This Past Week in History

The procession of the miraculous icon of St. Irene Chrysovalantou in Astoria. (Photo by TNH/Costas Bej)

December 24:

On this day in 1947, an estimated 20,000 communists, led by guerilla General Markos Vafiadis, proclaimed the Provisional Democratic Government in northern Greece with Vafiadis as both Prime Minister and War Minister. Vafiadis, originally from the island of Chios, was a leading figure of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) during the Greek Civil War. He became a communist in his teens and fought with the partisans against the Germans in World War II. After World War II, he remained with the guerilla forces (Democratic Army of Greece “DSE”) through the Greek Civil War. After a few years, the DSE dissolved and Vafiadis was exiled to the Soviet Union where he was eventually ousted from the Communist Party. He returned to Greece after the general amnesty in 1983, and was elected to parliament as a supporter of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement in 1989.

December 25:

On this day in 1944, Prime Minister Winston Churchill left for Athens to seek an end to what was proving to be the beginning of the Greek Civil War. Athens was recently liberated from the Axis Powers of World War II – but was now beset by confrontation between the communist-controlled EAM and the British forces positioned in the Greek capital with both sides seeking control of the city. Churchill arrived in Athens determined to use his influence in negotiations between the Greek government and EAM in order to create a provisional government and to avoid the outbreak of civil war. He also wanted to keep Greece free of communist control.

December 26:

On this day in 1997, Greek economist and philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis died in Paris, France. He was born in Constantinople in 1922 but later in that same year, his family had to move to Athens due to the Greek-Turkish population exchange. He developed an interest in politics after he came into contact with Marxist thought and philosophy at the age of 13. Although trained in philosophy, Castoriadis also worked as a practicing economist and psychologist while authoring over 20 major works and numerous articles spanning many traditional philosophical subjects – including politics, economics, psychology, anthropology and ontology. He is remembered largely for his initial support for and subsequent break from Marxism as well as for his defense of an ethics and politics based on “lucid” deliberation and social and individual autonomy – the need to set limits or laws for oneself.

December 28:

On this day in 1991, the icon of St. Irene of the St. Irene Chrysovalantou Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Astoria was returned via a postal worker five days after it had been stolen by gunpoint from the Church. The icon was painted by a Greek monk in 1919 – but gained worldwide notice in 1990 when some worshippers saw the icon weep tears of grief on the eve of the Persian Gulf War. The icon’s jewel-encrusted gold frame, valued at more than $800,000 in 1991, was gone, but the renowned “weeping icon” was intact. The icon, a 6-by-8-inch painting on wood of the Greek Orthodox patron saint of peace and of the sick, is believed by many to possess healing powers.