It was St Paul who founded the Greek Orthodox Church when he visited a number of Greek cities. During the early Byzantine period, Christianity became the state religion of the region which is now Greece. This region constituted the Diocese of Eastern Illyricum and was self-governing. Initially it was subordinated to the Bishops of Rome, but later, by 733 AD, it had been subsumed under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Church was characterised by a form of caesaropapism. After Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans, Mehmet II granted the Ecumenical Patriarch the power to govern the Christian population (millet ba┼či).

The first head of state of independent Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias, insisted on the autonomy of the Greek Church, given the fact that the Patriarchate of Constantinople was on Turkish soil and could be influenced by the Turkish government. Indeed, the Greek Orthodox Church was declared “autocephalous” (Decree of 23.07/4.8.1833), with full powers of self-government and the King as its Head. This development was in accordance with the founding or recognition of “national churches”, a mainstream trend in the Balkans at that time.

The result was the organisational division of the Orthodox Church into national autonomous or autocephalous Churches. Such a rupture in the long tradition of unity between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Church had a negative impact on their relationship. Consequently, it was only in 1850 that the Patriarchate of Constantinople recognised the Greek Church’s autocephalous character through a Synodal Tome, “albeit with some limitations”. It is also worth mentioning that the constitutions of the Greek state established the Eastern Orthodox faith as the prevailing religion or “religion of the state”.

Lina Papadopoulou

Papadopoulou, L. (2019). State and Church in Greece, in G. Robbers (Ed.), State and Church in the European Union. Baden-Baden: Nomos, p. 172.


The Treaty of Lausanne (1923) and the population exchange that it entailed between Greece and Turkey rendered Greece the most religiously homogenous national state in the Balkans: from 43% Greek Orthodox in 1912 to 89% in 1924. By 1990, the percentage was estimated at over 95%. Today, polls suggest that 81-90% identify as Orthodox; 4-15% atheist, and 2% Muslims.

Those Muslims remaining in Greece following the population exchange (‘the Muslims of Thrace’, a region in north-eastern Greece where they are based) are recognised officially—and strictly—as a religious minority and are Greek citizens with special rights as set out in the Treaty of Lausanne. Currently they number at approximately 140,000. Additionally, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study, approximately 520,000 Muslims who are either asylum seekers, refugees, migrants or progeny of migrants reside throughout Greece. 

The second largest religious minority—after Muslims—is the Catholic minority (population size estimates range from 50-70,000), based mainly in Athens and on the islands of Syros and Tinos. There are also 5,000 Catholics of the Eastern Rite (Uniates), and approximately 100,000 immigrant Catholics from the Philippines, Poland and other countries. 

The third, in terms of population size, religious minority in Greece are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fourth are Protestants of various denominations; fifth is a Jewish minority (approximately 5,000); and furthermore a number of relatively smaller groups including Baha’i, Pentecostals, Scientologists, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, Buddhists, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

Of all the above groups, those who have most conspicuously faced large challenges as a religious collective identity living within Greece are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is this group which is involved in most of the struggles for religious freedom vis-à-vis freedom of expression (accusations of proselytism) and conscientious objection (exemption from military service). Securing places of worship has been difficult for all non-Orthodox religious groups, but especially for Muslims outside of Thrace and for Protestant groupings.

The current Greek Constitution was drafted in 1974 following the end of a military dictatorship and is presented “[i]n the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity”

Article 3 of the Constitution, entitled “Relations of Church and State”, stipulates that "The prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ" (the Orthodox Church of Greece). Article 3 is hotly debated because of the ambiguous nature of the term “prevailing” as either descriptive or prescriptive. Minority religious rights limitations may likely stem from understandings that the Greek Constitution legitimizes a preservation of Christian Orthodoxy as the “prevailing” faith. 

Article 13 of the Constitution indicates that freedom of religious conscience is inviolable; that all "known" religions shall be free and their rites of worship shall be performed unhindered and under the protection of the law, except where these offend public order or the good usages; and that proselytism is prohibited. This article reveals significant limitations on religious freedom. First, the requirement that a faith be recognized by the state, following an application process, in order for it to be “known,” is problematic, as it introduces a degree of inequality among religious groups. Inequality among religious groups is conspicuous in the Greek context, and with significant legal repercussions. Three religious groups—the Orthodox Church of Greece, adherents of the Jewish faith, and the Muslim minority of Western Thrace—exist in the Greek legal framework as faith communities with public law status, and without any need for registration. Until a legislative change introduced in 2014, all other religious groups could be registered only as legal entities of private law either as associations, foundations, or charitable fundraising charities, rather than as religious groups per se. This fact limited groups’ rights to enter into contracts, own property, act as employers, and enjoy tax exemptions. Thus the 2014 law on religious legal personality falls short of resolving the inequalities among religious groups and, for many minority faith groups, it fails to offer a viable solution to their lack of legal status. Also, the outright ban on proselytism in Article 13 of the Constitution is problematic not least for the loose definition of proselytism which has contributed to rather liberal applications of the ban by national courts in the past. 

Article 16 of the Constitution identifies the “development of religious conscience of youth” as an aim of national education. Religious education in the Orthodox faith is compulsory in the public education system, with exemptions available until recently only on declaration of a faith other than Orthodox Christianity. Article 16 underpinned a Greek high court decision in 2019 to remove from circulation religious education textbooks which were deemed to fail "to develop the religious conscience" of students; changes to the curriculum included the removal of topics considered not relevant to the Greek Orthodox faith. 

 Effie Fokas




Data and information concerning religious demography are provided by

Zurlo, G. A. (2024). World Religion Database. Leiden-Boston: Brill

General information on minority issues (including some references to religious or belief ones) can be found at the page devoted to Greece in

Minority Rights Group International. World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples

The text of some legislative acts concerning freedom of religion or belief can be found in the OSCE/ODIHR database of legal reviews and legislation, available at

A report on the Greek legal system and government policies about freedom of religion (with some references to religious or belief minorities) is provided in

U.S. Department of State: Office of International Religious Freedom. 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Greece

About the Greek system of law and religion, see 

Papageorgiou, C. L. (2021). Religion and Law in Greece. Alphen aan den Rijn: Wolters Kluwer

A picture of how religious diversity is managed in Greece is provided at

and more widely by

Gemi, E. (2020). The 'prevailing religion' and the governance of diversity, in A. Triandafyllidou, & T. Magazzini (eds.), Routledge Handbook on the Governance of Religious Diversity. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 88-98



1 promotion of rights
0 respect of international standards
-1 restriction of rights
1 low equality
0 equal treatment of RBMs
0 no gap between religious majority and minorities
-1 high gap between religious majority and minorities


(source: World Religion Database, 2021)