Celebrating Greek Independence Day has a special meaning for the Greek community living abroad. Commemorating the start of the Greek War of Independence on March 25, 1821 when Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the flag of revolution over the Monastery of Agia Lavra in the Peloponnese, the commemoration is that rare combination of national and religious holiday.
March 25 is also the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she would be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. The double celebration honors the Mother of God – the Theotokos –and the faith that sustained the Greek people through the hard years of Ottoman oppression and then through the brutal years of war in the fight for freedom. The powerful connection in the minds and hearts of the community between faith and history is clear in all the events and celebrations surrounding the holiday, leading up to the various parades wherever Greeks happen to live across the globe.
The cry “Freedom or death” which became the motto of the revolution reminds us how much was at stake for our ancestors in the struggle for Greek Independence, and that the support for our Greek heritage, language, and homeland must remain steadfast if only to honor their sacrifice.
The names of many of the heroes of the Greek War of Independence are well known, Theodoros Kolokotronis, Georgios Karaiskakis, Yannis Makriyannis, Athanasios Diakos, Rigas Feraios, Papaflessas, Constantine Kanaris, Manto Mavrogenous, Andreas Miaoulis, Odysseas Androutsos, and Laskarina Bouboulina. We should, however, also remember those who paid the ultimate price for freedom without having their names recorded for posterity, like the women and children of Souli at the tragic end of the Souliote War of 1803, immortalized in the Dance of Zalongo and the famous song lyrics.
The struggle for freedom which began in 1821 continued on for much longer than the establishment of the modern Greek state in 1830. Only part of what we call Greece today was included at that time. It would take years of conflict and diplomacy, borders expanding and contracting and expanding again, until the map of Greece reached its present incarnation. Throughout those years, the people continued to uphold the ideals of Hellenism.
For example, the islands of the Dodecanese after millennia of upholding the Greek language, traditions, and faith, only became part of the Modern Greek nation after World War II. At the recent celebration of the 71st anniversary of Dodecanese unification, Federation of Dodecanese Societies President Maria Marangos said, “We are gathered here to pay tribute to all those who fought and sacrificed their lives, generation after generation. Our ancestors, during the years of slavery, did not bend, they did not give up, but they stood up, and bravely held onto their religion and language. This celebration is a tribute to them.”
The emotion inspired by the unification is still powerful and within recent memory for those who lived through the years of the Italian occupation and then the German occupation in World War II. It is especially vital today that we look back and remember the historic struggle for freedom and the tremendous responsibility to maintain that freedom in the face of all threats and to fight for justice for all.
As we march in the various parades to show our Hellenic pride, it is important to remember the stories and struggles of the past which shaped the Greek nation and people who still endure despite the hardships and the crises, and to also remember that we have a responsibility to maintain the ideals the heroes of 1821 fought for and won. Long live Greece! Long live the 25th of March! ΖΗΤΩ Η ΕΛΛΑΣ! ΖΗΤΩ Η 25η Μαρτίου!