I am reposting a parody I made using this video clip from the German movie "Der Untergang" which earned worldwide acclaim. OK, maybe not, but my friends liked it. It has been used to make fun of a number of things on YouTube. Unfortunately, many of these parodies have been pulled because the Film Studio complained or someone who doesn't agree with the message or is offended somehow decides to flag it, an easy way to snuff out speech you may not agree with. How utterly misguided given that the film was made in 2004 and all the parodies have made it into a cult classic. I managed to salvage the video with the subtitles I wrote. I'm hoping to keep it up as long as possible. The Greek Debt crisis and Hitler, in particular, are hardly laughing matters, nevertheless, what can we do but laugh during times like this? I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.
One of my favorite authors, Thea Halo, wrote about the genocide of the Pontic Greeks, in her book "Not Even My Name." She writes: "To remember does not mean stirring up hatred within or without. Hatred destroys what was good and pure in the past and the present. It simply means to embrace what is ours'
September 6-7 is the 58th anniversary of the 1955 Anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul which I witnessed as a child. Those of us who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Read my recent article in Hellenic News of America:
It began after dark on a Tuesday night, at a time when howling wolves roam in their packs and evil flourishes unencumbered by the light of day. They had marked our home with a red cross and in so doing had also marked its inhabitants as enemies of the Turkish nation and Islam. We were ethnic Greek Christians in a country that had to be washed clean of minorities. The year was 1955. It was the start of the systematic destruction of the Greek community of Istanbul, which traced its lineage back thousands of years, before a single Turk had ever set foot there.
The events of that day are obscured in time, the subject of revisionist American, British and Turkish historians who seek to whitewash the sins committed that day against innocent people. The facts however are impossible to hide, the crime too heinous to cover up and as is always the case, truth will inevitably see the light of day.
Ειναι η εποχη τωρα οταν τα πιτσιρικια που παιζανe στην αυλη μας πατρευωνται και αρχιζουν καινουρια ζωη. Εχουνε βρει τωρα αγαπη σε μια αλλη αγκαλια. Ετσι ειναι η ζωη, ενας κυκλος για ολους μας. Ta χρονια περνανε και ολοι αλλαζουμε. Θελουμε, δεν θελουμε.
Στης ξεθωριασμένες φωτογραφίες βλεπουμε τα χαμογελακια τους και μας θυμιζουν μια αλλη εποχη. Μια που ακουγαμε της παδικες τους φωνες, τα γελια τους και το κλαματα. Και οταν πεφτανε τους σηκωναμε και τους φιλουσαμε και ητανε ολα καλα παλι.
Καποτε ο καθενας παιρνει το δικο του το δρομο. Οσο μακρια να ειναι ομως τα παιδακια αυτα απο μας, ζουνε ως την τελευταια στιγμη μεσα μας, κοντα μας, σε ενα σπιτακι που χτισαμε στην καρδια μας.
Σε ολους, σας ευχομαστε ενα δρομο μακρη και ισιο, μια ζωη γεματο χαρες και αγαπη. Και αν Θελει ο Θεος, Θα κρατισουμε τα δικα σας παιδια στην αγαλια μας, οπως μια φορα κρατουσαμε και εσας.
It's the season now when all the little kids that used to play in our yard are getting married and starting a new life. They have found love in someone else's arms. That's life, a circle for us all. The years pass and everything changes, whether we want them to or not.
In the faded photographs we see their smiles and we remember another season. One in which we heard their children's voices, laughing and sometimes crying. When they fell down we picked them up and kissed them and all was well again.
Eventually each one of us takes his own path in life. No matter how far away those children are from us however, they will live inside us until our very last moment in this world, close to us in a home that we have built for them in our hearts.
To all of them, may your path be long and straight, a life full of happiness and love. And if God desires it, that we may hold your children in our arms, just as once long ago, we held each of you in ours.
Always keep Ithaka in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaka will offer you riches.
Ithaka has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
From the poem "Ithaka" by Constantine Cavafy
Fifty four years have passed since the ship carrying my parents and I sailed down the Bosporus toward a new life in America. My birthplace, like some distant Ithaka has always been a constant companion in the recesses of my mind. My parents' memories became mine and now the ghosts of the past beckoned me back. I was accompanied by my sister and older son, both born in America, though raised on a steady diet of names, places, and tragedies lost in the mist of time. Like swallows we flew instinctively back to a long forgotten nesting ground armed with only a few clues that we were to put together like a puzzle with so many missing pieces.
Even now upon my return home it is difficult to make sense of all the bittersweet emotions that the city on the Bosporus evokes. My great grandfather, Foti came to Constatinople at the turn of the century to establish a thriving business. He was a grocer who turned over the family business to his oldest and most talented son, my papou Panayioti. My mother and her two siblings grew up in the town of Neohori or Yenikoy, a small fishing village on the Bosporus. My father, the son of a poor cobbler, came to the city to study at the Patriachal Seminary on the island of Halki, now called Heybeliada. After graduating he served as secretary of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the Taksim district. He eventually met and married my mother. I was their first child.
We left the city in the aftermath of the terrible events of September 1955 when our home was attacked and we barely escaped with our lives. These events which would decimate the city's once thriving Greek community and end forever the memory of a more tolerant multi-cultural city. Istanbul today is much changed from the city we left in 1956. It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world with a population of over twelve million. During our stay in the midst of a hot humid summer, one of my lasting impressions will be the crowds of people walking the streets of the city, of families sitting on grassy areas and picnicing, of children laughing and eating ice cream, of couples holding hands. It is of course a place of contrasts, a modern bustling city teeming with unceasing autombile traffic and high rise buildings against a backdrop of Byzantine and Ottoman antiquities that are a constant reminder of its past.
Long forgotten memories, dusty and covered in cobwebs, suddenly began to awaken from their long slumber as I walked its streets on our first night in the city. The narrow cobblestoned streets, the laundry hung to dry on clotheslines suspended between buildings above the street, the call to prayer emanating from loudspeakers on distant minarets. It all came rushing back.
The next day we made our way to Taksim square and the statute of Kemal Ataturk. In modern Turkey his likeness is ever-present, a constant reminder of his secular legacy. Yet, he looked smaller to me now, less threatening, overshadowed by the buidings that circled the square. He now looks down on the increasing number of Turkish women who defiantly wear headscarfs and veils, something he outlawed by decree in an attempt to drag Turkey into modernity. My yiayia would often bring me to Taksim which was near our apartment in Chihangir. I bought and shared a sesame covered bun just like the one she used to buy me and as I bit into it the memory hidden in my taste buds came to life again. There beyond the statue was the dome of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the church where I was baptized and reborn. The church was closed to visitors we were informed by the Turkish caretaker. I noticed two nuns in the courtyard and asked them in Greek if it would be possible to gain access. They smiled and one of them spoke with the caretaker who grudgingly allowed us in. As I entered I lit some candles in the narthex then walked into the breathtaking cavernous marble interior with tears streaming down my face. The church was well maintained but empty. It seldom hears the cries of babies being baptized anymore, the only worshipers who enter are the few old people still left, too old to change or flee. All the churches we visited were quiet, sad and similarly empty. A Potemkin village of sorts to make the outside world think that religious freedom actually exists in Turkey. We continued our walk through my old neighborhood, ate kebabs at a sidewalk stand, while I tried hard to remember where I had lived the early part of my life. My sister, like my mother, always on the lookout for a bargain and game to negotiate some hapless business owner to his knees, spied a small antique shop. The shop was stuffed with the customary debris of past lives and while I waited patiently outside, I struck up a conversation with the shop owner who spoke English. I asked him about the area which he pointed out was rarely frequented by tourists. "What brings you here?" he inquired politely. "Memories," I answered, explaining that my family once lived in his neighborhood. "Welcome back" he replied. As we began to leave, he ducked into his shop and came out holding an old rusty key. "I found this in Anatolia, it is very old. A gift to you. May it open doors that have been closed too long." he said smiling. I cleared my throat, visibly moved, "Insh' Allah (God willing)," I nodded, shaking his hand and whispered "Thank you."
Our hotel was a stone's throw from the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia where tourists and Turks alike in large numbers line up to see its interior. We ate our breakfast on the roof top of the hotel, enjoying the gentle breezes from the Bosporus and staring up at Hagia Sophia. As we crossed the threshold of its narthex through the massive main doors I crossed myself and bowed three times. Surprised tourists stared at me. The church is visually stunning, its scale overwhelming and awe inspiring. It has been desecrated twice and washed in blood, once by Catholic Crusaders in the 13th century and then by the victorious troops of Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror of Constantinople. It is a museum now, in disrepair, its bells, altar and iconostasis were removed and its mosaics plastered over long ago. In their place huge disks with the names of Allah, Mohammed and the first four caliphs were installed on interior columns and minarets built to stand guard over her. One can only marvel at her proud beauty and mourn her present condition.
The ride out to Neohori, now called Yenikoy, took us along the coast of the Bosporus, past the two impressive looking suspension bridges connecting the Eurpean and Asian sides. I bantered back and forth with the driver who spoke even less English than I spoke Turkish. I told him my mother was from Yenikoy. He looked at me and asked me if she was Turkish, "Yok, Rum," I replied. He understood. He tried as best he could to point out places of interest along the way. Where he was taking us I had no idea. Eventually, he stopped the taxi at the gated entrance to a walled compound. The sign in Greek and Turkish informed us that it was the Greek Orthodox cemetery. I smiled broadly, shook his hand and tipped generously saying thank you in my broken Turkish: "tesekkur ederimhe." He smiled, proud of a job well done. The gate was open and we let ourselves in.
We walked down a tree lined gravel path that ran the length of the cemetery. The place was serene, bursting in color, with the wind blowing gently through the trees. I wandered down the path as if in a dream, while my sister and son tarried to read names on the marble tombs. I was drawn inexpilcably elsewhere eventually walking right up to my grandfather tomb with his faded photo on the base of cross above it. I read the dates and realized that we shared the same birthday, something I never knew. We lingered there for awhile, praying for his soul and those of my great grandparents.
Yenikoy is now a fashionable suburb, dotted with the gated homes of the rich and famous, guarded by the ever present security cameras. A Mercedes dealership with shiny sportcars in its showroom is conveniently located on the main drag, a few short blocks from my grandfather's old corner grocery store, now a pharmacy. Armed with my Uncle Elias' directions we made our way to a traditional old wooden three story building where my mother grew up and the nearby church of the Panagia, which unfortunately was closed. We sat for a bit in the church courtyard in the heat of mid-day, among the ghosts of days gone by. I tried to picture things as they had been in happier times, the church overflowing with worshipers on Pascha, my mother and her siblings walking home holding their candles so they might burn the sign of the cross over the threshold of their home. The years pass so quickly; it's been two years since my mother passed away joining my father who had died less than a year before her own untimely death. Retracing their steps brought us closer to them even though the moment was fleeting.
That evening we went to dinner at a local restaurant. The owner, a young man named Abdul, realizing that we were Americans, struck up a conversation. He lived in the United States and came home every summer to manage the family restaurant. Turks, like Greeks, are a curious lot and it wasn't long before we had sized each other up. He sat down with us, treated us to a delicious dessert and we talked about our adopted home. Abdul was a likeable guy, warm and friendly, a gracious host. "What do you think of Istanbul?" he inquired. "We love it like it is our own," I said with a wink and a smile. He smiled back. "You know Greeks and Turks are very much alike, whether we admit it or not, only our religion separates us."
There was a lengthy pause, "Perhaps," I replied uncovincingly,"some day we can learn to live side by side again." I knew that the signs for the future were not auspicious. Turkey, a country that continues to flex its muscles at the expense of Greeks is spurred by a renewed Islamism and a deep seated robust nationalism. It is no secret that its leadership desires to renew the Ottoman legacy. No matter what many well meaning and Western oriented Turks think, the pashas will inevitably over-reach. "Peace in the world and peace at home" the dictum of Ataturk will inevitably be set aside to the detriment of all in the region. We chose to ignore politics and religion that night, the four of us preferring to talk and laugh about other things until we finally left to get ready for our last day in Turkey.
The nine Princes' Islands are a one hour boat ride from the Katabas ferry terminal in Istanbul. They are a quiet sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city. Cars are prohibited, the horse and carraige still being the preferred mode of transportation. A place of exile for Byzantine and Ottoman princes, they are now a highly prized getaway for well heeled Turks.
The Greeks who once inhabited the islands are now virtually extinct, their presence expunged save for a few vestiges of the island's Greek past. My father had often reminisced about the seven years he spent there from 1938 to 1945. He remembered the island of Halki or Heybeliada as the most beautiful place he had ever seen. The school sits at the top of the highest hill on the island.
Built in 1844. Its grounds and facilities are kept in pristine condition waiting someday for future patriarchs to fill it once more with their youthful enthusiasm. As I walked in the main entrance, I lit a candle and kissed the icon of the Panagia holding the Savior. It was an eerie feeling to walk through the classrooms that my father knew so well and to worship in the main chapel where my Dad chanted in the school choir. It is a place frozen in time. The future of the school is in doubt and with it the fate of the Ecumenical Patrarchate. A portrait of Kemal Ataturk looks down on empty classrooms as if to remind us that "they" are watching lest seminarians plot the destruction of seventy million Turks. The Patriarch must be a Turkish citizen and since a training ground for priests in Turkey no longer exists it is only a matter of time before the potential candidates dry up completely. As the ferry pulled away from the island I could not take my eyes off the building on the hill nor stop thinking of Baba. I regret never having had the opportunity to make the trip with him.
At the airport going through passport control, the Customs official looked at my passport and noticing my birthplace looked up and spoke to me in Turkish, I looked him in the eye: "I'm sorry, I don't speak Turkish, my family had to leave Turkey before I could learn." He waved me through.
Thus, ended my return to Ithaka, like Odysseus I was a stranger in a familiar land. I'm not ready to end my journey, there is still too much to see and do. Ithaka made the journey possible, it helped form the person I have become, now it has nothing else to give except the fading shadows of my past.
On the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the Turkish military invasion in Cyprus, I would like to post the youtube video of Michael Cacoyiannis' documentary film "Attila 1974". This timeless documentary captures the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, also known as Attila I, on July 20, 1974 and its disastrous aftermath. The northern part of the island remains under Turkish military occupation 39 long years later.
Every movie has a soundtrack, why shouldn't a book have one too? These are some of my favorites and each speaks to some aspect of the journey to Ithaka. Perhaps you may find a few that you might like as well. They have a way of finding a way into your heart.
Turn off the music at the bottom and listen to all of them or just the ones that suit your fancy.
Just a quick update on my upcoming book, "Ithaka on the Horizon." The process has taken a little longer than I expected. I started writing it six years ago so I've learned to be patient. I had to make some minor tweaks in my manuscript and this has delayed things a bit. The final proof is at the printer and once I approve it, God willing, it will become available on Amazon. A link will be provided on MGO for your shopping convenience. Can't give a hard date but I will go out on a limb and say it will be by next week. The Kindle version will go up after the book becomes available. Probably a week or two later.
I'm also planning to post a video interview with yours truly in the near future to talk about writing in general and the book in particular.
Warm regards, Stavros
Sometimes a photo can bring tears to your eyes. Reading today's online edition of Kathimerini I happened upon this photo of Yiannis Antetokounmpo. It was taken when this 6 foot nine inch 18 year old who was born and grew up in Athens (his parents are Nigerian immigrants) was picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA draft. Nicknamed the "Greek Freak," he is an engaging youngster who got started in Greek basketball and finally came to the attention of the NBA.
I cannot speak to Yianni and his family's experience of life in Greece, however I believe that this photo speaks volumes. We should always welcome those who want to be Greek whether they happen to live in Greece or not. I say that as someone who was not born in Greece and whose parents and grandparents were not born in Greece. Greeks are a hospitable people but even their ingrained hospitality cannot survive the mass influx of unwanted guests who arrive in Greece illegally. Even here in the United States, a country idealized for its ability to take in people from all over the world, we are grappling with millions of illegals who thumb their nose at our laws. No country can survive very long when it loses control of its borders and fails its own citizens in this manner.
There is a great deal being written about the backlash against undocumented immigrants in Greece. To be sure Greece has been inundated with one million illegal immigrants while in the midst of a economic depression. Many are Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh and thus it is imposssible to absorb let alone assimilate so many people in what has been since its inception, a largely homogeneous and Christian country. Now Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey has offered to pay for a mosque in Athens and the Greek government is falling all over itself to accommodate him in a all too familiar "European" spirit of dhimmitude and deference even when it is self-defeating.
Largely forgotten is the current condition of the dwindling Christian and past Greek populations in Muslim territories and now the latest affront aimed at transforming one of Christendom's greatest cathedrals, Hagia Sophia, into a mosque. More here and here.
Russian Orthodox hymn: "I Am Crying"
My most sinful soul, why don't you cry?!
Cry, my soul, always weep.
Through this, consolation will come to you.
You will not have time to cry,
After death your sins will expose you.
Shed the sinful clothes in virtue of repentance.
And if you don't throw away your sins,
Then you won't avoid hell.
Sufferers wear victor's crowns on their heads.
They sing the song of the archangels:
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Evgeny Rodionov was born on the 23rd of May 1977. He was baptised as a child—not because of any strong faith on the part of his parents, but because his mother was afraid for his health. A common superstition was to have a child baptised to ensure good health. His parents were typical Soviet citizens and thought rarely about God.
In 1989, 10 year old Evgeny put on his baptismal cross and never took it off again. His mother said to him ”Maybe you should take it off in public so that no one should see you wearing a cross.” Evgeny responded, ”Never say such things mother.”
In his childhood years and youth he was strong and healthy, finishing his ninth year at High School. He was interested for a while in boxing, even winning second place in a competition, but later quit after having doubts about such a sport, saying, ”I cannot hit a person in the face.”
After finishing his schooling, he found work at a furniture factory, where he made more money than his mother who was forced by their modest circumstances to work three jobs.
Evgeny attended church services in an outlying Moscow suburb called Podolsk but it is not known to whom he confessed.
In 1994 the family moved into a small 2-bedroom apartment.
In 1995 Evgeny was called up to serve in the army. The Russian armed forces require all young men to serve a period of time in the armed forces. He followed an ancient pious Russian custom of wearing a belt embroidered with Psalm 90, and wore this when he entered the army.
His mother, Liubov Vasilievna, recalled that Evgeny did not want to go, but felt that it was his duty to serve his country. He and his friends understood that there are things in this life that you do not want to do but have to do, and they had no thought of evading their military duty. His letters home were affectionate, filled with love and poetry.
Upon induction into the army, Evgeny was allocated to the Border Guards whose main responsibility was border security, and found himself, with other young conscripts, sent to serve in the Russian republic of Chechnya where the Russian Army was fighting a long running war against Moslem separatists. The conduct of the leadership of the Russian armed forces in this conflict has been severely criticised for its ineptitude, lack of planning and failure to provide even basic equipment for their troops.
On the night of the 13th of January 1996, Evgeny and some other young soldiers were posted, unarmed, to a checkpoint 200 metres from their base near the mountainous border between the republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia. The checkpoint, a control and registration post, was a small hut with no electricity and no method of communication back to their headquarters. It was situated on a road which was frequently used by terrorists and criminals for smuggling weapons, ammunition, captives, drugs and so on between the two republics. They disappeared.
Officers at the base later reported at an official investigation that they heard the young soldiers screaming, but did not investigate, and later falsely reported to the divisional commander that the missing men had deserted and this lie was repeated in letters to the missing soldier's families. Chechen rebels had in fact forcibly abducted Evgeny and his comrades from the checkpoint. They had commandeered an ambulance, which they drove up to the unsuspecting young soldiers, and then the armed rebels had leapt out, forced the conscripts into the ambulance and drove them off into captivity.
A later army investigation revealed signs of a struggle and blood stains at the checkpoint, and as a result it was decided to upgrade security by moving the post away from the roadside and issuing weapons to the soldiers who manned it.
Upon capture the young conscripts were held in the cellar of an abandoned house for 100 days as ransom demands were sent to their families. Kidnapping and demanding ransom was almost a cottage industry in Chechnya during that time. They kept Evgeny hanging by his wrists in a basement, starved and beat him. Rodionov's ransom was reported to be 50 million roubles (1.6 million US dollars)—at the time an impossible sum. Another report says it may have been in the US$10,000 range. Whatever it was, the ransom was not met, his parents did not have that kind of money.
Evgeny was held captive for three and a half months. The Chechens demanded that he remove the cross that he wore around his neck, deny his Christian faith and agree to become a Muslim to stay alive. Evgeny refused to renounce his faith. Having suffered indescribable tortures and torments, he did not betray his Orthodox faith, but confirmed it with his blood. Finally, on his 19thbirthday, May the 23rd 1996 (new style), they sawed off his head. He proved that Russian Orthodoxy is still alive and that today, after many years of atheism, Russia still has the potential as it did before to beget martyrs for Christ.
It wasn't until a month after the abduction, on the 16th of February 1996, that his mother received an official telegram notifying that her son had absconded from his military post—in fact while she was reading this telegram his captors were torturing her son.
Liubov, knowing her son, felt affronted by such an accusation, and wrote a number of letters in reply to the Border Guard division trying to convince them that her son would never desert the army. She was not believed, and so she decided to journey to Chechnya to find out the truth of her sons disappearance. Upon meeting Evgeny's Lieutenant and the Commander she felt that they were indifferent to her anguish and the fate of her son. They recommended that she return home and not get involved.
Instead, she ended up in the Russian region of Ingushetia, attending an Orthodox Church where the priest, Father Basil, offered her accommodation near the parish church. Here she received Holy Communion as a believer for the first time. Liubov then set off travelling throughout Chechnya searching for her son, showing his photograph, asking questions and continually praying to God for help. Her journey, which lasted for ten months as she chased down leads and questioned anyone who would talk to her, led through minefields, aerial bombing, and the threat of bandits. She met other Russian mothers searching for sons who had been reported missing in action or having deserted, or been captured by the Chechen rebels, and she met mothers of sons who had been murdered by beheading.
Liubov related ”I think that God was watching over me. I was walking along mined roads, but I did not step on a bomb. He protected me from bombings, He did not let me die, because my duty was to find my son, to bury him on his native land, according to Christian traditions. I have realized that recently. When I was walking along those military roads, I just kept silence, praying to God in my heart.”
In one region of Chechnya with a group of Russian mothers, Liubov came across 55 Russian soldiers surviving out of a group of 150 held captive. But only two of them had become Muslim to save their lives and they were now guarding their former comrades and beating them cruelly. One of the converted soldiers, surrounded by Chechens told his mother, ”I have no mother. I have only Allah. I am not Kostya, I am Kozbek!” The man's mother quietly replied, ”It is better for you to die rather than be like this.”
Liubov found the breakdown of normal society in Chechnya had led to such a levels of corruption, that everything was decided on the amount of money one was willing to spend. In September 1996 she finally met a Chechen rebel field commander named Rusland Haihoroev (also spelled Khaikhoroyev in some sources) who claimed to have knowledge of Evgeny. On first meeting him, Haihoroev told Liubov that her son had been killed during a Russian bombing raid. Liubov felt that he was lying, the man seemed very uneasy at her questioning, and he then told her that unless the Russians stopped their bombing, all Russian captives would be killed.
Haihoroev later admitted that Evgeny had tried to escape but was unsuccessful, and that he had been given the choice—change his faith and take of his cross, or die—but Evgeny had refused to remove his cross. Haihoroev eventually beheaded Evgeny with a rusted saw, an horrific task that took over an hour to complete on May the 23rd, 1996 (his 19th birthday) near the settlement of Bamut. His body, along with those of three other young Russian prisoners, was placed in a bomb crater outside the village of Alexeevskaya and covered up with lime and dirt.
The Chechens preferred this atrocious method of execution because they followed a local superstition believing that a decapitated victim would not come for the murderer after death. Such is their barbarity that the Chechens would often record the executions. There are at least over 400 hours of such recordings on the internet of Russians being beheaded by Muslim Chechens.
Russian troops occupied the village where Evgeny was murdered the day following the execution, too late to have prevented the deaths.
Rusland Haihoroev told Liubov seventeen times over the course of seventeen separate meetings, that she had born a bad son who refused to adopt Islam and join the separatists in their fight against Russia. ”Your son had a choice to stay alive. He could convert to Islam, but he did not agree to take his cross off. He also tried to escape once,” said Haihoroev to Evgeny's mother. She finally agreed to pay Haihoroev some 100,000 roubles (about US$4000) to take her to his gravesite in the forests outside of Alexeevskaya. This was money she did not have, so she had to sell her apartment to finance the deal.
Chechens in Moscow handled the deal and when all was done Haihoroev showed her where his body was. There, late at night, with the assistance of the Russian military, she was able to exhume his body. She found her son's headless body together with the cross he wore and died for among his bones and stained with small drops of blood. The head was discarded in another place. According to Evgeny's mother, this event took place in the following way:
”When I came to Chechnya in the middle of February, a living private cost ten million roubles. This price was 50 million in August. A friend of mine was told to pay 250 million roubles for her son, since he was an officer. It was night-time when I and some sappers began digging into the pit in which the bodies of four Russian soldiers were thrown. I was praying all the time, hoping that my Evgeny was not going to be there. I could not and did not want to believe that he was murdered. When we were taking out the remnants, I recognized his boots. However, I still refused to accept the fact of his death, until someone found his cross. Then I fainted.”
Liubov took Evgeny's body away, along with the bodies of his murdered friends. She returned to Moscow with the aid of the Russian Orthodox Church and buried him. Sadly her grief was compounded because when Liubov Rodionova came back home, Evgeny's father died five days after the funeral. He could not stand the loss of his son.
Evgeny was posthumously awarded the Order of Courage by the Army. Liubov later returned to Chechnya on a second trip and recovered her son's head.
Haihoroev himself and his bodyguards were killed on August the 23rd, 1999 in a fire fight between his group and a rival Chechen band.
While unrest in Turkey continues to capture attention, more subtle and more telling events concerning the Islamification of Turkey — and not just at the hands of Prime Minister Erdogan but majorities of Turks — are quietly transpiring. These include the fact that Turkey’s Hagia Sophia museum is on its way to becoming a mosque.
Why does the fate of an old building matter?
Because Hagia Sophia — Greek for “Holy Wisdom” — was for some thousand years Christianity’s greatest cathedral. Built in 537 A.D. in Constantinople, the heart of the Christian empire, it was also a stalwart symbol of defiance against an ever encroaching Islam from the east.
After parrying centuries of jihadi thrusts, Constantinople was finally sacked by Ottoman Turks in 1453. Its crosses desecrated and icons defaced, Hagia Sophia — as well as thousands of other churches — was immediately converted into a mosque, the tall minarets of Islam surrounding it in triumph.
Then, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, as part of several reforms, secularist Kemal Ataturk transformed Hagia Sophia into a “neutral” museum in 1934 — a gesture of goodwill to a then-triumphant West from a then-crestfallen Turkey.
Thus the fate of this ancient building is full of portents. And according to Hurriyet Daily News, “A parliamentary commission is considering an application by citizens to turn the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque…. A survey conducted with 401 people was attached to the application, in which more than 97 percent of interviewees requested the transformation of the ancient building into a mosque and afterwards for it to be reopened for Muslim worship.”
Even lesser known is the fact that other historic churches are currently being transformed into mosques, such as a 13thcentury church building — portentously also named Hagia Sophia — in Trabzon. After the Islamic conquest, it was turned into a mosque. But because of its "great historical and religious significance" for Christians, it too, during Turkey’s secular age, was turned into a museum and its frescoes restored. Yet local authorities recently decreed that its Christian frescoes would again be covered and the church/museum turned into a mosque.
Similarly, the 5th century Studios Monastery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is set to become an active mosque. And the existence of the oldest functioning monastery, 5th century Mor Gabriel Monastery, is at risk. Inhabited today by only a few dozen Christians dedicated to learning the monastery’s teachings, the ancient Aramaic language spoken by Jesus, and the Orthodox Syriac tradition, neighboring Muslims filed a lawsuit accusing the monks of practicing “anti-Turkish activities” and of illegally occupying land which belongs to Muslim villagers. The highest appeals court in Ankara ruled in favor of the Muslim villagers, saying the land that had been part of the monastery for 1,600 years is not its property, absurdly claiming that the monastery was built over the ruins of a mosque — even though Muhammad was born 170 years after the monastery was built.
Turkey’s Christian minority, including the Orthodox Patriarch, are naturally protesting this renewed Islamic onslaught against what remains of their cultural heritage — to deaf ears.
The Muslim populace’s role in transforming once Christian sites into mosques is a reminder of all those other Turks notprotesting the Islamization of Turkey, and who if anything consider Erdogan’s government too “secular.”
Their numbers are telling. In May 2012, Reuters reported that:
Thousands of devout Muslims prayed outside Turkey’s historic Hagia Sophia museum on Saturday [May 23] to protest a 1934 law that bars religious services at the former church and mosque. Worshippers shouted, “Break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open,” and “God is great” [the notorious “Allahu Akbar”] before kneeling in prayer as tourists looked on. Turkey’s secular laws prevent Muslims and Christians from formal worship within the 6th-century monument, the world’s greatest cathedral for almost a millennium before invading Ottomans converted it into a mosque in the 15th century.
The desire to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque is not about Muslims wanting a place to pray — as of 2010, there were 3,000 active mosques alone. Rather, it’s about their reveling, and trying to revivify, the glory days of Islamic jihad and conquest: Reuters added that Muslims “staged the prayers ahead of celebrations next week marking the 559th anniversary of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet’s conquest of Byzantine Constantinople.” According to Salih Turhan, a spokesman quoted by Reuters, “As the grandchildren of Mehmet the Conqueror, seeking the re-opening Hagia Sophia as a mosque is our legitimate right.”
Read the whole thing here.
Like many others I have been watching with revulsion as peaceful demonstraters have been crushed by Turkish security forces. The fantasy of a democratic Turkey too often touted in European and American circles has finally been exposed by Erdogan's heavy handed approach to those who have the temerity to disagree with his vision of Turkey's future.
As the now almost extinct Christian minorities of Turkey can attest to there is no room for those who are different from the ruling elites. It is interesting to note that many who share in the Kemalist ideology of Ataturk now find themselves an out group along with other disenfranchised groups such as the Alevis and the Kurds. What goes around comes around.
Greeks were the first humans who gave considerable thought to the concept of freedom. As a commodity, it is much sought after these days, as events in Turkey attest to. Ordinary people are willing to endanger their lives in order to get a taste. In America, freedom has taken on the form of a religion. Our freedom, is unlike the freedom that the Greeks called "eleftheria, " that is, freedom from being tyranized, enslaved or being violated. No wonder then that when Turks pour into the streets in a culmination of years of such tyranny that Americans might have a little difficulty recognizing what it is these people want and our President can only mouth meaningless platitudes. To many Americans, freedom merely means choosing for oneself based on personal desires without respect to moral obligations.
In a nation that has few communal standards other than freedom, diversity and choice, increasingly, anything goes. In our evolving democracy, I say evolving because it seems to be changing before our very eyes, the state is assuming ever widening powers aimed at protecting our "rights." These rights are no longer those delineated in our Bill of Rights, which are trampled daily in the name of liberal altruism. They are maleable and ever expanding. The right to an abortion, free health care, a job, an income, with or without working, transportation, daycare, a college education, the right to vote regardless of qualifications and even the right to violate the law if you meet certain criteria. So if one enters the country illegally as an aggrieved minority or even "forgets" to pay his taxes before being considered for a cabinet level position, allowances can be made. The price of such freedom is a government controlled by a ruling elite that is no longer representative of a portion of the elctorate. You know, the one's that didn't give them their votes and must now be vilified and subjugated. Increasingly the massive apparatus at the disposal of those who run that government has been put to use by our betters to stifle, impede and erode the opposition. If you buy into their vision of the future you will reap its benefits, stand in their way and you will be swept aside like so much flotsam. No wonder Erdogan and Obama see the world in a similar fashion.
In this brave new world, security and safety are paramount. The NSA can gather up all types of information on innocent Americans in the name of security but border control agents cannot use profiling lest it offend anyone. It can cast its wide net on Google and Facebook but can't effectively use information passed on by the Russian security services. In so doing it manages to completely miss the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing while violating the basic privacy of millions of Americans. In the United States, increasingly political opponents are seen as the enemy. Tea Party members are subject to more scrutiny than radical Imams preaching Jihad. So too in Turkey, Erdogan's heavy hand is needed to protect Turks from outside conspiracies eager to destroy the regime. He calls upon his followers as if these other Turks in Taksim Square are merely a collection of terrorists instead of fellow Turkish citizens.
As we are finding out, elections do not guarantee freedom and those elected democratically do not always behave so. Increasingly elected governments seek to impose the will of the majority on the minority with every means at their disposal. Debate and dialogue are things of the past, the rule of law discarded, individual rights ignored. We have strayed very far from the original Greek concept of freedom.
