The Greek Orthodox Church is an essential part of life for Greeks and a focal point of their community since the majority of Greeks are Greek Orthodox Christians and many of their important holidays and festivals have a religious meaning to it. The importance of the church to Greek society can be seen in the fact there are five different Greek Orthodox churches in Astoria alone. They are St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Metropolis, St. Demetrios Cathedral, Holy Protection Greek Orthodox Church, and St. Markella Greek Orthodox Church.

The start of the Greek Orthodox Church can be traced back to the 11th century when the Great Schism took place and Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church separated from each other. During several occupations, including the Ottoman rule over Greece, the Orthodox religion helped keep Greek culture and tradition alive1.

Even Greeks who aren’t that religious still have the utmost veneration and reverence for the Greek Orthodox Church. Though many might not attend church every single Sunday on a regular basis, they do make it a point to go to church for a major religious holiday, like Christmas or Easter, since it is part of their tradition to do so on these days2.

Even today, the Greek Orthodox church isn’t just a place where basic services are held; it retains an influence on other aspects of Greek life as well. For example, St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church in Astoria is located right next to a school where kids have access to education and religion simultaneously.

St. Demetrios Cathedral, hold programs and activities that place an emphasis on building various skills. It is also common for these churches to have sports teams associated with them; St. Demetrios has a basketball league. Moreover, they conduct social activities as well such as dances and social outings, where they might go ice skating at Bryant Park.

The inside of a typical Greek Orthodox church: Courtesy of Wikipedia

The inside of a typical Greek Orthodox church. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The architecture and character of the Greek Orthodox church is unique. It is usually characterized by a dome. The interior of the church is intricately decorated with beautiful murals with Christian themes as well as holy icons3.

Image courtesy of Shahrin Azim

Image courtesy of Shahrin Azim

Though it might seem that the art in the church is for decorative purposes, this is not the case. The main role of the art is to teach and promote. The artistic themes are carefully selected from passages found both in the Old Testament and the New Testament to reflect what is dogmatically central to the Orthodox Church; this is why images of Christ, the Virgin, angels, and saints are abundant. The Greek Orthodox Church also makes use of icons in prayer as these icons are honored out of love and reverence for the people represented on them. The church, along with its art and icons, are meant to create an environment in which the worship can be realized in all its depth. This has been the church’s main purpose since its conception and remains so even today4.

Author: Floril Thomas