NEWS

Church keeps eye on pagan aspects of flame ceremony

The powerful Greek Orthodox Church is keeping a watchful eye on attempts by self-styled pagans ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games to use the ancient ceremony of the flame to push for a separation of Church and State. Vlassias Rassias, a Greek who claims to believe in the 12 gods living on Mount Olympus, said the church was particularly worried by the Seventh World Congress of Ethnic Religions scheduled to take place in Athens in June, two months ahead of the August Olympics. Representatives of traditional religions from 16 countries on three continents will gather for the congress, which usually meets in the Baltic state of Latvia, «the last European country to escape Christian dominance,» according to Rassias. «The decision to hold the congress in Athens is not directly related to the Olympics, but as Greece mobilizes to host the event we believed it was a good idea to hold it here,» he said. Rassias is a member of the Supreme Council of Gentile Greeks, one of several groups that cling to the country’s pre-Christian faith and advocate a «true restoration of ancient Hellenic tradition.» Such groups object to the commercialization of the Olympics, Rassias said, adding: «They’re a parody. They have nothing to do with the ancient Games.» This does not appear to worry the Greek Orthodox Church, which signed a memorandum in 2000 with Olympics organizers ATHOC on the «cultural aspects» of the Games and the accommodation of athletes. «Orthodoxy responds to the existential questions posed in antiquity. We try to present the continuity of Greek culture, from antiquity to Byzantium to our days,» said Father Pavlos, head of a church commission on the Olympics. «We cannot prevent anybody from demonstrating but we are watchful that Greek history is not falsified,» he said, adding that «the Church fears nothing.» Rassias pointed out, however, that «whenever the polytheists hold congregations in ancient sites across the country, they face church protests and hostile propaganda.» Alleging that «the Greek State remains the hostage of the Church and doesn’t defend freedom of expression,» he argued that since Greece is a member of the European Union, «one should separate Church from State.» Grigoris Vallianatos, a member of the human rights group Greek Helsinki Watch, said, «We’re worried by the behavior of the Church of Greece, which scorns every other religion in the country.»