What amazes me is the acceptance of the majority to these ancient pagan celebrations while many Christians are eager to condemn Halloween and Easter celebrations because of their pagan origins. Even the date of Christmas has at times been challenged because it falls on a pagan holiday and likely is not the date of the real supernatural story of Christ's birth. There doesn’t seem to be any apprehension in participating and pledging ones support to the Olympic Team and I’ve yet to see any Facebook warnings of the dangers of the Olympics. That being said, let’s explore the Olympic origins.
The Olympics began as a heroic time of religious celebration for the ancient citizens of Greece. The Greeks believed that both man’s body and mind needed discipline which could best be honored by the god, Zeus thus the games were originally held in his honor. The athletics believed they were training to honor their gods and considered their victory was obtained for having favor from the deity. During open ceremonies athletes assembled before a gigantic statue of Zeus, who stood holding a thunderbolt, and solemnly swore their oath to him.
The Olympic flame today is lit in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece. In times past, the high priestess of the temple would lit the flame using a skaphia, or mirror that used the sun’s rays to ignite the flame in the cauldron. The goddess Hera was one of many of the Greek gods that had a cauldron which continually burned. Today, that ancient ritual continues as eleven women wearing ancient-style robes perform a ceremony in which the torch is kindled by the light of the sun using a parabolic mirror. Once lit, the torch is carried to ignite a cauldron that sits on the altar in the ancient Olympic stadium.
The Olive Wreath was the prize for the winner in the ancient Olympic Games as there were no gold, silver or bronze medals. The winner would be crowned with an olive wreath made of leaves from the sacred tree near the temple of Zeus. In fact, it is said that the games were originally introduced by Heracles, in honor to his father, Zeus. Since 1928, the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals have been used and are engraved with the Goddess Nike, the goddess who personified victory, pictured holding an ear of corn in one hand and a wreath in the other.
The Roman emperor Theodosius put an end to the ancient Olympic Games in AD 394 because of their pagan nature. It was one of a number of laws he passed in attempt to do away with the rituals and ceremonies celebrating the old pagan gods of Greece and Rome. 15 centuries would pass before the Olympic Games were revived almost single-handed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Modern day Olympics represent athletes from nearly every country in the world. Though much has changed in the Olympic Games, many similarities of the ancient games are incorporated in the games today. The opening and closing ceremonies continue to be integrated with the ancient practices of old. The winning athletes no longer give public thanks to Zeus but do stand in honor of the country they represent.
As a Christian, do you give homage to the Olympic Games celebrating an event deeply rooted in pagan origins? Did you watch the elaborate opening ceremony and gasp in awe as the torch ignited the cauldron signaling the games had begun and yet run to your prayer closet when kids come knocking at your door on Halloween? Can you justify celebrating one pagan practice over another? So… am I saying to shut off the TV and avoid the Olympics at all cost? Or should you go ahead and celebrate the victory of athletic achievements and dress as your favorite Olympic hero next Halloween? The answer comes within your own heart. Jesus walked with the heathen of the day and taught outside the temple ruins but always did the will of His father. The real question is not whether you should or shouldn’t participate in Olympic celebrations but rather… are you doing the will of the Father?
©S. A. Tower