Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Greece

Published: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 10,737,000; Members, 693; Missions, 1; Branches, 5;Percent LDS, .006, or one in 15,494; Europe Area.

Located on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, Greece is a presidential parliamentary republic. About 98 percent of the Greek-speaking population belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.

In 1895, Rigas Pofantis and Nicholas Malavetis began a search for gospel truths. After their discovery in 1898 of a newspaper that included an article about Mormonism, they wrote to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City requesting information. As a result, President Ferdinand F. Hintze of the Turkish Mission visited and taught the pair in March 1899. Malavetis died in 1903, but Pofantis wrote again to Church leaders in 1905, this time requesting baptism. He mentioned that he had studied with three other people who were also desirous of baptism, including Malavetis's widow. He had translated into Greek one hundred pages of the Book of Mormon and had also translated and published a Church pamphlet titled "Rays of Living Light."

Turkish Mission President J. Wilford Booth and his wife Mary arrived in Athens on 1 October 1905 to meet with Pofantis and the others. On 6 October 1905, Booth and his wife knelt on Mars Hill, praying that Greece would be receptive to the gospel. In the ocean near Phaleron in the Saronic Gulf on Sunday, 22 October 1905, Booth baptized the first five Greeks: Rigas Pofantis, Andromache Malavetis, George Zdralis, Constantine Theodoseau and John Lazos. They then returned to the Pofantis home on Kaningos Square in Athens where the sacrament was administered there for the first time. On 29 November 1905 a sixth Greek convert, Marie Pechany, was baptized in the Bay of Piraeus.

In March 1906, full-time missionaries were assigned to Greece, the first being Joseph F. Thorup and Bertrand W. Clayton. Over the next three years, several additional converts were baptized and by April 1909, Thorup, working with Pofantis and others, had translated the entire Book of Mormon into Greek. The First Presidency asked him to bring his translation to Salt Lake City for review. It was found to be an excellent translation in a classical Greek style, but was not a high priority for publication due to closure of the work in Greek-speaking areas. Between 1971 and 1979 the translation department of the Church edited Thorup's manuscript to be publication-ready by modernizing its language. Part of Thorup's translation was published as Book of Mormon selections in 1979.

Missionaries continued to teach and baptize in Greece until August 1909 when work in the Turkish Mission was suspended due to continued political unrest in Armenia and Turkey. The Greek saints were placed under the direction of Pofantis.

In September 1921, J. Wilford Booth was appointed to reopen the work in the jurisdiction of the old Turkish Mission. The Armenian Mission was established that month with headquarters in Aleppo, Syria. The meager resources of the mission were, however, expended completely in rescuing Armenian saints in war-torn Aintab, Turkey, so additional resources were not available to reopen the work in Greece.

Brigham Young University President Franklin S. Harris visited the Armenian Mission in 1927 on assignment of the First Presidency. His 10 February 1927 report included the recommendation that elders return to Greece "as soon as practical."

President Booth's unexpected death on 5 December 1928 left the mission without leadership until the appointment of Badwagan Piranian in February 1933. President Piranian and his successor Joseph Jacobs focused on the work in Syria and Lebanon until World War II closed mission activities in 1939. Piranian was appointed in September 1947 to reopen the work as the Palestine-Syrian Mission. Again, the limited availability of missionaries made it impossible to send elders to Greece.

Although missionary activities were not reinstated for many years, Church leaders directed occasional humanitarian programs that benefitted the Greek people. In November 1947 the Church donated 80,000 pounds of seed wheat to the Greek War Relief Association. After a major earthquake in the Greek Ionian Islands in 1953, the Church participated with the United Churches Ionian Relief Project, providing more assistance to the earthquake survivors than did any other organization or government. As an expression of gratitude, on 29 November 1954, John Tzounis, Greek Consul representing King Paul of the Hellenes, awarded to President David O. McKay the Cross of Commander of the Royal Order of the Phoenix. It was the second- highest honor Greece could bestow upon an individual.

A number of diplomatic exchanges were made in the era of the 1950s to 1980s including visits in 1954 and 1980 from Greek ambassador John Tzounis, a 25 February 1966 visit by ambassador Alexander A. Matsas to David O. McKay; and a February 1969 visit by Greece's Princess Irene and Greek consul general Anthony Protonotarios.

