First crematorium opens in Greece over Church objections

Ritsóna (Greece) (AFP) –


Greece has acquired its first crematorium, organisers said Thursday, capping decades of efforts blocked by the powerful Greek Orthodox Church, which believes cremation disrespects the human body.

Built by a private company at a cost of over four million euros ($4.4 million), it came about after years of fruitless efforts by municipal authorities to create a similar space, including in the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki.

"What you see here is the result of an effort that began in 1996," Antonis Alakiotis, head of the Greek cremation society and a member of the facility's board of directors, told reporters at a media launch in Ritsona, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Athens.

The site, which covers 1,500 square metres (16,000 square feet), opened on September 30 in an industrial zone far from inhabited areas and has already carried out around 30 cremations.

Cremation has been legal in Greece since 2006, but could not be carried out owing to the vehement objection of the Orthodox Church, despite a severe shortage of burial space at cemeteries across the country.

In 2012, a local bishop blocked plans to build a crematorium in the rural town of Markopoulo outside Athens.

In 2014, the Church formally banned religious rites for those who chose cremations.

At the time, the Church said it "does not accept incineration of the body because it is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who expresses the intention to be incinerated confirms their separation from the Church and therefore does not have the right to a religious ceremony."

The nearest crematoria previously available to Greeks were in Bulgaria.