"For every human being, one's country and faith are his all, and he must make sacrifices of patriotism so that he and his kinsmen may live like honorable people in society. And οnly when adorned with patriotic sentiments do people earn the name of "nation." Otherwise, they are mere shams of nations and a burden οn the earth. This country belongs to each and every one of us and is the product of the struggles of even the smallest and weakest citizen: for he too has a vested interest in this country and this faith. It is improper for any person to be lazy and neglect these duties. Αnd the educated man must proclaim the truth as an educated man; and the simple man must do the same. For the earth has nο handle with which a single person, nο matter how strong οr weak, can lift it οn his οwn shoulders. And when a person is too weak fοr a task and cannot take up the burden single-handed, he gets the others to help: in that case, let him not imagine saying, "Ι did it!" Let him say, τatheτ, "We did it!" For we have all, not just one, put our shoulders into it. Οur rulers and leaders, both native and foreign-bοrn, have become "Most Illustrious" and "Most Brave" : nothing stops them. We were poor and became rich. Here in the Peloponnese Kiamil Bey and the other Turks were extremely wealthy. Kolokotronis, his relatives, and friends have grown rich οn the lands, factories, mills, houses, vineyards, and other wealth that belonged to the Turks. When Kolokotronis and his companions came from Zakynthos, they didn't οwn even a square foot of land. Νοw all can see what they possess. The same thing happened in Roumeli: Gouras and Mamouris, Kritzotis, the Grivas clan, Staikos, the Tzavelas family and many others. And what are they asking of the nation? Millions more for their great services rendered. And they never let up in this. They are always at work trying to come up with laws and parties for the good of the country. Our country has endured more sufferings and lost more brave young men to their "laws" and "good" than it did in our struggle against the Turks. We have forced our people to live in caves with wild animals. We have desolated the countryside and become the scourge of the earth."
From the Memoirs of General Ioannis Makriyiannis, a hero of the Revolution
Good music is a gift to us all and gives us enjoyment through the years. For a short time we can put our worries away or at least sing about them and thereby give voice to the emotions that dwell in our hearts. I think Greeks have been blessed with a great many truly gifted musicians and singers who have been able to satisfy the deep seated need we all have for music which expresses what we feel. Tsitsanis, Panou, Doukissa, Zambetas to name only a few. They brought us together as families, as Greeks, as human beings irregardless of where we came from or where we were at a given moment. For that brief time we put aside our differences or petty squabbles while we revelled in our mutual love of the music they offerd us.
During these difficult days may we all share the treasures they left behind and may they give us the courage to face life with a smile and a song on our lips.
Release Date: 25 July 2013
Almost six years ago I decided to create a blog and write about things Greek. When you reach a certain advanced age you feel the need to talk about the things you are passionate about. That's when the words began pouring out. The beauty of the written word is that those who go on to read what you write probably find a nugget or two that they appreciate and thus continue on, maybe they even come back. When a writer and reader make that connection, it is indeed a special relationship because each answers a need in the other. The writer wants to be heard and the reader wants to listen, perhaps to learn or even understand what is being said. Blogging allows the writer to have a dialogue on occasion with the reader in a unique give and take that I have always found to be a learning experience.
Six hundred posts later I began thinking that somewhere in this pile of words is a book. I began sifting through all the things I've written to put together a quilt of those stories that I love best. It has been an arduous and drawn out process. MGO has suffered as a result, but the neglect was always intended to be temporary.
This saga is, above all, about family and in its vivid depictions of family life I believe it will offer the reader a glimpse into their own experiences that will ring true, bringing both laughter and tears.
The book will be available exclusively on Amazon.Com and will be offered in both a printed and Kindle ebook version.
The years pass so quickly. The events of our lives rush past us as if they took place just yesterday, when they actually happened many years ago. Time is like water in our cupped hand, dripping through our fingers, no matter how tightly we hold them. Before you know it, all that is left is a few drops, like the memories we cherish, stll holding fast.
Those memories are bittersweet, yet we store them away with the other precious relics of our past, taking them out to gaze at or think upon, now and then. The past was never as good as we imagine it now, yet it offers so much more certainty than the unknown future ahead. It is filled with the familiar faces and voices of those we love that have either grown up or passed on, never to return as we knew them.
We too, change, whether we want to or not. Age catches up with us and life's slings and arrows chasten us.With humility comes wisdom, though we look at the young, smile inwardly, wishing we too could throw caution to the winds, once again. Living life on our terms, even if we lose, as we must in the end.
The poet said you can't go home again, and so it is. Some of my happiest memories are of summer days in Loutsa, a little coastal village outside of Athens. It was there that my children got their taste of life in Greece surrounded by family and friends. Back then the dirt streets were full of playing children, their laughter echoing through the neighborhood. Neighbors moved back and forth from house to house, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and trading small talk. The aroma of cooking wafted through the air as the sun, always ever present, warmed us with its luminescent light. The cicadas singing their song in the open fields like a choir with the surrounding trees as their audience.
I miss those lazy days of summer and the people who filled them. The generation that built those little cottages near the sea is now slowly disappearing. They had dreams of escaping from the Athenian hustle and bustle that they were condemned to by the changing times. They planted gardens, fruit trees, raised a few goats and chickens. They did what they could to recapture the simpler, more elemental life they had lost. Every year they scrimped and saved trying to fashion the dream to their own specifications.
Unfortunately dreams aren't permanent, often fading with time or neglect. The ruins of some stand in mute testimony to their transitory nature. They are in disrepair, covered by over grown plants and vines, waiting, even welcoming another generation to fashion dreams of their own...
"On October 20, 1968, Maria got the news she had prayed she would never hear. Ari's butler called to tell her Aristotle and Kennedy were going to be married.
Maria did what she could to pass the time. She attended the opera next to Ghiringhelli, made a movie, taught a master class at Jiulliard. In the meantime, Ari was becoming disillusioned with Jackie's lavish buying sprees of jewelry and clothing and he was beginning to realize she was taking him for a fool. He kept calling and sending Maria flowers, but for a long time her pride was too hurt and she refused to talk with him. Finally in 1969 they met at a party and little by little, began to see each other again.
The climax came after they had spent four nights together when he took her to dine at Maxim's for the whole world to see. Maria was ecstatic, and believed Jackie was just another paramour to be forgotten. But the lady had other ideas. When she saw the newspaper photos of her husband and Maria dining together with blissful smiles, she was furious and flew immediately to his side. She insisted he repeat the drama of the day before at Maxim's with her in Maria's place. The next day Maria was admitted to the American Hospital at Neuilly with the diagnosis of "overdose of barbiturates."
For the first time since Ari's marriage, Maria returned to Greece, this time as the guest of Perry Embiricos on his private island of Tragonisi in the Aegean. Perry was a friend of Onassis, who had introduced Maria to him. To her surprise who should show up on the island but Aristo! He greeted Maria with a kiss, and from then on they resumed their relationship.
Thus, surviving his marriage, Maria was able to hang on by the tips of her fingernails until March, 1975, when Onassis became critically ill with incurable myasthenia gravis.
Maria had been getting daily reports about his progress from the American Hospital in Paris, where he had gone for surgery. He never recovered consciousness, and was kept alive for five weeks by a respirator and intravenous feedings. Maria knew he was dying and she was not allowed to be by his side. The doctors said it could go on for weeks or even months. Her suffering was unendurable.
On March 12, she received her last report from the American Hospital. Aristo was dead.
Maria was slowly dying from the loss of her career. He had flashed into her life like a bolt of lightning across a dark summer sky; where there'd been nothing suddenly there was Aristo. Her friends and staff were considerate, thoughtful, and loving. But it meant nothing, nothing. He was her core, her life. How could she live without him?
On September 16, 1977, at the age of 53, Maria Callas was found dead in her bed. The official story was that she died of a heart attack. But no autopsy was permitted, and her cremation took place almost immediately. Heart attack? Perhaps. But there are those of us who believe Maria when she said, "I've played heroines who die for love - and that's something I can understand."
I also remember seeing some female Greek tourists clinging to the walls of some houses in Çeşme, where we would go in the summer. Seeing those Greek women crying, my mother would also burst into cries. For many years, I have been unable to give any meaning to those tears. Our non-Muslims had melted into thin air, leaving behind their houses, streets, churches, fountains and other “remnants,” they have always continued to be part of our lives like some sinister ghost that we cannot ward off. Despite our history textbooks that carefully avoid any mention of them and despite their names erased meticulously from every place, it seemed, they have left some sort of tiny “reminders” across the country.
After many years, I started to ponder the country’s matters and issues, and I came to realize that the problem was a “social earthquake” that was far bigger than I as a kid could perceive. If the pre-1915 demographic percentages still applied to today’s Turkey, there would be 18 million non-Muslims living in the country. Just try to visualize 18 million non-Muslims, consisting mainly of Greeks, Armenians and Jews, living in Turkey. What sort of Turkey would it be?
Read the whole thing here.
Ψηλά στον Ψηλορείτη μου, μια μέρα εγώ θ'ανέβω,
εκειά που ζούνε οι αετοί, την Κρήτη ν'αγναντεύω.
With the evacuation of the last surviving remnants of the British Forces that helped defend the island, the Cretan populace was to face its greatest test. In the first months of Nazi occupation, thousands of Cretans were randomly executed to stamp out the resistance movement before it could grow. Families were sent to the concentration camps. Entire villages were burned to the ground. Yet unlike other European resistance efforts which quickly yielded to German pacification—the celebrated French and Dutch among them—Crete’s civilian population never gave up; they locked German soldiers into a state of continuous and relentless conflict in a single location for over four years, drawing in thousands of additional German troops with each passing year. By 1944, that number would exceed 100,000. Yet despite this brute force of numbers, and the brutal terror those numbers would unleash upon the population, the Cretan people never stopped fighting.
The Germans had never encountered the extent of civilian resistance that they encountered on Crete. Retribution was swift. The German High Command wanted to break the spirit of the populace and do it quickly. In this they failed and failed miserably.In retaliation for the losses they incurred, the Nazis spread punishment, terror and death on the innocent civilians of the island. More than two thousand Cretans were executed during the first month alone and twenty five thousand more later. Despite these atrocities, for the four years following the Allied withdrawal from the island, the people of Crete put up a courageous guerilla resistance, aided by a few British officers of the Special Operations Executuive and Allied troops who remained. They risked certain death to assist and protect the British soldiers left on the island. Those involved were known as the "Andartes" (the Rebels).
Cretan people of all ages joined or aided the Andartes. Children would pile rocks in the roads to slow down the German convoys. They even carried messages in their schoolbooks because it was the only place that the German soldiers never looked. These messages contained information critical to the Andartes who were hiding in the mountains and would come down for midnight raids or daytime sabotages.The German terror campaign was meant to break the fighting spirit and morale of the Andartes. Besides the random and frequent executions, German soldiers used other means to achieve their goal. They leveled many buildings in the towns and villages, destroyed religious icons, and locked hundreds of Cretans in churches for days without food or water, but nothing worked. These actions only made the Cretans more ferocious in their quest for freedom. The hierarchs, priests and monks of the Orthododox Church served with distinction in the struggle and were role models for their flock.
Excerpt from Ten Days of Destiny: The Battle for Crete, 1941 by G.C.Kiriakopoulos:
On May 26, 1941, one week after the German airborne invasion of Crete began, the commander of German invasion forces, General Kurt Student, received a cable from Adolf Hitler. It read:
"FRANCE FELL IN EIGHT DAYS, WHY IS CRETE STILL RESISTING?"
Part of the reason was because of small hard fought engagements throughout the island such as the one on Cemetery Hill, a key defensive position manned by the New Zealand Nineteenth Batalion and elements of the Sixth Greek Regiment. It become the focus of German attempts to breakout out of the area around Maleme airfield:
"Captain H.M. Smith, whose men had just repulsed the first assault, warned his men to remain on the alert, his intuition telling him that the Germans would attack again. If they attacked on his front, he held no fears: the earlier attack had cost him only a few casualties and the rest were in good spirits. But Smith did have one concern, his right flank.
That section of the hill defense was protected by the remnants of the Sixth Greek regiment. Many of the poorly armed Greeks had been scattered by the earlier German attacks but the Sixth company was still holding its own on the rise of ground to the right of Smith's 19th Battalion. If the Germans pressed their attack on the Greek position and succeeded in penetrating their defenses the New Zealand flank would be turned and the whole hill defense would be lost.
When the men of Major Derpas' 2nd Parachute Batallion aimed the thrust of their second attack at the Greek positions, Smith's worst fears were realized. He had no men to spare and the New Zealander's ammunition did not fit the Greeks pre-war Styr rifles. All he could do was to send an officer to the Greek company commander, Capt. Athanasios Emorfopoulos beseeching him to "hold the line at all costs."
"We shall," replied Capt "E."
From behind the olive trees, the Germans emerged at a trot, charging directly up the slope toward the positions of the Greek company. Capt Smith ordered his men to commence firing into the attacker's flank but realizing that the undulating terrain sent the New Zelander's fire well over the heads of the charging paratroopers, he had to rescind the order.
The Germans gathered momentum as they charged up and over the crest of Cemetery Hill, pressing the attack as they approached the village cemetery wall at the top of the rise. Above the crack of rifles and the rattle of machine guns there now arose a new sound from the Greek position, a heart stopping human cry going over the defense positions as it passed from man-to-man, each Greek repeating it louder and louder as it crescendoed over the hillside, smothering the roar of the German attack. The New Zealanders had heard the call before. It was "Aera," the rallying battle cry of the immortal Evzones and to the Greeks it had one meaning: "Attack!"
The New Zealanders watched in awe. Capt. Smith uttered to no one in particular, "Why those bloody crazy Greeks!" They had no more bullets, but they still had their bayonets. and down the hill they charged screaming "Aera" at the top of their lungs, the gleam of their bayonets reflecting the midday sun.
For a moment the Germans, froze in disbelief.
With snarling fury, the Greeks met the Germans head on, halfway down the rise. They slashed and butted, and they bayoneted, German after German falling to their piercing stabs. In the lead, Capt "E" and Lieutenait Kritakis. at his side.
There was a brief moment when the two forces swayed in furious hand to hand combat and then the Germans broke and ran, the Greeks in hot pursuit.
Capt Smith shook his head, admiring the heroism with which these gallant Greek soldiers had shattered the German attack. The Second Paratroop Batalion had ceased to exist as a fighting force."
He was a diminutive figure of a man looking very much alone. I was washing dishes in the monastery kitchen with my son when we saw him standing in the courtyard holding a small bag. Father Panteleimon dried his hands and went out to talk to him. When he returned he said winking with a smile: "Christ has brought us another lost lamb. He is staying the night. I'm going to give him a bowl of lentil soup and some bread to eat in the Trapeza but I've gotta go fill the oil lamps in church. Could you keep him entertained until I get back then I'll show him where he will be sleeping tonight." I finished up my work in the kicthen took off my apron and walked into the trapeza. "Kalispera," he looked up at me from his meal through tired eyes and stubby white beard. "Kalispera my boy, my name Haramlambos but everyone calls me Lambi. I mused to myself on the meaning of his name, "shine from happiness," noting that he seemed anything but happy nor shining.
"What do they call you?" "Stavros," I replied. "And where are you from Stavros?" perhaps noticing that I was out of place in a Greek monastery. "From Ameriki. The monk you spoke with is my son." "Ameriki" he said rubbing the stubble on his chin, so far away from your son? He had within a few minutes of meeting me understood what troubled me. "What a good boy he is," he followed up as if to salve my pain, "I can tell these things at my age. I can size people up quickly. It's a gift and a burden at times."
"Where are you from? I asked. "I grew up in Karditsa but now I live in Pireaus with my son. He doesn't much care for me but his wife does. She has a good heart. I have six other children, not that it ever did me much good after my wife died, poor woman. Since then I prefer to wander here and there as long as these wretched legs hold out. When I outwear my welcome I move on." I surveyed his furrowed brow, the weather worn skin on his face and his rough hands, the products of a lifetime of hard work.
It wasn't long before he got to the question every Greek asks of another Greek, as if searching for some connection. "Where are your parents from?" I smiled because I sensed the question would come sooner rather than later, "From Northern Epirus and Constantinople. "And you grew up in Ameriki. Your Greek is very good for an Amerikanaki," he winked playfully. "That's because my Greek wife makes me speak Greek," I said. He smiled, "A Greek wife is a blessing and a curse, like most women, I should know, having lived with one for fifty years. She died a few years ago and I miss her terribly." He seemed pensive returning to his meal for awhile, eating an olive and spitting the pit in his hand, then taking a bite of crusty bread. He looked up, "What I would have done for meal like this when I was a little boy during the Occupation. God provides, my boy, even for an old wretch like me. I have had a hard life, war, poverty. I spent ten years in Germany working in a kitchen, after I had enough of that I came back to Greece, got married and my brother in law got me a job working for the railroad. Raised a family and now I am blessed with grandchildren. I've got a small pension but it's not enough to live on, so I scrape by as best I can. I don't want to be a burden on my children. The most valuable thing I own right now is my freedom, once you lose that and the use of your legs, life becomes misery. My son calls me 'alitis,' a bum, because I won't stay in one place and wait to die. What kind of life is that I ask you, waiting to die. So I wander when begin to feel suffocated." He lit a cigarette and took a deep drag on it exhaling through his nose. "All the money in the world is worthless if you lose your sense of filotimo. There are worse things than poverty."
