Greek Church Awaits Olympic Opening With Watchful Eye

As the Olympics commence today, the Greek Orthodox Church hope for visitors to see the country’s Christian tradition, and not paganism.
( [email protected] ) Aug 13, 2004 06:41 PM EDT

Tonight, billions of people around the world will have their eyes set on the nation of Greece as the opening ceremonies commence for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens—and perhaps none more closely than leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church according to a news agency.

While organizers of tonight’s ceremonies are promising to mount an unforgettable show that will tell the story of Greece from the ancient to modern times, leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church are anxiously waiting to see just how prominently the Olympic organizers will showcase the pagan rituals of classical Greece and the 12 gods, who were the basis of an ancient faith that does not sit well with the Greek church.

Church leaders say they have no details about tonight’s ceremony, but they hope that it will emphasize the mythology of ancient Greece and not the spiritual beliefs.

“If it is just mythology, then it is going to be okay," said Father Apostolos Mihail, 64, parish priest at the Church of the Prophet Elias, one of Athens' larger churches. “But we don’t believe in the 12 gods. Of course it would bother us if they showcased that. They do not exist here."

Regarding the Games, the church as thus far been silent, as many Greeks believe it should since the Games predate the rise of Christianity, dating back to 776 B.C. Historically, Christian opposition to the Games and the gods they honored grew more and more fierce until A.D. 393, when Byzantine state authorities banned the Games —later to be revived in Athens in 1896.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the organizers how they will depict the past," said Father Epifanios Economu, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Church. “From what we know, it’s going to be a theatrical performance, nothing more, because the religion of the ancient Greeks died 2,000 years ago.

“And it died on its own, starting with the philosophers Plato and Socrates, who denounced it because they were searching for the real Truth. They were searching for seriousness in their religious faith. And the answer was found eventually in the face of Jesus Christ."

Economou said that aside from attending opening and closing ceremonies as Greece’s spiritual leader, Christodoulos would bless athletes from Greece’s national team.

The church has also set up several kiosks around Athens and stocked them with booklets about Greece, its history and its religion. And the archbishop has asked priests across the country to extend church hours and be available to tourists who want to tour churches. Multilingual priests will be on hand to answer questions.

Economou said all these efforts were the church’s way of supporting the Olympic Games. In return, there is hope that Zeus won’t have a starring role at the opening ceremonies.

“There is no question that Greece is predominantly Greek Orthodox," he said. “The religion is part of the country’s tradition. It is part of the country’s history. And it should be a part of what people see when they come to Greece."

And while over 90 percent of Greek’s population claim to be Greek Orthodox, church officials cannot help worrying that paganism will make too big a splash tonight.

Around 70,000 people are expected to fill the Olympic Stadium to watch the proceedings which is to begin at around 8:45 p.m. tonight and is due to run for around three hours.

[Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer]