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Zeus worshipped by modern pagans at illegal ceremony in Athens January 22, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Religion & Faith.

The 1,800-year-old Temple of Olympian Zeus in central Athens.  It took more than 1,600 years, but the ancient Greek god Zeus was honoured once again, pagan style, by a tiny group of modern worshippers today at an ancient temple in the heart of Athens.

It was first known ceremony of its kind at the 1,800-year-old temple of Olympian Zeus since the ancient Greek religion was outlawed by the Roman empire in the late 4th century.

Some 200 hundred people attended the ceremony organised by Ellinais, an Athens-based group campaigning to revive ancient religion, next to the ruins of the temple. The group defied a ban by the Culture Ministry which had declared the central Athens site off-limits.

Worshippers, dressed in ancient costume, recited ancient hymns calling on Zeus, “King of the Gods and the mover of things,” to bring peace to the world.

“Our message is world peace and an ecological way of life in which everyone has the right to education,” said Kostas Stathopoulos, one of three high priests overseeing the event, which celebrated the nuptials of Zeus with Hera, the goddess of love and marriage, below the imposing Corinthian-style columns in the city centre

To the Greeks, ecological awareness was fundamental, he said, after a priestess, with arms raised up to the sky, called on Zeus “to bring rain to the planet”.

A herald holding a metal staff, topped with two snake heads, proclaimed the beginning of the ceremony before priests in blue and red chitons, or robes, released two white doves, symbols of peace. A priest then poured libations of wine and incense burned on a tiny copper tripod while a choir of men and women chanted ancient hymns under the watchful eye of ‘guards,’ dressed as ancient Greek hoplites, or soldiers.

“Our hymns stress the brotherhood of man and do not single out nations,” said priest Giorgos Alexelis.

To curious onlookers, the ceremony conjured up scenes out of a Hollywood epic but to organisers, who follow a calendar marking time from the first Olympiad in 776 BC, the ceremony was far more than simple recreation.

“We are Greeks and we demand from the government the right to use our temples, said high priestess Doreta Peppa.

Ellinais, which has 34 official members, mainly middle-aged and elderly academics, lawyers and other professionals, was founded last year. It won a court battle for official state recognition of the ancient Greek religion and is demanding government approval for its downtown offices to be registered as a place of worship, a move that could allow the group to perform weddings and other duties.

Ancient rituals are re-enacted every two years at Olympia, in southern Greece, where the flame-lighting ceremony is held for the summer and winter Olympic Games, but it is not regarded as religious and actresses pose as high priestesses.

Christianity rose to prominence in Greece in the 4th century after Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion. Emperor Theodosius wiped out the last vestige of the Olympian gods when he abolished the Olympic Games in 394 AD. Several isolated pockets of pagan worship still lingered as late as the 9th century.

“The Christians shut down our schools and destroyed our temples,” said Yiannis Panagidis, a 36-year-old accountant who attended the event.

The majority of Greeks are baptised Orthodox Christian, and the church rejects ancient religious practices as pagan. Church officials in the past have refused to attend flame ceremonies at Olympia because Apollo, the ancient god of light, is invoked.

Greek mythology abounds with references to the Gods as capricious supernatural beings who regularly lapsed into fits of rage, jealousy and bouts of promiscuity.

Unlike the monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, ancient Greek religion lacked written ethical guidelines but its Gods were known to strike down mortals who displayed excessive pride or “hubris”, a recurring theme in the tragedies of Euripides and other ancient writers.

“We do not believe in dogmas and decrees, as the other religions do, we believe in freedom of thought,” Stathopoulos said.

Without a holy book, the Greeks divined the will of the Gods through oracles and through the interpretation of omens believed to have been sent by the Gods.

“The priests at the oracles were highly educated people with a grounding in the sciences, even in foreign affairs, and offered advice, just like meteorologist today predict the weather,” Stathopoulos said.

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