Saturday, May 25, 2024



When it was all over and he had returned to his home island of Samos, Metropolitan Christophoros spent his retirement writing and telling all who would listen, tales of his sojourn in a remarkable country beyond the seas. Elderly members of the Samian community in Melbourne remember their childhood including a charismatic and kindly old man who would regale them with stories of a topsy turvy land where the seasons were reversed and strange and wondrous animals reigned. His vivid descriptions of the exotic Australian outback informed my own grandfather’s decision to migrate Australia, just a few years before the Metropolitan’s death.

Exactly one hundred years ago, in 1924, Metropolitan Christophoros stepped on Australian shores, despatched by the Ecumenical Patriarch to lead the emerging antipodean Church. It is fair to say that he exercised an unprecedented fascination upon the Australian media of the time. His arrival in Fremantle on 9 July 1924 was reported on by various news outlets, including regional ones, with the Sun News-Pictorial of Melbourne describing him as: “a tall, commanding figure, liberally bearded, and benevolent of countenance.” The Tweed Daily of Murwillumbah, New South Wales, informed its readers on 11 July 1924 that: “he is first office-bearer of his status in his church, to take up residence in Australia, and comes commended by the Patriarch to the Governor-General.”
From the outset, he enjoyed almost celebrity status among the media. As various mainstream news publications reported on his progress through the country and his rapturous reception by various Greek communities at stops along the way, much was made of his education, his erudition and connections. The Brisbane Courier opined that: “The Archbishop, who has a charming personality, is, among other things, an Oxonian, and his conversation reflects the outlook of a mind broadened by culture in many countries.” The Herald, in Melbourne, on 9 September 1924, informed its readers that: “he was a student for four years at the University of St. Andrew's, Scotland, and passed to the University of Oxford, where he took the degree of Bachelor of Letters. His treatise entitled “Ordination and Matrimony in the Eastern Orthodox Church” earned him warm praise from the Oxford professors, particularly from the famous English critic, Professor Brightman, who published the entire treatise in the Oxford official theological organ.” Indeed, he was the first Greek theologian to graduate from Oxford University since Mitrofanis Kritopoulos in 1630 and upon his graduation, was closely involved in discussions between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the British and American embassies regarding the situation of the Greeks in Cappadocia. He also led missions to complain about Ottoman mistreatment of Orthodox Christians to Serbia and Romania, was appointed on a diplomatic mission to London in 1919 by Eleutherios Venizelos and successfully organised the relief and re-housing of refugees in war-ravaged Serres, where he was appointed bishop. All of these things were reported by the Australian press, with admiration.

Urbane and only slightly oriental, Metropolitan Christophoros was every bit the “venerable and cultured ecclesiastic,” as Perth’s Daily News gushed on the day of his arrival, displaying the first example of the Australian media’s captivation with Orthodox vestments that has continued until the present day: “the distinguished visitor went ashore looking a picturesque figure in the impressive headgear and robe of his high office.” The Herald, in Melbourne, in contrast, was fascinated by his engolpion, writing:  “He wore a large jewelled symbol of his ecclesiastical rank, about four inches long, which glittered with emeralds and rubies. This hung from his neck by a long chain reaching just below his breast. It is not unlike a Mayoral ornament.” On 23 September, the Herald would report that a thief had broken into Evangelismos Church, “apparently under the impression that the crown set with rubies and emeralds, which, is worn by Archbishop Knetes… was kept inside the church.”
As presentable as he was, he was still however, as exotic figure to the local press. On 4 September 1924, Melbourne’s Sun News-Pictorial, in an article entitled: “When Greek meets Greek, Even a Bishop Must Submit to be Kissed,” observed:
“When he stepped from the train countrymen implanted resounding kisses on his bearded features. A porter or two looked on astounded. It was just the Greek way of welcome. To the onlookers it was all Greek.”
From the outset, the Archbishop let it be known that he had grand plans for Australia, with the Herald reporting: “People have been so kind to me since I landed… I feel that I am a kind of ambassador. I shall travel throughout , Australia, establishing churches which shall have a threefold purpose, religious, educational and charitable. They shall make Australia known to my country.”

