The Greeks who worship the ancient gods.

The above link goes to the BBC News. It’s an interesting story about modern-day Greeks that worship the old gods. Some of the worshipers even dress up in period costumes much like a re-enactor would.

Council of the gods on Mt. Olympus

Council of the gods on Mt. Olympus

The intriguing line to me was “These people consider Greece to be a country under Christian occupation.”

Some dress up in ancient costume to worship the old gods. credit_eranlivni

Some dress up in ancient costume to worship the old gods.

The “these people” refers to those Greeks who worship what the ancient gods represent to them. They do not believe literally in a Zeus or an Athena or Ares.  Instead they worship characteristics that the gods may represent such as beauty, courage, health or wisdom.

The “Christian occupation” refers to the Greek Orthodox Church, the church 98% of Greeks are born and baptized into.

The Orthodox Church, not unexpectedly, takes a dim view of those who worship the old gods even in an idealistic form.

When I read the article my mind went immediately to the Book of Acts and the apostle Paul who spent some time in Greece, particularly Athens, perhaps the intellectual capital of the Roman world at the time of Paul’s visit.

Here’s the record of what happened first:

    Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:16-21 ESV)

Paul at the areopagus in Athens speaking of Christ and the resurrection. Some called him a "babbler."

Paul at the areopagus in Athens speaking of Christ and the resurrection. Some called him a “babbler.”

The educated philosophers thought Paul a “babbler.” It was a not a compliment but some of the philosophers were curious enough to hear something new.

Paul has a chat with them in the shadow of the Parthenon, a Parthenon filled with the Greek (and Roman gods, including the deified Caesar Augustus). The Scripture notes that the city was full of idols causing one ancient Greek writer (Petronius) to say it’s easier to find a god in Athens than it is to find a man! Seems that some pagan Greeks\Romans were skeptical regarding their gods.

The something new the babbler was speaking of was Jesus Christ and the resurrection. Christianity rises or falls on whether or not Jesus, the Son of God, rose from the dead after the crucifixion (1 Cor. 15: 1-19). Paul is very clear on this point in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19. Christ either did rise or he did not and if he did not a Christian’s faith is futile meaning pointless. The babbler was very clear on this point.

Here’s what the babbler had to say to the educated elite philosophers:

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:22-34 ESV)

It could a while to unpack all that but note that the babbler says that the divine being is not like gold or silver or stone, an image by the art and the imagination of man.

While the Greeks who seek to worship the old gods do not do so in a literal way they certainly worship a god of their imaginations.

What these means is that we, as fallen creatures, tend to manufacture little gods to our own liking (Rom. 1:18-23). This is ultimately the issue that Paul the babbler is confronting in the Areopagus.

When the babbler drives home his point by pointing to the resurrection some mock but others were intrigued enough to want to hear more.

A few actually believed. Two of the new believers are named by Paul, a man named Dionysus and a woman named Damaris.

Dionysus is a variant of the Thracian (a people who lived to the north of Greece and were heavily influenced by them) god Dionysus. The Roman variant of this god is perhaps more familiar. To the Romans Dionysus was Bacchus, the god of wine and merrymaking. Today Bacchus is largely remembered as Bacchanalia which means any kind of drunken revelry.

Bacchus to the Romans, with grapes, representing wine.

Bacchus to the Romans, with grapes, representing wine.

Tracking down “Damaris”  is a bit more challenging but I found this description in the Urban Dictionary:

Damaris comes from Dama, or lady, and aris, the goddess of trees. Damaris is sweet, intelligent, mature, proud, good decision maker, logical, reasonable, wonderful, handsome, rare, and magical. When seen one must bow in honor of her presence.

I think the credibility of the Urban Dictionary is a bit suspect when it comes to making Damaris the goddess of trees, but certainly some of the characteristics her name is associated with are the type of things modern Greek worshipers might value and worship such as intelligence, maturity or wonderfulness whatever that means.

I find this observationally interesting but would not read too much into it,  that the two people mentioned who believed in Christ and the resurrection have name connections to the old gods (Dionysus) and a connection to the new worshipers new gods (intelligent, mature, etc).

The  babbler, for his part, said what he came to say and moved on to another Greek city this time to Corinth.

The Greeks who worship the old gods do not seem to label themselves apart from being part of The Return to the Hellenes movement in Greece. They seek to return Greece  to the old ways before Christianity took hold in the country.

I cannot speak about Greece specifically but I know that western Europe in general is retreating from Christianity regardless of what it might say on a person’s baptismal certificate.

The apostle Paul, should he be the gospel messenger to the European gentiles today could just as easily address a European Parliament in the same manner he addressed the Greek philosophers in the Areopagus. No doubt he would receive a similar reception.

Some would call him a babbler or kook, others might be curious enough to hear more and a few would actually believe.