Monday, April 27, 2009


“I’m sure that coups d’etat would go much better if there were seats, boxes and stalls so that one could see what was happening and not miss anything.” Edmond de Goncourt.

How dare they degrade the coup from its exhalted status as a Hellenic art form to that of bland, blunt, barbarous bluster and buffoonery? In days gone by, coups had style, grace and finesse. Take the tyrant Peisistratus of Athens as a prototype. Bent on making Athens safe for tyrranocracy, he staged an attempt on his own life, and in the chaos that followed, he persuaded the Athenian Assembly to issue him bodyguards. Bodyguards in tow, he then ingeniously managed to capture and hold the Acropolis. With this in his possession, and the collusion of the turncoat Megacles and his party, he declared himself tyrant.
Peisistratus was ousted from political office and exiled twice during his reign. The first coup took place in 555 BC after the two original Athenian factions vying for power, the Pedieis and the Paralioi, which were normally at odds with each other, joined forces and removed him. Sounds familiar? The wily Peisistratus was exiled for between 3-6 years, during which time, the power sharing agreement between the factions fell apart. Peisistratos returned to Athens and rode into the city in a golden chariot accompanied by a tall woman playing the role of Athena. Many returned to his side, believing that he had the favour of the goddess and he went on to rule Athens benevolently, though oligarchically, and to bequeath his position to his sons – this being the dream of every president of a Greek club here in Australia.
Coups also abounded in Byzantine times. The Emperor Zeno was deposed by his mother in law Verina and her brother Basiliscus, Phocas removed Maurice, only to be removed in turn by Heraclius and Constans II was assassinated in his bathtub by concerned Constantinopolitans who feared that he was about to move the capital of the Empire to Syracuse. Justinian II had his nose cut off and was exiled to the Crimea. He returned, replete with 24 carat gold prosthetic nose, staged a counter coup and proceeded to brutalise the Byzantines until his removal by the Armenian Philipicus, who was deposed in turn by Anastasius II who was deposed in turn by Theodosius III. Constantine VI was deposed and blinded by his mother Irene, who in turn was deposed by Nicephorus I. His son Stavrakios was deposed by Michael I who was in turn deposed by Leo V the Armenian, who in turn was stabbed by a group of conspirators in Agia Sophia, who then elevated Michael II the Stammerer onto the throne. His daughter in law Theodora was deposed by her son Michael III who was assassinated by Basil the Macedonian, who was actually Armenian. His Armenian dynasty, being not Greek, was tight and cohesive, until it became Hellenised enough to allow the deposition of Romanos Lekapenos by his sons and the assassination of Nicephorus Phokas by his wife’s lover, Ioannis Tsimiskes. Indded, reams of diatribes could be consumed in detailing the sorry and sordid Byzantine palace coups. In fairness to our ancestors though, it is worthwhile to point out that the abovementioned coups took place over a period of some five hundred years, whereas in most South and Central American countries, such machinations would not even half fill the chapter in their histories entitled: “Twentieth Century and Current Affairs.”
Even our Church is prone to coups, with wily and ambitious early prelates using doctrinal disputes in order to muscle out their enemies from key positions. Even saints such as St John Chrysostom suffered deposition and exile, while stacked and rigged “Oecumenical Councils” such as the infamous Robber Synod of Ephesus attempted to arbitrarily pervert doctrine and have like minded hierarchs seize control of the Church. During the Ottoman era, when Church positions could and were bought and sold as commodities, Ethnomartyr Gregory V, patriarch of Constantinople, acceded to that position and was deposed three times. The latest example of a church coup was the deposition of Patriarch Irineos of Jerusalem, and considering that during Easter 2005, I was in the sanctuary of the Chruch of the Resurrection, listening to the hierarchs of the Jerusalem Patriarchate list his many misdemeanours, for good reason too.
When we do coups here in Australia, we don’t nearly do them in spectacular enough fashion anymore. One coup I found particularly fascinating was that visited upon the Lefcadian Brotherhood. A faction believing that it was entitled to do so, entered the Brotherhood building, occupied it and proceeded to form its own committee. I acted for the deposed committee, which after due consideration of various paranoid fantasies and the institution of legal proceedings, was considered by the Federal Court of Australia to have been the rightful committee and was duly reinstated. Three elements were pertinent to this coup, once it reached the Courts. The first, and most amusing, was the Dennis Denuto moment of the defendants, who, when the judge made an adverse finding against them, began to celebrate, thinking that they had won. As their legal advisor wryly pointed out to me later, it is immaterial who wins, for invariably, we will be able, through the internecine strife of our compatriots to send our children to private schools. The second was listening to the terrifyingly erudite Judge Finklestein making pointed obiter dicta about the organised Greek community’s propensity towards subversion of constitutions and rules. Revolutionaries and Counter-Revolutionaries alike are not strangers to Australian courts. The third and most predictable outcome of the coup was this: Having failed in their attempt to gain legitimacy as a rightful committee through the courts, the defendants went off and formed their own little rival entity, a Formosa if you will, to mainland China.