Despite his sympathetic reception, Archbishop Christophoros was sensitive to the prejudices held by the mainstream towards his people. He had a solution for that too, informing the Herald, in an article entitled “Farms for Greeks:” “I have heard it said that Greeks congregate in your cities, and do not go out on the land. That is true, but there is excuse. My countrymen, as a rule, does not speak English. He clings on arrival to those of his own kin. But already I see a way out, whereby the, Greek will become a producer in this fine land of yours… As soon as practicable, I hope to establish throughout Australasia training farms presided over by Greeks who speak English and are familiar with your ways. To these farms arriving Greeks may be sent, and will receive the necessary training whereby they may go on the land and add to the prosperity of the great country which has received them so kindly.” The farms never eventuated.
Although he was initially welcomed with great fervour by the Greeks of Melbourne, it did not take long for the relationship to sour. Historian Hugh Gilchrist points to a rivalry between the longer established Ithacans and the parvenu Samians as a factor. A further factor would be inability of the local Greek bourgeoisie who employed their fellow Greeks in conditions of wage-slavery, to accept the precedence of another of the running of their communal affairs. The catalyst appears to have been the Archbishop gently correcting the parish priest Eirinaios Kasimatis when he read the wrong gospel reading during the liturgy, causing the priest to seize the Bible from him shouting: “I am not from Ankara – I am from the Ionian Islands.” He would go on to acquire the Greek community newspaper Ethniki Salpinx, from where he would accuse the Archbishop of various misdemeanours.
It did not take long for the matter to end up in the Courts. Prominent Greek community members Panayiotis Lekatsas and Constantine Black issued proceedings against the Greek Community of Victoria in the Supreme Court, claiming that the Archbishop’s appointment was invalid as the Greeks of Melbourne acknowledged only the “free” Church of Greece as their spiritual leaders and not the Ecumencal Patriarchate. The case was widely and extensively reported in the mainstream media, betraying the public’s bemusement at the conflict by such titles as “Greeks At Law” (The Argus 31 March 1925) and it involved some of the greatest legal minds of Australian Jurisprudence, such as Sir Own Dixon, counsel for the Community and the Archbishop, who went on to become Chief Justice of Australia and Sir John Latham for the plaintiffs. Justice Leo Cussen, in adjudicating the dispute, urged the parties to settle their differences, noting: “all Orthodox Churches, including the Autocephalous Church of Greece, recognise the Ecumenical Patriarch as the undisputed head of the Eastern Orthodox Church.”

Perhaps the most lurid description of the case was that which appeared in Labor Call, on 9 April 1925, the official organ of the Political Labor Council of Victoria, which is noteworthy for its excoriation of the litigants, its overtly racist overtones and its lampooning of the Archbishop: “There is a row on in the Greek community in Melbourne, which threatens to become as interesting as a wrestling bout at the Stadium…The parties to the conflagration are Archbishop Knetes, a recent arrival, who was received in great state, paid an officialcall on the G.G., and partook of ice-cream and bananas all round, and the old-established Greek community in Melbourne. It seems that, prior to the arrival of the man with the kink in his name from Turkey (not a very healthy place for a Greek bishop), the religious welfare of the ice-cream and banana merchants was looked after by a gentleman with the simple, childlike name of Ireneos Cassimates, who had been appointed by the Holy Synod—(get off the grass!) One of the first acts of the new archbishop was to remove Mr. Ireneos Cassimates, on the ground that he could not spell his name, and replace him with another reverend with the devastating name of Christoforos Demopoulos. This person was not acceptable to the ancient Melbourne Greeks, so Messrs. Panayottu Lucas and Constanine Black raised the flag of revolution, and now it seems by no means certain that the gentleman who arrived with so much ceremony and ice-cream is an archbishop at all, and there are dark rumours that the two rebels with the above short names are going to prove that he is simply Mr. Knetes, or even Knetes, without the Mr. On the other hand, a number of recent arrivals, headed by Messrs. Pestiferos Stinkopolois and Athanasius Credoforos, are prepared to support the archbishop, and to blazes with the Holy Synod or any other blamed thing.”
In seeking to have the Sydney Community change its Constitution in order to transfer its spiritual allegiance from the Church of Greece to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archbishop Knetes inadvertently caused a schism, with the Sydney Sun Newspaper of 18 July 1926 gleefully publishing a photo of the Archbishop with his congregation at St Michael's Anglican Hall, in Surry Hills where he was compelled to perform the liturgy after being locked out of the church of Agia Triada, under the title “Greek Cleavage.”
The worst was yet to come. Kasimatis’ smut and slander, with allegations of homosexual practices and indecent exposure, including incidents in Constantinople bath-houses and the Zappeion Gardens in Athens began to be picked up by the tabloids. Four Sydney Greeks began to publicly accuse the Archbishop of sexual misconduct with visiting British Sailor from HMAS Adelaide. On 26 January 1926, the Archbishop issued criminal libel proceedings against the four men and the matter again was followed closely by the Australian media, which reported on the case in detail, employing sensationalist headlines such as “The Conflict of the Greeks. Allegations of a Put-Up Job” (Truth, Sydney February 1926). The same newspaper on 14 February 1926 published a photograph of the Archbishop trying to hide his face from the camera, and considering the court case, a reflection of the fallen state of the Greek people as a whole, writing in purely orientalist style in “Faded Glory that was Greece”: “Ancient Greece, famous in song and story as the birthplace of culture, knew also the troubled times of internecine strife. But civic differences were conducted on a grand scale then, and concerned no less illustrious personages than Pericles, and such like giants of the past. BUT the glory that was Greece is no more ! Only sordid squabbles and recriminations remain to characterise the tattered remnants of a once splendid race. The conflict between the Australian leader of the Greek Orthodox Church and some of his flock which was aired in the Police Court last week indicate that some, at least, of the Hellenic survivors have departed gravely from the standards of their magnificent past.”
The hapless Archbishop’s humiliation, with allegations about his past paraded blatantly in the public forum of the court, was only partly complete when he lost the case, for in turn, his four accusers issued defamation proceedings against him, in which they were successful, the Archbishop being ordered to pay them £500. Soon after, in April 1926 Ecumenical Patriarch Vasileios announced the recall of Archbishop Christophoros, only for this to be revoked in August, after expressions of support from local Greeks and the intervention of the Greek Consul-General in Sydney, Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos. Meanwhile, the Sydney church was still divided and in conflict. Although the Archbishop had proceeded with the construction of the church of Agia Sophia, described as “the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the southern hemisphere,”  in September 1927, the Foreign Minister of Greece Andreas Michalakopoulos demanded the Archbishop’s immediate removal, “for the sake of national and ecclesiastical dignity, even if this involves the abolition of the Archdiocese in Australia.”
Soon after, on 15 December 1927, the Archbishop was knocked down by a speeding motorcycle and his skull was fractured. Unbeknownst to him, on the same day, a committee of bishops appointed by the Ecumenical Patriarch reported that while no incriminating evidence against him had been found, it would be better for the Church in Australia if the Archbishop was transferred to another position.
Appointed titular Metropolitan of Vizyi in Eastern Thrace, Archbishop Christophoros served in that capacity for only a year, notably attending the coronation of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in Addis Ababa in 1929 and retiring to Samos a short while later. Despite his harrowing experiences at the hands of the Australian Greeks, he retained an abiding love of the country, even unsuccessfully petitioning the Ecumenical Patriarch for his return.
As we celebrate this year, the centenary of the arrival of the first Greek Orthodox Metropolitan in Australia, it is worth considering the manner of his reception and his ultimate fate, causing us to reflect upon the ensuing clashes of class, influence, ideology of governance, leadership and vision, that ultimately shaped the Greek communities of Australia.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 May 2024

Saturday, May 18, 2024


-Δε θα νάρτου αύριγιου στν’ κκλησιά, the old lady, of northern Greek extraction informed her friend after the Saturday liturgy.

- Γιατί καλέ; Αύριο έχει μνημόσυνο, her Peloponnesian friend replied.
- Αύριγιου είνι τσ’ μάδας κι θα μι βγάν’νι όξου.
-Τι; Θα σε μαδήσουν και θα σε βγάλουν έξω; her friend asked, in complete shock.                                                    
All the secular holidays of our adopted homeland generally leave us indifferent, save for the Melbourne Cup holiday and Mother’s Day, which although celebrated on a different date than the rest of the world, has been adopted most enthusiastically by our entire tribe.
All of my close friends are called George and this is deliberate, because I have a very poor memory and uniformity creates ease of reference. George the elder, who is most devout, opines that our adulation of our Mothers is not an adopted Australian custom but one that has its roots deep in our people’s psyche, somehow connected to our deep reverence for the Panayia, and before that, of the various Mother Goddesses of times ancient and obscure. Mother’s Day, in his household, commences in this fashion:
George to his wife: “Happy Mother’s Day love. Thanks for our beautiful family.”
George’s wife to George: “Thanks. Where is my present?”
George: “What present? The kids have got you presents.”
George’s wife: “Yeah, but what about you? Where is your present?”
George: “But you’re not my mother.”
George’s wife (triumphantly): “Finally, after so many years, you’ve got it.”
George the second hails from the shady groves of Elis and he is the apple of his mother’s eye. When stereotyping Greek mothers, he points to stock phrases such as: “Have you eaten? Eat, you are too skinny, Πάρε το μπουφάν γιατί θα κρυώσεις αγόρι μου, and of course «μη σηκώνεσαι, θα σου το φέρω εγώ” to illustrate just how in thrall to their male progeny, they are. He employs these phrases also to indicate that this level of self-negating devotion could never be obtained from a romantic partner, because there is nothing like a Greek mother’s love. George, now approaching his fifth decade, is unmarried and though his mother periodically falls upon her octogenarian feet begging him to find a wife, this pursuit is fraught with danger, for after rising from the floor to sit upon the couch, she informs him that the modern woman is only interested in spending his hard earned money on getting her nails done and will “eat” his, or rather his parents’ periousia. Despite his close relationship with his mother, George is independent. He lives two houses away in a brick veneer home that his father built as an investment and visits his mother only in the evenings in order to eat and provide her with clothes to wash, which is very important for her mental health as she is retired and it is important to remain active. George’s mother is also respectful of boundaries, and will only go over to his once a day to clean, while he is at work.
George the third comes from Northern Greece and laughs derisively at George the second’s description of his filial relationship, considering those from the south soft and dangerously sentimental. In place of the martyr mother, he postulates the monocrat matriarch whose steely visage inspires terror and whose word is law. To this effect, he has compiled a stock decalogue of classic maternal phrases that suggest to us that in terms of parenting, it is the thought, not the delivery, that counts.
1. Ωχ να σ' είχα κάν’ σκατά καλύτερα.
2.Ω ξυλιάσου και ξερώσου.
3. Θα σ' δώκω τα δόντια σ’ να τα φας για στραγάλια.
4. Σήκω μη σε σαβανώσω.
5. Ουι νά κλεινα τα πόδια’μ την ώρα που σι γένναγα.
6. Φάε μη σε φάει η λέπρα.
7. Ντερλίκωνε, μη σι πάρ κι σι σκώς νεφταρσμένο.
8. -Θα το ξανακάνεις; -Όχι. -Οχιά να σε φάει.
9. (Spoken during a Greek dance when there was «ντίσκο για την νεολαία») Τι τουρλώνς τον κώλο σ’ κι τανιέσαι σαν τσιουπροθήλυκο;
10. Πώς θες να την φας; Απ' την ανάποδ' για απ’ την καλή;
Mother’s Day was always a perennial source of dread for George the third as try as he might, he could never get the requisite gift, quite right, which is a problem as it is his mother’s considered opinion that a son should know exactly what his mother wants, otherwise he either does not care, does not take the maternal bond seriously or is just plain stupid. Many is the time where visiting his mother on Mother’s Day in order to offer moral support, I have seen her fling the proffered present across the other side of the room, only to invariably land in a pot plant, screeching:
-Σε πήρε πολλή ώρα να σκεφτείς να μου αγοράσεις αυτή την βλακεία;
Then turning to me, the inevitable question:
-         Συ τι πήρες τσ’ μάνα’ς.
-         Τίποτα θεια. Της έσκαψα τον κήπο, I would lie, shamelessly.
-         Μπράβο εσύ είσι άνθρουπους, όχι σαν αυτόν το χαϊβάν’ εδώ.
George refuses to go attend therapy, ostensibly because he holds that therapy is a western construct that does not lend itself to an adequate correspondence with the eastern mind. Funnily enough, his mother absolutely loves the presents his wife gets her for Mother’s Day. Unwrapping them, she always exclaims: «Α νάις, νάις» before turning to George, impaling him with her gaze and then muttering under her breath: «Αυτή το διάλεξε; Καλά το κατάλαβα», before filing them away in the drawer where all her Mother’s Day presents are archived, unused and which she takes out once in a while when she thinks no one is looking, touches them lovingly, before putting them back in their places.
Sojourning in a shopping area frequented by Greeks, I have been privileged to overhear these conversations evidencing preparations for Greek Australian Mother’s Day
- Mum what do you want for Mother’s day?
- Εγώ; Τι θέλω εγώ; Εγώ που σου τα έδωσα όλα; Πού θυσίασα τα νειάτα μου για να σε μεγαλώσω, να σε σπουδάσω, Τι θα μπορούσες να μου έδινες εσύ που σου πλένω ακόμη τα σώβρακα; Τίποτα. Να ακούς τη μάνα σου θέλω. Να σταματήσεις να είσαι γάιδαρος θέλω. Να γίνεις άνθρωπος. Αλλά σε ποιον τα λέω; Σε κάνα γηροκομείο θα καταλήξω…..αχαΐρευτε, αχάριστε, άσπλαχνε, άει χάσου από τα μάτια μου που θες και μαδεσντέι. Να ξεμαδεστώ να ησυχάσω..
Then there is this:
- Mum we are going out to Brunetti’s for Mother’s Day.
- Τι θα πει Ουι; Με ποιους;
- With Giovanni’s mum, she is coming as well.
- Τι δουλειά έχω εγώ με τους μακαρονάδες στο Πουρνέτι. Για δε καθόμαστε στο σπίτι να φάμε το πουρνό;
- Come on mum, it’s Mother’s Day. I’ll get you a chai latte.
- Τι μάδες ντάι και μαδέρια, που να με μαδήσουν οι τέσσερις; Ένα τσαί του βουνού δωσ’ μου με δηλητήριο να φύγω μιαν ώρα νωρίτερα που με ποτίζεις φαρμάκι από τα γεννοφάσκια σου. Άσε με εδώ να βρωμίσω. Για δε μου λες, το ταγιέρ το μπλε να φορέσω;
And of course this:
-Μαμά, είμαστε καλεσμένοι όλοι στης πεθεράς μου για το Mother’s Day.
-Γιατί; Δεν έχεις εσύ μάνα και πρέπει να πας αλλού;
-Come on mum, we came to you last year. Now it’s Soula’s turn. She has a mum to you know. Come with us. I’m sure she will not mind.
- Καλύτερα να φάω σκατά, παρά από την κουζίνα αυτής της βρώμας που καθαρίζει κάθε δεύτερο Πάσχα η χολεριασμένη. Αλλά καλά να πάθω που γέννησα τον έχθρο μου. Σύρε στην πεθερά σου βρε άχρηστε. Τον πατέρα σου έμοιασες. Δεν είσαι άντρας….
In past years my own children were not convinced that we celebrate Mother’s Day. Their opinion was that we actually celebrated Grandmother’s Day since we tended to place all our emphasis upon them. This changed only on last year’s Mother’s Day. Lying on the couch, emaciated and thoroughly ill while enmeshed in the throes of chemotherapy, my youngest daughter regarded her mother in silence for what seemed an age. Then turning to me, she whispered: «Μπαμπά, θα πεθάνει η μαμά;»
At that moment all the lives of all the important women in my life coalesced and flowed as one, a viscous current of sacrifice, generosity and overwhelming love, through my entire being. As my wife smiled at us, I could not tell whether that smiled belonged to my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, my mother-in-law, or her. What I did know however, is that as omnipresent as the sun as mothers are, there will come a time when we will have to live in the shadow of their passing, and try to find meaning in a life lived without those who granted it to us. There is nothing I fear more in the world.
«Σιγά μη μας αφήσει ήσυχους,» I snorted, turning  my face away in order to hide my tears.
Rather than permitting us to take her out on Mother’s Day, my mother insists on inviting us all to lunch at her house instead, for in her mind a commemoration so intimate only belongs to the initiated. What always ensues in the family hearth, for her culinary skills cannot be surpassed, is a feast elaborate and intricate, involving an innumerable number of courses all of which have symbolic and thematic meaning and an interminable recounting of the memories of all the mother figures who occupy our ancestral pantheon. It was my sister’s first Mother’s Day this year and as I watched my wife, her face beaming, scoop up my niece in her arms and twirl her around the room, causing her to squeal with delight, and my daughters brace in anticipation of avoiding ensuing projectiles, I was granted a vision of seeing them, when I am long gone, seated at the head of their own tables, whispering as my mother was doing to my father in sheer triumph, something my great-grandmother had whispered to her on her hundredth birthday: «Αυτοί όλοι που κάθονται σ’αυτό το τραπέζι  είναι δικοί μου».
For that is exactly who we are.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 18 May 2024

Saturday, May 11, 2024



The whole thing, being based on false pretences was doomed from the start. In December 1803, Count Froberg lately of Germany, received authorisation from Britain’s Secretary at War to form a regiment in Germany for deployment in Malta, recently wrested from the French, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Except that Count Froberg was not a Count, nor was he German. Instead, he was Gustave de Montjoie, an impoverished supporter of the French Bourbon dynasty, looking to make a quick fortune. According to Adam Neale's 1813 "Travels Through Some Parts of Germany, Poland, Moldavia and Turkey," Froberg commenced recruiting for what he termed the Froberg Levy, his regiment, primarily in Epirus and Albania as well as the mountainous regions of Bulgaria. What he was looking for was men of exceptional hardiness, who could endure privation. Adam Neale describes Froberg’s approach to recruitment as being one of "unscrupulous deceit and falsehood." A number of promises were made about pay and conditions that could not possibly have been met, such as that they would be all given an officer’s commission. Instead, they were all enlisted as privates on half-pay.  By 1806, the multilingual and multiethnic regiment, consisting of approximately 500 soldiers, arrived in Malta.
Trouble began from the outset. Upon landing in Malta, the recruits could not understand why they had to go into quarantine and instead demanded that they be returned to Corfu. They only complied when their commanding officer, Lieutenant Schwartz, the oppressive officer who oversaw the contentious recruitment. Only after Schwartz threatened to withhold their food did they comply.
Upon their release from quarantine, the soldiers were not provided with uniforms, weapons or any training. Instead, they wandered the streets of Malta’s capital, Valletta, frequently fighting amongst themselves and with the Maltese who increasingly became fed up with their unruly and frustrated would be protectors. Fearing further unrest, Lieutenant-General William Villettes, the overall commander of British troops in Malta, ordered the Froberg Regiment to be confined at Fort Ricasoli. This however served only to inflame the soldiers even further.
Matters came to a head on 4  April 1807 when 200 Greeks and Albanians, led by a Greek from Bulgaria known as Caro Mitro intent on escaping back to Corfu, attacked their officers, killing Schwartz and severely injuring other officers. John Johnstone, a British artilleryman, was killed when he refused to hand over the keys to the armoury. The rebels pulled down the British flag and replaced it with the Russian ensign. They then forced twenty British soldiers in charge of the fort’s guns to train the guns on Valletta and sent a message to the town. They demanded an immediate discharge, free passage to Corfu, and a pardon. Otherwise, they would fire the fort’s guns on Valletta.

