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The ‘Marble King: When Leaders Play for All the Marbles, Great Things Happen

Leadership is a desperately needed – and often lacking – commodity. In today’s Europe, countries continue bowing to German interests and refuse to hold Turkey accountable for its actions. Likewise, in Greece, politicians continually appease their neighboring ‘sultan’, effectively further whetting his insatiable appetite.

While many Hellenes futilely await ‘European solidarity’ to reign in Ankara, others, still decimated from the crippling wounds inflicted by the ‘memoranda’, stemming from that same sardonic spirit of ‘solidarity’, look across the Atlantic. The ultimate outcome of the U.S. presidential race will undoubtedly give rise to renewed rhetoric about the Washington’s outlook on Athens and position toward Turkey. 

Sadly, the current generation of Greek politicians seems to have forgotten Aesop’s moral lesson preserved in the adage about the drowning man: “pray to Athena, but move your hands as well;” meaning that God helps those who help themselves. Presently, Greece is docily allowing Turkey to encroach upon its continental shelf and yet undeclared Exclusive Economic Zone. Meanwhile, it remains Europe’s greatest ‘amusement park; for NGOs, which operate seemingly above the law, abetting illegal migrants, including possible criminal elements and jihadi operatives. Following the arson attack committed by migrants against refugee camps in Lesvos and Samos (causing extensive damage to the Moria site, which is Europe’s largest), it went largely unreported that similar episodes, including looting, took place in the wake of the powerful earthquake that struck Samos in late October, during a state of emergency. Also, an ISIS member housed in Greece by an NGO for three years was apprehended earlier this month.

Meanwhile, shameful footage from the Athens University of Economics and Business showing anarchists taking over the facilities made headlines once again. Ironically, these actions are happening at a time when police in Greece are cracking down on everyday citizens for violating pandemic measures. Just recently, the bishop of Corfu was brought to trial for … holding services on Palm Sunday and conducting a litany! In fact, the state prosecutor went as far as to appeal the trial court’s not guilty verdict, while anarchist elements operate undeterred, destroy public property, and terrorize anyone whose ideology differs from their own.

Despite Greece’s just and justifiable expectation to receive support from its allies in the face of growing Turkish hostility, one wonders whether the disorder in its own house might not be a major stumbling block in securing this support…

In light of this, it’s worth remembering the leadership qualities of one of Hellenism’s most legendary figures, whose memory was commemorated earlier this month (Nov. 4) – Emperor of the Romans John III Doukas Vatatzes, known also by the title ‘The Merciful’ and believed by some (including saints of the Church) to be the legendary ‘marble emperor,’ hailed in folklore as the one destined to return from the dead and free the Queen City. Vatatzes, who ruled from the city of Nicaea from 1221 to 1254, while Constantinople was under Latin occupation following the disastrous Fourth Crusade, is credited as the chief architect for restoring the Roman (Byzantine) Empire. He recovered much of the Latin occupied territory, while at the same time fighting off the attacking Seljuk Turks. Aside from his military prowess, Vatatzes helped resurrect the empire’s economy, promoting economic self-sufficiency and the improvement of domestic production, while curtailing reliance on foreign – chiefly Western – products.

His response to a letter by Pope Gregory IX, remains a tribute to the Hellenic national conscience. Some of its highlights include his rejection of papal overreach into state affairs, noting that he is well aware of the papal throne and that “were it located in the clouds or somewhere else ‘up in the air,’ we might require meteorological knowledge to find it, but since it is based on earth and in no way differs from the other thrones, the entire world knows it.” He also points out that the Greeks “inherited the empire from Constantine the Great” and asks “who can overlook that the inheritance rights of succession passed from him to our People, or that we are the legitimate airs and successors?”

Moreover, complaining of Gregory’s recognition of the Latin usurpers, he wonders how the pope could “praise the injustice of greed and deem the predatory and bloodthirsty seizure of Constantinople by the Latins as a just act.”

He reminds the power-hungry pontiff that “the one who rules is governor and sovereign of a nation, a people, and a population, not a ruler and governor of rocks and wood, with which the walls and castles were built.” Vatatzes adds that when he saw the actions of the Crusaders, he laughed when considering the irony and games being played against the Holy Lands and the Cross, declaring to the pope and all Christendom that the Greeks “will never cease to struggle and fight against those who conquered and occupy it, because, truly, would we not otherwise be doing an injustice to the laws of nature, the institutions of our Homeland, our ancestors’ tombs, and the holy and sacred temples if we did not fight on behalf of these things with all our might?”

In fact, he argues that the pope, knowing what is sacred and legitimate, and what is necessitated by human institutions, should praise the Greeks “because we fight for our Country and liberty, which is inherently associated with it.” Finally, he notes that he wishes to offer the appropriate honor and devotion to the see of Rome, but “this can only happen if Your Holiness does not overlook the rights of our kingdom, and stops sending us letters that are so superficial and contemptuous.”

Much like Greece’s world-renowned valiant heroics during WWII, it would seem that when Hellenism’s leaders stand up to conquerors, miracles can truly happen.

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

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