Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Olive and Religion

The olive and its oil have been central to religion, and especially to Greek Orthodoxy, since ancient times. The olive tree, for example, is mentioned more than 170 times in the Bible. One such instance occurred after the Great Flood of the Old Testament. Noah had sent out a dove to search for dry land, and the dove returned to Noah's ship with an olive branch in its mouth, a symbol of peace from God. However, the importance of the olive is not limited to Biblical times. In Orthodoxy, olive oil is used during the church ceremonies of baptisms, weddings, and funerals, which are key milestones in an Orthodox Christian's life. It also plays a significant role in the holiest of Greek holidays, Easter. In the church ceremony of Holy Unction that takes place during the week before Easter, the priest anoints each member of the congregation with oil, which is said to provide both physical and spiritual healing. This consecrated oil is called chrism, and it consists of olive oil with various aromatic essences. Olive oil is not used for religious purposes only in a church, however. Many people light vigil oil lamps before icons in their homes, as a sign of respect for the saints depicted on them.

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