Gimme That Old-Time Religion: A Growing Number of Greeks Bow To Zeus, Apollo, and Hera

Talk about nostalgia!

Public Radio International has a pretty entertaining piece from Greece about the Return of the Hellenes,

… a movement trying to bring back the religion, values, philosophy and way of life of ancient Greece, more than 16 centuries after it was replaced by Christianity.

Remember the good old days? Neither do they, but that doesn’t prevent them from worshiping the dodecatheon, including the long-moribund deities Zeus, Apollo, and Hera. The New Hellenes don’t pray to the old gods, they say, but they do hold them worthy of veneration (as representations of things like beauty, health, and wisdom), and some revivalists offer them sacrifices such as flowers, fruit, milk, and honey.

They also have a soft spot for the Greek hero Prometheus, who helped humans by stealing fire from the gods. There’s an annual festival dedicated to him, held each summer solstice. On Friday, the event was kicked off by

… six runners — in full Greek battle gear — racing the six miles up Mount Olympus, home of the gods, their shields and long spears clanking as they go.

The New Hellenes consider Greece to be a country under Christian occupation, and they chafe under a majority of more than 95% of the population who identify as Greek-Orthodox followers of Jesus. The lack of affection is mutual: in 2007, an official of the Orthodox Church said the Hellenes were “a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion.”

When I first heard about them, I thought perhaps their intention was to gently satirize (satyrize?) religion — to be Greek Pastafarians, if you will — but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It’s true that followers see the movement as a platform to complain about Christianity, and that it attracts new recruits on the back of the financial and cultural crisis that has gripped Greece since late 2009. But that doesn’t mean that adherents are lacking in sincerity. The founder of the Return of the Hellenes, Tryphon Olympios, explains that

… ancient Greece provides a model of a world where freedom of thought — and freedom of religion — is paramount. “We want to develop a free individual, free from superstitions and free from dogmas. No one tries to impose on you how to worship your god or practice your faith.”

The New Hellenes have twice applied to the Greek religion ministry for official status, and twice the application went nowhere. Until they receive the government’s imprimatur, they are officially prevented from holding mystical gatherings at Greece’s ancient temples. They also can’t build their own because, in Greece, that requires the sign-off of the local Orthodox bishop.

But their marginal status may improve as their numbers increase. The movement already claims to have hundreds of thousands of supporters, and it could grow to have real influence — Zeus willing.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.


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