Can the Greek Orthodox Drink Alcohol?

Alcohol is not prohibited, but also not encouraged in Greek Orthodoxy.
... Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The Greek Orthodox Church follows a specific interpretation of the Bible. Followers of this religion avoid certain habits, especially those that they believe could corrupt the soul or lay it open to evil temptation. The teachings do not explicitly forbid drinking alcohol, but they warn against the potential dangers that come from its consumption.

1 Holy Communion and Wine

Many Greek Orthodox practitioners regularly engage in holy communion. This ritual is a symbol of connecting the body and soul, while remembering and honoring Jesus's death. Wine is a part of the process, and according to anthropologist Dmitra Gefou-Madianou, "is seen to portray blood, life, the Holy Spirit, [and] the divine."

2 Excessive Drinking

While small amounts of alcohol can be acceptable, Greek Orthodoxy frowns upon excessive intake. Rev. Dr. Stanley S. Harakas, priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and professor emeritus of Orthodox theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, commented on "indirect suicide" through things like consumption of large quantities of alcohol. He says, "The Orthodox Church teaches that we are obligated to care for our health, so these kinds of practices in fact are looked upon as immoral." In this way, the church guides people to avoid drinking more than small doses, although it is not always clear what amount is acceptable.

3 Underage Alcohol Consumption

The "Orthodox Christian Teen Survival Guide: Alcohol and Drugs" explains that believers should "abide by the laws of our local government.... Since the minimum drinking age is 21 in the United States, we should refrain from alcohol until then." This statement suggests that believers are allowed to drink alcohol after they turn 21. The pamphlet thus advises followers of the religion to obey secular laws about alcohol consumption. Other guidance in the same text warns against the potential dangers of alcohol abuse.

4 Alcohol and Fasting

During fasting periods, Greek Orthodox Christians tend to give up proteins and dairy products. They do continue to consume alcohol in some cases, but the "strict fast" applies on many days, as laid out by the "Fasting Rule of the Orthodox Church." This strict fast requires abstinence from "wine and other alcoholic beverages." A number of extended fasting periods exist throughout the year and many Greek Orthodox believers commit themselves to a strict fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Marion Lougheed is a world citizen with a B.A. (Hons.) in social and cultural anthropology. She also holds a diploma in professional writing. She has visited or lived in more than 12 countries since the age of seven.