This summer people from around the world are gathering in Halkidiki, near Thessaloniki, in Northern Greece to distribute Greek New Testaments in that country.
The 300 member group includes participants from New Zealand, Canada, UK, USA, Iceland, Australia and Romania. Led by Johnathan Macris, President of Hellenic Ministries based in Athens, Greece, the group hopes to hand out 150,000 Greek New Testaments through door-to-door distribution.
Though the early church had a significant impact in Greece and many of the Apostle Paul’s letters to Greek churches are now part of the Bible — such as 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians — very few Greeks have a copy of a Bible in their homes and if they do it is often written in older Greek that is very difficult to understand. There is also a deeply rooted view that only Priests can properly interpret Scripture.
Not all Greek churches are delighted with the prospect of Bibles being handed out. In a statement published on its website on June 27, 2014, the Greek Orthodox Church publicly opposed the Bible distribution.
The statement reads:
“…Hellenic Ministries, a neo Protestant group that will once again be involved in a widespread proselytizing effort with the excuse of passing out New Testaments!
… the Greek people are the only body of Christ (the Orthodox State Church) and that Greece doesn’t have any need for modern heresies or for ‘self-ordained’ (Evangelical) preachers…”
The package being distributed includes a modern Greek Orthodox-approved version of the New Testament, an audio version of the New Testament, a testimony by a New York-based Greek pastor and information on a Bible study. There is also a letter encouraging people to “attend the church of their choice.”
Hellenic Ministries distributed Bibles in Greece last year as well. The opposition — led by Greek Orthodox Priests and civic leaders — was so strong, that on July 27, 2013, police detained 57 members of the Bible distribution group. The group was later released and no charges laid.
That same year, some Greek Orthodox priests told their congregations to burn the Bibles stating “it cannot be a holy book if it is distributed by heretics.” However, not all Greek Orthodox priests opposed the Bible distribution. Some encouraged members to read the New Testaments.