Greek Orthodoxy is the nation's official religion. The Greek Orthodox Church is under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Although about 98% of Greece's people officially belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, not all Greeks attend church regularly. Most people, however, go to church for baptisms, weddings and funerals, and at Easter and Christmas. Easter is the most important religious holiday in Greece.

Greek Orthodox churches do not have statues, but there are many stylized paintings of Christ and the saints that are held in veneration. They are called icons. Some icons look like oil paintings, others are covered with gold or silver which is shaped to reveal only the painted face and hands of the saint. Few Greek homes are without icons. Icons also hang in many offices, shops and even buses and taxis.

The Greek government pays the salaries of Greek Orthodox clergy. Orthodox priests are allowed to marry and raise families. The priest, or papás, is a highly respected person in the local community. Greek Orthodox priests are bearded and wear long black robes and cylindrical black hats.

Each city, trade guild and church has its special saint's day, celebrated with a panigiri, a festival that involves church services, picnics, music and dancing. Many Greeks return to their hometown or village for the panigiri.

Most Greeks do not celebrate their birthdays but the day of the saint whose name they share. This is called their name day. Those who are not named after a saint have a party on All Saints' Day, 8 weeks after Easter.

Greece has many convents and monasteries, although fewer people live in them than in the past. Mount Athos on Chalkidiki peninsula is a self-governed religious community. It has 20 monasteries. Women and even female animals may not enter the area. The monasteries have treasures of icons, jewels, rare books, mosaics and murals from the Byzantine Empire.

Freedom of worship is recognized in the constitution. Other religious groups in Greece include Roman Catholics, Jews, Protestants and Muslims.

Did you know?

Instead of giving presents on Christmas Day, many Greeks do so on Saint Basil's Day, which falls on New Year's Day. Saint Basil lived in the 4th century and dedicated his life to helping children and the poor