A coup by a faction of the so-called “Hellenic Church GOX Inc,” involving the locking out of an Old Calendarist committee from its Church by a faction that believed that the committee was not nearly Old Calendarist enough and that it should adhere to the third of the three Old Calendarist synods in Greece purporting to be the only true Orthodox Church again saw me in court. The Magistrate again dimly noted the propensity that “Greeks have for trouble with their clubs and religion,” and permitted the “darker forces of Old Calendarism” to prevail. As far as coups go, this one was a crusade that was successful and just last year, when I found myself in the Supreme Court attempting to thwart a coup staged by some Serbian parishioners who bundled their bishop and priest out of their parish, the august judge was anguished enough to list the number of Orthodox jurisdictional coups he has had to arbitrate over the past years, I finally understood the crux of Obolensky’s thesis that Byzantium truly was a commonwealth that exported Greek culture (including coup-staging) throughout the Slavonic East.
Our most recent coup, involving the removal of several Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria members from their executive positions on the board, and their replacement by those of a rival faction comes in the aftermath of a previous coup in which the faction supporting current President Bill Papastergiadis, removed long serving former President George Fountas from his position and set about an agenda of reform and renewal. It is worthwhile to note that the first coup was executed in the aftermath of hotly contested elections whose holding inhibited the organisation of the 2008 Antipodes Festival. Now those aggrieved by the coup want to have elections to seek a mandate by the members for governance. Sounds confusing?
A rough guide to the latest bout of factionalism that has permeated the GOCMV is as follows. George Fountas, spiritual if not temporal leader of the latest successful coup-perpetrators, known as “Foundists” or «φουντικοί» by their detractors, seeking to homophonously link them to the fascist «χουντικοί», always wears a tie. Bill Papastergiadis on the other hand is seldom seen with a tie and it is by this that ye shall know where allegiances lie. Granted, there are a plethora of other ideological differences between the factions, including issues of virility such as the GOCMV’s ability to achieve and sustain an erection of a Tower at its current headquarters but these ought not to vex us here.
That an entity of a thousand or so members is so politicised that it gives names to ‘factions’ and ‘tickets’ which operate in a manner reminiscent of political parties on small and ever diminishing Pacific Islands is dumb-founding. There is Κοινοτική Πρόοδος, Κοινοτική Ανανέωση, and Κοινοτική Συνεργασία – all separate tickets, promoting separate policies, some linked in to the agendas of other entities. The politicking, back-stabbing and rumour-mongering that comes as a corollary to such factionalisation ensures that a good deal more time than should be necessary is spent in shoring up one’s position and protecting one’s back, rather than focusing on the real problems facing the entity and the Greek community as a whole.
The GOCMV’s current political climate is both unsavoury and unhealthy. It inhibits broad-based participation from a representative sample of the Greek community. This in itself comes as a consequence of the stasis in the demographic of the membership, a large portion of which represents needs, ideologies and world-views out of step with the demands of the modern world. It is no wonder then that the GOCMV, notwithstanding its perception of itself as chief representative of the collective of Greek communities in Melbourne, has become just a larger tessera in the fragmented and increasingly unravelling mosaic of our paroikia, just as powerless, despite its large resource base, to address the most pressing issue we face today: the perpetuation of our distinct identity throughout the generations. That is not to say that individuals or groups within the GOCMV cannot appreciate looming challenges; rather, the fractious culture of the organisation seems to inhibit focus upon these, let alone facilitate the development of a plan of action.
Another aspect of the problem is that the GOCMV’s aspirations and activities are so broad in scope that they defy definition. Is the GOCMV a religious organisation? Is the propagation of the Orthodox faith of intrinsic importance to it? If so, then what is it doing to further the Orthodox faith in Australia? If not, is there any relevance to it purporting to act as a property manager for the various church buildings it has historically acquired, in the light of sundry community religious needs being met more than adequately by more appropriate entities? Again, is the focus of the GOCMV educational? If so, is it adequately laying the groundwork so as to ensure that the Greek language will be adequately taught beyond the present generations? Should or does the GOCMV focus adequately upon welfare issues such as charity, aged care, or gender equality? Should it or does it adequately advocate causes specific and important to its members and the Greek community at large, within the mainstream and how does it ensure the smooth integration of that community within the broader context of Australian society?
If the GOCMV is to maintain its relevance, three things need to take place. Firstly, it must resolve its crisis of identity. It must choose to focus upon areas that are not catered for or covered by other, more specialist entities and divest itself of spheres of activity that are an historical aberration. Secondly, it is imperative that it obtains for itself a more broader-based membership. It is only when members of the second and third generation who are vocal about their needs and the perceived needs of their children embrace the organisation, that fundamental, as opposed to superficial change will take place. Thirdly, all factions must realise that none of them can solely or adequately address the multifarious problems the GOCMV will face into the future. The manner in which they temporarily appeared to patch up their differences in order to organise the Antipodes Festival this year should serve as a telling paradigm.
Diatribe leaves you now with the happy news that since the GOCMV is so sexy, chock full of intrigue and coups, yours truly is running for Tyrant under my very own faction: Κοινοτική Κάβλα, the mouthpiece of all those fetishists who find GOCMV politics inordinately erotic. GOCMV maidens who wish to ride my golden chariot to glory need not apply. I can only drive in reverse. Until next week then, make love, not coups.


