Every year members of the Greek-American and Cypriot-American diaspora descend upon Washington, DC to commemorate a very special day for Greeks everywhere – ‘OXI’ Day – participating in the always exceptional and often emotional events of the Washington ‘OXI’ Day Foundation.
Prior to 2011, the inaugural year of the now annual celebration in our nation’s capital, our community had celebrated Greek Independence Day, Easter, August 15th and Christmas with fervor. Conspicuously missing, however, was any large-scale event exclusively dedicated to the heroism displayed by the Greeks on October 28, 1940 in the face of an impending invasion by the menace of fascism that was sweeping across Europe at the time.
In that first ‘OXI’ Day celebration in Washington, luminaries such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Senator Bob Dole, and Greek heroes like Panagiotis Sakellaris and Andrew Athens were honored. Since that event the notable winners have spanned across all fields and walks of life but one thing remains a common denominator amongst all recipients: they all have been willing to pay the ultimate price for their beliefs and stood up against all odds against their enemies, rather them have their voices muffled or even silenced. This year was no different, beginning with the ‘OXI’ Day Service Awards in the afternoon of October 28, 2021 at the World War II Memorial in Washington honoring veterans Efthemios Bentas (World War II, Vasilios S. Haseotes Service Award), Pete Vergados (Vietnam War, Calamos Service Award), and Stephen Cherpelis (Korean War, ‘OXI’ Service Award).
The gala that evening featured the ‘OXI’ Courage Awards and the winners were Zarifa Ghafari, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and the recipient of the Metropolitan Chrysostomos Award was His All-Holiness Ecumencial Patariarch Bartholomew. Though the community waited a long time to commemorate such an important National event – Greece’s entry into World War II – in appropriately grand fashion, we must never forget that the underlying theme of ‘OXI’ Day is ‘philotimo’, a word with no true translation in any other language than Greek. Philotimo is what allowed Christian Orthodox Greeks to shield their Jewish brothers and sisters from the brutal, horrific Nazi occupation of Greece, and it was the Greeks’ philotimo, a profound feeling deep inside them, that made them believe that Greece was a country worth fighting for, compelling them to hold every inch of ground to allow other nations in Europe time to better prepare their defenses. That was a true example of philotimo. The Washington ‘OXI’ Day Foundation awards are special in our Community because the ‘OXI’ Courage Awards are awarded to foreigners who embody the Hellenic spirit of ‘OXI’ Day. Why this is significant? It’s an all-inclusive message that the organizers of the awards understand – and that the rest of the community would do well to support moving forward.
And we must respect the principle that being Greek – the Hellenism running through your veins – is not something that can be distilled into ideological imperatives, or poured into the bottles of personal or partisan interests. As ‘OXI’ Day showed, to be a Hellene, you must be able to forcefully fight for your convictions – and keep your loved ones close.