British authorities refused to treat with the rebels. Instead, the 39th regiment was instructed to advance on Fort Ricasoli, along with the  Royal Maltese Regiment. There was only a few day’s supply of food in the fort and the rebels soon renewed their demands for a discharge, amnesty and food for eight hunred men. Villettes, resolving to starve them out, ordered their immediate surrender and began moving artillery around the fort. A  factor informing Villettes’ cautious approach was the presence of hostages held by the mutineers, including regimental officers, their families, and British artillerymen, who faced the threat of slaughter in the event of an assault.
On 6 April, the mutineers sought to negotiate once more, dispatching one of their officers with a repeat of their earlier demands to Villettes. Although the demands were again dismissed, the officer was able to convey the dire conditions faced by himself and his fellow captives.
Soon after, signs of discord began to emerge among the rebels, who had begun to squabble among themselves. One faction raised a white flag in  surrender, which was quickly taken down. The realisation that there existed among the rebels, a faction willing to capitulate, further emboldened Villetes. Accordingly, he dispatched a delegation, accompanied by Greek priests, to negotiate with the rebels and seek their surrender, relying on his leniency. However, the rebels persisted in their demands and threats to bombard Valletta.
On the fourth day, the authorities were astonished to witness the release of the wives and children of the regimental officers held hostage, highlighting the lack of food within the fort. Desperate, the mutineers issued an ultimatum, threatening to detonate the fort and everyone within, including themselves, unless provisions were delivered by a specified time. When this ultimatum expired without compliance, they issued another, vowing to massacre every officer and Englishman in the fort if their demands were not met.
Within the fort, the other European mutineers began to squabble with the more diehard Greeks and Albanians. Later that day, a group of disgruntled Germans and Poles overwhelmed the sentries and unbarred the fort's gates, rushing out. Only the Greeks and Albanians remained.
Beseiged and hungry, on 10 March, the remaining group of rebels attempted to bolster their bargaining position by firing towards Valletta across the harbour. This action proved to be the final straw for Villettes, who determined that the fort should be stormed without further delay. Led by Lieutenant de Clermont of the Froberg Regiment, forty men attacked the fort under cover of darkness and gained control, without incurring any losses.
However, led by leader Caro Mitro, six rebels retreated into the magazine, threatening to detonate it if their demands were not met. Two days elapsed, and during the night of 12 March, they carried out their threat, causing an explosion that claimed the lives of three British sentries.
Although it was assumed that the six rebels perished in the blast, they managed to escape amidst the chaos and fled to the countryside. They were apprehended a few days later and placed under arrest.

A brief military trial was swiftly held, during which twenty four rebels were identified as the main instigators and received death sentences. In a letter, Villettes characterized them as "ferocious savages," and the manner of their execution was far from civilized.
The execution took place on the Floriana Parade Ground, witnessed by the imprisoned remaining members of the Froberg Regiment, a significant portion of the island’s garrison, and a substantial gathering of Maltese civilians. The condemned were divided into three groups, with the first group hanging the second, who were then hanged by the third group.
Subsequently, the last group, along with the remaining individuals, were executed by firing squad, without being blindfolded. Surprisingly, not all were immediately killed by the initial shots, and some attempted to flee, though they were pursued and ultimately dispatched. Two of them met their demise when they attempted to escape over the
Soon after, a board of inquiry was established, whose investigations revealed the deficiencies in the recruitment process. As a result, the Froberg Regiment was promptly disbanded, and approximately three hundred individuals deemed eligible for discharge were sent back to Greece and Albania. Other soldiers not implicated in the mutiny, primarily Germans, Poles, and Russians, who opted to continue serving in the British forces, were reassigned to different regiments.
A few days later, Maltese soldiers apprehended the last two fugitives. Shortly thereafter, Caro Mitro and his friend Nicolas Anastasiou were executed by hanging and buried in an unmarked grave. However, one more violent death connected to this incident was yet to occur.
Count Froberg, the nefarious founder of the regiment, was in Constantinople when news of the mutiny reached him. Sensing danger, he fled the city, but rumours suggest that he was eventually hunted down and killed, possibly by some of his former soldiers seeking vengeance. According to another source, he was murdered by marauding Cossacks.
Whether victims of fraud or insubordinate traitors, the fighting mettle of the Greek and Albanian rebels at Fort Ricasoli both captivated and repelled the British. Seeking only dignity and decent treatment, the rebels were cornered into a situation not of their own making. It was the inflexibility of the British and their inability to comprehend the injustice served upon the mutinying troops that led to their calamitous demise, while their leader Caro Mitro, remains a romantic yet tragic figure to the present day.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 May 2024

Saturday, May 04, 2024


 "I hate silence when it is time to speak."

