With the arrival of the first evangelical missionary in modern times in Greece in 1829, a new cycle in the religious life of that nation was begun.

The churches of Paul and Apollos had become the Greek Orthodox Church—with its archaic language and its competitive priesthood (the monastic orders against the parish priests). The end result was an unprogressive establishment, for the Orthodox church seemed devoted to maintaining the “status quo.”

The Greek Kingdom was re-established in 1827 when Greece secured freedom from the Turks. Since the Greek church was the main defense and safeguard of the Greek culture during the centuries of Ottoman enslavement, the church was especially esteemed by the Greeks in their new freedom. The church has retained this same influence and leadership for more than a century, even under the republic established in 1924.

With new freedom the first Protestant missionary, Dr. Jonas King of the American Board, entered Greece in 1829, founding schools and publications. He worked for 35 years, but founded no church. He was persecuted and driven from Greece.

During the twentieth century the Zoe movement—originally monastic, now lay as well—has been active within the Greek Orthodox Church. Working largely with youth, its schools, presses and associations encourage Bible reading and religious faith. However, freedom of religion is not one of its tenets. This movement is, in fact, most persistently opposed to Protestant missions.

Evangelical Beginnings

A convert of Dr. King’s ministry, Dr. Michael Kalotathakes, was trained in the United States and returned to Greece. Assisted by the Southern Presbyterian Church, he published literature and eventually erected the first Greek Evangelical Church in Athens in 1871.

In the meantime, an evangelical church was developing in Turkey, assisted by the American Board (Congregational). While most of the believers were Armenians, a goodly number were Greek. All efforts to relate them to the evangelical church in Greece were unsuccessful until 1920, when they were expelled from Turkey. Then they organized the Greek Evangelical Church, with a Presbyterian form of government and two synods, Athens and Thessalonica. This church is completely independent of the sponsoring denominations, although the American Board has continued the limited operation of schools in Greece.

With the subsequent repatriation of almost two million refugees from Turkey, evangelical forces increased from a few hundred to several thousand. In that year Dr. Constantine Metallinos, whose conversion from the Greek church came through reading the New Testament and other works, joined with four others and built the first Free Evangelical Church of Greece. It is established on the Brethren basis and became organized in 1937, adopting Baptistic polity.

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In 1920 the Greek Evangelical Mission of Boston, with the Rev. K. Paul Yphantis as executive secretary, was organized to assist these new churches in Greece, since the founding American missions had withdrawn support and backing during World War I. This agency has assisted particularly the Free Evangelical Church. The Free Evangelical Church now has 39 churches in Greece, and the Greek Evangelical Church has 20 churches and many unorganized groups.

More recently there has been organized, with official approval of the Greek Evangelical Church, the American Mission to Greeks with the Rev. Spiros Zodhiates as general secretary in New York City to raise support for their poverty-stricken orphans, adults and churches.

Present Strength

The present evangelical Protestant population of Greece, estimated at about 15,000, also includes the product of several newer missions like the Oriental Missionary Society and Assemblies of God, which have sent missionaries especially since World War II. Others have entered with emphasis on literature. Without doubt thousands won to Christ are not yet formally members of an evangelical church.

Both of the major evangelical churches have established Bible schools for training workers, both have orphanages, and endeavor to help with primary education, but in every area of work, especially in education, they run into opposition from the Greek church.

Continuous Persecution

The history of modern missions in Greece is a story of continuous persecution of minorities by the Greek church. Curiously, the Greek church is an affiliate of the World Council of Churches, yet persecutes the by-product of fellow affiliates (i.e., Congregational and Presbyterian, U.S.). The evangelical churches in Greece have a Greek Evangelical Association related to the World Evangelical Fellowship.

Several developments underline methods and attitudes of the Greek church toward evangelicals.

First, the Greek Orthodox Church has consistently opposed the use of the Bible in modern Greek. The British and Foreign Bible Society published the Bible in modern Greek in 1857. Since 1902 the government has tried to halt publication of the Bible in modern Greek, and in 1926 inserted an article in the constitution prohibiting it. However, this article has never been enforced and many thousands of Bibles are distributed annually. The Million Testament Campaign, under Dr. George T. B. Davis, has published and distributed 200,000 New Testaments in Greek, and additional thousands have been printed by others. The Rev. Paul Pappas of the Oriental Missionary Society distributed many thousands of New Testaments in prisons and to the armed forces of Greece through contacts with Greek prison and military chaplains. To block this distribution, the Greek church through the government has insisted that all Protestant publications have “Protestant” stamped on them. From time to time colporteurs have been arrested because through oversight this identification was omitted. The moderator of the Greek Evangelical Church was ordered arrested several years ago because New Testaments taken out of his church lacked the word “Protestant.”

