Monday, October 23, 2023

A Critical Examination of an Announcement on Halloween by Orthodox Christians in Greece

The Metropolis of Kifissia, Amaroussion and Oropos and the Metropolis of Piraeus are metropolises under the jurisdiction of the Church of Greece located in the vicinity of Athens. In these Metropolises, like some of the Metropolises in Greece, it has what is called an "Office on Heresies", in which a priest or theologian is designated to make official statements on behalf of the Metropolis regarding various heresies that it sees as posing a threat to its Christian flock. Among these is what they call "An Announcement on Halloween", and this announcement has been making the rounds on Greek websites.
Since what is presented below is often misunderstood by Orthodox Christians and they are mislead by the common misrepresentations presented in this article and others like it, I will make some corrections below the announcement (which I translated into English).

An Announcement on Halloween

In recent years, there is an effort to introduce the children to a new "holiday" in harmony with the spirit of the New Age in the country's Elementary Schools, Private and Public. It is about Halloween, as shown in the Foreign Languages class, especially in the first grades of Elementary School.

It is a corruption of the phrase All Hallows' Eve, i.e. "All Saints' Eve". Halloween is in the Roman Catholic calendar, it is celebrated on October 31st and is associated with the commemoration of the dead. The secular events of the day, however, draw their origin from ancient Celtic paganism (Samhain), according to which, on this particular day, the barriers between the two worlds (living and dead) "loosen" and the "spirits" become more "active".

Today, it is a fully commercialized youth tradition dominated by witches, carved pumpkins, ghosts and elves, through disguises, games, songs and related activities.

Elementary school websites from all over Greece display tributes and commemorative photos from class events dedicated to Halloween. At the same time, several secular entertainment centers promise "special" nights and parties, culminating on October 31st. Remarkable timing indeed; Halloween is coming in full swing.

What does the child get out of such a celebratory confusion, especially on the days of our National Anniversary and the Feast of the Holy Protection?

The Office on Heresies warns the Christian people of our Metropolis that the above holiday cannot be characterized only as innocent and this because:

1. It is, due to the familiarity with the magical element, an entryway to the Neopagan movement (Wicca) which in America is making waves among young people. For the neo-pagans, Halloween is an official holiday and is accompanied by various ceremonies.
2. There are not a few cases where children get the impression that communication with the dead is possible.
3. It brings to the fore Roman Catholic holidays (All Saints Day, All Souls' Day) with their corresponding theology, not accepted by Orthodox (about purgatory fire, beatific visions, holiness, etc.)
4. A sense of similarity with the Orthodox Feast of Saints is cultivated. However, with the consequent consequence of creating the impression that since we have common feasts, we also have common saints.

Furthermore, the anti-educational character of the school celebration of Halloween should be emphasized, both against the goals of our Greek Orthodox education, since our National anniversary is being relegated, as well as in its practices, since with the festive congestion, confusion occurs among the children who are able to perceive what exactly is celebrated.

We must examine such phenomena of propaganda of innovative holidays in their more general New Age pan-religious perspective. In this sense, we should not isolate Halloween from the arrival of World Yoga Day on June 21 or the Festival of Colors, which also bring the Hindu calendar to the fore.

Therefore, parents are asked to prevent their children from participating in Halloween, encouraging them to actively participate in the celebrations of October 28 or by inspiring them with the philanthropy of the Holy Unmercenaries, who celebrate the following day (November 1).

From the Office on Heresies

A Critical Examination of the Above

Halloween is primarily an American holiday and can be easily misunderstood and felt like a threat when expanded outside of its American cultural boundaries, especially by Eastern Orthodox Christians encountering a very Western cultural tradition. This is especially true in a country like Greece, which has been estimated to be as much as 95% Orthodox Christian, possibly even more.


A little background information is needed first to understand the mentality behind an Announcement like the one above.

Neo-Paganism, or Wicca, as we know it today didn't really form in Great Britain and America until the 1950's and 1960's. The figure at the forefront of Wicca's early development was the English occultist Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), the author of Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) and the founder of a tradition known as Gardnerian Wicca. Gardnerianism was subsequently brought to the U.S. in the early 1960s by an English initiate, Raymond Buckland (1934-2017), and his then-wife Rosemary, who together founded a coven in Long Island.

In the U.S., new variants of Wicca developed, including Dianic Wicca, a tradition founded in the 1970s which was heavily influenced by second wave feminism, rejecting the veneration of the Horned God and emphasizing female-only covens. One initiate of both the Dianic and Gardnerian traditions, who used the pseudonym of Starhawk, later founded her own tradition, Reclaiming Wicca, as well as publishing The Spiral Dance: a Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (1979), through which she helped to spread Wicca throughout the U.S.

Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, first published in 1979 by Viking Press, is a sociological study of contemporary Paganism in the United States written by the American Wiccan and journalist Margot Adler. According to The New York Times, the book "is credited with both documenting new religious impulses and being a catalyst for the panoply of practices now in existence" and "helped popularize earth-based religions." Adler was a Neopagan and "recognized witch" herself and a reporter for National Public Radio.

While this movement was heavily focused on interpretations of ancient pagan religious practices from the Druids and Celts, it also began to incorporate the pagan elements of ancient Greece in the 1970's and 80's. For example, Margot Adler stated in her book on Wicca titled Drawing Down the Moon that when she was a child, she had a great interest in the Greek gods and goddesses and that she also devised her own rituals to perform in dedication to them. Many years later when Adler found out about Wicca, she converted to that religion because she felt that it confirmed her earlier childhood experiences, though Adler also notes that with regards to her conversion "I never converted in the accepted sense. I simply accepted, reaffirmed, and extended a very old experience."

In the 1990s and 2000s, as the practice of the ancient Greek religion (also known as Hellenic religion) began to increase in popularity in Greece, the Orthodox Church of Greece viewed it as a significant threat and established a special committee, composed of Metropolitans, priests, and university professors from divinity schools, to study ancient cults and neopaganism. They also organized conferences, published articles and texts, and uploaded information to the internet, all with the goal of arguing that the ancient Greek religion is a dangerous, idolatrous cult with strange beliefs and practices, possibly even having connections to Satanism, and that Greek people should avoid it at all costs. The Orthodox Church also emphasized that the only true and accepted traditional religion in Greece is and should be Orthodox Christianity, the religion of the forefathers. In 2006, Father Eustathios Kollas, who presided over a gathering of Greek Orthodox priests, said of these revivals of ancient Greek paganism: "They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past."

Though elements of Halloween have existed in Greece for about a decade or so, in the past five or so years it has grown in popularity just like it has all over the world. The Church of Greece sees Halloween in light of the spread of neopagan beliefs that recently entered its soil from the West, and therefore it is seen as a neopagan threat that began in the 1990's. However, just like the Church of Satan did in 1966, so also the neopagans at around the same time incorporated Halloween because it was being viewed as having pagan origins and opposed by Christians, therefore they took the opportunity afforded to them and adopted it as one of their holidays, even though it had long been an non-controversial American cultural tradition for decades before, and still is. Still, the Church of Greece sees the two, namely Halloween and Neopaganism, as being one and the same, therefore they are condemned as one.

Corrections to the Announcement

1. The secular elements of Halloween do not come from Celtic paganism, as popularly believed, but almost in their entirety come from America in the late 19th to mid-20th century, and continue to be developed in America till this day. Neopagans did not even begin to adopt Halloween until it was already a well-established holiday in America, and gave rise to American fundamentalist propaganda being issued against the holiday. American fundamentalists are primarily responsible through their propaganda in allowing the understanding of Halloween as a pagan and satanic holiday to flourish, not neopagans, and the more this reaction takes place the wider the gap there is between Christian life and everyday secular life, causing an almost schizophrenic existence among Christians, which is a disease of modern fundamentalism.

2. For centuries Greece and the Orthodox Church has had cultural traditions of various monsters that are equivalent if not more frightening than those associated with Halloween. In fact, stories of vampires, witches and ghosts have circulated in Greece for over a thousand years, and like Halloween monsters they are usually associated with moral tales with a Christian element, and can even be found in some lives of the saints. Because the author of this statement has done little to no research on the subject, he can't find a common ground. Instead, he ignores the fact that outside almost every major shrine and monastery in Greece, vendors sell amulets of various kinds associated with the evil eye, but the Office of Heresies never brings up that subject, in fact, Greek priests and monastics often endorse such beliefs in the evil eye. Also, as I have written elsewhere, the origin of the modern vampire, as recorded by Lord Byron, comes to us from Greece, where the belief in vampirism still exists, even among some of the Greek clergy.

3. It is interesting to see how Halloween spreads around the world devoid of its American cultural context. If anything, in places like Greece it is nothing more than little kids dressing up in costumes and having Halloween parties in school, and young adults doing the same mainly at nightclubs who promote these events. It is a lot less harmless than the Carnival festivities that take place in Greece every year before Great Lent, not that Carnival is all that harmful either.

4. The author of this Announcement gets a little desperate when he says that kids confuse Halloween which is on October 31st with the National Holiday known as Ochi Day on October 28th. If Greek Orthodox representatives continue to make such statements, then it will only cause a faction in Greek society. He would be better off explaining the importance of October 28th for Greeks and how it should be given its due honor on that day, while allowing those who want to celebrate Halloween a few days later to not use it as an opportunity to skip it over.