Saint Kassiane


It is Saint Kassiane’s hymn, chanted during the Matins service of Holy Saturday that penetrates my mind as I stand before my grandparents’ grave. It foreshadows Christ’s glorious victory over death and with it, our own imminent reunion: “Weep not for me, O Mother, as you now see me buried whom you conceived within your belly seedlessly, your Son, for I shall rise from the dead and shall be glorified and as God shall in glory unceasingly exult those who longingly praise you in faith…”

Yet I cannot hold back my tears, heartened only by the courage provided by the redoubtable woman who feared no one except God himself. I see her, intelligent and beautiful, marketed off as a potential bride for the Emperor Theophilos. The chroniclers state Theophilos approached her, commenting snidely: “Through woman, the worst,” referring to the sin of Eve. Unfazed and singularly unimpressed, Kassiane responded, “Through woman, the best,” referring to the birth of the Saviour through the Theotokos. Apparently unable to accept being put in his place by a woman, Theophilos chose another bride.

This fearless championing of the dignity of the sisterhood, would persist throughout her life, evidenced in such poems as this:

“The race of women, together with truth, prevails over all

and Esdras is the witness.”

Φῦλον γυναικῶν ὑπερισχύει πάντων

καὶ μάρτυς Ἔσδρας μετὰ τῆς ἀληθείας.

Here Kassiane refers to the Old Testament Book of Esdras where King Darius is engaged in a debate over what is superior. Certainly she did not suffer fools gladly, especially male polymaths arguing over the size of their egos, writing acerbically:

“Knowledge in a fool is another form of folly;

knowledge in a fool is a bell on a pig's snout.”

νῶσις ἐν μωρῷ πάλιν ἄλλη μωρία

γνῶσις ἐν μωρῷ κώδων ἐν ῥινὶ χοίρου.


Rejected by the Emperor, Kassiane established a monastery in Constantinople and became its abbess. Despite facing punishment for her support of icons during the iconoclastic controversy, she boldly defended her theological views. In a time when female writers were rare in the Western world, Kassiane defied the norm by composing both poetry and hymns.

Some of these, such as her: “Against the Pricks,” are particularly strident: “Do not kick against the pricks with your bare feet;/ since you can’t damage the pricks in any way/ you will only hurt yourself and be in pain.” (Πρὸς κέντρα μὴ λάκτιζε γυμνοῖς ποσί σου·/ ἐπεὶ τὰ κέντρα μηδαμῶς καταβλάψας/ σαυτὸν τρώσειας καὶ πόνον ὑποστήσῃ).

When she wasn’t writing ecclesiastical masterpieces, she was venting her spleen against her pet hate: Armenians:

“The terrible race of the Armenians

is deceitful, and extremely vile,

fanatical, deranged and malignant,

puffed up with hot air and full of slyness.

A wise man said correctly about them that

Armenians are vile when they live in obscurity,

even more vile when they become famous,

and most vile in all ways when they become rich.

When they become filthy rich and honoured,

then to all they seem as vileness heaped upon vileness.”

I am convinced that the only explanation for this bizarre outburst is that this ninth century hymnographer was granted a vision of the coming of the Kardashians.

Mostly, we remember Kassiane as the author of the troparion of the Sinful or penitent Woman that is chanted in the Matins of Holy Tuesday, an example of Lenten repentance. It envisages the penitent woman who anointed Christ at the beginning of His ministry, “weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:36-38). Somehow, from a person weighed down with sins, and having no name, she became associated by many first with Mary Magdalene and then with a Harlot.

The troparion’s language is like a collage, incorporating words, phrases, and echoes from Scripture, particularly the Psalms. Kassiane’s imagery delves into the emotional turmoil of the Sinful Woman during a critical moment. Despite its brevity of just over one hundred words, the hymn is packed with intensity and depth. Through her composition, she explores the core Christian narrative of sin and redemption, solely through a deeply psychological analysis of a woman’s perspective.

Kassiane's exploration is crafted as a single stanza featuring two distinct voices. Initially, the poet herself offers a concise introduction. Subsequently, in a more extensive and emotionally charged segment, we hear the voice of the Sinful Woman, revealing the poignant narrative of her life’s transformation from sin to salvation.

