ATHENS – One of the most pleasant surprises in store for visitors to the capital of Greece during the holidays is seeing how nicely they do Christmas. Syntagma Square is a sea of holiday lights and delights, and there are fine Christmas trees inside and outside – especially the Grande Bretagne Hotel’s.
After all is said and done, however, it’s a religious holiday, and by virtue of Greece’s history and being a crossroads of civilization, the moving hymns of Orthodoxy are complemented in Athens by the music and traditions of several other Christian denominations.
The most prominent representative of Athens’ multicultural Church scene is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Dionysis the Areopagite – St. Denis. The imposing neo-renaissance basilica is prominently situated on Panepistimiou Boulevard, blending in harmoniously with the beloved neoclassical masterpieces of the National Academy, University, and Library buildings a couple of blocks away that were designed by Danish architect Theophil Hansen.
The Parliament building is nearby, and that is significant because it was originally the palace built for modern Greece’s first king, the Roman Catholic Otto of Bavaria. The church, designed by Leo von Klenze with revisions by Lyssandros Kaftanzoglou, was completed in 1853.
The holiday highlights in 2022 included the December 17 Christmas Concert 2022 with the Choir Orfeas of Patras and the Mixed Vocal Ensemble Coro Avanti. On the afternoon of December 18th in the auditorium a Christmas Variety Show was presented while a Christmas gifts bazaar took place all day long in the parish halls. Throughout the year, there are three liturgies on Sunday, in Greek, Latin, and English. The church was built with funds raised by Catholics from Athens and abroad.
There is an equally beautiful corresponding Orthodox church dedicated to the great saint not far away in Kolonaki. The Areopagite was the second bishop of Athens.
The English position in the East Mediterranean strengthened as the Ottoman Empire began to crumble, and it was complemented by the presence of the subjects of the British crown. In 1843, they consecrated an Anglican church, the earliest foreign church in Athens, which is today a delightful slice of Merry Old England – working pipe organ and all – that is a wonderful place for Americans to experience a familiar Christmas.
The popular annual Carols Sing-a-long was held on December 18 and on Christmas Eve there is the traditional Lessons and Carols ceremony at 6 PM. On Christmas morning, December 25 there will be liturgy and carols.
According to its website, “it is both a joy and a privilege to have a presence in a land that has such a prominence in the New Testament.”
This year at the First Greek Evangelical Church, which has been in Athens for more than 150 years, there was a three-day holiday celebration that began on December 17 with a concert in the church, which is located at Vasilisis Amalias 50, across from the Arch of Hadrian.
The St. Andrews International Evangelical Church is “a diverse and interdenominational community of Christians.” It was established in 1952 at the German Evangelical Church, which was built in Athens Center in 1931-4 at Sina 66 and “is interconnected with the German community.” A Christmas Eve Candlelight service will be celebrated at 8 PM.
The Oriental Orthodox churches are represented by Armenian, Ethiopian, Orthodox and Coptic parishes, but those nationalities also have Protestant churches in Athens. Among the several churches of the Armenian community’s various denominations is the striking St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral located in the Neos Kosmos neighborhood.