We both sat there in silence thinking our private thoughts.
I left for Athens the next day after the liturgy but couldn't get Lambi out of my mind. His life was an allegory of sorts representing what was happening to the country as a whole. As I surveyed the wreckage about me and felt the deep malaise of so many Greeks, many of them people I know and love, I couldn't help but feel that Greece too was like a wandering old man. She was exhausted, moving from one catastrophe to the next, with little hope for the future. The Greek word for poverty is "ftoxia" and one hears it alot these days in Greece. It is a country where people wake up to a nightmare and not from one. The generation that grew up during hard times, the stone years, when war and poverty took their toll, still remember. The same fears and worries are once again their lot in life. The younger generation who once hoped for a better tomorrow now find themselves similarly bereft of hope for the future and fighting for survival. They however, never saw it coming.
Everyone asks "How did we get to this point?" faced by the debris of decades of government mismanagement, corruption, over-reach and utopian fantasies. Who is responsible for the collective misery of the Greek people? Was it the banks and the greedy capitalists, the politicians trolling for votes and willing to sell the future for their own purposes or was it the Greek everyman voting for those who promised the most. In the present conflagartion no one is guilty and everyone is guilty. The Athenian landscape is dotted by For Sale signs, empty storefronts and downtrodden citizens hoping for better days while they scurry to survive the current ones. The IMF representatives and the dreaded Troika come and go issuing their edicts and threats. The old demagogues have been replaced by new ones of the left and right, Tspiras and Mihaloliakos. Once again Greeks are mesmerized by the empty promises, scapegoating and boastful oratory. How ironic that the Germans, who were bankrupted by the victors of World War I, are now imposing a similar fate upon the Greeks. One which which has strengthened the extremists, very much the way it did in Weimar Germany.
Austerity is a dirty word in Greece. The austerity imposed on Greece is long overdue however the manner in which it has been hoisted on the Greek people is draconian. It is destroying the engine that will eventually put things right again, the Greek economy. More importantly it is destroying people and the little hope they have. Most Greeks support staying in Europe. Maybe they see it as a chance to become another Denmark, then again who wants to be Danish? I am just a wannabe Greek of the diaspora, with a different perspective and mindset. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut but it pains me to see Greeks give up their sovereignty. A sovereignty so many fought and died for just so they can now beg for some crumbs from the master's table.
The security promised by the European project, whether it is economic or military, is in the end, illusory. If Turkey attacked Greece tomorrow, the rest of Europe would not lift a finger to help the Greeks. As usual Greeks put their trust in allies who will always let them down when push comes to shove. Anyone with a knowledge of Greek history will understand that history only repeats itself time and again.
I am in no way absolving Greeks for their present misery. They blame the capitalist system when in fact they have a soviet style economy. They blame Wall Street and the Banks when they should be blaming the corrupt political class of both the Left and Right that has looted the treasury for decades to line their own pockets and those of their supporters. They decry the destruction of the Greek economy then go on strike to chase away the last few tourists still willing to spend their hard earned money in Greece. Now they want to unionize the armed forces, one of the pillars of the nation. Madness.
Greeks are still not willing to change, they are not willing to transform their society in fundamental ways. In order to do that there has to be a dialogue and right now Greeks are too busy shouting at each other to hear what the other side is saying. Only when Greeks put their abundant talents to the task of making Greece better instead of protecting their own piece of the diminishing pie will Greece prosper.
May the Theotokos keep the wolves at bay long enough for Greeks to awaken once again.
September is always a popular month for atrocities. It doesn't take much for the haters to get riled up and unfortunately they seem to be the one's with the loudest voices in the muslim world, not to mention the one's with blood on their hands. What I find appalling is the seemingly complete collapse of the West in the face of the constant onslaught by people intent on making the rest of us conform to their religious beliefs.
So we apologize when they murder us, make nice when they desecrate our churches, invite them into our countries despite the fact that they hate us, allow them to worship freely in our countries even when they refuse to allow us to do so in their countries, give them money when they spit in our face, and worst of all abandon our values to avoid any perceived slights. It's bad enough that Western nations have systematically secularized their societies and most Westerners believe in nothing, now they increasingly kowtow to fundamenatlist muslim extremists who are bent on transforming those very same societies. To be sure there is much that I don't like about western societies but I fear that they will be replaced with something much worse. Societies where women will be relegated to second class citizenship. Free speech and religious tolerance will disappear. In this new world order the gay and lesbian community will not have to worry about whether governments will marry them, they will instead worry about governments killing them.
The flames of hate among muslims are fanned by failed governments desperate to detract attention away from the desperate poverty, hopelessness and their own glaring failures. Scapegoats are always easy to find whether they happen to be Jews, Christians, Hinus or Buddhists. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan, who just days ago said a movie that “insults religions” and “prophets” is not protected by freedom of speech, now is insisting that international bodies pass laws making criticism of Islam a crime. This coming from the leader of a nation that has perpetrated some of the greatest hate crimes of the century, crimes for which there has never been even so much as an attempt to render an apology let alone justice. Now forgotten are the events of another September, fifty-seven years ago when fanatical muslim Turks organized by a supposedly secular government attacked the Greek community of Constantinople. In so doing they perpetrated heinous atrocities against Christians and their religious houses of worship. Atrocities that insult religion much more than any cartoon and YouTube video ever could. Professor Spyros Vryonis meticulously documented the events of the Sepetember Pogrom in his book Mechanism of Catastrophe. He writes about the systemic desecration perpetrated against the Greek Orthodox Church:
"Altars, icons, pews, candelabra, the buidings themselves, chandeliers, Crucifixes, in particular, engaged the vandals attention. Not far behind was the desecration of the cemeteries, and the corpses buried therin and the bones in the ossuaries. Along with the abuse of corpses, defecation was particularly marked in the cemeteries although altars also seemed to have been systemactically polluted with urine and feces. The photographs taken by Dimitrios Kaloumenos bear horrible testimony to this sadder aspect of human behavior and confirm the debt and fury of rioters religious fanaticism."
Another chronicler of the events of the pogrom, Despina Portokalis writes: "In the district of Vefa they took out from the Church, the large Crucifix and as they were parading it about, from behind they were beating it and throwing stones at it. They did this as they sang lewd songs and mocked it."
In this brave new world of the coming calipahte, "moderate" muslims have been silenced and either look on with indifference or grudging support as the radicals transform their religion. Intolerance and violence are the bedrock on which their faith will be built on. A religion whose followers are afraid to compete in the marketplace of free ideas, and who insist on silencing anyone they disagree with. Violence is condoned, glorified and encouraged among the young. They are the future. Their martyrdom is not about sacrificing oneself as a testament to faith in God but rather about the murder of other human beings considered non-believers. Throughout the Middle East, the Jews have been swept into a small strip of land called Israel with their backs to the sea. They have nowhere else to flee. Now the Christians are being targeted. The Orthodox in Syria and Palestine, the Maronites of Lebanon, the Copts in Egypt. All scheduled for extinction. In its very birthplace, Christianity is on life support.
During the pogrom of 1955, the vast majority of Turks were not part of the mob but they looked the other way as their Greek neighbors and friends were targeted. In a few instances, some brave souls stood against the mob and saved lives. Half a century later the civilized world once again, stands on the sidelines. Some cheer on the criminals, others avert their eyes from the horror, bending over backwards to appease them thinking that in so doing they can save themselves.
Only when all decent people, regardless of creed, stand against the mob, will we be able to live in a better world.
I've written about the "Korean Thermopylae" previously. It is to say the least an inspiring story of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Like many things these days it is unfortunately lost in the pages of history, a history that few people, especially the young, have any familiarity with. Combat changes a soldier forever but the friendships and mutual respect forged in its crucible can never be severed. Listening to the accounts of the Americans that fought side by side with the Greeks of Sparta battalion in Korea one can only be filled with pride. Lest we forget. Watch the whole video. If you are in a hurry jump to 6:48.
Outpost Harry was a remote Korean War station located on a tiny hilltop in what was commonly referred to as the "Iron Triangle" on the Korean Peninsula. This was an area approximately 60 miles (100 km) north of Seoul and was the most direct route to the South Korean capital.
More than 88,000 rounds of Chinese artillery fell on Outpost Harry. Since the outpost was defended each night by only a single company of American or Greek soldiers, the Chinese had anticipated an easy capture. Over a period of eight days, waves of Chinese forces moved into the outposts trench lines and totalling over 13,000 soldiers. Five UNC companies, four US and one Greek, took turns in defending the outpost.
Most of the fighting occurred at night, under heavy mortar fire, while the daylight hours were usually spent by the UNC forces evacuating the dead and wounded, replacing the defending company, sending up resupplies and repairing the fortified positions. The daylight hours were punctuated with artillery, mortar and sniper fire, making repairs and reinforcement a more dangerous task. During the 4 to 5 days prior to the initial attack on the outpost, Chinese artillery and mortar fire increased from an average of 275 to 670 per day during daylight hours.
The soldiers of the Greek Expeditionary Force adapted its name and called it Outpost "Haros", the modern Greek equivalent to Charon, Greek mythology's ferryman to the underworld of Hades.
The Chinese forces employed against Outpost Harry were tabulated by U.S. Intelligence Sections:
June 10 and June 11: one reinforced regiment (approximately 3,600 troops)
June 11 and June 12: one regiment (approximately 2,850 troops)
June 12 and June 13: one reinforced regiment
June 13 and June 14: an estimated 100 troops
June 14 and June 15: an estimated 120 troops
June 17 and June 18: one regiment.
During this period the entire 74th Division was utilized against this position and at the end of the engagement was considered combat ineffective. Rounds fired in support of their attack amounted to 88,810 rounds over 81mm in size: UNC mortar and artillery units in conjunction with friendly tank fires expended 368, 185 rounds over 81mm in size.
Casualty figures were
15th Infantry Regiment - 68 KIA, 343 WIA, 35 MIA; KATUSA - 8 KIA, 51 WIA, 7 MIA;
Greek Expeditionary Force, Sparta Battalion - 15 KIA, 36 WIA, 1 MIA.
Attached and supporting units 5th RCT - 13 KIA, 67 WIA, 1 MIA;
10th Engineer Battalion - 5 KIA, 23 WIA; 39th FA - 5 KIA, 13 WIA.
For the first time in the annals of U.S. military history, five rifle companies together, four American and one Greek, would receive the prestigious Distinguished Unit Citation for the outstanding performance of their shared mission.
By JOHN KASS
RIZES, Greece – When I mention our family’s village in Greece, I usually write that Rizes is the most beautiful village in the universe.
And it is.
Your family’s village might also be the most beautiful. This is possible. I understand that. But this village is mine.
The name means “roots,” and it nestles at the root of the mountain of Agios Elias, along a fertile plain in Arcadia, in the heart of the Peloponnesus, where tourists don’t go.
When tourists tell me they’ve been to Greece, they often mean Athens and the islands and grilled octopus and ouzo and the beach. But there is no beach here.
So tourists don’t go high up the mountain to the old monastery to see this: the sweet cherry trees in blossom, with their pale pink flowers. And within days, the sour cherries will pop. The potato plants are ready to sprout. The wheat is green in the fields. The apple trees are budding.
At the monastery, I could hear the church bells ringing from down below and kids playing soccer in the square, their shouts echoing on the tiled roofs of the thick-walled houses, each one with a courtyard and grape arbor.
And I thought of my family, my father and uncle and aunts and cousins and grandparents, and the generations upon generations reaching back to before recorded history.
That’s when it happened. I didn’t see it coming. It started with nothing really, just a catch of breath, and then came the rush of it.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” said my cousin George Ganios, who was up there with me. “You think you’re the first man to cry here? They all do it, my boy. You’re in Rizes. You’re home.”
And it came at me, relentless, all those stories our family would tell at Sunday dinners in America, the extended clan gathered around to listen to the same village stories we’d heard the Sunday before.
How Truman the white mule fell as if dead in the road, until someone ran to tell my grandmother and she said the special prayers to fight the evil eye. When she finished, Truman shot up, snorting and alive.
Or the time my grandfather, Papou Ianni, fell into the well. Or the story of the wolf and the boy, or the time Thea Alexandra caught my dad trying to cheat her out of a piece of sweet bread when they were children. The stories of Sophianos, my great-grandfather’s brother, who was a mountain guerrilla and outlaw known as a klepht, and was shot dead by the army as he visited his fiancee in Rizes.
And story after story, of the Italians and Germans during the occupation, and of the Civil War and the famine.
As children, we demanded those stories, and the elders doled them out like candy. It was our way of connecting to the permanence of what had been left behind.
But the other day, I was there.
The first stop was to see my first cousin Kostas Zaharias, a physician at the hospital in Tripoli.
“Where do you want to go first? To the village or up to the mountain?”
To the graveyard, I said, and he nodded.
“Of course,” he said. “We’ll light candles.” And within minutes we were there.
The dead are not buried in the ground here. The ground is too rocky, so the coffins are placed in white marble crypts above ground. Our grandfather, Papou Ianni, died when he was 95. Yia Yia Angela was there next to him, having lived to her mid-80s until her death in 1968.
There was good light from a warm sun, but the air was hazy. The westward winds from Turkey had been blowing for days. And still the white crypts glimmered in that light, next to a field of sheep and goats.
I made the sign of the cross and said a prayer for them. The marble was warm.
For some reason, the men in our family have children late in life. I never met my grandfather. And my sons never met theirs.
Kostas recalled how he and his sister Sophie shared our grandfather’s last moments. “We were alone with him when he died,” he said. “I was, what, 9 years old?”
And as he said it, I considered the timeline, the length of the family, how just a few generations can reach back into the ages, to the time of the Turks and before.
Then we went up the mountain to the monastery. We lit a candle in the church of St. Nicholas, where an icon of Christ had been placed in 1902, donated by Riziotes who’d gone to Chicago. And we found the names of our clan among the donors, Karkazis and Pagonis and Kringas, names that don’t mean a thing to you, but each had a story around our dinner tables on the South Side when we were children.
They were old even in the stories, and dead long before I was born, and I thought of them as dour grandfathers in blue suits and starched collars, not young immigrants donating the icon from a Chicago of sooty skies and the smell of blood and wool in the air from the stockyards, the young Riziotes desperate to reach back home across the sea.
Cousin George’s cellphone rang, and we went outside to the edge of the mountain so he could talk. It was his nephew calling from America, my cousin Vasili Panos, an Oak Brook dentist and godfather to one of my sons.
“Vasili, he’s here,” George said, facing west into the sun. “We’re at Agios Nikolaos. Why don’t you walk outside to the balcony so you can wave to us? Vasili, can you see us from America? We’re waving so you can see and come to Rizes.”
Back in the village, another cousin stopped us, and we hugged and talked. The number of cousins amazed Chicago Tribune photographer Chris Walker.
A whole village of them, I said, and we went into the coffeehouse where more cousins waited, the circle of chairs getting wider.
They wanted to know about President Barack Obama, and American politics. And about their own politics too. Especially about the recent protests in Athens outside the Parliament building, which had once been the palace of the king. The people in the coffeehouse didn’t feel much kinship with the rock throwers of the hard left.
“We don’t have such people in this village,” one old man said. “This is not the village of such people.”
The others grunted in assent. More stories were told. But soon it was time to go.
I asked my Thea Tula, the only one of my father’s siblings who remained in Greece, for the reason Rizes is so beautiful.
“Because your father was born here, and your grandfathers and their grandfathers and their grandfathers,” she said. “That is why it is beautiful. Do you understand me?”
And like that, it was on me again, pressing my chest, making it difficult to breathe.
“Ianni, you understand?”
Yes, Thea, I understand.
By Chris Georgallis
Ten to three am, ticked the clock
Time for sleep, not for prose,
Thoughts flapping in the wind, held fast by will, but mostly, letting slip a
page of dreams and desires, which seem to ever ascend away, without even a
What am I ?
Have i lived the life written, or am i writing it as i go?
Deep thoughts searching upward to the throne of my All-knowing , Father!
Sad thoughts , regrets and frustrations, dragging me down to my mother's
feet, where the tears mix with the mud and give me eyes which see again, and
so the cycle continues!
My heart cries to belong.
My life defies this longing, i am set to be a wanderer, forever searching
and seeking to return to her that bore me.
Not a mother of flesh and bone, but the rich soil from which my line was
Britannia, gave me weight, colour and hue, but....
Venus, Aphrodite's Isle, is where my roots find their rest.
My spirit, is not earth bound, but my feet... are of the clay of men, and
the soil calls me, it presses me to return to where it all began.
