Greek Acropolis plan draws religious backlash
ATHENS, Greece (CNN) — Defying police presence and a thunderous downpour, dozens of Greek pagans huddled near the Parthenon in Athens on Sunday, holding a protest prayer for a museum being built at the foot of the sacred site.
The ceremony, attended by scores of curious onlookers, was performed amid the ruins of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon. The ancient Greek religion was outlawed by the Roman empire in the fourth century.
Dressed in crisp white apparel, the pagans gathered before the east wing of the temple’s imposing Corinthian columns and prayed to Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom and patron of Athens, asking her to protect the Parthenon from further destruction.
“Oh, goddess,” roared high priestess Doretta Peppa, her hands extending over an offering of water and olive oil. “We are ready to defend your grounds.
“[But] we ask of you to protect this site, this city and its civilization, and to rid it of all evils such as the deconstruction of the Acropolis.”
The Greek Culture Ministry forbids ceremonies of any sort at archeological sites. But in January, the pagan revivalists used a second century temple of Zeus in Athens to stage the first known ceremony of its kind in 1,600 years.
Four other ceremonies have been held in unfenced sites. On Sunday, the tiny band of pagans managed to enter the Acropolis’ heavily guarded grounds, paying an entrance fee as tourists and later convincing site guards of their innocuous cause.
The 15-minute midday rite was organized by Ellinais, an Athens-based group that recently won a court battle for state recognition of the ancient religion. The group is now demanding that the government allow it to perform weddings and other rites.
On Sunday, the group’s Parthenon ritual cast a new thunderbolt at its government opponents and the designs to build a controversial museum at the foot of the Acropolis.
Followers of Ellinais object to the recent removal of marble pediments from the Parthenon and hundreds of masterpieces from a tiny museum on the Acropolis to re-house within the sprawling gallery beneath the ancient citadel.
Peppa’s Athens-based group — called Ellinais, an acronym in Greek for “Sacred Society of Greek Ancient Religionists” — is campaigning to revive the ancient religion. The group has defied Culture Ministry bans on holding prayers at several ancient temples.
On Sunday, about 200 people, by Peppa’s estimate, prayed to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and patron of ancient Athens, to protect the 2,500-year-old site and spare the city from harm.
“Is it a coincidence that rain started falling when the ceremony started and ended at the same time as the ceremony? I think not,” Peppa said.
Police made no effort to disrupt the 20-minute convocation.
Orthodox Christianity is the official religion of Greece. Peppa said officials have harassed believers in the Olympian gods.
“People have had difficulties with their jobs,” she said.
Christianity took hold in Greece in the 4th century. Roman Emperor Theodosius wiped out the last vestige of the Olympian gods when he abolished the Olympic Games in 394 A.D.
The Parthenon, built between 447-432 B.C. at the Acropolis as a temple to Athena, was converted into a Christian church in the 5th century A.D. It became a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Athens in 1456 and is now a museum.
“This was the first prayer ceremony on the Acropolis since Parthenon was converted into a church,” Peppa said.