Greek Paganism legally recognized as ‘known religion’ in Greece

Cara Schulz —  April 18, 2017 — 51 Comments

ATHENS, Greece – On April 9th, the Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes (YSEE), a religious organization working to restore the indigenous religion of Greece, put out a statement saying Greek polytheism has received legal status in Greece. Prior to this, Greek Pagans did not have religious freedoms such as the ability to buy land to create houses of worship nor could Pagan clergy perform marriage ceremonies.

Yesterday the Secretary of the Supreme council of Ethnic Hellenes (YSEE) announced that after more than twenty years of struggle, the Greek state has finally recognized the Hellenic Religion as a ‘Known Religion’ according to paragraph 17 – the only form of recognition for a religion in Greece. The mentioned paragraph includes the permission to build a temple as well as the right of public exercise of any recognized religion.

The recognition of Hellenic Religion as a ‘Known Religion’ is only the first step towards a general recognition of Hellenism. Now the YSEE at Athens is still waiting for recognition as a religious statutory body in Greece. The Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes will approach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if the state leaves them no other choice, said its Secretary.

Unlike the United States, Greece does not have a blanket freedom of religion law built into its legal system. It is instead governed by the Organization of the Legal Forms of Religious Communities and their Organizations in Greece. As of now, only six religions outside the Greek Orthodox faith are recognized as ‘known religions.’ And, even those practices that achieve this status often face an uphill battle in exercising their rights. For example, Muslims in Athens have fought for over 10 years to build a mosque, and have so far been unsuccessful.

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

The recognition of the Greek religion came after it was rejected in 2015. According to the YSEE, the rejection demonstrated that the Greek government, “…has yet to get rid of its byzantine and medieval whims and […] unable to respect with dignity its own laws.”

“It has rejected by intermediate on of its court of First Instance the motion signed by hundreds of Ethnikoi Hellenes to obtain recognition as a statutory corporation of religious character for their ancestral, indigenous, and historically continuous to our day despite cruel persecutions by Christianity.”

YSEE is currently registered as a non-profit organization and, as explained on its website, has been on the front lines in the on-going battle for religious community recognition.

The Wild Hunt spoke with Mr. Vlassis Rassias, the General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, about what it means for the Ethnic Hellenic Pagans in Greece and what the next steps are in achieving religious right in Greece.

TWH: If this is the first step towards a general recognition of Hellenism, what is the next step?

Vlassis Rassias: This was recognition of our Religion as such, by the official authorities of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Matters. To their credit, they gave us official permission for a place of worship in Athens, thus promoting the Hellenic Ethnic Religion to the status of a “known religion” in Greece, according to article 3 of the Constitution. The next step for us is the recognition of the official organization of the Hellenic Ethnic Religion (The Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, YSEE) as a statutory corporation of religious character, according to the relatively recent law 4301/2014, something that is so far absurdly rejected by the Greek courts, which resist our very name, and more particularly the term “Ethnic”, although the official authorities of the state have already accepted us under our proper title Hellenic Ethnic Religion. We have a rather strange situation here, exactly what our ancient ancestors were calling “tragelafos” (“τραγέλαφος”).

TWH: How was YSEE informed that the Hellenic religion is now a known religion?

VR: We received the official reply of the official authorities of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Matters, in response to an application of ours that we had submitted together with the requested big number of state documents, certifying the appropriateness of our place of worship, concerning its legality, fire safety, sanitation, and such. The above mentioned reply was also notified to various competent authorities, as the Ministry of Interior, the Registry Office, and such.

TWH: What is gained by being recognized as a religious statutory body?

VR: We are now under the protection of the law, to the same degree as the other 5 – 6 non-christian religions that are already classified as “known religions” in our country. We can henceforth register our children at the Registry Office as belonging to the Hellenic Ethnic Religion, and we shall perform hellenic wedding rituals with full legal value. We still remain though a Non-profit Organization, not a religious statutory body. As a religious statutory body, that is what for the time being is denied to us, we will function more properly in the matters that concern our Religion and, of course, we won’t pay every year the 500 – 1000 euros chargeable since 2011 by the indebted Greek State on all the Non-profit Organizations.

