Church orders spring cleaning for Games time

Greece’s Orthodox Church yesterday canceled August holidays for all priests in Athens and instructed them to tidy up the city’s churches and religious monuments for display during the Olympics. Spring-cleaning guidelines include a request for priests to be properly dressed – in a black cassock and pipe hat – and to refrain from ringing bells too often and avoid other «ostentatious» displays. Many churches are normally closed in August, while Orthodox clergymen sometimes relax their dress requirements to cope with the grueling summer temperatures that can exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Central Athens features several historic churches, some nearly 1,000 years old, which are often overlooked by tourists keen to visit the 2,500-year-old Parthenon and other ancient monuments. Under the guidelines, churches in the city center will also remain open all day during the August 13-29 Olympics, while printed material in English and CDs with hymns will be made available at religious sites of historical importance. A spokesman for the Greek archdiocese, who asked not to be named, said at central churches where services are not held, recorded hymns will be played along with explanations in Greek and English about the site. The powerful Church, which represents about 97 percent of Greeks, is seeking a more prominent role in efforts to promote the country’s heritage to hundreds of thousands of oversees visitors expected during the Games. «We request that apart from the monuments of classic antiquity, attention is also paid to Byzantine sites… as well as the modern spiritual and cultural lives of Athens’s residents,» Archbishop Christodoulos wrote in a letter to the city’s mayor last week. «The Church of Greece wishes to enthusiastically participate in preparations for the 2004 Olympics, the prime sporting event in the world,» he wrote. The Church last month began holding weekly services in English at the archbishop’s chapel, to serve the city’s growing expatriate community and visitors interested in attending during the Games. The services are held by a Scottish priest who converted to Orthodoxy after moving here with his Greek wife.