In A Nutshell
Sixteen centuries ago, Christianity finally came to Greece, sweeping away the old religions. Today, around 98 percent of Greeks identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, with the remaining 2 percent mostly made up of Muslims and a handful of Jews. Yet there’s a growing number of Greeks who oppose the Abrahamic religions—not in favor of Hinduism, Buddhism, or even atheism, but in favor of Zeus.
The Whole Bushel
In 2007, former advertising executive Doreta Peppa managed to do something no one had done for 1,600 years. Dressed in flowing white robes and carrying a couple of white doves, she performed a pagan ceremony at the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus. As a representative of Ellinais—an organization dedicated to reviving ancient Greek forms of worship—she became the first priestess to hold such a ceremony since the days of the Christian Roman Empire. The effect was apocalyptic.
Outraged at this flagrant breach of Greek law, the Orthodox Church went into propaganda overdrive. Peppa and the other pagans were denounced in sermons and press releases. The media went on the attack. The Greek state even sent riot police down to the ceremony, although they did not intervene. For many, Peppa’s prayers and ritualistic singing were nothing more than a shameless publicity stunt for a tiny organization that refused to drag its belief system out of the past.
In the seven years since Peppa’s illegal ceremony, opinion has shifted dramatically. Today, hundreds of thousands of Greeks from all walks of life openly worship the old Gods. Leftist academics, right wing Greek nationalists, new age types, and environmentalists all gather under the Hellenistic banner. Across the country, the group holds ceremonies and organizes all-night revelries to the glory of Zeus. They even consider Greece to be under Christian occupation and champion a return to the ancient traditions.
Many academics, however, have claimed the new Hellenics are interpreting the ancients too liberally. For starters, they don’t participate in animal sacrifice; a core component of the old Olympian ceremonies. Then there’s the fact that the philosophies and tenets of these ancient religions are pretty much incompatible with modern life. But for all it may be contradictory, pre-Christian worship is growing in Greece at a phenomenal rate. Its leaders are even hoping for legal recognition in the next few years. For the Greek state and Orthodox Church, that may yet prove a liberty too far.