Today, as a different kind of memorial for the fighters of 1821, I would like to talk about one distinguished figure, whose name was closely linked to the fight for freedom and who embodied all the virtues of the heroes of the Revolution, namely the bravery, dedication to duty, patriotism and self-sacrifice till death.
I am referring to Saint Gregorios V, Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch, who paid his love for the Nation and country with his life. The National Martyr Gregorios V was hanged on April 10th, 1821, just a few days after the outbreak of the liberation struggle because “[he] functioned secretly, behind the scenes, as leader of the revolution”, as it was mentioned in the Sultan’s verdict.
True to her legacy of sacrifices, the Church, in the struggle for survival and freedom of the Nation, paid a bigger blood price than any of the Nation’s elite. The death of St. Gregorios V provided the most important political argument of the Revolution against the prevailing European reaction, i.e. that the Greeks’ struggle was about their Faith, an element that had a positive impact on the liberal public opinion of the time. As it was aptly said, Martyr Gregorios “has been the unbroken stone of patience and endurance, the boast and ornament of the Patriarchs and Archbishops, the foundation of piousness, the fame and glory of the Church and of Greece, and a shiny example of all virtues."
Patriarch Gregorios V was born in Dimitsana of Peloponnese, in 1751 and he was brought up with a deep sense of our original national tradition. During his Patriarchy, one of the most important works was a Circular, in September 1807, by which, in a way, he forced the establishment of Greek schools and the provision of Greek education. His main concerns were the fluent learning of the Greek language, as well as the moral education of the students in the Orthodox spirit. The Patriarch used to say that “the youth should learn their fathers’ language very well and not to despise it, since Greek is the mother of philosophy."
But let us take a look at the events of the Revolution. In March 1821, the Patriarch had, once more, managed to salvage Christians from the major dangers that had emerged as a result of the Sultan’s reaction to the events of the uprising in Moldovlachia. However, when he heard the news about the Revolution of the Peloponnese, he realized that a new round of even fiercer persecutions was about to begin. And, indeed! Around the middle of March, the Sultan and the imperial council had already decided to slaughter the rayahs, while, at the same time, planning the declaration of the Holy War. Armed swarms of radicalized followers and janissaries had already been moved to the big cities of the empire, where many Greeks were living. Violence and executions, mostly of Phanariotes, had begun in an atmosphere of brutal terrorism.
The Patriarch, rushed by the Sultan, excommunicated Ypsilantis and the leaders of the Revolution. This action was, indeed, a product of raw violence and outright threat against the Patriarch by the Sublime Porte (Ottoman government). By excommunicating them, the Patriarch aimed at avoiding the certain slaughter of thousands of innocent Christians by the Sultan.
On March 20th, during a consultation at the Patriarchate, he had refused to flee from Constantinople and to save himself. Such a decision would have equaled his de facto accepting the slaughter of the Christian populations.
The Patriarch’s decision with its double rationale of his own sacrifice and the salvage of his flock, was going to offer to the revolution an argument of paramount importance, as was later proven. St. Gregorios said, to the also later on martyred Metropolitan Derkon, characteristically: “Both, I as head of the Nation and you, the Holy Synod, we owe to die for the common salvation. Our death will give Christianity the right to defend the Nation against the tyrant. However, if we encourage the revolution, then we offer justification to the Sultan who has decided to eliminate the Nation."
During all days of the Holy Week, the executions of distinguished Greeks increased. Once more, the Patriarch was offered to flee. These were his words, a few days before his martyrdom: “Do not urge me to flee, because a knife will go through the streets of Constantinople and of other cities in the Christian provinces. You wish for me to disguise and take shelter in a ship or to lock myself in the residence of any foreign ambassador, who wishes to help me and [stay there] hearing the executioners mangle the people which will have no shepherd. No! I am a Patriarch in order to save my Nation, not for it to vanish by the hands of janissaries. Maybe, my death will be more useful than my life. The foreign Christian sovereigns will experience a great surprise from my unjust death and they will not be indifferent to the fact that their faith was blasphemed in my face. The Greeks, the men of the battle will fight with more zeal, which often leads to victory. I am convinced of that. If the Nation is salvaged and triumphs, then I am certain that it will offer me incense of praise and honor, because I will have fulfilled my duty."