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Restrictions On Schools

The Greek Orthodox Church has sought to retain religious control through government restrictions on schools, churches and orphanages. Evangelicals are still disallowed from operating primary schools. Application was made several years ago for a school for children from 500 families in Katarine. The constitution of Greece guarantees the right to establish such schools. Refused by the ministry of education, they took the case to the supreme court in 1953. The court reversed the action of the ministry of education and recognized the right of Protestants to organize schools. However, the ministry of education has never granted permission because the Archbishop of Athens will not give his consent. Appeal was made to Professor Hativizots, who was liaison between the Greek Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches, including Church World Service. Unfortunately, Professor Hativizots supported the archbishop and said he did not care what the law or the supreme court had to say, and that if he were the Minister of Cults he would never give consent for the evangelical church to have its own schools.

Impediment To Churches

Again, no church can be built without a government permit, and the government permit has to be approved by the archbishop.

In a little town in Macedonia, Neos Mylotopos, there is an evangelical community of 70 families, all refugees from Asia Minor. They have lived in that town for 30 years. In 1950 they filed a petition for the right to build a church. The bishop of the district was Mgr. (Bishop) Panteleimon, a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. He promised to give permission and said he had done so. This was untrue, and the minister of government, acting on the refusal of the bishop, refused the petition. This happened at the very time the Greek Orthodox Church was raising money among the Protestant churches of the United States for the erection of 1,000 Greek churches in Greece that had been destroyed by war.

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These evangelicals finally proceeded on their own, wisely or unwisely, to erect their building in the name of a resident of their village as if it were going to be his barn. It was then turned over to the evangelicals for worship. Police on several occasions attacked this place of worship, and finally came to close it down by force. The evangelical women resisted and were cruelly beaten; a number had to be hospitalized. The pastor’s wife was beaten so severely she spent three months in the hospital and still suffers after-effects. The incident was so widely publicized, and the Greek government called to such shame, that it finally gave permission to use the church.

More recently the Greek government authorized the rebuilding of the first church of Athens. The old church was torn down and the building permit then revoked at the instigation of the Greek church. Only when this matter was brought to the attention of Americans, and questions raised by our government, did the Greek government restore the building permit.

Hampering Relief Effort

The Greek Evangelical Church operates an orphanage for 65 children in Katarine. Although this orphanage admits only the children of evangelicals, it took over six months to overcome opposition of the Greek church to get permission to operate the orphanage.

The last World War left tragic conditions in Greece. Communists abducted 28,000 children; several million persons were left homeless, and thousands of orphans wandered about aimlessly; tuberculosis had infected 500,000 individuals. The need for relief was tremendous. The Church World Service and the evangelicals, including the National Association of Evangelicals, sent large quantities of relief to be distributed through evangelical representatives in Greece. The Greek Orthodox Church insisted that relief for all religious agencies be distributed through its channels. To avoid this, the American Mission to Greeks registered with the U.S. government and was cleared by International Cooperation Administration to receive and distribute surplus food in Greece. However, the Greek Orthodox Church has withheld recognition of the American Mission to Greeks by the American Council of Voluntary Agencies in Athens. Hence, this mission must clear its food for Greece through other local agencies.

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The Greek church apparently would rather see Greek children and adults go hungry than to grant religious freedom. Several years ago the Oriental Missionary Society’s Mr. Pappas was arrested by the Greek government when the hierarchy claimed he was giving out food and clothing to make proselytes among the destitute. After his arrest and order to trial, the case was dropped when the United States government became interested in the matter.

Seizure Of Property

Another abuse is the arbitrary seizure of evangelical property in Katarine. Between the large, beautiful church of the evangelical congregation and the orphanage lies a piece of land that for 30 years has served as a little park owned and cared for by the evangelicals. Recently the town government, incited by fanatical Orthodox leaders, voted a decree seizing this land in order to build a Greek Orthodox school on it. This decree was ratified by the king. Despite the fact that evangelicals received a favorable decision in the courts, the case was decided against them by the government. This was a serious blow to religious freedom. If fanatical elements of the Greek church are permitted to lay hands on evangelical church property without penalty or condemnation, there remains no true religious freedom at all. When the case came to the supreme court, the Bishop of Thessalonica wrote a letter to the court to influence its judgment against the Protestants. This letter incorporates false statements made by the bishop against a small Protestant church which had done nothing to incur his wrath.

As in most areas where religious persecution exists, the end product is a strong, self-propagating evangelical church. Considering its size, the evangelical movement in Greece is growing rapidly. Existing church buildings frequently are open every night in the week and are usually crowded to the doors. With good reason the Greek Orthodox Church is alarmed over many thousands now turning from that church to the joy and freedom to be found in the Gospel.

Dr. Clyde W. Taylor serves the National Association of Evangelicals as Secretary of Public Affairs. He devotes the major part of his time to the advancement of religious liberty in the United States and abroad. For 13 years he has directed the NAE Washington office with an eye on evangelical concerns.

The Lowest Place

Give me the lowest place; not that I dare

Ask for that lowest place, but thou hast died

That I might live and share

Thy glory by thy side.

Give me the lowest place; or if for me

That lowest place too high, make one more low

Where I may sit and see

My God, and love thee so.


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