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Sent on Mormon-News: 21May01

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 serve.

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 religious affiliation."

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


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