Greek Independence Day: Celebrating Heroes and Philhellenes

The Greek flag-raising ceremony at Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan took place under sunny skies with the Evzones participating. (Photo by TNH/Kostas Bej)

This year, we celebrate the 199th Anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence. The plans for the bicentennial celebrations in 2021 are already underway and those who would like to participate can check out the official website: https://www.greece2021.gr.

As students of the Greek Revolution know, the seeds of revolution were planted long before March 25, 1821. Resistance, revolts, and uprisings took place throughout the Ottoman era.

The ideas of the Enlightenment sparked something that past revolts could not quite capture. As French philhellene Victor Hugo said, “all the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Following numerous attempts to break free from Ottoman oppression, and the sacrifices of numerous heroes over the years, the turning point had arrived for the liberation of Greece.

For those living outside of Greece, Greek Independence Day takes on a special meaning. It reminds us of what our ancestors fought and died for. On March 25, 1821, Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the flag of revolution over the Monastery of Agia Lavra in the Peloponnese. The cry “Freedom or death” became the motto of the Revolution. The date of March 25 is also a religious holiday, the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Panagia 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. Very few holidays have such powerful connections in the minds and hearts of the people through faith and history.

Though many of us live far away, our love for our Greek heritage, language, and homeland remain steadfast. The most famous heroes of the Greek War of Independence, Theodoros Kolokotronis, Georgios Karaiskakis, Yannis Makriyannis, Athanasios Diakos, Rigas Feraios, Papaflessas, Constantine Kanaris, Manto Mavrogenous, Andreas Miaoulis, Odysseas Androutsos, and Laskarina Bouboulina, still inspire us today with their remarkable stories.

We also remember and honor the many philhellenes who embraced the cause. Perhaps most well-known, Lord Byron, had been inspired by his travels in Greece before 1821 to write some of his most famous works. In his poems, he wrote movingly about the struggle of the people suffering under the oppression of the Ottoman Empire and brought wider attention to Greece and the fight for freedom. He died at Messolonghi, Greece on April 19, 1824. Another perhaps less well-known historical figure, the German Karl von Normann-Ehrenfels, sailed to Greece in early 1822 with other philhellenes to help in the revolution. He served as chief of staff to Alexandros Mavrokordatos in the Battle of Peta on July 16, 1822, and died of his wounds a few months later at Messolonghi. Philhellene committees in Europe and United States raised money for the war effort and for the relief of its victims, including the survivors of the 1822 massacre on Chios. Working together, the dream of freedom for Greece was realized.

We should also remember the countless, unnamed heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle to breathe free, even before 1821, like the women and children of Souli, immortalized in the Dance of Zalongo and the famous song lyrics, translated into English: The fish cannot live on the land/Nor the flower on the sand/And the women of Souli/Cannot live without freedom.

Although the various parades to show our Hellenic pride have been postponed or canceled this year due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, it is important to remember the stories and struggles of the past and how the Greek nation and people still endure despite the hardships and the crises. The indomitable Hellenic spirit continues to rise. ΖΗΤΩ Η ΕΛΛΑΣ! ΖΗΤΩ Η 25η Μαρτίου!

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