5. Halloween does not necessarily have a magical element, as implied above, but there are stories associated with Halloween that have magic in it, like many fairytales do. In other words, you do not have to perform a magical ritual to celebrate Halloween, like this Announcement seems to suggest. In fact, more magical rituals are involved with beliefs in the evil eye than are associated with Halloween. Harry Potter was widely condemned in Greece for similar reasons, because they feared kids will be attracted to do magical rituals if they read it. These are nothing but fear-based beliefs by individuals who have little confidence in their Christian faith and don't know how to separate fantasy from reality. Raising children in the Church without such fear will alone be enough to help them understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Even in Greece there are many such stories celebrated, including the story of Agios Vasilios (Saint Basil), who to Greeks is equivalent to Santa Claus and brings Greek children gifts on New Years Eve.

6. Halloween doesn't come with a Creed or Doctrines that say you have to believe in communicating with the dead in order to celebrate Halloween. Such beliefs may have some prominence with a holiday like Halloween, but they are certainly not relegated to Halloween and are something that can come up any time of the year. Even among the Greeks, there are widespread beliefs that if you dream of a loved one within forty days of them dying, then that means they are sending you a message. Does this mean we should eliminate forty day memorials on behalf of the dead because it promotes the widespread belief in communicating with the dead? Again, these are fear-based beliefs that are solved through teaching what the Church teaches.

7. I do agree that Halloween should not be celebrated as a Feast of All Saints, since Orthodox Christians have their own Feast of All Saints, and to do so is only part of of the fear-based mentality Christians have over the secular elements of Halloween. Roman Catholics and Protestants tend to emphasize such things, which is fine, since it is their legitimate Christian feast, but I would encourage Orthodox to keep Halloween more on the secular level and accept it for what it is, while rejecting what is contrary to the faith, just like Orthodox do in every aspect of secular life. It should not be that difficult, and the more knowledge Orthodox have of these secular elements, the less fear they will have. For many Orthodox Christians, Halloween is like a misty thick forest or a pitch black cave, and approach it with fear because they have little to no knowledge what is inside, but those who do have the knowledge are like those explorers and travelers who fearlessly proceed and know which dangers to avoid. This is how the every day life of an Orthodox Christian living in the world should be. And so I would repeat as I said before, you don't have to be a Roman Catholic and accept their beliefs to keep Halloween as an Orthodox Christian, but it can help reaffirm Orthodox Christian beliefs if Halloween is done right, as it allows us to reexamine such beliefs that deal with death and the soul in light of what the Church teaches.

8. Orthodox Christians in Greece view practices like Yoga the same way as Halloween, as foreign elements brought to Greece by neopagans to win over the Orthodox to paganism. The reality of the matter is that this is not true. The problem with the Greek Orthodox Church is that they do not know how to properly face these challenges and questions, so they start giving it names like "pagan" and "satanic", which is a Christian way of a secularist likewise using words like "misogynist" or "racist". Labeling and name-calling usually do no good for the Church or society and are usually fear-based, creating greater misunderstanding and heated rivalry, and makes those who face opposition feel like they are being persecuted while those who persecute feel morally superior. Essentially it creates a society full of people with mental and spiritual problems.

9. I like the idea of incorporating the philanthropy of the Holy Unmercenaries, celebrated by Orthodox on November 1st, with Halloween. The Holy Unmercenaries were saints who healed people physically through medical science free of charge, but also helped people mentally and spiritually, not asking for anything in return. Halloween can also be viewed in a similar fashion, where greater philanthropy and hospitality can be emphasized from ones home to neighbors and offering them treats and pleasant exchanges. This can even be to those children, and even adults, who are in orphanages and hospitals and even juvenile detention centers. In the popular hymn chanted to the Holy Unmercenaries, it asks of them: "Freely you received, do now freely give," which means they were freely given what they have from God and freely distributed it. In a place like Greece, this can be exchanged with the more secular American greeting of "Trick or Treat", and thus it can be a way of incorporating the Holy Unmercenaries into Halloween and giving it a more Orthodox element instead of just giving it over to neopagans to do what they want with it.
Though Halloween is best digested in its American cultural context, it has spread throughout the world because it speaks deeply to the human spirit, while it also offers its perks to those just looking to have a good time, which is usually harmless. More than any other secular holiday, Halloween opens the door for people to contemplate spiritual questions, often difficult ones, and instead of Orthodox Christians running away and shielding themselves out of fear, it would be best to take advantage of the situation and use it as an opportunity that would both be beneficial to ourselves and our neighbors. This is the only challenge Christians should be facing with Halloween, just as they should with every aspect of their lives.