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Greek church says it won’t block cremations, but wants burials


Greece’s Orthodox church has pledged not to oppose a new law allowing cremations for the first time in the country, but said it will expect Orthodox Christians to continue
to be buried.

"The church does not oppose and has no right to oppose the cremation of the dead for those of other religions or Christian denominations," Charis Kondaris, spokesperson for the Church of Greece, told the Reuters news agency. "For Orthodox people, however, it recommends burial as the only way for the decomposition of the deceased human body, according to its long traditions."

A new law passed on 2 March with backing from the governing New Democracy party and opposition Socialist party permits cremation for non-Orthodox residents "whose religious convictions allow it", and for Orthodox citizens who make a "clear, unequivocal statement" of their wish to be cremated.

The Orthodox church traditionally claims the loyalty of about 98 per cent of Greece’s 10.6 million people. Orthodox leaders have traditionally opposed cremation saying it undermines the Christian doctrine of resurrection, and violates the respect due to human remains.

Human rights groups, however, have argued that the lack of provision for cremation infringes rights to equality and religious freedom specified by the Greek constitution.

In addition, supporters of cremation say it is needed to ease chronic space shortages in Greek cemeteries. Corpses are routinely disinterred and moved into containers after just three years to make way for new burials.

Greek newspapers reported that permanent family plots in the capital’s 17 hectare (42 acre) Sografou cemetery currently cost up to US$120 000, compared to US$1100 paid for a three-year rented grave, with an option for an additional year at US$155 per month.

(c) Ecumenical News International