The Golden Fruit: A Gift From Above
Welcome back to Politismos’s The Golden Fruit series! Last time, we saw how important olives were (and still are) to Greek culture in general. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at their religious significance in particular.
The Ancient Greeks deemed the olive tree the “Holy Tree.” They believed it had divine origin, abundant power, and spiritual attributes. The tree has played a meaningful role in ritual and religion for both ancient and modern civilizations. Throughout history, the olive tree has consistently served as a symbol of peace, of faith, and of tolerance.
The olive tree was a key part of rituals in Ancient Greece. King Cecrops (the mythological first king of Athens) is believed to have instituted the first funeral rites to involve them–under his watch, corpses were buried in a simple red shroud and covered with olive leaves. Later rites called for a body to be washed and then anointed with olive oil.
The Olive Tree was an intregral part of the Ancient Olympics, too. Before the games could even begin, olive oil was poured on the ground as a sacrifice to the gods of Olympus, and the athletes would rub oil all over their bodies before they took part in the Games.
The olive tree is indeed divine. It was sacred to Moses, Christ and Mohammad and continues to be for countless Jews, Muslims and Christians today.
- – There are more than 130 references to the olive tree/olives/oil in the Old and New Testaments. Verses can also be found in the Quran.
- – In Genesis, an olive branch was returned to Noah on the Ark by a dove; a sign of the end of the great flood.
- – Clay tablets from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar listed allocations of oil to Jeboiachin, the young king of Judah, taken prisoner by the Babylonians in 597 BC.
- – In Exodus, the Lord tells Moses how to make an anointing oil of spices and olive oil.
- – The Jewish people, having plenty of wine and olive oil, believed they were signs of God’s favor.
- – In Islam, the olive tree is a symbol of Mohammad’s presence, and through the oil, divine light brings men closer to Allah.
- – Jesus offered to His Disciples the Sermon on the Mount, an olive grove. In the sermon, God is incarnate in human form giving guidance and uprooting evil intention. It was this sermon that is considered to have become the universal charter of ethics and higher ideals that have shaped the moral principles of the Western world.
In the Orthodox Church, olive oil has been used not only to fill vigil lamps and bring light to the faithful, but it is also used in two of the most important sacraments: Holy Chrismation and Holy Unction.
- – In the Sacrament of Chrismation, which immediately follows the Sacrament of Baptism, the priest anoints the various parts of the body of the newly-baptized with Holy Oil, saying: “The seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Oil, which is blessed by the bishop, is a sign of consecration and strength. The Sacrament emphasizes the truth that not only is each person a valuable member of the Church, but also each one is blessed by the Spirit with certain gifts and talents. The anointing also reminds us that our bodies are valuable and are involved in the process of salvation.
- – The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, (or Holy Unction) reminds Christians that when they are in pain, either physical, emotional, or spiritual, Christ is present with through the ministry of His Church. He is among us to offer strength to meet the challenges of life, and even the approach of death. Oil is also used in this Sacrament as a sign of God’s presence, strength, and forgiveness. After the reading of seven Epistle lessons, seven Gospel lessons, and the offering of seven prayers, which are all devoted to healing, the priest anoints the body with the Holy Oil.