Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Meaning of Greek Independence Day

March 25, in addition to being the Great Feast of the Annunciation, is also the day Greeks celebrate their independence from the Ottoman Empire. Although the Greek declaration of independence and the start of the revolt was in 1821, it took a decade of war, and the intervention of great powers Russia, the United Kingdom and France, to defeat the Islamic axis (which also included Egypt and Tunisia).

The Greeks had some dramatic initial successes against the Ottoman Turks, including defeating their navy in the Aegean, before the Egyptian forces re-captured the Peloponnese. But the Russian, French and English turned the tide, eventually destroying the combined Ottoman-Egyptian fleet, and the French aided the Greek armies in driving the Turks out of the Peloponnese. After years of negotiation, Greece was formally recognized as an independent nation in 1832.

Thanks be to God for the steely backbone and determined resistance of the Greek Orthodox, who were subjected to Muslim rule for nearly four hundred years following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The famous "Secret Schools" kept the Orthodox Christian Faith and the Hellenic culture alive during those dark years, while the soil was frequently watered with the blood of the Holy Neo-Martyrs. Great Church figures like St Kosmas of Aitolia and St Joachim (Papoulakis) of Vatopaidi Monastery, Mt Athos, traveled throughout Greece, teaching the people and bolstering their faith. The date of March 25 is recognized as Greek Independence Day for the significance of Bishop Germanos of Old Patros blessing the Greek banner at Agia Lavra at the beginning of the revolt on March 25, 1821 (see the image above, click to enlarge).

The Orthodox Church has always traditionally seen God's providential hand acting in contemporary events. Natural disasters, plagues, foreign invasion and subjugation under alien armies and false religions — as with Israel in the Old Testament — are interpreted as prophetic events, always calling us back to repentance, and providentially allowed by God to spur us to seek Christ and seek to be found in Him. The Greeks heeded this prophetic understanding of the Muslim takeover of Byzantium and Greece, and thus their Orthodox faith was the key component of their battle for freedom from four centuries (think of it!) of Muslim domination and persecution.

As we see the Islamic resurgence rising all around the world like an evil tide — with Muslim leaders and clerics alike calling for a million-man march on Jerusalem (the capitol of Israel), calling for the annihilation of Israel and the United States, calling for the overthrow of Rome, for turning Buckingham Palace into a mosque, calling for flying the flag of Islam over the White House — we must not merely resist in a secular sense, but must turn to the Lord and His Church in heartfelt repentance.

Dire times are surely ahead, yet we have the promises of Christ, who told us, "Do not fear those who can only kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do" (LK 12:4), and "Shall not God avenge His own elect, who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?" Christ assures us that He will "avenge us speedily!" (LK 18:7)

"Yet when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (LK 18:8)