Thursday, November 1, 2012

Celebrations, Day Two

Saturday, 27 October, a Hundredth Anniversary

There was a massive military celebration downtown this morning in honor of the hundredth anniversary (yesterday) of the liberation of Thessaloniki from the Turks. The soldiers, marching, retraced the 1912 route to victory.

I grew up standing by my father’s side when he reviewed his troops, and what I saw on television today wasn’t even as impressive as ROTC cadets. Even any high school marching band can do better. And it’s hard to tell which are less well trained, the men or the horses. One of the horses required two men to control it (more or less), one riding it and the other walking alongside holding the bridle.

In other ways, the event was still grand, though. The first best part of the morning was the raising of the Greek flag over what used to be the government building, followed by the singing of the National Anthem, just as happened in 1912. You could tell the soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines were singing it with all their hearts — noted! — and so were the crowds. The other best thing was when the parade ended up at the Church of St. Minas, which in 1912 was the cathedral church, all the larger churches having been converted to mosques. There, after the Great Doxology, they sang the hymn to St. Demetrios, then the one to the Protectress of Christians with the so-difficult-to-translate title, something like, “To Thee, our Champion Leader”. And then the National Anthem again. All of this, a re-enactment of what took place at this church a hundred years ago yesterday.

There were enormous crowds in all the streets and the proceedings took all morning. Had we known it was going to be such a big deal, we might have gone downtown ourselves. But we didn’t realize and we were still tired, so we only watched it on TV.

There were no fighter jets doing a fly-by; this was a re-enactment and jets would have been an anachronism. The television news says there won’t be jets — or tanks — at the military parade tomorrow, either. We have heard no mention on the news of the unannounced and frightening episode to which we were subjected on Thursday.

Of course it’s great to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the day the City gained her freedom from the Turkish yoke. There’s something hollow about it, though, because the truth is, Turkey could march into Greece any day and take the whole country back in 24 hours. (So why doesn’t she? Ask me and I’ll explain; but to summarize, it’s because there’s no need.)

A quiet dinner at Mena’s in honor of St. Demetrios and my Demetrios was supposed to be the only thing on our calendar for today, but it turned out otherwise.

First thing that happened was, the 4-month-old grandson of our friends Pelagia and George fell from the sofa to the floor while his parents weren’t looking. An alarmed Pelagia immediately phoned Demetrios. Demetrios asked a few questions and then said it sounded like the baby would be fine. He mentioned that we were going to Mena’s house shortly, but promised he would take his mobile phone.

A few minutes later, George rang up to ask could he please take us to see his grandson and afterwards he would drive us to Mena’s. So that’s what we did. The baby was unharmed, no bump, no bruise, and he was even smiling and laughing. Demetrios checked him over, then I held him in my lap 15 minutes. (Two babies in two days!!!) This time I remembered not to ask his name, but I cannot get used to this Greek custom of leaving babies nameless for months and months until they are baptized.

The next thing was, we weren’t the only guests at Mena’s house; her sister-in-law, Eleni, was there from Athens, a favorite person of mine since 1980-something. Mena’s daughters were also there, Liana and Elpida with her husband and two small children. In short, it was not a quiet dinner but a party!

This was the first time I ever really noticed that Liana has her father’s eyes, exactly. When she looks at you, you see Kostas looking at you. It brought sudden tears to my eyes.

And the last thing was, Mena wanted us all to visit Kostas’ grave. So we did, stopping on the way to buy flowers. Mena also re-lit an oil lantern she keeps there and wiped the top of the stone with a sponge. Another friend of hers and ours, yet another Demetrios, has planted flowers and shrubs over the grave, making it into a miniature garden.

I feel quite ambivalent about visiting graves. I’ve never yet visited Arlington National Cemetery where my father’s ashes are buried. The leftover Protestant in me says the person, after all, is not there under the ground; only his body is, or his ashes. The Orthodox in me knows that when God sanctifies a person, that sanctity includes his bodily remains (2 Kings 13:21) and even the clothes of a saint become sanctified (2 Kings 2:14, Matthew 14:36, Acts 19:12). We therefore ought to reverence a saint’s body, in fact, the remains of any Christian. But something in me just does not like visiting cemeteries and lighting candles or burning incense there. Prayers, fine; flowers, okay… I don’t think I myself would be comforted by these sorts of observances, but what do I know? Mena isn’t comforted by them, either, but she hopes against hope that Kostas will be pleased. Or else it’s all she can do about her grief.

Do all these things mean anything to the departed? Well, as a display of love, I suppose they do. Some other part of me observes, however, that the departed are already aware, by the Holy Spirit, that we love them.

I have a feeling I need to be corrected in these matters…

The time changes tonight, so we get an extra hour of sleep before church and then whatever is going to happen, or isn’t going to happen, tomorrow. Tomorrow is Ochi Day, commemorating the day in 1940 when the Italian fascists gave Greece the ultimatum: we invade at dawn unless you surrender now. The Greeks said, OCHI!, NO! The Italians invaded; the Greeks held them back — until the Germans came.

“Ochi Day” is what I call it; the Greeks simply call it the 28th of October, much as we Americans say the Fourth of July.

These days, the OCHI has a new meaning.

Traditionally, there are big parades all over Greece on Ochi Day. This year, we were told on the television, there are to be ten thousand police on duty here in Thessaloniki, before and during the parade, including anti-riot squads. Since when is the Greek government no longer encouraging riots (and any other form of disorder)? Maybe since today, as today there have been riots in Paris, Italy, and Spain. There will also be soldiers guarding the politicians and other dignitaries, who last year were hounded out of the reviewing stand by the people chanting, “Thieves! Traitors! Go away!” This year the spectators will be kept a hundred meters from the reviewing stand. There will also be tall fences. Several main streets (not specified on the TV news) will be closed, although they aren’t on the parade route itself. And in the harbor, boats will be patrolling to make sure no protestors come by sea into the restricted areas.

Have a parade and then don’t let anybody see it. That’s how scared somebody is of the people. Never mind last year’s protests here were peaceable.

My guess is that anybody planning a rebellion might not begin it on so obvious a day as tomorrow.


123 said...

Waiting until baptism for a name seems odd when a name is given to the child as part of the Naming Service of Prayer on the eighth day, which was also a traditional day for the child to be baptized and named. (Churching still happened on the 40th day with the child not entering church prior to that time, but that's because baptisms are called to be done in running water preferably[outside, in a lake or river] and only in still water indoors if necessary - but baptisms were conducted in separate baptistries, not in the church proper.)

According to Archimandrite Seraphim of St. Gregory Palamas Monastery (GOA), Hayesville, OH, the prayer on the eighth day refers to the child by name: "O Lord our God, we entreat You, and we supplicate You, that the light of Your countenance be signed on this, Your servant/handmaid, [NAME], and that the Cross of Your Only-begotten Son be signed in his/her heart and understanding, so that he/she may flee from the vanity of the world and from every evil snare of the enemy, and may follow after Your commandments. And grant, O Lord, that Your holy name may remain unrejected by him/her, and that, in due time, he/she may be joined to Your Holy Church, and that he/she may be perfected by the dread Mysteries of Your Christ, so that, having lived according to Your commandments, and having preserved the seal unbroken, he/she may receive the blessedness of the elect in Your kingdom: By the grace and love for mankind of Your Only-begotten Son, with Whom You are blessed, together with Your Most-holy, Good and Lifegiving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages."