much of the nationalism driving the μεγαλη ιδεα was inherintly anti-Christian....(I'm too short on time to get into this tonight)

So those social conditions together with an impotent Church left Greece quite open to secularism.          
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« Reply #35 on: March 29, 2006, 10:27:20 AM »

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A lot of this comes back to phyletism/ the ethnic issue and is a hold over from the Ottoman classification of ethnicity almost entirely by religion

I have been thinking about this very item.  Maybe you can comment on what has been rolling around in my head.  This idea of a religious ethnicity seems odd at first but a few things come to mind.  Firstly, consider the Jews.  They are not any one race but - through religious code - seem to have developed their own identifiable ethnicity.  I assert this is largely due to the fact that their religious codes demand that nobody marries outside of their religion and it is taken seriously by and large.  This, I believe has given them a distinct "ethnic" look unique to their people.  I once discussed this with a Rabbi and he said, "we are not a race, we are a people".  On that note the Mormons seem to have their own look within the Caucasian ethnic strain as well but perhaps not so much defined as the Jews.  I assert that this might be due to religious codes within these "closed" religious circles which demand no marriage outside of their peoplehood.  Perhaps the level of "closed cultishness" of such religious groups could account for them developing a unique ethnic look.  Now I could be totally wrong but the idea crossed my mind.  Especially when considering what the Rabbi told me about Jews.
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« Reply #36 on: April 05, 2006, 09:13:46 AM »

Synod refers case of ‘saintly’ monk to God

The heads of the Church of Greece yesterday quelled expectations that they would make a deceased monk, whose body had not decomposed, a saint, saying that such decisions should only be left to God.

The Church’s Holy Synod, which discussed the matter in great detail yesterday, admitted that the state of the monk’s body was “a sign from above” and “a message for our people and our age.” But it distanced itself from calls for him to be recognized officially as a saint.

Worshippers have been flocking to a small church in Fthiotida, central Greece, since the body of the monk, Vissarion Korkoliakos, was discovered mostly intact last month even though he had been buried for 15 years.

Some critics have claimed the Church is exploiting the situation but the Synod insisted that it had exercised “responsibility and consistency.”

http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_100019_05/04/2006_68265
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