First published in NKEE on 27 April 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009


This is the diatribe where Tolkien meets Teiresias and Thor meets Theseus. Greece has always been known as a country whose primary export was people. The Odyssey has been interpreted as an allegory of the movement and settlement of Greek peoples across the Mediterranean in times ancient, whereas the existence of Greek settlements in such incongruous places as Afghanistan and Pakistan, the delineation of the Icelandic coast in the Periplus of Pytheas, the multitude of Greek folksongs about people toddling off to Wallachia and coming back home to identify themselves to their wives by their intimate knowledge of the positioning of moles on her body, and even the Calabrian-Greek folksong “andra mu pai” attest to the fact that we are a peripatetic bunch. What is not so revealed in the discourse, is that our ancestral land is also a place of migration of pilgrimage and migration, a land to which our northern Indo-European cousins have historically lost the flower of their menfolk.
If we have our folksongs, increasingly disused club buildings, archived Channel 31 footage and dozens of Multicultural Commission-sponsored books to attest to our sojourn in this country, then what of the hapless Vikings, who in times medieval, made their iron-shod, horny helmeted way down into our warmer climes? Fascinatingly, they erected runestones. The survivors of these, known as the Greece runestones are about 30 runestones containing information related to voyages made by Norsemen to the Byzantine Empire. They were made during the Viking Age until about 1100 and were engraved in the Old Norse language with Scandinavian runes. All the stones have been found in modern-day Sweden. Most were inscribed in memory of members of the Varangian Guard, the imperial guard of the Byzantine Emperor, who never returned home, but a few inscriptions mention men who returned with wealth, and a boulder in Ed was engraved on the orders of a former officer of the Guard. Interestingly enough, one of these Varangians was Harald Hardrada, who went on to invade England at the same time as William the Conqueror.
Leaving no room for doubt, these runestones the word Grikkland ("Greece") appears in three inscriptions, the word Grikk(j)ar ("Greeks") appears in 25 inscriptions, two stones refer to men as grikkfari ("traveller to Greece") and one stone refers to Grikkhafnir ("Greek harbours"). Among other runestones in Sweden which refer to expeditions abroad, the only group which are comparable in number are those that mention expeditions to England.
The Greek runestones stones vary in size from the small whetstone from Timans which measures 8.5 cm × 4.5 cm × 3.3 cm to the boulder in Ed which is 18 m in circumference. Since the first discoveries by Johannes Bureus in the late 16th century, these runestones have been frequently identified by scholars, with many stones discovered during a national search for historic monuments in the late 17th century. Several stones were documented by Richard Dybeck in the 19th century, while the last stone to be found was in Nolinge, near Stockholm, in 1952.
Scandinavians had served as mercenaries in the Roman army many centuries before the Viking Age, but during the time when the stones were made, there were more contacts between Scandinavia and Byzantium than at any other time. Swedish Viking ships were common on the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara and on the wider Mediterranean Sea. Until the Komnenos dynasty in the late 11th century, most members of the Varangian Guard were Swedes and as late as 1195, emperor Alexios Angelos sent emissaries to Denmark, Norway and Sweden requesting 1,000 warriors from each of the three kingdoms. Stationed in Constantinople, which the Scandinavians referred to as Miklagarðr (the "Great City"), the Guard attracted young Scandinavians of the sort that had composed it since its creation in the late 10th century.
As early as 911, the Varangians are mentioned as fighting for the Byzantines. About 700 Varangians served along with Dalmatians as marines in Byzantine naval expeditions against Crete in 902 and a force of 629 returned to Crete under Constantine Porphyrogenitus in 949. A unit of 415 Varangians was involved in the Italian expedition of 936. It is also recorded that there were Varangian contingents among the forces that fought the Arabs in Syria in 955. During this period, the Varangian mercenaries were known as the Great Companions (Μεγάλη Εταιρεία).
With the decline of the Byzantine empire, the emperors increased their reliance on the Varangian mercenaries. In 988 Basil II requested military assistance from Vladimir of Kiev to help defend his throne. In compliance with the treaty made by his father after the Siege of Dorostolon (971), Vladimir sent 6,000 men to Basil. In exchange, Vladimir was given Basil's sister, Anna, in marriage. Vladimir also agreed to convert to Christianity and to bring his people into the Christian faith.
In 989 the Varangian guard, led by Basil II himself, landed at Chrysopolis to defeat the rebel general Bardas Phocas. On the field of battle, Phocas died of a stroke in full view of his opponent; upon the death of their leader, Phocas' troops turned and fled. The brutality of the Varangians was noted when they pursued the fleeing army and "cheerfully hacked them to pieces."
The Varangian Guard saw extensive service in southern Italy in the eleventh century, as the Normans and Lombards worked to extinguish Byzantine authority there. In 1018, Basil II received a request from his catepan of Italy, Basil Boioannes, for reinforcements to put down the Lombard revolt of Melus of Bari. A detachment of the Varangian Guard was sent and in the Battle of Cannae, the Greeks achieved a decisive victory.
The Varangians also participated in the partial reconquest of Sicily from the Arabs under George Maniaches in 1038. Here, they fought alongside Normans recently arrived in Italy seeking adventure and Lombards from Byzantine-held Apulia. The Guard was at this time led by Harald Hardrada, later King of Norway. However, when Maniaches ostracised the Lombards by publicly humiliating their leader, Arduin, the Lombards deserted and the Normans and Varangians followed them.
Not long after, the catepan Michael Doukeianos had a force of Varangians stationed at Bari. On 16 March 1041 they were called up to fight the Normans near Venosa and many drowned in the subsequent retreat across the Ofanto. In September Exaugustus Boioannes was sent to Italy with only a small contingent of Varangians to replace the disgraced Doukeianos. On 3 September 1041 they were defeated in battle by the Normans.
Many of the late catepans were sent from Constantinople with Varangian units. In 1047 John Raphael was sent to Bari with a contingent of Varangians, but the Bariots refused to receive his troops and he spent his term at Otranto. Twenty years later, in 1067, the last Byzantine catepan in southern Italy, Mabrica, arrived with Varangian auxiliaries and took Brindisi and Taranto. At the disastrous Battle of Manzikert, in 1071, virtually all the Emperor’s Guards fell around him.
Composed primarily of Scandinavians for the first 100 years, the guard began to see increased inclusion of Anglo-Saxons after the successful invasion of England by the Normans. In 1088 a large number of Anglo-Saxons and Danes emigrated to the Byzantine Empire by way of the Mediterranean. One source has more than 5,000 of them arriving in 235 ships. Those who did not enter imperial service settled on the Black Sea coast, but those who did became so vital to the Varangians that the Guard was commonly called the Englinbarrangoi (Anglo-Varangians) from that point.
The large number of men who departed for the Byzantine Empire to join the Varangians is indicated by the fact that the medieval Scandinavian laws still contained laws concerning voyages to Greece when they were written down after the Viking Age. The older version of the Westrogothic Law which was written down by Eskil Magnusson, the lawspeaker of Västergötland (1219–1225), was strangely reminiscent of Greek-Australian pension agreements in that it provided that "no man may receive an inheritance in Sweden while he dwells in Greece". A later version of this law, amended from 1250 to 1300, adds that "no one may inherit from such a person as was not a living heir when he went away". Also the old Norwegian Gulaþingslög contains a similar law: "but if (a man) goes to Greece, then he who is next in line to inherit shall hold his property".
Not all those who are commemorated on the Greece runestones were necessarily members of the Varangian Guard, and some may have gone to Greece as merchants or died there while passing by on a pilgrimage. The fact that a voyage to Greece was associated with great danger is testified by the fact that a woman had a runestone made in memory of herself before she departed on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem: "Ingirún Harðardóttir had runes graven for herself; she would go East and out to Jerusalem. Fótr carved the runes." However, Blöndal and Benedikz state that although there were other reasons for going to Greece, it is certain that most of the runestones were made in memory of members of the Varangian Guard who died there. Still, some runestones tell of men who returned with increased wealth, and an inscription on a boulder in Ed was commissioned by a former captain of the Guard, Ragnvaldr.
The reasons for the runestone tradition are a matter of debate but they include inheritance issues, status and the honouring of the deceased. Several runestones explicity commemorate inheritance such as the Ulunda stone and the Hansta stone, but the vast majority of the runestones only tell who raised the stone and in memory of whom. Some scholars comment that the vast majority of the runestones were raised in memory of people who are not reported to have died abroad. They argue that few men who went abroad were honoured with memorials and the reason is that the runestones were mainly raised because of concerns at home, such as inheritance issues. Such concerns would have arisen when a family knew that a relative would not return from abroad.
The runestones themselves are short, epigrammatic and to the point:
"These landmarks are made in memory of Inga's sons. She came to inherit from them, but these brothers—Gerðarr and his brothers—came to inherit from her. They died in Greece.”