TWH:  Was YSEE responsible for this change in status? What did you do to bring this about?

VR:  This and all the future attainments of the goals of the Hellenic Ethnic Religion, is and will be the outcome of the uninterrupted, strategic, collective and devoted struggle of our organization that this June celebrates the 20 years of its operation under its present name. A decade before YSEE’s foundation we were operating through “Diipetes” (“Διιπετές”), a now defunct quarterly journal for the moral defense and restoration of our Religion.

 *   *   *

Mr. Rassias says YSEE will be celebrating their religion’s legal recognition during their annual celebration of Charisia-Aphrodesia, which is a religious observance in honor of Aphrodite and the Charities, on April 22nd.

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Hermione Volino

    Glad for them. I know that’s it’s been a long road and I’m glad that things are happening.

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  • Tauri1

    Mazel tov!

  • Congratulations to our Greek friends!

  • The Ragin Pagan

    Skål!

  • Congratulations!

  • Αννα Ρωσσος

    How many Christian Churches do you know in Muslim countries? Perhaps we did not have a mosque in Greece, but Muslims were free to practice their faith.
    And that is only ONE of the many erroneous statements in this article….

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      The article did not say Muslims were denied freedom to worship, but — just as you repeated — that they had not yet been able to build a mosque. This is a familiar story in America, too, having the right on paper to do something that can be stalled by the narrow-minded via bureaucratic roadblocks.Why on Earth inject the question of whether there are Christian churches in Muslim countries? In fact, some of the oldest Christian churches in the world are in countries that are now Muslim (or Jewish). The question implies that the tolerance or intolerance of one country should be driven by the tolerance or intolerance of another. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

      • Suren

        There are actually way more churches in Muslim countries than you’d think. Iran has quite a few thanks to its Armenian minority. How religious minorities are treated in Muslim countries varies though, I wouldn’t expect pagan movements to gain much momentum in Egypt any time soon, for example.

        • Jimmy Giannioudis

          of course there are churches in muslim countries
          Cristianity is 2000 years old and muslim is several hundred of years in the making.
          because Mohammad was born in the middle east and was Arab speaking
          you thunk he delivered the message to the people for God instead of Jesus.
          what a reason to fight
          mine is better mine is bigger. mine is the right way!!!
          just being sarcastic you all act as nasty children trying to belong somewhere just to feel important in your failures
          that is what bullies do.
          to all who has not understood yet and i guess you never will .
          YOU CAN NEVER IMPOSE SOMETHING ON ANYONE WITH AN OUNCE OF BRAINS AND HEART

      • Jimmy Giannioudis

        not allowed to build a mosque in Athens.
        they are hundreds of mosques in Greece.
        people stop repeating the bullshit propaganda you hear from ignorant bullshitters.
        i am Greek living in Canada.
        i have been in Northern greece in the 80’s and i saw hundreds upon hundreds of mosques while visiting Greece
        thank you

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          My repetition of the statement in the article was to point out that someone else was exaggerating it. If you lose your temper at the way internet discussion flows you will always be angry on line, and that’s not much fun.

    • Gus diZerega

      Actually, quite a few. Check out Coptic Christians in Egypt, who have been worshiping there longer than Egypt has had Muslims.

    • ChristopherBlackwell

      There are a variety of Christian churches with long histories of functioning churches in many Muslim Countries. As pointed out Greece still does not allow a single mosque to be built, which areas important to Greek Muslims as Church buildings are to Christians. It is a shame that it is necessary to fight the government to become legally recognized as a religion in Greece and many other Orthodox.

      May I point out another oddity about some of the Orthodox Christians, the need for some of the extreme ones to use violence on people of other religions. This also happened in Greece. This included beatings, and vandalism. The same has happened in other Orthodox countries. Sometimes with priests egging on their church member into violence. In one case this led to the murder of one Pagan priest trying to protect his god posts, in an area used for worship by the local Pagans.

