By Kent Larsen
'Uphill Battle' of Missionaries in Greece Makes Local News
ATHENS, GREECE -- Greece Athens Mission President John Stone told
Athen's Kathimerini newspaper that Greeks are among the most
difficult people to convert. "The Greeks have a deep conviction in
their religion," President Stone told the newspaper in an article
published yesterday, "I haven't been in any other country where the
religion has such a deep hold on the people." The article covered the
difficulties that missionaries in Greece face and gave readers an
overview of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
According to President Stone, a 50-year-old retired New York
stockbroker, missionaries there have faced strong resistance in
Greece, a "nearly monolithic religious state" says the article, where
96 percent of the population are members of the Greek Orthodox
Church. He says his missionaries have been verbally attacked,
arrested and harrassed, and even suffered physical assaults. "They
don't like Mormons" in Greece, he said.
While the missionaries don't seek or encourage confrontation, the
deep convictions of many members of the Greek Orthodox Church lead to
the attacks. The most frequent of the verbal attacks come from
elderly women, many dressed in black mourning, as is the custom of
longstanding widows. These women shriek at the missionaries, "They
call us heretics," he said.
Greek Orthodox Church spokesman Haralambos Konidaris, a graduate of
Harvard and MIT, blames the attacks on followers of the "old church,"
a more traditional group of Greek Orthodox believers who use an
older, more traditional calendar, and says that the Greek Orthodox
Church "strongly disapproves of any discrimination of people of any
denomination and does not encourage or produce it." He also blames
the Greek government for failing to foster an atmosphere of
acceptance of other religions, noting that the country still has a
law against proselytizing. "[The Greek government] has not cultivated
a climate of tolerance," he says.
The LDS missionaries serving under President Stone (he has 70
missionaries to cover the mission, which includes Greece, Cyprus,
Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) agree that the work is difficult.
"We get kicked out of a lot of buildings. They escort you to the door
with not-so-kind words," says Elder Michael Rosa, 20. He says they
often have to face the hot opinions of Greeks, who, the article says,
are "notorious for their love of critical debate." Elder Rosa says
they meet the confrontations with calmness, "It comes from what we
teach, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's the classic
turn-the-other-cheek that everyone has heard, but if you just try to
remember what you are doing and for what purpose you are here, it's
easier to keep things under control," he said.
The biggest reason for the difficulties that the missionaries face is
cultural, not religious says the Greek Orthodox Church's Konidaris.
He says the Greeks intimately attach their church to their family and
lifestyle, "The Orthodox Church and Hellenism go together
hand-in-hand for thousands of years," he said. Elder Tyler Johnston,
21, who was studying at Harvard before coming on a mission, agrees.
"Most people here believe that any religion that is not Greek
Orthodox will take away their culture. Greeks have a terrible time
with that," he said. Then, with a soft look about him, he said, "For
them to convert to another religion, they have to give up everything,
their religion and family and friends."
But the mission is not without success. In the past year 65 people
have joined the Church, including two Greek Orthodox priests, two
brothers, and a number of immigrants from Albania and elsewhere.
An accompanying article in the newspaper reviews LDS Church beliefs
Uphill battle for missionaries
Athens Greece Kathimerini 23May01 N1
By Andy Dabilis
John Stone, president of the regional Mormon church, says Greeks are the hardest to convert