On April 10th, in the Easter-night, he was destined to perform his last service of the Resurrection. At the end of it, and after he blessed the congregation and wished everyone well, he retired to his private chapel.
In the morning, on Easter Day, two officials came to the Patriarchate and led St. Gregorios V straight to prison, where he was asked many times to change his faith. Nevertheless, the martyr used to respond as follows: “you tire yourselves in vain. The Patriarch of Christians was born a Christian and will die a Christian."
The executioners took Patriarch Gregorios V out of the prison and, with his hands tied behind his back, they boarded him to a small boat and reached the Pier of Phanari and from there to the gates of the Patriarchate, where they hanged him.
There, at the middle gate of the Patriarchate, which remains closed ever since, the great Patriarch of the Orthodox, martyred, fulfilling his duty for his Nation and his homeland. As was aptly said, his martyr death, which occurred on the day of the Savior’s Resurrection, constituted, actually, the Resurrection of the Greek Nation.
The Patriarch’s relics were dragged to the coast and then the executioners took them, boarded a small boat and dropped them in the middle of the Golden Horn. In fact, they tied massive stones to them, in order to prevent their later emergence. Nevertheless, by divine providence, the relics appeared under the Galata bridge, close to a Greek ship, which was about to sail to Odessa, and belonged to a pious Cephalonian, named Ioannis Sklavos. The Chancellor of the Patriarchate, an archimandrite, had resorted to that same ship and recognized immediately his spiritual father. The captain of the ship fished the relics and transported them to Odessa, where by order of Tsar Alexander, they were buried with honors in the yard of the Greek church of the Holy Trinity.
The first annual memorial service for the Saint took place, on April 10th, 1822 at the aforementioned church, along with the memorial service of the martyrs, late Metropolitans Dionyssios Kalliarchos of Ephesus, Athanassios of Nicomedia and Evgenios of Anchialos."
In 1871, 50 years after the Patriarch’s martyrdom, the Saint’s relics were transferred to Athens and placed inside the city’s Cathedral, where they remain to this day.
The Sultan, by killing the Nation’s leader, intended to hurt the Nation at the heart and to languish its life forever. Instead, the exact opposite happened! The death of the Patriarch, who “received the wreath of martyrdom, after he was martyred protecting his faith and Nation”, occurred in defense of the Church’s unity and the success of the revolution. In the words of Spyridon Trikoupis, at a historic session of the Greek Parliament, on August 3rd, 1864: “[Our] independence was drafted in 1821. And do you want me to tell you on which day? It was drafted on the day the great Patriarch of the Orthodox, exiting the Holy of the Holies, was hanged sanctifying and sanctified and still eating the holy bread and still drinking the Lord’s holy blood.
On that day the declaration of independence was drafted. And do you want me to tell you where it was drafted? In your hearts. And with what ink was it drafted? With St. Gregorios’ blood. This kind of ink, gentlemen, is impossible to be erased."
It is therefore, that our national poet Dionysios Solomos fairly dedicated some of the most beautiful verses of the Hymn to Freedom to the late Patriarch, who sacrificed his life for his flock and who was the redemption for many:
“135. Mourn ye all because the leader
of our church and our belief,
mourn ye, mourn, is hanging thither
like he were some murd'rous thief!
136. His mouth gaping open broadly
just hours after it received
the Lord's Blood and the Lord's Body;
'tis as if he wants to give
137. ...again the curse that he was shouting
just 'fore he was done unright,
to whomever isn't fighting
and is capable to fight
138. I can hear her rumbling, fighting
in the open sea, on land
and while roaring she's igniting
an eternal thunder”
Long Live March 25th