“Ragnvaldr had the runes carved; (he) was in Greece, was commander of the retinue.”

“Ástríðr had these stones raised in memory of Eysteinn, her husbandman, who attacked Jerusalem and met his end in Greece.”

"Þegn and Gautdjarfr and Sunnhvatr and Þórulfr, they had this stone raised in memory of Tóki, their father. He perished abroad in Greece. May God help his spirit, spirit and soul.”

“Folkmarr had this stone raised in memory of Folkbjörn, his son. He also met his end among the Greeks. May God help his spirit and soul.”

Let us pay homage to the ancestors of Bjorn Borg, Bjork and Lego, who preserved us from harm in exchange for cash and respect their petrine protrusions. On the other hand, these runestones, in depicting our beloved place of origin as a deathtrap, are probably the reason why Greek tourism is doing so badly this year, leaving us, and all blonde haired and blue eyed Greeks who naively maintain that they owe their colouring to the mythical fair-haired original Aryan Greek protoplasts, who looked nothing like the dark, Mediterranean types recorded on ancient Greek vases, rather than sword carrying yobos on medieval package tours, slightly miffed. It would seem meet then, to pepper the villages and mountain peaks of fair Grikkland with Byzantine inscriptions to the effect that: “here Hagar the Horrible went beserk, killing and impregnating many.” But let he who is without sin cast the first runestone.


First published in NKEE on 20 April 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009


"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, He was seen of above five thousand brethren at once." 1 Cor. 15:3-6

If one is to follow the morning and evening church services of Holy Week, it soon becomes evident why that week is referred to in Greek as "Long, or Large Week" («Μεγάλη Εβδομάδα.») These services, commencing with the resurrection of Lazarus and Christ's entry into Jerusalem, take us through the suffering of Christ, linking prophecy with its fulfillment, through the use of some of the most beautiful, compelling imagery and poetry ever to have been written in the Greek language, only to have us arrive at the remarkable Resurrection. The entire Christian confession is contained in the words "Christ is Risen." The Apostle Paul, referring to this fact, clearly and emphatically says: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" in his epistle to the Corinthians.The Holy Monday service (sung Sunday night) commemorates the fig tree which was cursed and withered by Jesus. The withering of the fig tree was a miracle of special symbolism, since the tree had leaves, but no fruit, a post-modern reference to those who claim ethical and religious identity, but who in reality have empty lives that yield no fruit. On that evening, the passionate Hymn of the Bridegroom, is sung: "Behold the Bridegroom comes in the midst of the night... beware, therefore, O my soul, lest thou be borne down in sleep..... and lest thou be shut out from the Kingdom . . ." The canticle hymn also has a symbolic exhortation: "I see thy bridal hall adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment. . . O giver of Light, make radiant the vesture of my soul and save me". At this time the solemn procession of the Icon of Christ-Bridegroom takes place around the church. The people, anticipating the sufferings of Christ, sing: "Thy sublime sufferings, on this day, shine upon the world as a light of salvation".

Holy Tuesday commemorates the parable of the Ten Virgins in the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus stressed the importance of ethical preparation and wakefulness. The parable of the Ten Virgins is developed around the theme of the Bridegroom: "Why are Thou heedless, O my soul? . . . Work most diligently with the talent which has been confided to thee; both watch and pray". The hymnologist reminds us, "I do not possess a torch aflame with virtue, and the foolish virgin I imitate when it is the time for action"; and, "Into the splendor of thy saints, how can I, who am unholy, enter?" The exhortation is then given: "Come Ye faithful, let us work earnestly for the Master . . . increase our talent of grace ... Wisdom through good works".

On Wednesday (Tuesday night) commemoration is made of the anointing of Christ with myrrh by the woman in the house of Simon the leper, in Bethany. On this evening, the powerful "Hymn of Cassiane", probably a work of Patriarch Photius is sung. It begins: "The woman who had fallen into many sins recognized thy Godhead, O Lord; Woe to me, saith she; receive the sources of my tears, O Thou who doth gather into clouds the water of the sea. Who can trace out the multitude of my sins and the abysses of my misdeeds? "O Thou whose mercy is unbounded".

The sacred ceremony of the Sacrament of Holy Unction takes place on Wednesday evening, following an old custom. This is the evening of repentance, confession and the remission of sins by Christ, preparing the faithful to receive Holy Communion, usually the next day, Holy Thursday morning. Holy Unction is the Sacrament for cleansing sins and renewing the body and the spirit of the faithful. Holy Unction is one of the seven Sacraments of the Church, and it has its origin in the practice of the early Church as recorded in the Epistle of James. At the end of the service, the priest anoints the people with Holy Oil, the visible bearer of the Grace of God.

