This Europe: Fiery debate on cremation sparked by reform bill

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Greek society is debating a burning question. The staunchly Orthodox majority squares up to reformists seeking to legalise cremation.

A cross-party alliance of Greek MPs has drafted a bill that would sound the death knell for Greece's peculiar status as the only European country that refuses relatives a choice of burial rites.

Reformers face determined opposition from the Church of Greece and its outspoken leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, who has drawn theological battle lines in defence of its monopoly on the disposal of the dead.

At present, a burial with an Orthodox priest in attendance is the only legal means of interring the deceased. No crematorium exists to service those of different religious beliefs.

Defending burial alone as "the ancient custom of civilised peoples", the Church has sworn to protect Greece from the encroachment of Western secularism and the "desecration" posed by cremation.

Critics argue that burial lacks the permanence many would expect. If, after three years your survivors can't pay the rent for the cemetery plot, you are exhumed. Many regard having grandma's bones dug up more of a desecration than having her incinerated in the first place.

The government is wary of another clash with the Church after a recent bruising over the removal of religious denomination from identity cards.