Cyprus... my land?
Am i wanted?
Do i belong?
Perhaps, London is a closer call ? Full of memories and childhood tales.
Maybe it's Cape Town the "Mother City", this African Queen, to whom i now
She certainly has given me my todays and my tomorrows!
Yet the call of my ancestor's , is further north, deep into the warm middle
sea, where warm currents and white sands mix with the sounds of Byzantine
chants and Grecian and Roman sensibilities.
My journey, continues, my wanderings never cease , but always, i feel that
call to my nation, to my tribe.
Yet where my father took his first breath, and where his mother cradled him
to her breast, in beautiful Rizokarpaso, by Apostolos Andreas's shadow....
I am precluded, not wanted,disallowed,my soil, my family, uprooted and
The invader, argues that he came to save, but all he left was bloodshed and
Our churches,deserted, no liturgy, no chants, only old people, crying their
tears, for a time and a nation, that has long since... past into the arms of
the Turkish advance.
The stories aren't simple, the Greek and the Turk, once sharing coffee and
sweet baklava, now set at odds by the political right, both lamenting their
villages and friends, lost, to the sounds of foreign designs.
My journey continues, the night turns to light, my odyssey unfinished,
My "Ithaca" seems, still a distant dream,
Yet, my prayers and hopes, rise on the dawn of a new day!
(dedicated to my yiayia Sophia, who would not leave her home and died a
prisoner in her own land!)
Spring has come early to Maine this year. We had our first snowfall in October followed by a mild winter. It was a gorgeous day today so I decided to wash a winter's worth of salt and dirt off my car. As I often did back in my younger days, I listened to some of my favorite music. You might think I'd listen to something Greek and it's true, that I do so frequently but like most folks, I'm complicated. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Having spent a good part of my life in the South I have a passion for country music, especially a singer named Patsy Cline.
I threw a CD of her songs into my car's CD player and went to work while a sipped on a bottle of cold beer. There's nothing like washing a car on a Spring day, the sun beating down on you, warming your bones, while you work up a thirst. Having finished washing my wheels I threw the car doors wide open, turned up the volume, and sat down on my front porch. I leaned back in my chair, my feet resting on the porch rail, listening to Patsy's sweet voice. Even the birds were singing back-up for her.
None of us can be sure what is in store for us in the after life, but I think God gives us a taste of heaven during our earthly lives now and then. Moments that are beautiful, full of good memories or thoughts, filled with love and peace. Today was little bit of heaven, a rest stop on the railway of life, traveling to God's embrace.
By Father Richard Demetrius Andrews
M. Scott Peck wrote a book in 1978 titled "The Road Less Traveled"." The title is a quote of American Poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) who said, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Peck's book was a New York Times bestseller and helped change the minds of millions who were shaped by the hedonistic 1960s and the self-indulgent 1970s. It was for me personally an eye-opener when I read it as a young adult struggling to find my way. I continue to recommend the book to people looking for meaning in their life.
One of the things I learned from Peck is that true discipline is the exercise of conscious choice to delay gratification, sacrificing present comfort for a future reward. He says elsewhere that this exercise of discipline is what propels us on the path of spiritual growth. However, "this awareness comes slowly, piece by piece. The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning. The experience of spiritual power is basically a joyful one." I realized that I was unhappy because I was exercising little if any discipline in many parts of my life and it was causing me to fall away from God. My life was beginning to spin out of control.
I began to learn what Jesus meant when He said in today's Gospel, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" in Mark 8:24 - 9:1 on the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent. I always wanted to follow Christ but I was confused by the conflicting messages coming from society. Our society, the world tells us to never deny ourselves. Everything around us is saying, "If you want it, get it; If you have the money, but it; If you feel it, do it." I didn't realize that following Christ required voluntary sacrifice and that meant losing my self-centered attitudes and behaviors.
This what Christ means by saying, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." In other words, we must lose our life of hedonism and self-indulgence. If we lose that life, for the sake of Christ, we will save our true self-the one that carries God's image. This is the very purpose for why the Church, through the scriptures and the life of the saints, gives us three exercises to strengthen our soul. It's like a fitness instructor or a coach giving you three things to practice to get stronger, lose weight or improve your skills. Those three exercises are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. If we voluntarily practice these three things, we will improve our self-discipline and strengthen our personal spiritual power.
If we do not do these three exercises daily, we will not be able to do the other thing that Christ says is necessary in order to follow Him — that is taking up our cross. Our cross or crosses are the difficult unique circumstances of our life. They can be externally imposed by others or they can be internally oriented because of physical, mental, emotional illness or weaknesses of character affected by our family of origin. By taking up these crosses we mean to take responsibility for them and deal with them in a healthy manner.
Read the whole thing here.
The sudden death of Theo Angelopoulos, the greatest Greek film-maker, while shooting his latest film on the current troubles, has acquired great symbolic significance. In recent months, reporting on Greece has concentrated on the deficit, debt and the untrustworthiness of its people. The films of Angelopoulos remind us of another Greece and a different humanity. In his dreamlike historical films, he chronicled the melancholic nature of a nation torn between an invented tradition of classical glories and a traumatic history of repressive state policies, dictatorship, corrupt and dynastic politics. He narrated the lowly lives of the defeated in the vicious civil war 1946-9, the degradations and melancholy of exile, the Odysseus-like return of people who go back to a place they nurtured in their memories but turns out alien and unwelcoming.
In his mesmeric long sequences, a simple gesture, a silence or smile acquire philosophical depth and historic significance. This is epic cinema made out of the fragments of everyday life.
Coming from the left, as did most of the Greek cultural renaissance of the second half of the 20th century, but ascribing to no orthodoxy, Angelopoulos described the degradations of ordinary people both in the hands of rightwing governments and in the Stalinist regimes where the defeated partisans retreated but found no haven.
For Angelopoulos, humanity survives in the memories and dreams of exiled, travelling people who never fully make it back to Ithaca. What makes us human, Angelopoulos tells us, is found in traumatic memories, in the desire to preserve an imaginary beauty, and in eternal returns perennially frustrated. Angelopoulos was both the Homer of modern Greece, and the country's magical realist storyteller.
For decades, the Greek elites belittled those cultural achievements that didn't fit their view of modernisation defined as insatiable consumption. The sorry state Greece finds itself in today was built against Angelopoulos's poetry of images. If, for a moment, we put to one side the immediate economic news, a largely unreported dramatic picture of decay of the integrated political, economic and media elites that ran the country for the last 60 years emerges. The implosion of this elite is a textbook study in the collapse of a system of power.
Read the whole thing here.
Mama always liked to dress me up in ridiculous outfits. The kind that no self respecting street urchin on East 91st in the Yorkville section of Mahattan would be caught dead in. Like the suit that looked like it was made of aluminum foil. She had seen something like it in a magazine and promptly went out and found some of the offensive fabric. She had stayed up late into the night sewing. When it was done you could tell she was very proud of her work, stroking it lovingly while it was on a hanger. I was appalled, she had to threaten me with bodily harm because I balked at wearing it. After all what would my friends say? My God, this was the neighborhood of Lou Gehrig and James Cagney; could you see them wearing a get up like this? All I wanted was to be one of the neighborhood gang. I wanted to wear Keds high top sneakers and blue jeans and a T-shirt. I wanted to blend in. It was bad enough that I looked like a visitor from Spanish Harlem in a sea of blonde and red-haired freckled Celtic children. How was I going to be one of the boys, someone that you couldn't mess with or take for granted? The only time anyone wore a suit in our neck of the woods was on their confirmation day. I wasn't sure what took place exactly, not being Catholic, but I knew that no one could make fun of you for wearing a suit on that particular day. As I pictured myself walking in tow down the street wearing my aluminum suit, all those beady little eyes upon me, ready to pounce, I imagined telling everyone it was my confirmation day. As good an alibi as any. I schemed of ways to destroy the aluminum suit, maybe I could catch the fabric on a nail and rip it to shreds or maybe I could spill my mother's lentil soup on it and kill two birds with one stone. Alas, my courage failed me. I was a defeated man, the victim of two different worlds that would both hold me hostage in their own inimitable ways.
No matter how hard I tried, and I tried mightily to be a good little American, my Greek immigrant parents would often make the wrong fashion choices for me. Like making me wear shorts. That was OK if you lived in Greece but not if you lived on East 91st Street where shorts were considered less than manly. It was hard enough to survive in the street urchin society that we spent so much of our free time in, identifying yourself as different made you a target. Back then kids lived outside in all types of weather, we yearned for the open expanses of the street where we could dodge traffic and play with trash can lids. There was not much to do at home in the cramped apartments we lived in and parents expected you to play, get this...outside. They were less paranoid and neurotic in those days about all the terrible things that could befall us, even in the middle of Manhattan. And we too wanted to be where the action was even if it thrust us into a milieu where children governed themselves for the most part, with occasional benign interventions by adults. A society where you could be teased or bullied, though one where justice was always meted out in the end. We looked like well fed, healthy Dickensian waifs, our clothes and bodies dirtied by the grime of the streets. By the time you got home you were immediately ushered into a bath tub, where your Mother took particular delight in rubbing you raw to remove the offending dirt in order to rediscover the child who had left home that morning. "Mama stop rubbing so hard, you're hurting me," I protested, while she just kept scrubbing the crevices of my ears until they were clean, unrepentent, mumbling in Greek under her breath.
Our block was one big playgound overrun by noisy, busy children. Jumping rope, rollerskating, playing stoop ball, stickball, immersed in a game of marbles or using bottle tops to play "scullsey." We saved our pennies to buy tops and yo-yos. We organized our own games and everyone played even if you had no talent. I returned to the same street fifty years later only to find it bereft of children, populated instead with latte-drinking, childless thirty somethings whose major preoccupation was postponing the onset of adulthood. They were the products of organized sports where over achieving adults made all their decisions and parents who dressed them from head to toe in protective gear in order to go roller skating. Now they are finally reveling in independence at long last.
I look back on those days in the late 50s and early 60s with nostalgic fondness as some of the happiest years of my life. They were indeed carefree and full of childish games and wonder. Still there were moments of abject terror that even now send a chill down my spine. There were always the kids that delighted in establishing their rightful place in the pecking order at someone's expense or willing to fight at the drop of a hat to avenge some perceived slight. Of all the terrors that we had to face however none was greater in my mind that the two most frightful adults that haunted our territory. Back then adults were accorded respect, they were not to be trifled with. These two were different. They were downright scary. One was a stern Catholic nun named Sister Brigid, a member of the Sisters of Charity order, who taught at Our Lady of Good Counsel School. Her fearsome reputation preceded her wherever she went, fed by the blood curdling stories of her students, past and present, many of whom were friends of mine. They regaled me with horrific stories of painful tortures inflicted on the unsuspecting innocents who happened to have had the bad luck to end up in her classroom. I prayed that nothing would ever happen to Public School 151 or that I would never be sent to Catholic school where they crossed themselves the wrong way and prayed to statues.
The other scary adult in my life was a junkyard dealer who worked out of a storefront adjacent to the local bus stop. His attire consisited of a filthy white flannel shirt and dungaree overalls with one shoulder strap always dangling. He had few teeth and the ones he did have were a sickly yellowish-green. He was a huge man who reminded me of a professional wrestler named Haystack Calhoun who ate a dozen eggs for breakfast and pounded nails in with his bare fist. He was nicknamed "Baldy Joe," an appelation earned by his appearance but never uttered in his presence except by suicidal teenagers who would shout it from the back of the bus when it stopped in front of his shop.
Little did I realize that destiny would bring the three of us together one fateful day. My mother had sent me to the barber for a haircut. This particular barber was a Hungarian immigrant who cut hair out of a one chair storefront establishment. His family lived in the back room, the aroma of food cooking in your nostrils while he cut your hair. His son, a college student studying engineering often sat at a small cash register with books full of mathematical formulas piled around it which he read intently as if they were comic books. Mama liked the way this barber cut my hair and she insisted that I go to him for my haircuts even though it required a bus trip.
After my haircut I took the bus home that day as I customarily did. Halfway home it picked up a familiar passenger, a nun dressed in a floor length black habit and wearing a black pioneer bonnet. I immediately recognized her and I slowly began sliding down my seat in an attempt to lower my profile and become as inconspicuous as possible. I stared at her, drawn by a combination of curiosity and trepidation. As we approached the bus stop I was to get off, three teenagers in the very rear of the bus starting yelling "BALDY JOE" in unison through the window bringing an enraged ogre out of his cave as if awakened by some kind of primal instinct. It was like waving a red flag at a bull. I moved to the rear exit so as not to miss my stop rather amused as were the teenagers laughing hysterically from their protected position. When the doors opened however, there he was, looking crazy and rushing towards me thinking I was one of his many tormenters. I almost urinated on myself from the fear, frozen on the stairs of the bus exit, waiting to die. Unbeknowst to me however, Sister Brigid came up behind me, grabbing my arm while she pulled me back, getting between Baldy and myself. She looked at him, ever so composed and said sternly, "Get out of my way, Sean O'Casey." It was as if Moses had spoken and the seas parted. Baldy said meekly, "Yes, sister." and held her hand as she stepped off the bus. "Thank you," she turned looking at me, "Come with me young man." I followed her obediently all the way to her school. "Why don't I see you at mass?" she asked in an accent that betrayed her Irish origin. "I'm not Catholic sister, I'm Greek Orthodox and go to another church." She smiled, "That's nice, now run along home lad, your mother will be worried about you." as we parted company.
Neither Sister Brigid nor Baldy Joe seemed so frightening after our paths crossed by chance that fateful day. I was in my own way on the road to maturity and had gained a better understanding of the adult world. From then on, I would wave to both when I saw them in the neighborhood as if we had some unspoken bond. Baldy would give me a toothy grin. Sister would nod in my direction without smiling, something that left my pals in utter awe, winning me a grudging respect from my peers. She must have thought waving was a tad unseemly.
Tens of thousands of Turks filled a stadium to bid farewell to Lefteris Antoniadis, one of Turkey's top football players, who died at age 86 in Istanbul. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the funeral ceremony on Sunday at Fenerbahce's Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium to honor Antoniandis, known to Turkish fans as Lefter Küçükandonyadis.
Born in 1925 in Istanbul to a Greek father from Turkey's minority Greek community and a Turkish mother, he was the first player from Turkey to play abroad. From an early age he showed his great love for football. He began his football career in Taximspor, a district team of the City. After a four year stint in the Turkish Army, he joined Fenerbahce in 1947, where his talent was immediately recognized. In 1951 he played for Italian Fiorentina, the first player from Turkey to achieve recognition by a foreign team.
He returned to Fenerbahce, where he helped win two championships, founded the national team, and helped to earn three titles (1959, 1961, 1964). From 1947 to 1964 he played 615 games scoring 423 goals. His prowess on the field and legendery status earned him the respect of all Turkish fans. In the season 1953–1954, he was the top scorer in the Turkish league. After ending his career in Turkey in 1964, Küçükandonyadis played a single season in Greece with AEK Athens the team of the Greek Athletic Union of Constantinople. He participated in five games in the 1965 season scoring two goals before an injury in the match against Iraklis forced his retirement.
He played 50 times for the Turkish national football team, 9 of them as the captain. He also played at the 1954 World Cup netting in 2 goals, one against West-Germany and one against South-Korea. He scored 20 goals for his national team and was the top scorer for Turkey till overtaken by Hakan Şükür. He was the first Turkish football player to receive the “Golden Honor medal” from the Turkish Football Federation. Lefteris coached Egaleo F.C. in Greece and Supersport United in South Africa. He later returned to Turkey and coached various Turkish clubs.
In Turkey, he was loved, never hiding his identity as a Greek Orthodox Christian. In fact, he embraced his faith, daring to wear a Cross prominently on his chest outside his player's jersey even while standing at attention when the Turkish National Anthem was played. He was a gifted footballer and a great human being, who by the dint of his talent and example was admired by Turkish fans and players alike. The Turkish fans nicknamed him "Küçük" which means small, due to his 5' 4" height, adding it to his surname. It was chanted repeatedly at games when he played,
In recent years he lived out his retirement in the formerly Greek inhabited Princess Islands, entertaining a steady stream of visitors like Soukour Hakan, one of the greatest scorers of all time in Turkey , Demis Nikolaidis of AEK and His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomeow, the Patriarch of Constantinople.