      Study ancient to modern Christian history and you will find it every bit as violent and bloody as we often claim of the Muslim extremists.

      This is a problem in all religions, and what we must watch for, and prevent in our own Pagan religions as well.

      Minority religions tend to be gentle and careful while small and poor for matter of simple survival, even Christianity started this way as mostly a religion of slaves, poor people, and women.

      But once a religion becomes wealthy, and politically powerful then the corruption sets in and violence becomes noticeable in acting against other religions.

      Note that Jesus, never said anything against the many Pagan religions of his day, not once. Note also that He and his followers were still considered to be Jews at that time. What became known as Christianity started fifty years after Jesus. Religious history of any religion is fascinating to study, usually avoided by most religious followers. The Holy books tell you the theory of what the religion is supposed to be about, but the history tells you what actually happened.

      As you notice the ancient Pagan people did not always act nice according to their own religious beliefs, for they too could be corrupted just like any other religion by greed and political power. This is basic people problem, but people make up the religion.

      • Dimitrios Kokkotis

        “Note that Jesus, never said anything against the many Pagan religions of his day, not once. ”

        Mark 7.25-7.30
        “[24] And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.
        [25] For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:
        [26] The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
        [27] But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
        [28] And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.
        [29] And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
        [30] And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.”

        Propably for Jesus the Greek were dogs.

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          I don’t think Jesus regarded Greeks as dogs; he was always speaking in parables. From the evidence of words attributed to him in his mortal lifetime, he regarded his healing as bringing the Jewish god’s blessing to the Jewish people. Healing of others, like this or the Roman soldier’s servant, were collateral benefits.

        • Reyn

          Er, that has nothing to do with the woman’s religion…… ….. it is a mythic story about exorcism – intended to show CHrist’s power…

      • Enialios Dinos Malliaros

        My dear sir, may I point out a few items of possible interest from the point of view of a person who was born into the christian orthodox religion (and, thankfully, having been emancipated from it long ago) as well as from the point of view of a person that has studied the phenomenon of abrahamism (christianity, islam, etc) from its inception to the present.

        Firstly, orthodox christianity has by its very deeds proven to be one of the most rabid forms of christianity the world has ever known. It’s destruction of civilization as well as the dumbing-down of its subject peoples is unprecedented in human history. Starting from Greece it has systematically destroyed its ancient monuments, material culture as well as cultural traditions to the point that the modern Greeks are rendered the comical antithesis of what the ancient Greeks were reputed to be. Additionally, upon closer look, the countries that had the misfortune of becoming afflicted with orthodoxy tend to be among the most backward, superstitious and fanatic of the christian lot.

        Furthermore, there is no “problem with all religions.” The indigenous (pagan) religions had no intrinsic “prime directive” to convert everyone else to their own set of beliefs. Regardless of what individual pagans or pagan states had done historically, they did so in their capacity as human beings not because their (pagan) religions directed them to regard non-members as sub-human.’ There is a difference.

        Pagan religions have been historically gentle to a fault; the proof of that is their incapability to defend themselves against the organized onslaught of christianity or islam. They simply saw the latter as simple adversaries not as a militant group with an eradication program against their very way of life.

        As regards jesus, if he really existed at all, we could not be sure what he said or didn’t say or do, because the jesus episodes were written centuries after his supposed wanderings among the rest of the mortals.

        • Franklin_Evans

          In your studies, did you examine the treatment of early Christians by the Roman government? My readings, limited as I’m sure they are, found many examples of state prosecution of Christians for violation of religious laws.

          Whatever we moderns may view as “intrinsic”, it cannot be projected upon past cultures and societies.

          • Enialios Dinos Malliaros

            As a matter of fact I have. There are various studies on the subject. The earliest that I’m aware of is an essay by Henry Dodwell “On the Paucity of Christian Martyrs.” Of course, he was censured by the local christian establishment much like Darwin was, for a different reason, later on.