With great sensitivity and circumspection, her subject is introduced as: “the woman who had fallen into many sins.” (ἡ ἐν πολλαῖς ἁμαρτίαις περιπεσοῦσα γυνὴ) This portrayal, while more delicate and less harsh than the hymnographers who labelled the sinner as a “harlot,” nonetheless vividly depicts the woman's profound degradation, albeit without judgment.


In a subsequent verse, “perceiving Your divinity,” (τὴν σὴν αἰσθομένη θεότητα) we are granted insight into another significant aspect of the Woman’s psyche. The Sinful Woman demonstrates exceptional perceptiveness and intuition. Unlike Simon, who in Luke’s Gospel doubted Jesus's authenticity as a prophet, she was possessed of enough gifts to recognize the divine within Him. Despite bearing the weight of numerous sins, the irony lies in the fact that this societal outcast alone discerned God’s presence and responded to it effectively.

In a third phrase, Kassiane further develops and enhances the traditional narrative of the Sinful Woman. Through the use of just three words, “taking up the order of myrrh-bearing,” (μυροφόρου ἀναλαβοῦσα τάξι) the poet elevates the sinner to a state of holiness, far beyond that of the males around her. By recognizing in Christ, Divinity, the Sinful Woman is aligned with the revered myrrh-bearers, the faithful female followers of Christ who brought spices to anoint His body in the tomb and were the first to witness His resurrection. Accordingly, Kassiane’s discourse privileges women as foremost followers of Christ, subverting contemporary narratives that would seek to diminish or demean their position and spiritual significance and instead placing them in primary position.

At this point, a second voice emerges in the troparion. At a time when female voices were rarely heard in their own right, Kassiane gives us the words of the Sinful Woman herself. Thus, we become witnesses to the previously voiceless woman from the Gospel of Luke’s narrative pouring out her soul in search of salvation. Kassiane transforms her tears into heartfelt words of fervour. In this way, the hymn transcends words, becoming a poem of lived experience, allowing us all a stake in the Woman's journey to freedom and the ultimate empowerment.

The Woman's initial utterance is a heart-wrenching cry of anguish. The cry “Οἴμοι” infuses a profound sense of emotion and intensity into the troparion. While the echoes of tragic, pain-filled anguish still resound, she commences her liberating outpouring of the innermost recesses of her soul. As is customary in all penitential prayers, it commences with an acknowledgment of guilt. With a cascade of vivid, sombre imagery, she depicts her spiritual desolation:

“For night holds me in its grip, the goad of lust, murky and moonless, the love of sin.”

The penitent Woman, far from being an insignificant object of derision becomes empowered by Kassiane. She takes ownership of her transgressions, recognizing her failure to restrain herself. This impassioned and unequivocal confession from a female perspective stands unparalleled in the Orthodox hymnographic tradition.

It is difficult not to conflate two women, who ostensibly rejected by the society of their time, found solace and ultimately newfound status in their faith in God. Saint Kassiane’s exploration of the emotional turmoil of the penitent woman could easily reflect her own inner journey, resulting in a profoundly moving and sublime portrayal.

The penitent Woman rightly exerts upon us perennial fascination. During His ministry, Jesus challenged societal norms by engaging with women in ways that scandalized the male-dominated mores of the time. His forgiving attitude and direct interaction with individuals, defying societal hierarchies, likely fostered a deeper, more personal connection with the women He encountered, including the penitent Woman, something that Kassiane expertly draws upon.

The troparion of Kassiane takes us upon an emotional roller coaster like no other, with the penitent Woman oscillating between despair and spiritual intensity, often experiencing drastic mood shifts. The depiction of profound darkness juxtaposed with cosmic grandeur within a single sentence, along with the fervent plea for mercy and intense spiritual devotion bordering on the erotic, renders this text fundamental in the Orthodox tradition. The fact that Kassiane’s portrayal of the spiritual turmoil of a Woman who underscores an approachable and relatable Christ sets Women at the centre of her salvific exploration, should not escape us.

Always, it is on Great and Holy Thursday, when kneeling, I come face to face with Christ hanging on the Cross, that the words of Kassiane’s penitent Woman inexorably hit home: “I will fervently embrace Thy sacred feet, and wipe them again with the tresses of the hair of my head.”  I want to prostrate myself before Him and dare to seek the intimacy already afforded to Kassiane’s Woman. Instead, knowing my place, I depart and in the stillness of the night under the moon, write to her:

“In secret, my sister Kassiane winds wet, verse-soaked linen bandages around her chest.

She bears these bandages under her clothes and not with the slightest sign do her verses betray what is going on.

Only I know about it and I cannot stop her.

She winds wet verses tightly, tightly around her chest.

When they dry and shrink, the words slowly crush her chest and suffocate her heart.

I embalm her stillness with the hair of my tears.”



First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 May 2024