By Paul Carter
Missionaries in Greece Face Cultural Challenges
ATHENS GREECE -- Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints face strong opposition to their efforts to teach the tenets of their
faith to the people of Greece and Cyprus.
"I haven't been in any other country where the religion has such a deep hold
on the people," says Mission President John Stone who is also responsible
for missionaries serving in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt.
96% of the Greek population adheres to the Greek Orthodox church and that
church has been part of Greek culture for the better part of two millennia.
The Greek Orthodox church and its teachings are very influential in the
lives of Greeks. In addition, wine and smoking are very much ingrained in
daily life. So, for a Greek to embrace the faith taught by the missionaries
means a loss of family and culture.
Says Elder Tyler Johnston, who currently serves in Greece after one year at
Harvard, "For them to convert to another religion, they have to give up
everything, their religion and family and friends."
There are 70 missionaries serving in Greece. Some Elders have been arrested.
The Greek government has a law in force against proselyting and there have
been several situations where activities by the missionaries have been taken
by some to be counter to this law.
Still, even with all of the opposition, in the past year 65 people in Greece
have joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They include
two priests of the Greek Orthodox Church. And the missionaries, almost all
of whom have experiences to share about being accosted by people zealous to
defend their culture and religion against the encroachment of other beliefs,
are happy to take whatever small successes they can from each day that they
Someone asking questions on the street while a small group of missionaries
sings in Greek or calming at irate defender of the Greek church--these are
small steps toward understanding of the missionaries' message.
Mission President Stone states, "...they (the missionaries) are taught not
to argue with the other's belief," he said. "If you start an argument, the
Holy Ghost leaves and you have fought with nothing. To have someone want to
know is a real joy to a missionary."
Elder Michael Rosa from Illinois, says that "most of those we have success
with are already looking for something else; they have doubts about their
A spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Church, Haralambos Konidaris, who was
educated in the US at Harvard and MIT, states that opposition to the
missionaries does not come from his church. The Greek Orthodox Church
"strongly disapproves of any discrimination of people of any denomination
and does not encourage or produce it."
Rather, according to Mr. Konidaris, it is the Greek government with its
anti-proselyting law, that "has not cultivated a climate of tolerance."
LDS Missionary Work in Greece Is Herculean, Devout Orthodox believers are tough sell for Mormons
Salt Lake Tribune 19May01 N1
By Andy Dabilis: Special to the Tribune