            Another modern work on the subject is WHC Frend’s “Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church” which is a balanced account on the subject of martyrdom. He examines the mindset of christians who were programmed for, and seeking martyrdom (like the followers of Jim Jones or modern day jihadists) even though local Roman magistrates avoided having to deal with them. Mention is also made of scores of christians who ran from local persecutions, bishops included; whose reincorporation in the body of the faithful after their apostasy caused the Donatist heresy by the faction of christianity who refused to accept them back on the basis that they avoided martyrdom; and there were plenty of those–in fact, the majority.

            A very telling event on the inclination of Roman authorities towards christian persecution is Trajan’s response to Plinny’s letter (while governor in Bithynia, Asia Minor) on how to treat the christians; it’s actually surprisingly moderate. Book: Ehler & Morrall’s “Church and State through the Centuries”.

            I’m sure there are more for those who want to specialize on the subject. I would, however, contrast Roman policy on the christians with the later (christianized, Byzantine) Roman policy against non-christians. Frankly, there is no comparison. The treatment of the “pagans” by them makes Hitler look like a naughty boy scout, by contrast. The majority of the population who did not want to accept christianity was either annihilated or forced to convert; to the point that the entire culture (way of life, traditions, worldview, religion included) was eradicated. This set a precedent for the destruction of all the cultures that christianity and later islam came to dominate.

            The funny thing nowadays is this internecine conflict between christianity and islam. It’s like a fist-fight between Hitler and Stalin. Which side would one take? I for one, would take none. There is a third path: the path of indigenous (pagan) culture–which has been victimized by both all over the world.

        • AlternativeViewPoint

          You stated, “Additionally, upon closer look, the countries that had the misfortune of
          becoming afflicted with orthodoxy tend to be among the most backward,
          superstitious and fanatic of the christian lot.” – I guess you are unaware of the history of Christianity or other Christian faiths that can also be described as ‘backward and fanatical.’ Including modern day Christians who believe drinking alcoholic is a sin, the Evangelicals who believe God has given them the right to bare arms and that the land of Israel only belongs to the Jews. Lets not forget the Catholic Churches practice of burning heretics and selling indulgences. So your conclusion that only Orthodoxy is the most backward of the Christian Churches is not what history and modern day practices supports.

          Also the fact that you point out that, ‘Pagan religions have been historically gentle to a fault,’ is ridiculous to anyone who has studied ancient Greek society. In the Iliad, Iphigenia was a daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, was put to death so that the winds could blow. It was the debauchery of the Pagan Roman-Grego world that allowed the new religion of Christianity to emerge, as society realized the old gods had no consistency as to what was regarded by the masses to be morale. Christ’s legacy and teachings drew people in a more positive spiritual way, than the chaotic pagan world did.

      • Jimmy Giannioudis

        first of all get your story right.
        do not omit the truth.
        there is not 1 mosque in Athens.
        there are hundreds of mosques in rhe northern part of Greece where Turkish and other Muslim people live. i have been there and seen them myself. and yes they live in harmony with the Greek Christians.
        so if you say what you say because of lack of education
        well then educate yourself.
        if this is to bash Greece well sjame on you.then this is why and how hate is created

        • Baruch Dreamstalker

          Jimmy, I’m confident that no one on TWH, at least none of our regulars, is here to bash Greece. We are chronically angry with the obstructionism of the Greek Orthodox Church against the religious freedom of our comrades the Greek Pagans. That’s not against the Greek state or the Greek people.Here in America, Pagans have also been denied some of the things that government has regularly given to the Christian majority. Sometimes we are snide, snarky and surly in that discussion, but that does not mean we dislike our country or hate our fellow Americans.

    • Enialios

      There are NO erroneous statements in this article; so there is no use in trying to employ the well-known orthodox establishment tactics of disinformation; they don’t work too well outside of Greece, where people’s intellects have not been dulled by chronic “orthodoxitis.”

      What Vlasis has stated to Ms. Schulz, is in fact well known to those of us that are close to this effort, to be the truth; so please spare us of your snide remarks on an issue which you obviously know so very little about.