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Δεν ξέρω γιατί με τραβούσε ένα μέρος το οποίο το γνώριζα μόνο από τα παραμύθια της γιαγιάς μου. Ένα μέρος γεμάτο φαντάσματα, γεμάτο λύπες και χαρές. Αυτό το ορεινό χωριουδάκι όπου γεννήθηκε, μεγάλωσε και πέρασε τα καλύτερα χρόνια της ζωής της. Γιά εμένα ήταν ένα όνειρο θολό που δεν τελειώνει ποτέ. Κάτι που δεν μπορούσα να σβήσω από την μνήμη μου. Όταν είσαι νέος και ο κόσμος ανοίγη μπροστά σου, δεν σε νοιάζει τίποτα. Νομίζεις ότι πάντοτε θα είσαι νικητής και θα κάνεις την ζωή σου ότι θέλεις. Μόνο όταν τα χρόνια περάσουν καταλαβαίνεις ότι η ζωή, σου κάνει αυτή ότι θέλει. Αρχίζεις να επανέλθεις και να καταλάβεις που έχεις πάει και που πας. Τότε ρωτάς : «τι σημασία έχει η ζωή μου». Πως να απαντήσω στο ερώτημα αυτό χωρίς να βρω την αρχή ; Χωρίς να βρώ, όπως γράφει ο ποιητής Καβάφης, την Ιθάκη μου. Μόνο εκεί θα μπορούσα να καταλάβω την ιδιαίτερη σημασία της ζωής μου. Ο θάνατος του πατέρα μου, το καλοκαίρι του 2007, προκάλεσε σε μένα μία ανάγκη μεγάλη. Να γυρίσω στην πνευματική και γενέθλια πηγή μας. Στην πατρίδα όπου γεννήθηκαν οι πρόγονοί μου. Ένα ξεχασμένο κομμάτι του Ελληνισμού. Μία φλόγα που δεν θέλει να σβήσει. Ο χωματόδρομος που πάει στην Πολίτσανη είναι μακρής, δύσκολος, επικίνδυνος και ανεβαίνει συνέχεια. Θα περάσεις από ποταμάκια, χαράδρες και τεράστια βουνά, γεμάτο πεύκα. Νιώθεις επάνω σε αυτή την τοποθεσία την μεγάλη δύναμη του Θεού αλλά και την μεγάλη αγάπη του. Ο αέρας είναι καθαρός και μοσχοβολάει πεύκο και περπατώντας γυρνάς μιά απότομη στροφή και εμπρός σου βλέπεις το χωριό, κρυμμένο μέσα στην αγκαλιά του βουνού, που ονομάζεται Νεμέρτσκα.
Κατά την περίοδο του κουμουνιστικού καθεστώτος, η Νεμέρτσκα που έχει μήκος 8 χιλιόμετρα και περνάει τα ελληνικά σύνορα, ήταν ο δρόμος της ελευθερίας. Μέσα στα χιόνια της, σκεπασμένοι με άσπρα σεντόνια φεύγανε μερικοί θαραλέοι χωριανοί και περνούσανε σε μιά καινούργια ζωή. Τώρα ο δρόμος έχει ανοίξει και έχουν μείνει μόνο τα «Μανιτάρια». Τα καταφύγεια που βρίσκονται παντού, είχαν κτισθεί με μεγάλες δαπάνες. Όλα βλέπουν προς το Νότο και είναι μιά ομιλούσα διαθήκη της παράνοιας και μεγαλομανίας του καθεστώτος του Ενβέρ Χότζα. Πριν φθάσω στην Πολίτσανη είχα ένα άγχος, μιά ανησυχία. Δεν ήξερα τι θα βρω και τι θα γίνει. Που να ξέρω πως οι κάτοικοι του χωριού θα με δεχθούνε φιλόξενα και μάλιστα με αγάπη και θα έβρισκα μιά πραγματική πνευματική χαρά. Ήμουν με τον τρόπο μου ο «Οδυσσέας», γυρίζοντας στην Ιθάκη μου. Γιά πρώτη φορά το όνομά μου δεν ήταν ξένο και περίεργο. Γιά πρώτη φορά το όνομά μου έλεγε τα πάντα γιά εμένα. Δεν χρειαζόμουνα άλλα στοιχεία. Όταν άρχισα το ταξίδι μου, πήρα ένα ταξί από την πλατεία Συντάγματος έως τον σταθμό όπου φεύγουν τα λεωφορεία γιά τα Ιωάννινα. Ο ταξιτζής ακούγοντας την προφορά μου, με ρώτησε την καταγωγή μου.
Του είπα ότι γεννήθηκα στην Κωνσταντινούπολη, μεγάλωσα στην Αμερική, αλλά ότι οι γονείς μου είναι βορειοηπειρώτες. Αυτός ο «Νεοέλληνας» γύρισε το κεφάλι του και μου απαντάει με ένα εχθρικό τρόπο : «Δηλαδή είναι Αλβανοί». Εκείνη την στιγμή ένιωσα τον πόνο της Ελληνικής μειονότητας, οι ξεχασμένοι Έλληνες. Σαν τον Οδυσσέα άκουγα τις σηρείνες που με καλούσαν προς τις πέτρες και την καταστροφή και σαν τον Οδυσσέα έμεινα «δεμένος» στο κάθισμα του ταξί, χωρίς να απαντήσω. Ο ταξιτζής έμεινε σιωπηλός κι αυτός. Οι βορειοηπειρώτες δύο φορές μετά την τουρκοκρατία απελευθερώθηκαν και δύο φορές η μοίρα τους πήρε από την αγκαλιά της μητέρας Ελλάς. Στην διάρκεια της καταστροφής του εικοστού αιώνα, παρά το κουμουνιστικό καθεστώς του Χότζα, δεν έσβησε ο Ελληνισμός.
Οι βορειοηπειρώτες όπως πάντα έχουν γιά αιώνες δοκιμασθεί και αγωνισθεί να διατηρήσουν την θρησκεία, την γλώσσα, την ελληνική ταυτότητα και προ
πάντων την αθρωπιά τους. Αυτό το παράδειγμα είναι σημαντικό όχι μόνο γιά εμάς τους Έλληνες της διασποράς, αλλά και της Ελλάδος. Η Πολίτσανη, που το 1930 ήταν ένα χωριό με 2000 κατοίκους, σήμερα έχει 100 μόνιμους κατοίκους. Το σχολείο έχει μόνο 11 παιδιά και εκεί διδάσκετε η Αλβανική και η Ελληνική γλώσσα. Η εκκλησία των Αγίων Ταξιαρχών έχει ανακαινισθεί με χρήματα που έχουν διαθέσει οι Πολιτσανίτες στην Αμερική και στην Ελλάδα. Δυστηχώς οι νεαροί, λόγω της οικονομικής κατάστασης και της κρατικής αμέλειας, έχουν αναγκασθεί να μετανασθεύσουν αλλού : Αμερική, Ελλάδα και Κύπρο. Το καλοκαίρι όμως αναγεννήται το χωριό και ακούγετε ένας αντίλαλος, τα γέλια και οι φωνές των παιδιών. Στο μικρό καφενείο, απέναντι από την πλατεία του χωριού, κάθησα με τους άνδρες του χωριού και μέσα στα πρόσωπά τους έβλεπα τα πρόσωπα με τα οποία μεγάλωσα. Ξαφνικά έρχετε ένας ψηλός γεροντο-παληκαράς, ο κύριος Μιχάλης, μαυρισμένος από τον ήλιο, με χέρια μεγάλα και δυνατά και πέρνει το χέρι μου, που χάθηκε μέσα στο δικό του, και με διατάζει : «Έλα μαζί μου». Με οδήγησε σε ένα μικρό
πέτρινο σπιτάκι. Μέσα στην αυλή αυτού του σπιτιού αντίκρισα μιά εικόνα αξέχαστη. Κάτω από μιά κρεββατίνα, γεμάτη σταφύλια, καθότανε ένας περήφανος γέροντας, ετών 95, ο κύριος Νικόλας και πλάι η πιστή γυναίκα του, η κυρία Φρώσο. Μέσα στα μάτια τους διάβαζα μιά ιστορία γεμέτη πόλεμο, φτώχεια, εξορία και φυλακή. «Αυτός είναι ο Σταύρος Νάσσης, από το σόϊ Τζελάτι» αναγγέλει ο κύριος Μιχάλης. Και αμέσως δακρίζουν τα μάτια τους και λένε : «καλώς το παιδί μας, καλώς ήλθες».
Η κυρία Φρώσο τρέχει να βγάλη το τσίπουρο, το λουκούμι, το γλυκό και έτσι γινόταν από σπίτι σε σπίτι. Εγώ που δεν είχα προσφέρει τίποτα στο χωριό, αυτό μου έδωσε τόσα πολύτιμα πράματα. Το κυριότερο είναι ένας πίνακας, «Ανθρώπινη ζωή». Κάτι που χάνετε μέσα στην ταχύτητα και το πολιτιστικό και πνευματικό χάος που έχουμε κατωρθόσει γιά τον εαυτό μας. Σε αυτή την θρησκευτική έρημο που ζούμε εξαφανίζεται η ευγένεια, ο σεβασμός γιά τον άλλον, η συμπαράσταση, δηλαδή τα πολιτιστικά και πνευματικά στοιχεία όπου στηρίζετε η κοινωνία μας. Τώρα τα υποτιμάμε αυτά ώς άχρηστα. Όπως λέει ο μεγάλος φιλόσοφος (γιά εμένα) ο πεθερός μου, μόνο όταν θα μπορούμε να τα ξαναγνωρίσουμε αυτά τα απαραίτητα, θα μπορούμε να γίνουμε πάλι φιλότιμοι και να διακρίνουμε το σωστό. Η κληρονομιά της Πολίτσανης δεν έχει τιμή, γιατί το μέρος αυτό μου έδωσε την ταυτότητά μου. Όπως δημιούργησε η Πολίτσανη τους προγόνους μου, έτσι και αυτοί με δημιούργησαν σαν τον εαυτό τους. Το αίμα τους τρέχει στις φλέβες μου, αλλά τα πιό σημαντικά, τα αισθήματα, η περηφάνεια, η πίστη, η ιστορία και η αγάπη τους, ζούνε μέσα στην καρδιά μου. Τελικά τα φαντάσματα δεν είναι πιά φαντάσματα, τα ονόματα στους τάφους και τα πρόσωπα στις ξεθωριασμένες φωτογραφίες ζούνε μέσα μας και όποιος μπορεί να το δεί το καταλαβαίνει, ότι μένουν αθάνατοι στην μνήμη μας. Η Πολίτσανη δεν μας ξεχνά, φτάνει να μην την ξεχάσουμε και εμείς. Σταύρος Νικολάου Νάσσης Αθήναι, 1 Αυγούστου 2007
The Greek American community has lost one of its clearest inspirational voices, Dr. Nicholas Stavrou, Professor Emeritus at Howard University in Washington, D.C. As a champion of Hellenism and a leading Balkan expert he was a spokesman for the rights of the Greek minority in his native Northern Epirus. Born in the village of Griazdani, his family was targeted and persecuted by the regime of communist dictator, Enver Hoxha. They fled to Greece through the mine filled mountains arriving in Ioannina, Greece after enduring terrible hardships. His older brother Grigorios (left) decided to play an active role in the struggle against the Albanian communists, fighting to free Northern Epirus and his Greek brothers who lived there.
Eventually he was betrayed by a close family relative after returning to Albania despite the warnings he received from his commanding officers in Greek Intelligence that the Albanians had set a trap for him. He was eventuallly wounded and captured after a six hour battle. Despite repeated torture and a show trial Grigorios remained defiant, ridiculing the regime and angering the judges. Standing before the judges he shouted: "I know, that you will execute me, but you cannot execute Hellenism." He was thereafter summarily executed.
Nicholas Stavrou later immigrated to the United States, simultaneously working three jobs and attending college, earning a doctorate in political science. He swore that he would not die until he found his brother’s bones and buried them alongside his parents’ in Greece.
Unfortunately, despite his herculean efforts and exhausting all the means at his disposal he was never able to recover his brother's remains. He wrote a beautiful article relating his brother's story, a story of bravery, patriotism and tragedy that will stand as a lasting testament to both men.
I have embedded the entire text of that article in this post. Press the first button at the bottom of the page to enlarge.
The bus ride to Thermo took nearly four hours. The bus made its way through the mountain passes to the coastal route along the southern coast of mainland Greece, heading west. I wasn't yet ready to return to Athens since I had promised a friend to visit the town and write about the nursing home being built there. Having spent a few days with my son, a monk, in the monastery where he lived, my mind was full of many mixed emotions. Yet God in his infinite wisdom would bring me some semblance of peace amongst strangers. Thermo a small town with a population of two thousand is located in the perfecture of Aeotolia, on the banks of the largest natural lake in Greece named Lake Trichonia.
The town is about 10 km from the Messolonghi, the scene of much fighting during the Greek Revolution and a stones throw from the village of Mega Dendron, the birthplace of Saint Kosmas. The people of Thermo and its surrounding villages are part of the "other Greece" I often write about. The remnant of a Greece where faith, tradition and filotimo are still prized, where children play outside, fresh laundry sways in the breeze and the church bells call the faithful to prayer.
There is an old Russian saying, you get the priest you deserve. In this regard the people of Thermo are truly blessed to have Father Konstandinos, as presbyter of St Demetrios Church. God has given them the kind of priest every community needs. He is their priest, their neighbor, and most importnatly someone who shares their trials and tribulations. Born and raised in one of the distant mountain villages near Thermo during the Greek Civil War, he was ordained a priest and served in a small village named Krisovista where he was also the school teacher. The small school house where he taught for so many years is empty now, a silent witness to a time when the village echoed with the sounds of children playing. Father Konstantinos is only the latest version of a long line of village priests that have been with us since Greeks cast aside their idols and first accepted Christianity almost two thousand years ago. A few miles away is the birthplace of Saint Kosmas. During the Ottoman occupation it was he who traveled throughout Greece and Northern Epirus now part of Albania, where he is revered, preaching the gospel and helping people preserve their Orthodox faith. He was hanged for his efforts. He and generations of other priests during the five hundred long years of occupation and enslavement ensured the survival of a Greek identity, the ramblings of revisionist historians notwithstanding. Father Konstantinos is readily visible, long white beard and black cossack. Walking through town people come up to him and greet him, kissing his hand respectfully. I think that there are times he would prefer the quiet life of a monastic, tucked away in the serene setting of an isolated monastery where he could pray and seek a modicum of peace from the world we live in. God had other plans for him. He married, became a priest and the father of seven children and the sheperd of a wayward flock of assorted struggling believers and non-believers. The village priest sees us through the important milestones in our lives. He baptizes us, unites us in holy matrimony, hears our confessions, and prays for the salvation of our souls when we die. An Orthodox priest offers God’s gifts to His people as well as being set aside as being the people’s gift to God. God comes to us in a very special way through the sacraments and only a priest who has been given the authority by the Church through Christ can administer those sacraments. Like the Apostles they remind us of what Christ taught when He was among us. We expect a great deal of our priests and they in turn labor diligently on our behalf, though at times they too stumble and fail as we do.
Small villages and communities were once the lifeblood of the nation. As Greeks left moving in droves to large urban areas like Athens or abroad, eventually so did the Greek state. No more City Hall, no police, fire department, school, or doctor. Only the stroke of the church bell remained and a few old men and women. The only one who could still minister to those who stayed behind is the priest, teacher and doctor of souls, at their side during times of great joy and great sorrow. Even in the midst of such despair and pessimism, genuine and authentic priests stand by our side. When they fail to do so, when the Church stands idly by in the midst of such agony, it shirks its historic role and the source of its strength. In Greece elder care has been the responsibility of family members and the extended family home. Increasingly, however, as in other modern societies, many elderly, living longer lives and separated from family, are no longer able to adequately care for themselves. For a variety of reasons they have to fend for themselves and often are unable to do so. Too proud to ask for help, they are marginalized, living lives of quiet desperation, unseen and unloved. Science and technology have extended but have not always improved the quality of their lives. Father Konstantinos who ministers to the needs of his older parishoners, traveling to their homes to visit them, understands better than most their need. A few years ago, one of his flock, an elderly widow, lost her home in a house fire. Homeless and without family to care for her, Father and his Presbytera took her in to their home and she became one of the family until her death. The idea of building a nursing home for the elderly was planted in one man's mind and has since begun to bear fruit. Today with the help of a Greek-Austraian architect who has drawn up a state of the art design for such a refuge and the efforts of the local populace, the first phase of the construction has been completed. The shell of the building now stands as a silent witness to what a community and their faithful priest can accomplish.
As we walked through the structure I could sense that Father Konstantinos was looking at it differently. He was envisioning it not as it was, large cement columns, stairs and floors but as a real home where the elderly could be cared for and live out their final years in dignity and fellowship. While I wondered how such a small community in the midst of what can only be called a depression, could raise the remaining one million Euros to complete the project, bereft of any outside government aid, he was full of hope and faith that God would indeed provide.
