Monday, January 22, 2007

Modern Pagans Honor Zeus in Athens

By PARIS AYIOMAMITIS, Associated Press Writer Sun
Jan 21, 4:26 PM ET

ATHENS, Greece - A clutch of modern pagans
honored Zeus at a 1,800-year-old temple in the
heart of Athens on Sunday — the first known
ceremony of its kind held there since the ancient
Greek religion was outlawed by the Roman empire
in the late 4th century.

Watched by curious onlookers, some 20 worshippers
gathered next to the ruins of the temple for a
celebration organized by Ellinais, a year-old
Athens-based group that is campaigning to revive
old religious practices from the era when Greece
was a fount of education and philosophy.

The group ignored a ban by the Culture Ministry,
which declared the site off limits to any kind of
organized activity to protect the monument. But
participants did not try to enter the temple
itself, which is closed to everyone, and no
officials sought to stop the ceremony.

Dressed in ancient costumes, worshippers standing
near the temple's imposing Corinthian columns
recited hymns calling on the Olympian 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 and Hera, the
goddess of love and marriage.

To the Greeks, ecological awareness was
fundamental, Stathopoulos said after a priestess,
with arms raised 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 robes
released two white doves as symbols of peace. A
priest poured libations of wine and incense
burned on a tiny copper tripod while a choir of
men and women chanted hymns.

"Our hymns stress the brotherhood of man and do
not single out nations," said priest Giorgos

For the organizers, who follow a calendar marking
time from the first Olympiad in 776 B.C., the
ceremony was far more than a simple recreation.

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

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

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
Olympic Games in A.D. 394. Several isolated
pockets of pagan worship 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 at the ceremony.

Most Greeks are baptized Orthodox Christians, and
the church rejects ancient religious practices as
pagan. Church officials have refused to attend
flame ceremony re-enactments at Olympia before
the Olympic Games because Apollo, the ancient god
of light, is invoked.

Unlike the monotheistic religions of
Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the old religion
lacked written ethical guidelines, but its gods
were said to strike down mortals who displayed
excessive pride or "hubris" — a recurring theme
in the tragedies of Euripides and other ancient

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

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