The orthros of Thursday morning is also usually sand in anticipation on Wednesday evening. It contains the powerful exhortation: "Let no fear separate you from Me....." The service of Great Holy Thursday Morning is sung in the morning by anticipation. Jesus drew His last breath of freedom on this Thursday night. Christ knew all the incidents which were about to take place, and called to Him His Apostles to a Supper in order to institute the Holy Eucharist for them and for the Church forever. The institution of the Holy Eucharist and its re-enactment through the centuries, both as a sacrifice and sacrament, along with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, constitutes the basis of salvation for the Christian. The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is officiated on this day and Christians come for Holy Communion singing: "Receive me Today, O Son of God, as a partaker of Thy Mystic Feast; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies, I will not kiss Thee as did Judas, but as the thief I will confess Thee. Lord, remember me when I comest to Thy Kingdom."

On Holy Thursday Evening, the Passion of Chris is remembered and re-enacted. This service is long, but its content is dramatic and deeply moving for the devout Christian. Participation in the prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in Twelve Gospel readings and hymns, provides a vivid foundation for the great events yet to come. After the reading of the fifth Gospel, the Crucifix is processed around the church, while the priest chants the 15th antiphon: "Today is hung upon the Tree, He Who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A Crown of thorns crowns Him Who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds. He received buffetings Who freed Adam in Jordan. He was transfixed with nails Who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a spear Who is the Son of the Virgin. We worship Thy Passion, O Christ. Show also unto us thy glorious Resurrection".

According to Hebrew custom, the "Royal Hours", four in number, are read Good Friday morning. These services consist of hymns, psalms, and readings from the Old and New Testaments, all related prophetically to the Person of Christ. The Vespers of Friday afternoon are a continuation of the Hours. During this service, the removal of the Body of Christ from the Cross is commemorated with a sense of mourning for the terrible events which took place. Excerpts from the Old Testament are read together with hymns, and again the entire story is related. The Apostle Paul, interpreting the dreadful event, exhorts the Church: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God . . . we preach Christ crucified . . . the power of God and the wisdom of God", As the priest reads the Gospel, "and taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in a white cloth", he removes the Body of Christ from the Cross, wraps it in a white cloth and takes it to the altar. The priest then chants a mourning hymn: "When Joseph of Arimathea took Thee, the life of all, down from the Tree dead, he buried Thee with myrrh and fine linen . . . rejoicing. Glory to Thy humiliation, O Master, who clothest Thyself with light as it were with a garment". The priest then carries the cloth to the Epitaphios. Perhaps the most famous and best attended Holy Week service is the Good Friday Evening Lamentation. It consists of psalms, hymns and readings, dealing with the death of Christ and in expectation of His Resurrection. One of the hymns relates: "He who holds all things is raised up on the Cross and all creation laments to see Him hang naked on the Tree". The profoundly moving Odes compare the compassion and might of God with the cruelty and weakness of man, portraying all Creation as trembling when witnessing its Creator hung by His own creatures: "Creation was moved . . . with intense astonishment when it beheld Thee hung in Golgotha". During this service the Body of Christ in the Epitaphios is carried in procession around the church andthe entire congregation joins in singing the "Encomia" After these hymns are sung, the priest sprinkles the Epitaphios and the whole congregation with fragrant water.

On Holy Saturday Morning, psalms are read and Resurrection hymns are sung which tell of Christ's descent into Hades. "Today Hades cried out groaning" is the hymn's description of the resurrection of Adam and the conquering of death. Thus this day's celebration is called "First Resurrection". Most of the readings of this day are from the Old Testament on the prophesies of the conquering of death. On this day the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is officiated. Apostle Paul exhorts the faithful: "We were buried, therefore, with him by baptism unto death, so we, too, might walk in newness of life". After the reading of the Epistle, the priest follows the custom of tossing of laurel, saying: "Arise, O God, and judge Thou the earth: for Thou shall take all heathen to Thine inheritance". The Cherubic hymn of this day is: "Let all mortal flesh keep silence and stand with fear and trembling......", a thoughtful hymn of adoration and exaltation. The Divine Liturgy ends with the Communion Hymn: "So the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and He is risen to save us".
On Easter Sunday (Saturday midnight) the life-giving Resurrection of Christ is celebrated. Before midnight, the Odes of Lamentation of the previous day are repeated. The Orthros of the Resurrection begins in complete darkness. The priest takes light from the vigil light and gives it to the faithful, who are holding candles. The priest sings: "Come ye and receive light from the unwaning life, and. glorify Christ, who arose from the dead", and all the people join him in singing this hymn again and again. From this moment, every Christian holds the Easter candle as a symbol of his vivid, deep faith in the Resurrection of Jesus The priest leads the people outside the church, where he reads the Gospel which refers to the Angels statement: "He is Risen; He is not here." Then comes the breathless moment as the people wait for the priest to start the hymn of Resurrection, which they join him in singing, repeatedly: "Christ has Risen from the dead, by death trampling upon Death, and has bestowed life upon those in the tombs". From this moment the entire service takes on a joyous Easter atmosphere. The hymns of the Odes and Praises of Resurrection which follow are unparalleled in intensity. The people confess, "It is the Day of Resurrection, let us be glorious, let us embrace one another and speak to those that hate us; let us forgive all things and so let us cry, Christ has arisen from the dead". The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is then officiated. At the end of the Liturgy, a part of the marvelous festival sermon of St. Chrysostom is read, which calls upon the people to "Take part in this fair and radiant festival. Let no one be fearful of death, for the death of the Savior has set us free . . . O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is Thy victory? Christ is Risen and Thou art overthrown. To Him be glory and power from all ages to all ages". From the Diatribe, have a holy, Holy Week and ΚΑΛΗ ΑΝΑΣΤΑΣΗ.


