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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 January 2007, 22:19 GMT
Ancient Greek gods' new believers
By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Athens

Priestess at the temple
Followers say they have been persecuted for 1600 years
Followers of the 12 Greek Gods, who, according to mythology, ruled the Ancient World from Mount Olympus, have cast a thunderbolt at their Orthodox opponents.

After successfully staging a landmark ceremony at the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, their leader pledged to fight for the right to conduct baptisms, marriages, and funerals according to the rites of the ancient religion.

"We are a legitimate religion. But the authorities don't let us do this, but we shall claim this right through the European Union," said Doretta Peppa, the high priestess, who led the prayers next to the 15 remaining columns of the temple.

The move is bound to aggravate the highly conservative Greek Orthodox church, which strongly disapproves of what it regards as paganism.

First service

"They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past," said Father Efstathios Kollas, the President of Greek Clergymen.

Hundreds of followers of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Artemis, Aphrodite and Hermes stood in a circle, a mile from the Acropolis, in what was the first official religious service allowed in the grounds of an Ancient Greek temple.

Previous rites have been performed covertly, but the culture ministry was obliged to grant permission for the event after a court last year legitimised the religion, which was eclipsed 1600 years ago by Christianity.

High Priestess Doretta Peppa
Doretta Peppa led the prayers around the temple

"I feel very emotional," said Ms Peppa, a writer. "We have been persecuted for 16-and-a-half centuries but now we are here. This is our human right. And we shall carry on worshipping at our temples. They have now been put to proper use.

"This is as important to us, as prayers are for Muslims, Christians or Hindus," said Apollonius, a former taverna owner from Melbourne, Australia.

He abandoned the Church for the 12 Gods, because 'they make me feel whole, they make me feel part of the universe."

Ancient ceremony

Ms Peppa said she turned to the ancient religion because she could not countenance the concept of just one God outside the world.

Her co-religionists believe that the Olympian gods exist in the world and control various elements of nature.

For example, Poseidon is the God of the Sea; Hera, the Goddess of Marriage; and Aphrodite is the Goddess of Love and Romance.

Believe Apollonius at the temple
Apollonius abandoned Christianity for the 12 Gods

The ceremony was an attempt to emulate those carried out in Athens in the 4th Century BC, when the Greeks were preparing for the games at Olympia.

Believers dressed as ancient warriors left their spears, swords and shields at the entrance before entering the Temple.

This was supposed to represent the truce between warring states that took place during the games.

And it was a symbolic message sent to the rest of the world calling for peace in 2008 when the Olympic Games takes place in Beijing.

If we really want to say that we are democratic and we have freedom, then we have to be allowed to practise our religion."
12 Gods follower "Artemis"

The international publicity surrounding the Temple of Zeus ceremony may galvanise the all-powerful Orthodox Church to step up its opposition.

But one of the participants has appealed for tolerance.

Wearing a crown of daisies and a flowing white gown, a red haired woman who identified herself only as Artemis said: "This is the land which has given birth to freedom and democracy. If we really want to say that we are democratic and we have freedom, then we have to be allowed to practise our religion."

Worshippers gather at the Temple of Olympian Zeus

Zeus devotees worship in Athens
21 Jan 07 |  Europe

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