The Religion in Greece is Orthodox..

There are two things about which it is not the done thing to argue about with Greek people.  One is politics and the other is religion.  The major religion in Greece is Greek Orthodox.  It is a quite beautiful and easy to understand doctrine and the cathedrals, churches and chapels seem to be everywhere - some carved out of cliff-sides and even perched on top of mountains.  Everyone must have heard of Mount Athos.

The Orthodox religion is shared also with several balkan neighbours and even links with the Russian orthodox church.  The Greek orthodox religion will be found in almost every corner of the world where you find Greek people, probably right around your corner - try your local 'phone book if you don't believe me!

Greek Orthodox Cathedral Curch of Chania, Halidon St. 
The Orthodox Cathedral Church of Chania
Is it exclusive?
Like many of my countrymen, judging by the decline of churches in the UK, where I saw in Lincoln one turned into a carpet warehouse and another in Stamford housing a car-part center and a wine shop, I am not particularly religious.  However, living here on Crete for much of my time I can't help but enjoy the way the Orthodox church celebrates "O theos" (God).  Here a part of everyday life.  And no, it isn't exclusive in the sense that there are no other religions here.  I think that you will find several recognized religions present somewhere.  There was a synagogue opened in Chania quite recently although even though the congregation was said to number just one!

The Mosques and minaret's you see in the harbour area of Chania and surrounding district are relics of another people, another age.  Used for trade or as tourist attractions.

A Greek Orthodox Easter
I don't know the exact number of Orthodox monasteries; convents or churches there are on Crete - they are literally everywhere.  Our small village built a second church a few short years ago and it's modern frescoes, painted by a church artist who spent several years training in Athens, are really something to see.  That is the problem!  There are so many beautiful and so many ancient churches that you will be unable to visit them all.  But if you are in North-Western Crete you should visit at least one or two if you are able to.

If you are here at Easter weekend, you simply must attend the Saturday night service, where at midnight the priest leading the service brings the holy light (candle) which is used to the light candles held by every member of the congregation to cries of "Christos Anesti" (Christ is arisen).  There are also, mostly in country districts, huge bonfires near the churches where the burning effigy represents Judas; firework displays and the candle lit processions.  If you can get your candle back to your home without it blowing out then your home will be blessed with luck for the whole year to come.

The sight of whole families climbing into cars with Easter candles alight is a spectacle you will never forget!  If you are lucky enough to be the guest of a Greek family - be prepared - many still fast the previous week and the eating starts after the service, with maybe a spit Charcoal-barbequed lamb later in the day.  The sights; sounds and smells of a Greek Orthodox  Easter here on Crete are spell-binding.  The obvious unity of the people and their 'filoxenia' (hospitality) towards foreigners is a very moving experience.

There are of course other moving Greek orthodox occasions not to be missed if the opportunity for attending arises.  Weddings and Christenings are occasions of great celebration - usually followed by feastings at which a great deal of food and wine are consumed.  Much singing and Greek dancing.  Sometimes, in the remoter areas, much gunfire.....  

Funerals are to my mind for families and friends.  They are times of great sadness and a sense of loss and devastation.  The deceased are carried in open coffins to the church for the service and burial.  I can promise you, having attended the funeral of a friend and the 40th day (after death) memorial service for another, they are moving in the extreme.  After both funerals and the 40th day memorial service the bereaved family lines up outside the church while all those attending walk past in turn, shaking hands; kissing cheeks; maybe muttering a few words of condolence; maybe trying to hold back a tear; maybe not being able to... 

At both services we attended well over 200 people from here and neighbouring towns and villages were present in addition to the families of the deceased.

If you would like to know more about real life events surrounding our local churches, I will be adding some of the details of the lighter side of life in the pages 'Letters From Crete' in a few weeks time.  Click here to check for updates.