Republished in NKEE on Monday 13 April 2009

Monday, April 06, 2009


“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Maya Angelou.

In Doctor Who, the Gelth, ghostly alien life forms, informed the Doctor that: “The Time War raged, invisible to lower species but devastating to higher forms.” One would be forgiven for thinking that we are the lower species of our community, for of late, a war of words has blown in off the coast of our organised manifestations, its high winds of bluster, accusation and recrimination battering the galvanized rooftops of our self-assurance – while most of us, ensconced within the sandbags of our everyday mundane existence, have had absolutely no clue of its passing.
This year, in what has been described by Thomas Andronas in his recent article in this publication as “A Festival of Love,” a Turkish-Cypriot singer, Umut Albayrak was invited to perform at the Cyprus Wine Festival. This was hailed by Thomas Andronas “as heralding a gentle move towards peace occurring in Cyprus between the Greek and Turkish communities.” Cyprus Community president Stelios Angelodimou echoed these statements, hinting that the primary motivation for boldly stepping outside the tight, racially claustrophobic bounds of our community and opening up our revels to others, was to send the message that Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities can and do live in peace.
At first glance, this brave, pioneering move is a laudable one. While we love showcasing our heritage to the world, we generally like to do so unadulterated by the admixture of other conglomerate cultures, for this would dilute our own sense of our uniqueness. Further, such efforts as are made to manifest ourselves to others are usually so made not in conjunction, but rather in juxtaposition with the other collaborative cultures. These efforts have mixed results. Contrast for example, the seamless way in which the Thessaloniki Association “White Tower” managed to integrate a group of Japanese drummers in its Melbourne-Thessaloniki sistership festival last October at Federation Square, compared to the reconciliation efforts made a few years ago, by the dance group of Pontiaki Estia. That dance group had made initiative towards securing a joint performance of Black Sea dances by it and a Turkish Black Sea folkloric group. For reasons that pertain to historical perspectives on the genocide of Christians in Anatolia, the Turkish Black Sea group, after initially signalling its interest, refused to participate.
Thus, in the outset, Stelios Angelodimou’s gesture, in including a Turkish Cypriot entertainer in what is in effect, a Cypriot-Australian institution, seems to send a message of peace, harmony and cohesion. After all, given that the Cyprus Wine Festival pertains to Cyprus and that Turkish Cypriots presumably also are Cypriot, at least if you read the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, then Turkish-Cypriot artists have a place, by right, in such events.
Unfortunately, Umut Albayrak’s performance has had quite the opposite result, provoking, the fury, frustration and disappointment of a considerable number of influential members of the Greek Cypriot Community. Their response prima facie seems strange and extreme. Reading the statement of certain disaffected members of the Cyprus community expressing their opprobrium, we are shocked to read them decrying Umut Albayrak’s performance and demanding that she pledge her loyalty to the Cypriot constitution and State and demand a withdrawal of invasion troops from the occupied North, before she is allowed to perform. This truly appears to be an extreme knee-jerk reaction.
However, it is not. While there is intrinsically nothing wring in inviting performers of all ilks and backgrounds to perform in our festivals, the handling of the Umut Albayrak affair has been misconceived and ill timed. To include Albayrak in a Cypriot Festival because she is Cypriot is logical. However, it would follow axiomatically that the Cyprus community would also have to invite Lebanese Maronite and Armenian artists to also participate, as these too, comprise venerable and important Cypriot minorities. As far as we know however, these two Cypriot minority groups have been assiduously ignored. Are they any less Cypriot than the minority Turks of the island? Or are some minorities more important than others?
In an incisive comment in the Greek section of this publication on 12 March, Kypros Kyprianou points out that it is the height of folly to believe that by inviting a Turkish-Cypriot singer to perform at the festival, that this would send the message that the two communities can live together in peace. First of all, the Greek and Turkish communities have demonstrated that in many countries, such as Australia, Germany and the United States that they can live together without friction or conflict. In Cyprus today, Turkish Cypriots are free to leave the military regime of the north and work or reside in free Cyprus, where they enjoy labour protection and equal rights with all other Cypriot citizens. He, and many other Cypriots who have, over the years, been at the forefront of the campaign to achieve justice for Cyprus, ask the question: Why do we, an aggrieved party, a victim of Turkish aggression, feel compelled to make empty, tokenistic gestures that seem to justify the flimsy Turkish justification of the heinous invasion, occupation and division of Cyprus? By inviting Turkish Cypriot artist to perform on the pretext that we need to somehow ‘prove’ that the two ‘sides’ can live in peace, are we not ‘proving’ correct the Turkish contention that Greeks and Turks cannot live in peace in Cyprus and that is the reason why the illegal occupation of a sovereign nation is necessary? Are we not absolving Turkey of its culpability in causing untold misery upon an innocent population and enforcing a racist system of apartheid upon the north of the island?
