Greece's First Crematorium Finally Opens, Now Operating

Αssociated Press

(AP Photo /Mahesh Kumar A. File)

Despite long resistance from the Church of Greece against the burning of bodies, the country's first crematorium has opened in Ritsona, Viotia in the central part of the country and conducted 15 cremations already.

The practice was legalized in 2004 but ran into constant obstacles and protests from the Church. The former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in March signed a decision allowing crematoria to operate but despite expectations that would include the greater Athens area that hasn't happened yet.

Licensed in the summer of 2018 and inaugurated on September 30, the private venture is 70 percent owned by Crem Services. The nongovernmental Greek Cremation Society (GCS) holds a 30 percent stake, said Kathimerini in a report.

Speaking to the press at the facility on Oct. 10, GCS President Antonis Alakiotis hailed its operation as an “historic event.”

“Changing funerary customs is one of the hardest and slowest shifts that any society can make,” he said, adding, “Our country... is unfortunately the last in the European Union to acquire a crematorium.”

Cremations are not arranged directly with the facility but through funeral homes. “The cost at our end comes to 600 euros ($662.33,) but with that of the funeral home, I estimate it at between 1,500 and 2,500 euros,” Alakiotis said, about $1656-$2760.

Parliament first gave the approval for a crematorium in 2006 but it can be used only by those whose religion also allows it. The City of Athens called for people to offer land for rent or sale to host a crematorium in 2016 but it was slow to happen.

In 2011, a crematorium seemed imminent in Thessaloniki, the city’ second-biggest city, with officials also citing revenues from burning bodies as a key factor.

Hundreds of bodies have had to be transported abroad for cremation every year, with Bulgaria the closest offering that option. Other countries chosen by Greeks include the United Kingdom, France and Italy.

The cost of being cremated abroad had ranged from 2500-6000 euros ($2760-$6623) and officials in Thessaloniki said the city could have used that money. Until now, only a municipality could operate a crematorium as plans to allow private crematoria were also opposed by cities and towns who have a near monopoly on operating cemeteries.

Greece is one of the few western countries where private cremation is unlawful, leading Greeks who prefer that practice for their deceased loved ones to have the bodies transported to Bulgaria.

In March 2016, Greece’s Holy Synod said it would try to stop plans for crematoriums that were approved by Parliament, saying it violates Orthodox dogma.

Lawmakers at that time okayed a bill letting people choose their burial rites despite staunch opposition from the church and other critics opposed to burning of bodies, although it was practiced in ancient Greece.

“The state must recognize that religious freedom applies to everyone and, therefore, legislation in favor of atheists or people that are indifferent to religion, cannot be imposed on the majority religious community of the Orthodox church,” the Holy Synod said to no avail.