On this momentous 200th anniversary of Greek Independence, I felt compelled to share my thoughts not only as the Assistant Executive Editor at The National Herald, but also as the daughter of Greek immigrants who passed down to me this great and weighty heritage and history along with love and pride for the homeland.
The fact that we live so far away only serves to make it dearer to us, and I cannot help but think of all those Greeks of the Diaspora from the time of the fall of Constantinople until 1821 and beyond who supported Greece and its freedom and fought in various ways to keep the language and the culture alive wherever they happened to reside.
The more I read and learn about the Greek Revolution, the more complicated it has become. The simple accounts from the history books do not do justice to the men and women who sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom. There is so much more still to learn about those Heroes of 1821 lined up in that poster on the wall in the Greek school classroom. And much more to learn about the heroes who started the struggle years before 1821 and those who continued the struggle in the years after, through civil wars and reversals of fortune, to free the rest of Greece from the yoke of oppression.
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 should also remember the countless, unnamed heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle to breathe free, like the women and children of Souli, immortalized in the Dance of Zalongo and the famous song lyrics including the poignant stanza, Στη στεριά δε ζει το ψάρι/ ούτ’ ανθός στην αμμουδιά/ Κι οι Σουλιώτισσες δεν ζούνε/ δίχως την ελευθεριά. 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.
That this once-in-a-lifetime bicentennial is taking place during the COVID pandemic seems terribly unfair, but we should be thankful that we are here to celebrate even in a muted way because showing Greek pride is about more than parades and parties, it is about showing our unity in the face of adversity, about doing what is right, and standing up for human rights and for freedom for all.
We would all love to be on that sacred ground where the Revolution first broke out, on or near March 25th, but even a pandemic cannot diminish the great spirit of Hellenism that is held within our hearts and shared wherever we happen to be through our values and our philotimo.
On March 25, 1821, Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the flag of revolution over the Monastery of Agia Lavra in the Peloponnese. “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 Virgin Mary 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 so many during the years of oppression, offering hope and a beacon of light in those dark times, 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, and the pandemic has kept us from traveling as freely as we would hope to, our love for our Greek heritage, language, and homeland remains steadfast.
For many Greeks, the struggle for freedom that began in 1821 lasted much longer. The territory of the Greek nation after the War of Independence included only part of what we call Greece today. The borders expanded and contracted and expanded again, forged by war and the people’s determination to uphold the ideals of Hellenism. The islands of the Dodecanese after millennia of upholding the Greek language, traditions, and faith, only became part of the Modern Greek nation in 1947. 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.
The historic struggle for freedom carries with it the tremendous responsibility to maintain that freedom in the face of all threats whether internal or external. In our interconnected world, it becomes even more important to stand up for freedom and the rights of the oppressed.
While the pandemic prevents us from gathering in large numbers in person and showing our Hellenic pride in parades across the globe, the virtual celebrations continue. We can remain dedicated to remembering and sharing the stories and struggles of the past and keep the flame of Hellenism burning for generations to come through our indomitable Hellenic spirit. And hopefully, sooner rather than later, we will all meet again in Greece for the celebration of a lifetime.
ΖΗΤΩ Η ΕΛΛΑΣ! ΖΗΤΩ Η 25η Μαρτίου!