Furthermore, inviting Albayrak to sing in order to show that the two communities can live in peace has another damaging consequence. It serves to remove the Cyprus issue from its status as one involving violations of International Law, State Sovereignty, Human Rights Law and War Crimes and instead, relegates it to the status of a paltry intra-communal dispute. It would be ineptitude to the greatest degree for us, by our actions, to assert or to imply that the Cyprus Issue can be resolved by two communities being able to live in peace with one another. The fact remains that the Turkish Republic is illegally enforcing a pseudo-democratic, military regime upon the inhabitants of the northern sector of Cyprus, a sovereign nation, whether those inhabitants like it or not. That is the nub of the issue.
It is a savage indictment upon western concepts of justice that we, as victims, are perennially called upon to embrace aggressors in empty gestures of friendship that do nothing to resolve the original conflict or provide restitution for wrongs. So pervasive is this humiliating ideology, that it pervades our consciousness, making us feel guilty for being victims and putting the onus on us, though we have committed no crime, to seek the favours of the perpetrators of crime. The Turkish Cypriot community has not made similar gestures of reconciliation. Nor has it ever attempted to emancipate itself from the direction of Turkish or Turkish-imposed officials in order to engage in meaningful and constructive debate as to the integration of all Cypriots as a community and nation. It cannot, for it is a disenfranchised community, captive to policy-directions and strategic considerations that serve the interests of another power. As the foreign minister of Cyprus admitted during his recent visit to Australia, even high-level, friendly discussions between ideologically linked Turkish puppet leader of the occupied north, Mehmet Ali Talat and Cyprus President Mr Christofias are useful: “not so much for reaching a solution but for easing the tension that may arise occasionally.” We experience no such tension here.
It is axiomatic then, that the Cypriot Community’s well-meaning gesture is futile and will bear no fruit. If it wants to show that all ethnic communities in Cyprus can live in harmony, it would do much better to seek the support and work closer in the interim with communities that have already pledged their support and loyalty to the Republic of Cyprus, including the Lebanese and Armenian communities and which are fully integrated within Cypriot society. These communities are favourably disposed towards us and their own contributions to multi-cultural Cyprus and Victoria are not inconsiderable. Why ignore them instead of harnessing their resources to show the world what a fascinating tolerant melting pot and mosaic of cultures and ethnicities Cyprus really is?
That being said, it would be ungracious and inhospitable to compel an artist, invited to perform at an event to be drawn into a political dispute by virtue of her name and ethnicity. Regardless of the motivation behind her invitation and her acceptance to perform at the Festival, Albayrak, a talented signer in her own right, should be thanked warmly for her contribution and not be coerced to enter into a series of representations that could land her in a good deal of trouble by the authorities that regulate her day to day existence. She will always be welcome at a Cyprus Community function, not because her presence somehow magically proves that Greek and Turkish Cypriots can live together in peace but because as a Cypriot, the Cyprus Community is her home away from home. On the other hand, the Festival organisers would be better served by consulting widely with members of their community that have extensive experience in seeking Justice for Cyprus and cross-ethnic harmony before amateurishly embroiling their community into conflict, without cause. In this game, semantics are everything.
The Cyprus Community of Melbourne and Victoria does not make foreign policy within the context of a community where every man is his own foreign minister. It does however, have not inconsiderable influence in informing both Australian and Cypriot governments about aspects of the ongoing Cyprus issue. The interests of the Cyprus Community are not served by empty gestures of reconciliation that a) have no counterpart among those with whom they seek or wish to be seen to seek to engage b) polarise and disappoint their own members, and c) bear no results. By all means play the game but remember that our community organizations primary function in this country is not solve international disputes but rather, to safeguard whatever understand our own culture to be, for the next generations. In a zeitgeist of community disintegration, of limited time and even limited resources, can we really afford to play politics? Until next week, Justice for Cyprus seekers, this thought, abounding in aptness from the king himself, Elvis Presley:
“Singers come and go, but if you are a good actor, you can last along time.” Now let’s tread the boards carefully.


First published in NKEE on 6 April 2009