    • Jimmy Giannioudis

      Anna there are mosques in Greece hundreds of them.
      there is not one in Athens only
      but people still have make shift mosque even in Athens and go and pray.
      In Macedonia andactally from Yianena Thesaloniki Kavala Alexadropolis all the way to all the borders in mortjerm Greece there are hundreds of mosques

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Excellent! Is YSEE yet able to conduct worship services in the ancient temples of Greece? I know this was one of their goals, as co-religionists of the builders of those temples.

    • John Tomlinson

      The last I heard, they still aren’t allowed to enter the Temples. Which I understand due to everyone wanting to preserve them as much as possible. I would love to see or even take place in worship inside of the ancient temples but at the same time, regardless of how careful everyone is, something may be damaged.
      Plus i’m sure many members of larger religions will make a large fuss about it and could attack and/or deface the temples. This sort of thing has happened in other countries throughout the years.

  • Rob Henderson

    Any word from the folks in LABRYS on how this affects them?

  • Ian Elliott

    I am a Wiccan. My patron deity is Hermes. I would like to join.

  • Ian Elliott

    Well, that makes Iceland, Lithuania and Greece! Who is next?

  • Ian Elliott

    How do I join? I live in Norway, which pretends to be Christian. I’ve been Pagan since Cap’m Cooley was a pup.

    • Enialios Dinos Malliaros

      In Norway there is a fine gentleman (Øyvind) located in Oslo, who represented the Norwegian group of ethnic pagans in last summer’s Prague conference of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions.

      • Ian Elliott

        That raises the question of which tradition one should join. I reside in Norway but am largely of Celtic blood. I come from America, and I am part American Indian. I study Greek and am a classical scholar. I don’t feel all that close to Norse heathenism. Where do I belong?

        • Tauri1

          Where do you THINK you belong? Which part of your ancestry calls to you the most? That’s where you “belong”. If none of your ancestry “calls” to you, then explore other options, maybe even non-pagan religions like Buddhism or Taoism. You may find other beliefs more suited to your spiritual needs.

          • Ian Elliott

            Well, I think I belong right here, in Wicca. I am a natural eclectic. Wicca is eclectic individualism. So I guess that is the answer. I only wanted to support Hellenism sympathetically from afar.

          • Out of curiosity, where is it you’re based? I’m in Norge too, but in the Far North

        • Enialios Dinos Malliaros

          You should follow whatever your heart tells you to. I would however, kindly suggest that you study your Celtic as well as American Indian roots.

          • Ian Elliott

            Thank you, I am doing so, Sound advice.

  • What does the acronym YSEE expand to in Greek? I haven’t enough acquaintance with Greek to guess.

    • Enialios Dinos Malliaros

      The letters of the acronym correspond to what in English would be translated as the: “Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes”.

  • Jimmy Giannioudis

    They should be allowed to practice their religion.
    as we all know the ancient Greek Gods were around a thousand years before modern Cristianity.
    the question i have for everybody.
    isn’t it ironic how the old Greek religion and modern Cristianity are so similar in so many aspects 12 Gods 12 opostles. God Zeus. and so on and so one.
    just a thought was modern Cristianity based or a carbon copy of the Greek ancient Gods.
    even the romans took that from the Greeks only gave them. different names.
    at the end of the day maybe godess Athina had reason not to want a mosque in her city.
    by the way i am Greek Orthodox
    but will always respect my ancestors this who i am also
    and yes i believe it all fits like a glove

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      maybe godess Athina had reason not to want a mosque in her city.Jimmy, I’m not picking on you or targeting you. You just happen to have said things that push my buttons.The quoted line creates community danger, setting one religion against another in the name of their gods. It invites interfaith relations to slide downhill rather than promote the tolerance that’s essential to a livable community.

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  • Hellenion Organization

    This is fantastic news! Thanks to the Theoi!

    Great article Cara 🙂

  • “ΠΙΕΡΙΟΣ”

    Ω, μα τον Δία και όλο το 12/θεο! Οι παγανισταί ξανάρχονται! Χε, χε, χε!..

  • Fábio Alves

    I am extremely happy to know that!!!

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  • This is wonderful news!