We talked for hours that evening next to a warm fire eating our meal. We talked about his dream, about the people of Thermo, his family and my family. I was a stranger yet this kindly man and his family had opened their home and hearts not only to me but to others and in so doing his dream became my dream. That night I slept more peacefully than I had for quite some time. The next day I left for Athens. As the countryside sped past I thought to myself about the crisis that Greece finds itself in. How will Greeks find a way out of the economic morass they now find themselves in? Will they turn inward and tear each other as they have often done in the past or will they summon the very qualities that have allowed to them to survive thousands of years? In this little corner of Greece I had seen hope for the future. A future where citizens take care of each other without depending on the government handouts that make them wards of a capricious state. A future where people at the local level make the important decisions about their lives, not some faraway bureaucrat. A future where the people begin to put into practice in their own lives what Christ preached to the multitudes.
We Greek-Americans don't forget where we came from. We idealize Greece, even when at times it lets us down. Gentle reader, may we find it in our heart to help deserving Greek communities in their hour of need remembering that as long as Greeks and their progeny, no matter where they live in the world, have compassionate village priests and are the reciepients of their inspired leadership, we will survive no matter what comes our way. If you would like to contribute to the dream, please send your donation to:
Charlie was one of the lucky ones. I think he realized that more than most people, having survived the tough slog from Normandy to the heart of the Third Reich itself. As a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne he had jumped into Normandy on D-Day and later into Holland during Operation Market Garden, attached to the British 1st Airborne Divison. Wounded at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge he had left more than his share of buddies buried in shallow graves along the way. So many close calls, punctuated by that ever present gut wrenching fear and the sleepless nights. The horrific images of combat seared into one"s brain never go away, even with the passing of the years, yet he seldom talked about his experiences in the war. In 1945, Charlie's unit liberated Berchesgaten, the location of Hitler's mountain retreat known as the Eagle's Nest. It was there that the young battle hardened soldier who had come such a long way, would sit in Hitler's chair and rest his weary feet on the oak table around which Hitler's henchmen plotted so much mayhem.
The son of Greek immigrants, Charlie had grown up during hard times in the great depression, in a small mill town in rural Maine. At a time when he should have been looking forward to starting out in life, he was forced by events beyond his control, to join the Army and go off to war. Yes, he was one of the lucky ones, he came back and in one piece, always with the nagging thought, why me? Like many others of his generation, justifiably called the "greatest generation," he came back to live out his civilian life with honor and dignity. He worked hard, married his sweetheart, started a buisiness and raised a family.
I always looked up to Charlie as this larger than life heroic figure. Even in his nineties, his body succumbing to the years, he was an imposing figure in my eyes. He would bellow in church, making heads turn, because his hearing was all but gone, smiling from ear to ear and acknowledging even those that he did not know well. He no longer resembled the young, hard charging paratrooper in the old photo I had once seen, though his enthusiasm and zest for life had never faded. These days we look in all the wrong places for our heroes, missing completely the one's in our very midst. The guys like Charlie, who never shirk from their duty. They love their wives and their children, their church, community, and country. They go to work day in and day out, supporting their families, raising their kids as best they can. They join fraternal organizations like AHEPA and the American Legion, they vote and are good stewards of their communities, they obey the laws of the land and most importantly they set the example for the rest of us. They are the silent bedrock on which our society is built. Seldom recognized nor seeking recognition.
The beautiful sunny fall day Charlie was buried, his flag draped coffin was surrounded by a large crowd who mourned his passing. I stood their thinking about how we leave this world with not much more than what we enter it with. Except for his obituary, Charlie's death was hardly noticed by the world at large. He was not well known outside of his small community, nor did he have any claim to everlasting fame. Charlie however left behind a beautiful legacy, a life well lived, a wife, children and grandchildren who loved him dearly, and a community that will remember him fondly. Amidst the falling leaves, the burial detail folded the American flag in twelve precise movements handing it to the Sargeant in charge. Ramrod straight in his crisp uniform the soldier gently placed it in the waiting arms of Charlie's widow, Antonia, leaning over, whispering an expression of a country's collective gratitude and sorrow: " On behalf of the President of the United States and the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service your loved one rendered this nation."
God speed Charlie, may the soil covering your grave rest lightly upon you.
This is Radio FREE ATHENS
Greeks! The German invaders are on the outskirts of Athens.
Brothers! Keep alive in your souls the spirit of the front
The invaders are coming to a deserted city with its homes closed to them.
Greeks! Keep your heads held high.
Attention, the radio station of Athens will in a short time no longer be Greek. It will be German and spreading lies.
Greeks, don't listen. we will continue to fight until the final victory.
LONG LIVE THE NATION OF THE GREEKS!
27 October 2011
Reuters. Greek sovereignty was further undermined by eurozone leaders today, as Germany demanded a "durable" supervision on the ground of its economic policy-making under the terms of a second €130 billion bail-out.
The new rescue package, which comes with a 50 percent debt cut by private lenders and is to run until 2020, will include a "monitoring capacity on the ground" instead of current visits every three months by the troika of European Commission, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank lenders, the summit communique said.
The aim of the mission will be to "advise and offer assistance in order to ensure the timely and full implementation of the reforms."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for the permanent presence instead of the current set-up, which sees the troika "coming and going every three months."
In a dark blue jacket reflecting the mood in and about the eurozone, Merkel abandoned her usual cautious rhetoric warned outright of a war.
"Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. They are not for granted. That's why I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails," Merkel said, followed by a long applause from all political groups.
"We have a historical obligation: To protect by all means Europe's unification process begun by our forefathers."
And the Greek heroes of 1940 wept.
When I lived in Greece in the 80s, strays were part of the landscape. They were ever present, sleeping in the shade where they could find it or sitting while watching you patiently with big sad eyes as you ate at a sidewalk taverna. Occasionally someone would toss them a tidbit, they would wag their tails in thanks and slink off somewhere to enjoy it far from prying eyes. Back then Greeks looked upon dogs as serving a purpose. They were guards dogs and hunting dogs, living on the food their masters discarded. During the famine in World War II dogs were a coveted source of food, disappearing for a time from the Athenian landscape. Even in the best of times Greeks didn't keep dogs indoors and they certainly didn't sleep on their sofas or beds. Keeping dogs as pets was just coming into vogue yet even those kept as pets weren't dressed up in cute costumes nor did they receive healthcare services on a par with humans. If they were lucky they had a courtyard as their kingdom, sometimes they lived on high Athenian balconies, spending their time pacing back and forth or barking at some percieved intuder. A few were chained up on invariably short chains, often in the blazing Mediterranean sun with an empty water bowl to keep them company.
Needless to say, many escaped. Who could blame them? Some were turned loose to fend for themselves when their owners tired of them. They were forced to wander aimlessly the streets and neighborhoods of Athens. Survival hinged to a great extent on intelligence, those that didn't make the cut ended up dead on the side of a road, the victim of some speeding motorist in a hurry to get to his next destination. More than once I watched marveling as a stray waited patiently at a busy corner, until the humans there decided it was safe to cross the throughfare and the stray crossing safely with them. These strays, despite being the victims of man's cruelty or at best indifference, had a gentleness about them. They were wary of humans but never held a grudge against them it seemed to me. They realized that survival was dependednt on these strange two legged creatures with whom their wild ancestors had forged an unbreakable contract thousands of years ago around some campfire surrounded by the forbidding darkness beyond. If man broke that contract now and then, there was always hope that another one would come around the next corner and make things right once again.
They wandered all over the city of Athens, from the fashionable districts, a stones throw from the center of the city, to the ever expanding suburbs dotted with apartments in various stages of constructions and dirt roads still waiting to be paved. I lived in one of those suburbs called Anovoula in a little first floor apartment which I found when I arrived in Greece. The apartment building was owned by a Greek gentleman who had spent his youth making his fortune in South Africa and had only recently returned to Greece. He had a teenage son and daughter, so like all good Greeks he had built an apartment building with three floors, one for himself and his spouse and one each for his children when they married. And like any good Greek he thumbed his nose at the law that prohibited first floor aparatments. He proceeded to build one under the very noses of the municipal authorities which he promptly rented to the first American serviceman, pockets bulging with American dollars, he could find.
It was there in Anovoula that I began my first experience of life in Greece, being the first person in my "Greek" family to actually live within the borders of the modern Greek state. I worked in an office building near Syntagma Square across from the stately Grande Bretagne. Heady times. Every afternoon I would arrive home, change and go out for a run. It was my way to blow off steam, more importantly it was essential to staying in shape since I would eventually return to the real Marine Corps with its emphasis on physical fitness. Running up and down the surrounding hills of my neighborhood, I received more than my share of surprised looks. Greeks didn't go jogging and certainly not in the afternoon heat, that was only something some crazy amerikanaki did.
It was on one of those runs that I first met a yellow female mutt which I named Kukla, in memory of a beloved family dog that I grew up with. Kukla means "doll, " and so she was, on the inside and out. I had seen her more than a few times meandering through the neighborhood during my daily jaunt through Anovoula. I started carrying a treat or two with me and when I would see her I would motion to her and call her new name. At first she would approach warily and sit about 20 feet or so from me, watching me intently. I'd throw her a morsel and she would smell it and lick it a few times then gobble it up. For weeks, each time I'd throw something to her the distance between us became shorter until eventually she trusted me enough to let me feed her from my hand. She would follow me home at a distance and I would get her a bowl of water and feed her. Then we would sit for a while and enjoy the sun dipping slowly into the sea below. I would pat her on the head, that was her signal to leave and off she would go into the night.
So it went. We became dependent on one another. We both satisfied an important need in the other, the need to be wanted and loved by another creature. I was far away from home, living alone and Kukla was without an owner, someone to feed and pet her. She became a regualr visitor to the street I lived on, I could always depend on her being nearby when I pulled up in my car. I'd whistle and she would come running at full speed to jump on me repeatedly as if she had found a long lost friend. We had become inseparable, a common sight together. She had begun to put some meat on her bones and was no longer covered by engorged ticks. She would sit quietly and allow me to pick each tick off with tweezers depositing them in a can. Kukla had become a neighborhood fixture, so much so that the locals were calling her Kukla as well.
Kukla began following me on my daily runs, sticking dutifully at my side, even when it appeared she was having difficulty keeping up, falling further and further behind. I'd slow down a bit and she would catch up, not to be out done. Once a ferocious looking German Sheperd came out of a walled garden barking furiously at me, baring its teeth, the terrified owner running after him trying to get to him before he got to me. I looked around for a rock to throw when Kukla came out of nowhere lunging at that hulk of a dog. She latched on to his ear biting down hard. It was obviously not the first time she had been involved in a dogfight, quickly gaining the upper hand. The German Sheperd yelped in pain and it was over. She let him go and he scurried away tail between his legs but not before his owner put a well placed kick in his hind quarters to add insult to injury. That night we shared souvlakia together until we could eat no more, their aroma like the sweet smell of victory.
Despite our friendship Kukla was always a free spirit. She would spend time with me but I think she instinctively sensed that our time together would come to an end. Eventually I realized Kukla was carrying puppies and her time was nigh at hand. For the first time she came to my door scratching at it, something she had never done before. When I opened the door, she walked right in, found a corner and plopped herself down. She was going to give birth in my apartment, as if she knew this would be the safest place to do so. All I could think of was a brood of yelping little puppies running all over my apartment and my landlord screaming bloody murder. I set to work building a makeshift whelping box, setting it up in a corner of an empty lot. I put a blanket in it, laid a water bowl next to it then went back to my apartment where I put a makeshift leash on Kukla to take her away. I will never forget the way she looked at me with her accusing eyes while I put the rope around her neck.
I stayed by her side that night until she gave birth to three puppies who sucked eagerly at her tit. Two eventually died and I buried them side by side together, wrapped in a cloth. The remaining white and yellow puppy thrived. One of the neighbors, a Greek-Australian came over to pay Kukla a visit and see the new puppy with his seven year old son, who immediately fell in love with the little ball of fur. Eventually they took the puppy away from Kukla and it was saved from a life on the street. A few weeks later I came home one night and whistled for Kukla. It went unanswered, again the next day and every day thereafter. I searched for her everywhere however, I never found out what happened to her. She had left my life as suddenly and without warning as she had enetered it.
Kukla is just a memory now, like many of the other animals that have graced my life. Sometimes I wonder if they go to heaven. Could there be a better place for God's own creatures that love us unconditionally even when we are less than kind to them? Shall we meet all our loved ones in the afterlife? If so, I hope it includes all the four legged companions that I have loved and who have loved me. May they all come running when I whistle, once again.
Another Greek Festival is behind us. Everyone involved is exhausted but as we kick back we have a sense of accomplishment and a job well done. I always shake my head thinking of what goes into such a difficult endeaver; the planning, dedication and long hours of truly hard work which start months before the event takes place. Young and old, they come together to celebrate their heritage and faith. Most importantly they provide the larger community living proof of what a group of people can achieve by working together unselfishly toward a common goal. I pray that those who came and struggled before us can see their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren from above and smile.
When I was a college student I washed dishes for two summers in a restaurant owned by a Greek who never went beyond high school yet eventually became a state senator. Mama was aghast when she found out what her son was doing. "We didn't come to America so you could wash dishes," she scolded her son, the scholar. "But Ma, I don't intend to wash dishes all my life, just long enough to get through school." So many years later, I find myself in the church kitchen every year, among others, washing a tower of pots and pans for three days. It is a humbling experience, exhausting work, but strangely satisfying. In doing it I often wonder about the young immigrants, past and present, who do such back breaking work, hoping for a better life. I am thankful for my family, my community and living in a country where we enjoy the freedoms that we do.
The highlight of the festivities, at least for me, is to watch our young people, dressed in the simple costumes of their ancestors and dancing their dances with the same spirit they once did. As Anna and I looked on as our younger son, Chris, lead the other dancers, our hearts swelled with pride and we were overwhelmed with a bittersweet sense that our youngest too is now a grown man. He is off to college in the Fall and as parents we can only hope that he carries in his big heart the heritage and faith that is our legacy to him.
My friend and fellow Marine, Kevin, sent me this video that I wanted to share with you. Thirty eight years ago I was a gung-ho, newly minted, Marine Second Lieutenant attending the Basic School at Quantico, Virginia. A year later many of us were to find ourselves in Cambodia and South Vietnam. Today a new generation of Marines continues on in places whose names most Americans will never know. The uniforms change but the faces are the same. We pray for their safe return. SEMPER FI!
As someone who loves Greece and Greeks, I watch with a great deal of sadness as that country, once again, stares into the abyss. A hundred years ago Greece was smashing the Ottoman Empire, expanding its borders to encompass its far flung people and most importantly, facing the future with hope and confidence. Now Greece has become an object of ridicule, a new Ottoman Empire is reasserting itself, and Greeks face the future with despair and self doubt. Looking back at the last century one can only see the wreckage of one mitigated disaster after another. Certainly the history of Greeks as a people has reached the heights of Olympus and descended into the bowels of Hades; it has been marked by Saintliness and depravity. It is, after all, part of the larger history of humankind.
I remember a time when Greece was hardly worthy of mention in the press. A land supposedly peopled by happy mustachioed Zorbas, dancing, sipping ouzo and eating backlava. Now Greece makes the front page of Drudge and the New York Times almost on a daily basis. The media smells blood and the feeding frenzy has begun. Greeks have suddenly become the laziest and corrupt human beings on earth. They are depicted as bandana wearing anarchists throwing firebombs, living high on the hog off the handouts of hardworking, honest, blond, blue-eyed Europeans.
There is of course anger in Greece. They have circled the wagons and do what Greeks do best, tear each other apart. The blame game has begun, the Left blaming the Right and vice versa. The truth of the matter is that both sides have been complicit in the destruction not only of civil society but also in the wholesale looting of the country for financial gain by the political class. The average Greek, having voted loyally for his respective party for decades feels suddenly cheated and abandoned. They attended political rallies in the tens of thousands where they were mesmerized by a successive lineup of grifters who promised them life on easy street, doling out jobs and favors for votes.
Since the fall of the military dictatorship, Greece has increased it government workforce to 1 million workers, roughly 25% of the total number of people employed in the country. For Greek families having a member working for the state is a matter of economic survival. It is that bloated bureaucracy however, that has transformed the economy into a Soviet style system rife with corruption, over-regulation and poor productivity. Out of control trade unions, have added to the problem. As the population ages, the increasing number of pensioners is supported by an ever decreasing number of working adults. Young well educated Greeks in the most potentially productive demographic, 25-34 year olds, face an unemployment rate of 26% or a job that barely pays enough to live independently. Thus sidelined, with a private sector unable to produce enough jobs to keep up with demand, the Greek economy will continue to shrink and the misery will only get worse.
