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Historical Observations: Archbishop Chrysostomos 1922: A Commentary

September 6, 2020

On October 29, 1922, the Washington Times published an article on Archbishop Chrysostomos' martyrdom against the background of mayhem and murder perpetrated by the Kemalists against the Greeks and Armenians in Smyrna, the cosmopolitan commercial center that was the jewel of the Ottoman imperial crown. This beautiful city was torched and reduced to an ash heap by the Turks.

The article asserted that the French newspaper Le Figaro, which supported the French government's pro-Turkish policy, noted that news of the death of Chrysostomos was affirmed by the Bishop of Ephesus when he went to Athens and "who disguised himself as a sailor to escape from Smyrna." We don't know whether the bishop actually witnessed the Archbishop's death or heard about it from a second-hand source.

The Archbishop "was a very courageous man [who] remained at his post when the victorious Kemalist army entered Smyrna" and appealed to "the Turkish commanders to maintain order among their followers." As the shepherd of his flock, he urged his coreligionists "to be calm and sensible." However, the Turkish officers ignored his plea and didn't intervene, allowing "a band of the most savage and fanatical Mohammedans" to seize him.

On the other hand, the article doesn't reveal that the Kemalist commander, Nourredin Pasha, summoned Chrysostomos accompanied by a Turkish officer to come to the military headquarters to see him. Upon arrival, Nourredin accused him of being a traitor for his conduct during the Greek occupation of Smyrna. Nourredin went out to the balcony and addressed the angry mob below, stating that "if he has done good to you, do good to him; if he has done harm to you, do harm to him."

What followed is a graphic account of Chrysostomos' martyrdom as reported in the Washington Times. The article stated the mob tore off his beard, clothes and "subjected him to terrible tortures, even tearing out his tongue and pulling out his finger and toe-nails." Furthermore, his body was placed on the ground in Iki-Cheshmeli square [a Turkish district of Smyrna] where "one horse was tied by a long rope to one of his feet, another horse to another foot." His left and right arms were tied to horses in the same fashion. The "Turks mounted the four horses" with his "legs and arms torn by the horses in four directions."  The fanatical crowd roared its approval at what was taking place and "urged on the horses and howled with rage and satisfaction."

Chrysostomos is described as a "highly cultivated, refined, and scholarly man, a public figure, in fact, of much distinction." He served as Bishop of Drama in eastern Macedonia 1902-10, and elected Metropolitan of Smyrna in 1910-14 and 1919-22. He went into exile in 1914 spending his time in Constantinople and returning to Smyrna at the end of first world war.

He was courageous in taking on Ottoman officialdom in 1913 by saving four young Greek men from the gallows who had been falsely accused of attacking a Muslim woman on the island of Mitylene during the Balkan wars. Chrysostomos was able to produce the necessary "documentary evidence which saved them and with the assistance of foreign consuls stopped the executions."

According to the article, the Turks recalled "his patriotism, his bravery in rescuing [the young Greeks from their clutches] at the foot of the gallows and his consistent championship of Christian civilization" and his slaying out of 400,000 was regarded "as a special tragedy."

Whilst not reported, two contemporaries paid Chrysostomos the ultimate compliment which he thoroughly deserved. The U.S. Consul General in Smyrna, George Horton, stated that his only crime was that he was a patriotic and eloquent Greek who believed in the expansion of his race and worked to that end." Alternatively, the Anglican vicar, Reverend Charles Dobson (New Zealand) declared that "Chrysostomos was truly a martyr, because he had no false optimism and knew what his fate would be at the hands of the Turk. He had many opportunities of escaping, he refused to do so."

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