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Posted 27 May 2001   For week ended May 25, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 24May01

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 and practices.


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


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