Although active missionary work did not occur in Greece between the 1910s and 1970s, Greek people learned about the Church from servicemen stationed in that region, and while traveling or studying abroad. A number of people of Greek heritage living in Utah were baptized during this period. In Salt Lake City, in 1959, a Hellenic Latter-day Saint Society was formed in Salt Lake City to help Greek members retain their heritage and maintain ties with their homeland.

By 1960, the Athens Greece Group, a Church unit for LDS servicemen, was functioning in Greece. It was replaced by the Athens Branch which was created on 18 June 1967 with Frank K. Swenson as first branch president. At the time of creation, the Athens Branch membership rolls included 80 people: U.S. servicemen, embassy officials, their families, and eight Greeks. By 1975 the branch had about 150 members including more than 13 Greek families.

Increased membership and the establishment of the Church in different parts of Greece led to creation of the Greece Athens Branch on 15 July 1991, the Thessaloniki Branch on 21 January 1992, and the Pireas Branch on 1 September 1992. In 2004, five branches were functioning in Greece: Faliro, Halandri, Thessaloniki, Omonia and Greece Athens Mission.

The Church began sending official representatives to Greece in the mid-1970s. Among the first were James C. and Tena S. Nackos, Angel K. and Mary S. Caras, and Phillip V. and Gwen J. Christensen. It is assumed that the first young elder to work in Greece since 1909 was Clark H. Caras, who arrived in Athens in July 1978.

By the late 1980s, a number of elders and two sisters from the Austria Vienna East Mission were assigned to labor in Greece. The Greece Athens Mission was created from a division of the Austria Vienna East Mission on 1 July 1990. Many of those assigned to serve in Greece were from European Union countries whose citizens had a greater likelihood of obtaining visas to work there.

A trial held on 2-3 June 1991 in Thessaloniki charged four missionaries, J. Darren Burrup, Charles L. Phillips, Karl L. Noyes, and Jed P. Nye, with illegal proselyting. All four were declared innocent. It was the first time that threatened legal action against missionaries was officially prosecuted. This court case was important because it tested the status of the Church in Greece and affirmed the legal rights of Latter-day Saints to do missionary work in the country. Occurrences of police harassment of missionaries lessened after the verdict became known.

The first meetinghouse in Greece was dedicated in Athens 30 May 1999 by Elder Charles Didier of the Seventy as the home for the Halandri, Athinai and Pireas branches. In 2002, there were 591 members.

In 2003, membership reached 598.

Sources: Turkish Mission, "Manuscript history," v. 2; Swiss Mission, "Manuscript history," v. 13-15; Athens Branch directories, July 1967 and July 1975; Lyn R. Jacobs, Mormon non-English scriptures, hymnals, and periodicals, 1830-1986 (Ithaca: The Author, 1986); "The Gospel in Greek," Journal History of the Church, 22 July 1905, 3; [Untitled], Journal History of the Church, 14 April 1909, 7; "Greece's Ambassador arrives in S.L. as guest of Utah Symphony Guild," Journal History of the Church, 24 February 1966, 6; Elder James C. Nackos, "Letter to the editor," Improvement Era, February 1959, 70; "Baptisms in Greece," Deseret Evening News, 25 November 1905; "L.D.S. Church Donates Car of Wheat to Greece," Deseret News, 1 November 1947; "Greek leaders express thanks for Church wheat," Deseret News, 29 November 1947; "Pres. McKay given royal award by king of Greece," Church News, 4 December 1954, 2; "Helenic unit sees show," Church News, 7 November 1964, 13; "This week in Church history: Convert baptized after 10-year wait," Church News, 8 October 1966; Stephen W. Gibson, "Royalty on Temple Square," Church News, 15 February 1969, 15; Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, "Conversion in Athens," Church News, 30 December 1978, 12; "Greek ambassador renews association with Church," Church News, 18 October 1980; "Branch begins in historic city," Church News, 9 May 1992, 12; Meetinghouse is dedicated, first in Greece," Church News, 12 June 1999, 6.

Mission — 1

(As of Oct. 1, 2009; shown with historical number.)

(241) GREECE ATHENS MISSION

Panayias Eleftherotrias 9

PO Box 51178

145 63 Kifissia, Athens, Greece