Tomorrow is Greece Independence Day. I wrote something similar to this last year at this time; similar I say because it’s the same holiday and its origins and traditions haven’t changed. The photographs are different from last year though…and the Greek people are definitely different in spirit.
|Bishop Germanos of Patras|
It is an important day, one of inspiration born out of a beleaguered people overcoming impossible odds. The 25th of March marks the day in 1821 when Greek Orthodox Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the Greek flag at the Monastery of Agia Lavra in Greece’s Peloponnese and inspired a more than eight-year struggle (1821-1829) to throw off nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule. Some say the Revolution actually began a week earlier in another part of the Peloponnese when the ruler of its Mani region, Petros Mavromichalis, raised his war flag in Mani’s capital city of Areopoli and marched his troops off against the Turks.
But no matter which version you prefer, one thing is for sure: What Greece confronts today is child’s play compared to what its ancestors faced in taking on a dominant empire of its time.
Sunday, in towns and villages across Greece, school children proudly parade the country’s blue and white flag. Aflutter, the flag is reminiscent of Greek seas but it holds a deeper meaning. The white cross honors the contribution of the church to the country’s enduring battle for freedom and its nine blue and white bars honor the nine syllable rallying call shouted across the land during Greece’s struggle for Independence: Eleftheria i Thanatos—Freedom or Death. (Though some say they represent the nine letters of ελευθερια in the Greek word for freedom, the idea is the same.).
Greece’s larger cities also hold military parades, and Greek communities around the world join in celebration with parades of their own and take time to honor Filiki Eteria, the Society of Friends, the secret society that instigated Greece’s War of Independence.
It was as clandestine and well organized an underground movement as found in any best-seller’s tale. No one was allowed to ask who founded the Society, question a command, or make an independent decision. New members were recruited without knowledge of its true revolutionary purposes. They were attracted by glamorous rumors of a celebrity membership and an avowed but vaguely stated general purpose of “doing good” for the nation.
|Symbol of Filiki Eteria|
Three native Greeks founded the Society, Athanasios Tsakolov, Nikolaos Skoufas, and Emmanuil Xanthos. But what many Greeks do not know is that the Society recruited large numbers of Greeks and non-Greeks from what today we call Eastern Europe and Russia. Even the Russian Tsar was believed to be a member and by the time the War began the Society’s secret membership numbered in the thousands.
From the very beginning of their quest for independence Greeks recognized the need for assistance from outside their country’s borders. Many answered the call, and had they not the outcome may have been quite different…the same as one could say about the United States in its own birthing battle.
|Russian Tsar Alexander I|
The bottom line lesson to be learned from the events celebrated Sunday is that this is not a time for Greece to be trying to go it alone. The country must aggressively seek support beyond its borders for what it faces and work hard at inspiring Greeks of the diaspora and non-Greek supporters everywhere with the same sort of desire for “doing good for the nation” as drove the followers of Filiki Eteria nearly two hundred years ago.
It will be difficult and take time. But since when has preserving their way of life been easy for the Greeks?
Freedom or Death.