The 3.3 million workers (1.3 are self-employed) who make up the private sector in Greece are saddled with increasing and onerous taxation especially as Greece tries to downsize its enormous debt. Tax evasion accounts for the loss of 11 billion Euros per year. The Greeks are surpassed only by the South Koreans, for hard work according to 2008 study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). There is nothing wrong with Greeks as is quite evident by their success in every sphere and prodigious wealth creation outside of Greece. Regulations and the ownership of a large part of the economy by the government has created a climate where it is increasingly difficult to start a new business and expand existing ones. Thus unable to attract investors the Greek economy cannot possible compete. Despite this systemic weakness Greece joined the EU and was given an illusion of wealth. It got a stable currency at the cost of a rise in prices and cost of living. Cheap credit fueled consumer demand for goods produced by wealthier European countries like France and Germany. It also made possible a spending binge by the Greek government that has resulted in an unmanageable debt burden.
Make no mistake about it, however, the powerhouse economy of Europe, Germany, is less concerned about Greece than it is about the survival of the its banking system, not to mention currency, if Greece defaults. Unfortunately, restructuring debt will not solve the long term problem unless Greeks clean up their government, free up their private sector and ultimately build a sustainable future. Waiting in the wings are Russia and China anxious to get an economic and military foothold in this strategic area. They are poised to buy up large portions of the Greek economy as it struggles to privatize. Unfortunately their support, like that of the EU and US, always comes at a steep price.
Greeks have the talent and the brains to turn things around. The nagging question, historically, has always been whether they have the ability to put aside their differences and work together toward a common goal? Only time will tell. If Greece cannot diminish the role of an over-reaching state apparatus or reestablish economic freedom, then it must offer up another sacrificial lamb, one more generation of young Greeks, destined to emigrate abroad, because there is no future in the land of their birth.
With the outbreak of the World War in 1914, a reign of terror descended upon the land of Pontos, a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in modern-day northeastern Turkey which had been occupied by Greeks since antiquity. In dispatches from Constantinople the Austrian ambassador Pallavicini reported the of death and destruction that swept Greek villages throughout the Pontos. He relayed that Greek women and children were detained and carried off into captivity to be converted forcibly to Islam. His dispatches also reported that the Austrian Consul in Samsoun was told by the town's mayor that "we are getting rid of the Greeks as we did the Armenians." On July 31, 1917, before Greece had even entered the war, the Austrian Chancellor Hollweg reported to his cabinet that "all indications are that the Turks plan to eliminate the Greek element as enemies of the state, as they did earlier the Armenians. The strategy implemented by the Turks is of displacing people to the interior without taking measures for their survival by exposing them to death, hunger and illness. The abandoned homes are then looted and burned or destroyed."
All Christian men between the ages of 20-50 were told to report for military service within eleven days. The Christian recruits were not assigned to regular military units nor were they allowed to bear arms, instead they were assigned to the infamous labor battalions, the Amele Taroubou. These recruits were overworked and lacking food, clothing and shelter, the life expectancy in these units was less than 4 months. Many Christians deserted and went into hiding. It was the search for the fugitives or deserters that gave the Turkish gendarmes and vigilante Muslim mobs the excuse to enter the villages and homes of the all infidels and to initiate the process of intimidation, rape, theft and murder throughout the Pontos. Between December 1916 and February 1917, the German Consul in Samsoun reported that in his region alone, on the pretext of seeking 300 Greek deserters, some 88 Greek villages were torched. Between 1914-1918 over 100,000 Pontic Greek unarmed civilians of all ages and gender perished at the hands of the Turks; and many others fled to Russia and Greece.
The Russians occupied the area in 1916 but after the fall of the Kerensky government in 1918, they withdrew not only from Pontos but also from the adjacent territories of Kars and Ardahan, which had been annexed by Russia in 1878. With this withdrawal, thousands of Pontians, some 70,000 from Kars alone, followed the Russian army into the Caucasus, fearful for their lives in the wake of the advancing Turkish troops. Their situation was so desperate that the British control authorities in Batoum, Georgia demanded that the Greek Government repatriate these destitute refugees to Greece.
In May 1919, the Greek Government created a special delegation under the leadership of writer Nikos Kazantzakis to help the Greeks of the Caucasus. Kazantakis' mission was to save thousands of destitute refugees who were trying to escape from the areas of the Caucasus that were falling to the Turkish army. In the interior of Southern Russia, thousands of other Greeks were trying to reach the cities of Tiflis (Tbilisi) and Batumi before the advancement of the Bolshevik army. Over 110,ooo refugees were evacuated resettled in Northern Greece. The following is an excerpt from Report to Greco, the autobiography written by Kazantzakis, published by his widow in 1961 and beautifully translated by P.A. Bien:
The ship was filled with human beings uprooted from their land; I was on my way to transplant them in Greece. People, horses, oxen, kneading troughs, cradles, mattresses, holy icons, Bibles, picks, shovels—all were fleeing the Bolsheviks and Kurds and traveling toward free Greece. It is in no way shame- ful to say that I was deeply moved. I felt as though I were a centaur and that this ship with the great troop on it, was my body from the neck down.
This post first appeared in 2007. I am reposting it with some changes because the entire full length movie is now available on YouTube in 12 parts with English subtitles. The first two parts are available at the bottom of the post to get you started. It is well worth your time.
I've been a movie fan since I was a little snot nosed kid. There was always something about the silver screen that was bigger than life. Back then, movies were not inundated with cheap violence and sex. They made us laugh, they made us cheer, sometimes we cried. They gave us a peek at ourselves or a vision of who we wanted to be. I remember seeing my first movie in a real theater. It was an afternoon matinee of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein in black and white, preceded by a Tom & Jerry cartoon. My cousin Harilaos and it seemed like every other kid from Greektown were at the Mutual movie theater on Main Street in Saco, Maine that afternoon long ago. We ate popcorn and consumed candy bars like there was no tomorrow and we laughed so hard we almost peed in our pants.
I don't make it over to the movie theater much these days. Usually we will watch a movie by ourselves or sometimes with friends. All of us have seen a movie or two whose impact is powerful, one that lasts for days or even years. "Ostrov" is just such an experience. Those who watch it will be blessed with a rare opportunity to watch a spiritually uplifting and spiritually challenging film that is both starkly beautiful and contains a powerful message. This film was not produced in or by Hollywood simply because I don't really think there is anyone in Hollywood capable of understanding the Orthodox mindset or world view nor of really tackling the underlying problems that we face as a society.
"Ostrov" or "The Island" written by Dmitri Sobolev, begins on a dark night in 1942, when a Russian barge hauling much needed coal, piloted by young captain Tikhon (Aleksei Zelenski) is captured by a German patrol boat. Tikhon and his one man crew Anatoly (Timofei Tribuntzev) attempt to hide in the mounds of coal. Anatoly is discovered and after a beating he betrays Tikhon's location. Anatoly begs for his life while his comrade calmly waits to be executed while smoking a cigarette. The Nazi commander suddenly passes a gun to his quailing mate, Anatoly and orders him to do the deed, in exchange for his life. Hysterical with fear, Anatoly pulls the trigger and Tikhon tumbles into the frigid water. The Germans leave after they place an explosive charge on the boat and unknowingly Anatoly cheers ecstatically. Suddenly there is a loud explosion and as the sun rises the next day Anatoly is washed up on the beach and rescued by monks from a nearby monastery situated on an isolated island.
The action then flashes forward to 1976. In a small seaside monastery, Anatoly (Mamonov) is now a balding old man. He wears tattered clothing and his face is blackened, covered with soot. He works tirelessly stoking the monastery's boiler with the coal from the wreck of his sunken barge while he lives like a hermit in an outlying cabin. He has spent his life trying to expiate his guilt and atone for the crime of killing his captain, but his soul can find no peace. Though his fellow monks avoid the eccentric fellow, he has earned a reputation among the local population as a Holy Man capable of healing and predicting the future. Anatoly's help, however, carries a heavy price. He demands that the beneficiary -- in one case, a unwed pregnant girl; in another, a mother whose son can't walk -- sacrifice all their worldly goals to God's will.
Anatoly is an example of a peculiar form of Orthodox asceticism. The Russian version called, the yurodivy is a Holy Fool or Fool for Christ, one who acts intentionally foolish in the eyes of men for the sake of Christ. Part of the biblical basis is 1 Corinthians 3:18-19 "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." The following excerpt explains the whole concept much better than I ever could: "The fool-for-Christ sets for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference. The spiritual feat of foolishness for Christ was especially widespread in Russia. (Excerpted from The Law of God, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY: 1993) The Russian Orthodox Church numbers 36 yurodivye among its saints, most prominently Basil, Fool for Christ, who gives his name to Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.The most well-known modern example in the Russian Church is perhaps St. Xenia of St. Petersburg.
"The Island" comes at a critical juncture in Russian history when Russians are trying to forge a distinctly Russian solution to the failures of both Communism, Perestroika and now the Post-Communist era. Ultimately the film asks the favorite Russian question: Who is guilty? And to that, it adds another: How can we be redeemed? The Island has struck a chord among Russians. It has been a box office smash in Russia and garnered numerous awards both in and outside Russia. Even the Russian Orthodox Church has given its blessing. Director Pavel Lungin was surprised that the church accepted his film. "I thought they would have problems with something, at least in the details." Instead, some bishops organized events around the film and advertised it in their churches. Lungin said he believes in God but does not follow any structured religion. "The material world hasn't given us any answers to our questions," he said. "People feel lost in a spiritual way. . . . There are these feelings of guilt and sin and at the same time an idea that people can be redeemed."
"The Island" is an extraordinary film. It is about human weakness, hypocrisy, repentance, and the possibility of redemption inherent in every one of us. Above all, it is about the importance of putting faith and our personal relationship with God at the center of our lives.
He was a brave boy;
With his dull gold buttons and his pistol
With a man's air in his step
And his helmet a shining spot
They easily reached his mind
That never knew evil
With his soldier's left and right
And vengenace for injustice before him
Fire against lawless fire!
With blood above his eyebrows
The Albanian mountains thundered
Then they melted snow to rinse
His body, silent shipwreck of dawn
And his mouth a songless bird
And his hands, open spaces of desolation
The mountains of Albania thundered
They did not weep
Why should they weep?
He was a brave boy!
Excerpt from "The Heroic Song of Mourning for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign" by Odysseus Elytis
In March 1941 , the Italian Army launched a last ditch assault to break Greek resistance on the Albanian front. This offensive known as "Operazione Primavera" (Operation Springtime) was planned to its last detail and supervised by Mussolini himself who arrived to Albania on March 2nd. For 17 days, a number of intense attacks were launched on the Greek positions. The strategic objective known as Hill 731, stood at the center of the Italian effort. The Italians made every attempt to seize this objective which was the key to their entire effort. The Greeks, fighting outnumbered and outgunned exceeded all their hopes and stopped the enemy cold.
The Italian offensive was concentrated along a four mile front, against which they threw an entire Corps. The primary assault was launched by three infantry divisions and two elite Blackshirt battalions, with two more divisions in reserve. The secondary assault was launched by three infantry divisions with two more in reserve. There were also, 15 independent well trained battalions of Bersaglieri, Alpini and Blackshirts available to be thrown into the effort. The Greek defensive line was held by the men of the Greek 1st "Thessaly" Infantry Division, between Trebeshin-Bubeshi, in the area surrounding Hill 731 and high ground at Breghu-Rapit.
Greek forces were well prepared. Italian intentions had been known for some time and the Greeks were dug in and ready for what was to come. Their orders were to hold captured territory and launch counter-attacks when feasible. The "Thessaly" Division under Major General Vassilios Vrachnos
had six frontline battalions and three in reserve, divided into two sectors held by three Battalions of the 5th "Trikala" Regiment, under Lt.Col Themistocles Ketseas
a battalion was on 731, under Major Demetrios Kasslas (right)
and another battalion was on Breghu-Rapit, under Major Chimariotes
with a reserve (stationed at Spi-kamarate under Major Perrakis). On March 9th, the following order was issued by LtCol Ketseas:
"Hold your positions at all costs. I'm expecting reports, either by liaison or by phone, for the tactical situation to your left, to your right and upfront. Nobody will abandon his position or move to the rear. We shall all die here."
The Italian attack begins at 6:00 AM while Mussolini observed the battlefield. Within the next two-three hours, tens of thousands of artillery shells are fired against the Greek positions. Over two hundred aircraft bomb the Greek entrenchments. Two hours later, the Italians launch a primary attack on the Ketseas sector against 731 and the Breghu-Rapit heights. Despite the intense Greek artillery fire, Italian troops of the Cagliari Division manage to reach the steep slopes of both heights. The Greeks unable to stop the Italian attack by firing their rifles and machine guns, charged at the oncoming Italians with fixed bayonets, under the cover of dense smoke. By late afternoon, the Italians had launched four consecutive attacks, all repulsed by the Greeks. Height 717 was finally captured by the Italians, despite a series of Greek atempts to recapture it.
The Italian "BARI" Division, attempts to break the Greek defensive line at Trebeshin by simultaneously launching three consecutive attacks on Hill 731.
Activity continued all day along the front-line with barrages of artillery fire. That night, two battalions of the 26th Blackshirt Legion advanced through the gorge between the Proi-Math and Qjafe-Luzhit heights attempting to bypass the defenders on 731. Their advance was detected, trapping them between deadly fire coming from the defensive positions on both heights. Two hundred fifty Blackshirts were killed and five hundred captured despite diversionary attacks to rescue them.
At early dawn, elements of the BARI Division, launched attacks on heights 709, 710, Breghu-Rapit, Qjafe-Luzhit and 731. Ketseas' men repelled the Italians and in some cases, counter-attacked. In the morning, the Italians concentrated their main effort on 731. They failed again. At Trebeshin, after an initial Italian artillery barrage, the attacking troops reached the steep slopes. The Greeks counter-attacked and hand-to-hand fighting commenced. Men on both sides fought with every weapon at hand including bayonets, pistols, and rocks. In the afternoon, the Greeks reinforced the defending units with the entire 19th "Serres" Regiment under Colonel Balis.
The Italian effort begins with a heavy artillery barrage. On this day, the Italian attacks were almost entirely concentrated on 731. A series of Italian attacks on the hill, were once again repelled by the Greeks. During the height of this engagement an infantry company under 1st Lt Isaac Lavrentides charges into the oncoming attacking Italians.
The Italians launched a new assault on 731. When the Greek units ran short of ammunition, they attacked the Italians with their bayonets. Greeks troops under Captain Koutrides and 2nd Lieutenant Hatzikyriakos counter-attacked with such fury that the Italian troops later nicknamed this assault "Contrataccato dei Animali" (Counter-attack of the Beasts). Koutrides who was leading the assault, was wounded twice but continued giving orders to his troops. Hatzikyriakos was killed in the melee at close quarters that followed.
The Italian High Command orders a series of night attacks. Each one fails with significant casualties.
On this day, the Italians threw in the battle, elements of an elite assault unit of the SIENA Division, the ARDITI D'ITALIA supported by four tanks. The Greek troops on 731 were caught by surprise and despite the effective fire of the Greek artillery, the first tank accompanied by the Arditi troops seize a portion of Hill 731. The Greeks are forced to abandon some of their positions but the tenacious defense by a platoon from the 10th company under 2nd Lt Georgios Tzathas
delays the Italian advance, "buying" time for the Greeks to launch a counter-attack. The main Greek attack was launched by the 9th Company under Lieutenant Isaac Lavrentides. Carrying just 20 rounds each, the Greeks fix bayonets and rush headlong into the Italians attempting to organize a defense of their newly gotten gains. Lt Tzathas, climbed onto the enemy tank and destroyed it by throwing a couple of grenades through the hatch. Hill 731 remained in Greek hands. Again, the bayonet proved to be the decisive weapon in the hands of the Greeks; of the approximately 300 Italians who gained the summit of 731 only 4 survived. One hundred fifty Greeks pay the butcher's bill for possession of the strategic heights.
A group of Italian stretcher bearers escorted by Catholic chaplains, holding a white flag, reached the foothill of 731, seeking a short cessation of hostilities, to bury their dead. The sight of the battlefield exceeded the limits of human imagination: human limbs scattered everywhere, weapons, limbless, chewed up trees. The stench was unbearable. When the winds shift, carrying it toward the enemy positions, Greek troops cheered.
The last large scale Italian attack was launched on Goliko mountain (behind 731) , defended by the Greek "Athens" Division . The Italians concentrated on a hill named "Donti" (Tooth) where 2,000 artillery shells rain down in a few short hours but the attack fails.
Heavy artillery barrages target 731.
At sunrise, Greeks troops attack and seized Hill 717. When they reached the top, they discover abandoned positions. The battle is finally over. During the seventeen day battle for 731, the 1st Division casualties are 27 Officers dead, 59 WIA, 531 men KIA, 2,028 WIA. It is thereafter named "the Iron Division."
May their memories be eternal and may their sacrifices serve to remind present day Greeks of the hard won freedoms they now enjoy and squander so easily.