Ikosti Pempti Martiou
On the night of March 13, 1821, a mass was held in the small church of Theotokos in the monastery of St Lavra. The elite of Aegialia had been gathered there in order to make decisions concerning the uprising. These decisions were the most difficult, the most daring decisions imaginable at that time. They had to fight for their freedom arid independence against the all powerful Ottoman Empire. They were but few in number and almost without arms. They were without foreign support and faced heavy international opposition. No one could have thought of such an enterprise without God’s guidance.
Among those gathered at the monastery were the Archbishop Palaeon Patron Germanos. the Bishop of Kalavryla, Procopius, the Metropolite Theophilos and the monks of St. Lavra. They all spent the night in prayer and received the Holy Communion. By dawn, the Archbishop took the famous Labarum, sprinkled it with holy water and sacred oils and blessed it. Holding it high above his head and trembling with emotion, he presented it to the gathering. All of them fell to their knees, tears in their eyes. Then, the Palaeon Patron stepped out to the courtyard of the church which was full of soldiers and civilians. They cheered at the sight of the priest and Labarum and a salvo broke the silence of the night, like a terrific sigh coming from the very soul of the Greek nation.
"Liberty or death, brothers," the priest exclaimed, "may the Almighty God be with us in our struggle!’* The cry was taken up "Liberty or death!" they shouted.
"Liberty or death!" This was the slogan of 1821. It was the same slogan that had been used earlier by Ypsilantis. It was repeated by Kolokotronis and it soon resounded all over Greece. The same slogan has been used for many generations and with it some of the most brilliant and glorious pages of history have been written,
The struggle of 1821 was not the first or the last. For Greece, freedom has not been a gift from God, it has always been a major achievement, won by gallant struggles. The passionate defense of it at all times, constitute the most striking evidence of the nation’s identity throughout the centuries.
Before 1821, we had the struggle of the Souliotes, the monks Samuel and Zalongo, the feats of Niko Tsara, of Statha and Vlahava, Rigas o Feraeos, and Lambros Katsonis, Androutsos, Gregorios Papadopoulos, Daskaloyannis, the uprising of 1770, the struggles of the Cretans, the coup of Theodore Bona Griva, the coup of the Lidorikiotes, Vitrinisiotes, Galaviotes and the revolution of Mani under the Melissinos Brothers. The heroic struggles of the Cypriotes, the repeated uprisings of the Peloponesians in the 15th century.
Earlier. there was Thermopylae, Platauae, Mvkale, Salamis, and later Pindos, Koritsa, Olympos, and again Crete.
In each of these struggles, the weapons, the armor, the human shell itself may have been different, but the soul was always the same. There was the same slogan, the same high resolution for sacrifice and death for country, for mankind, for justice. Yes, for justice! The struggles of the Greek nation have always been for a just cause. And it was because of the justice of their cause that they were able on so many occasions to defeat enemies immeasurably more powerful than themselves.
In the words of the credentials given to the ships of Hydra when leaving their island during the revolution:
"The Greek nation, too tired to sigh under the heavy yoke under which it is shamefully oppressed for the last four centuries, rushes forward . . . to take up arms and break the heavy chains fastened around her by the barbarians. The holy name of liberty resounds in every corner of and every Greek heart is burning with the desire to regain that priceless gift of God or else perish in tin struggle. . . . We beseech all chiefs of marine and land forces of all European governments not to put obstacles in the path of this ship and her mission but to offer all possible aid and defense permissible under their neutrality. We expect this from the gallantry of the civilized nations and it would be an insult to them if we doubted, even for one moment, their willing cooperation in this struggle which is taking plate for the rights of humanity.
"The rights of humanity!" This was the spirit of 1821. the spirit of Greek struggles, the ideal which inspired the heroes of Greece. People do not fight the way the Greeks fought in 1821, for mere survival. One does not sacrifice one’s life for more survival. There must be something beyond survival justifying the supreme sacrifice. For the Greeks the highest values have been freedom and the rights of humanity.
It was this spirit that prompted free men all over the world to stand by their side. It was natural that in the United States, where freedom was newly born, Greeee should have found the greatest number of sympathizers.
"Having formed the resolution to live or die for freedom," wrote Petros Mavromichalis, Commander-in-Chief of the Messinian Senate, to the citizens of the United States on Mav 25, 1821, "we are drawn towards you by a just sympathy, since it is in your land that liberty has fixed her abode and by you that she is prized as by our fathers . . . Your liberty is not propped on the slavery of other nations, nor your prosperity on their calamaties and sufferings. But on the contrary. free and prosperous yourselves, you are desirous that all men should share the same blessings: that all should enjoy those rights to which all are, bynature, equally entitled." And when later, on December 29, 1823, the citizens of the State of New York. made an appeal to Congress "for sympathy for the Greeks," this is what they emphasized:
"In the opinion of the meeting, the independence of the Greek nation was the subject of the highest concern to the interests of the human race, and recommended itself to the approbation of other civilized people by the most powerful considerations that could possibly be addressed either to the judgment or to the sympathy of mankind."
At approximately the same time, on December 23, 1823. the New York Commercial Advertiser, in a leading article referring to a contribution by the students of the Theological Seminary at Andover. pointed out:
"What though their tribute be not large it is yet one of those streams which will serve to swell the tide of effort. . . . It will at least afford the novel and interesting spectacle of Greece, the mother of free institutions, and the nurse of intellect, receiving, in her fallen state, the sympathies, the encouragements and the aids of a land, which, in her prime, she never knew; and which, inheriting from her both freedom and literary treasures, regards her with filial veneration and claims to be the latest born of her posterity."
There is a two-fold message in those pages of history which relate the Greek Revolution. Just like the message of all other struggles against tyranny, it is this:
Until human beings are capable of bringing to final submission the devil of self-will, violence and oppression, there cannot be freedom without sacrifice. "Only in blood grows the tree of liberty," says the Greek poet.
But the message is further, that there is no power, no material superiority, no force which can secure final success for those who trample on freedom, justice and human dignity. Whenever people sincerely inspired by these principles and ideals make a decision to defend them with any and every sacrifice, they ultimately destroy the masters of evil and achieve victory.
© Order of AHEPA
About Dr. Basil J. Vlavianos
Dr. Basil John Vlavianos (1903 – 1994) was an international lawyer, professor of diplomatic history, businessman, human rights activist, journalist, publisher and a Brother of the Order of Ahepa. Brother Vlavianos arrived in New York on September 3, 1939 in order to attend the World’s Fair. He stayed for the next fifty-four years.
Born in Athens, Greece in 1903, Vlavianos studied law at the University of Athens and later in Germany, where he received his Juris Doctor degree. He married Ekaterina Nicolaou in 1932 and had a daughter Zita in 1936. Following a career as a practicing attorney in Athens, he moved the family to Paris and then ultimately to New York City.
From 1940-1947 he was the editor and publisher of the National Herald (Ethnikos Kēryx) newspaper. Also during the war he played a significant role in the Greek War Relief Association. After selling the National Herald he founded Arts Inc. publishing house, which specialized in European scholarly and artistic works. The Golden Griffin bookstore and Griffin Gallery in midtown Manhattan were extensions of Vlavianos’ publishing and personal interests in the contemporary American and European art scene. From 1947-1961
Vlavianos served as an adjunct professor of political affairs and regional studies at New York University. Throughout the remainder of his professional career he continued to be actively involved in political and international affairs, the arts, Greek and Greek-American life, Cyprus, and various other causes. He passed away on June 27, 1994.