The Patriarchal Theological Seminary of Halki is located on the Turkish island known as Heyelbiada in the Bosporus straits. It was closed in 1971 by the Turkish government and is the subject of much controversy since it is the only seminary in Turkey and the position of Ecumenical Patriarch can only be filled by a Turkish citizen. Sign the petition to reopen it at www.greece.org
Το κλαρίνο βαρεί το μοιρολόι.... Το μοιρολόι..... Και θαρρείς πως κάθε τι γύρω σου μεταμορφώνεται. Μεταμορφώνεται από μια άχαρη και συνηθισμένη τσιμεντούπολη σε δάσος, σε χωριό, σε πετρόχτιστα σπίτια, σε κάρα, σε αλέτρια, σε αργαλειούς, σε γάστρες. Το μοιρολόι φέρνει θύμησες, από αυτές που μόνο οι παππούδες γνωρίζουν.... Σαν βγαλμένα από μια άλλη εποχή, έρχονται το ένα μετά το άλλο να σε στοιχειώσουν τα φαντάσματα εκείνα. Τα άταφα σώματα Ελλήνων στρατιωτών, οι υπέρτατες θυσίες των Ηπειρωτισσών, η χαρά της απελευθέρωσης και ξανά η απόγνωση και το κλάμα της σκλαβιάς των Βορειοηπειρωτών. Το ΟΧΙ του 1940, που τόσο αβίαστα το προφέρουμε σήμερα, δεν υπήρξε πραγματικά. Δεν είπε ο Μεταξάς το ΟΧΙ. Αλλά ο Ελληνικός λαός, μην υπολογίζοντας ζωή, περιουσία, υλικά αγαθά, ρίχθηκε στον Αγώνα για την σωτηρία ενός ιδανικού που υπερβαίνει κάθε άλλου... της Ελευθερίας. Και πίσω από τους στρατιώτες, οι Ηπειρώτισσες γυναίκες, εξαθλιωμένες από τη φτώχεια και τις αγροτικές εργασίες, απελπισμένες από τους άντρες, τους γιους και τους πατεράδες τους, που έφυγαν να πολεμήσουν στα απάτητα Ηπειρώτικα και Βορειοηπειρώτικα βουνά, δεν δίστασαν, αλλά παρακάμπτοντας κάθε εμπόδιο,
κάθε περιορισμό του φύλου τους πολέμησαν στο πλευρό των ανδρών μεταφέροντας πολεμοφόδια και σε μερικές περιπτώσεις, πολεμώντας κι όλας. Εκεί, στην Πίνδο, στην σημερινή Αλβανία, οι Έλληνες Βορειοηπειρώτες, λίγο σκάβουν και ανακαλύπτουν ακόμη τα κόκκαλα των Ελλήνων, όσων δεν είχαν κανέναν μαζί τους να τους θάψει με τις τιμές ηρώων, όπως τους άξιζε. Και εδώ, το μοιρολόι αυτό, ο επικήδιος θρήνος, ας ταξιδέψει στους ουρανούς να αποδόσει Τιμής Ένεκεν ένα τελευταίο αντίο και ένα μεγάλο Ευχαριστώ. Ας γίνει το παράδειγμα των προγόνων μας, φωτεινό σημάδι στο σκοτεινό τούνελ των εποχών που διανύουμε.... Αν ποτέ βρεθούμε σε τρομερές δυσκολίες, τότε όλοι μας θα ξέρουμε ποιος είναι ο δρόμος... Δύσκολος, απάτητος όσο σε ένα βουνό, αλλά ένδοξος, ηρωικός..... δρόμος που ταιριάζει μόνο σε παλικάρια και λεβέντισσες.....
The clarinet plays its melancholy tune .... a dirge ..... And it seems that everything around you is transformed, from a drab and ordinary cement metropolis to a forest and a village of stone houses, carts, plows, looms and dreams. The music awakens memories of the kind that only our grandparents knew .... plucked from another era, coming one after another like ghosts that haunt us. The bodies of Greek soldiers sleep in unknown graves, the many sacrifices, the joy of liberation then the despair and tears of enslavement of the ever suffering people of Northern Epirus. The NO of 1940, as we effortlessly pronounce it today, was not really such a simple matter. It wasn't Metaxas who said "no" but an entire people. The people of Greece who gambled their lives and fortunes, to pursue a struggle for the salvation of an ideal that transcends any other ... freedom. And helping the soldiers were the village women of Epirus. Worn out by poverty and work, their sons and husbands off fighting in the trackless mountains of Northern Epirus, they did not hesitate. They carried ammunition boxes and cleared the roads to the front lines. There, in the Pindos mountains, in today's Albania, the Greek inhabitants of Northern Epirus, even now still discover the bones of those Greek heroes who never received the honors they were owed by a grateful nation. And here, the music's lament travels to heaven to confer one last goodbye and a big thank you.
Let's make an example of our ancestors, a bright spot in the darkness of our present condition.... when we find ourselves in the midst of great difficulties we shall know what road we must take... precarious, untrodden as a mountain trail, but a glorious, heroic path only fit for Greek heroes and heroines.
Actual conversation I had with my mother when I came home on leave from the Marines:
" Eat some more keftedakia (meatballs) Stavraki (little Stavro...I was twenty five at the time), those people don't feed you boys enough."
I tried to reassure her without much success.
"And they make you go out in the rain and eat out of cans. Can't they put you in a warm office?"
"I don't like offices, Mama."
"Are there any nice Greek girls in North Carolina?"
"No Ma they have all gone back to Greece."
Here is an excerpt from Ithaka on the Horizon:
Mama wasn't exactly thrilled when I joined the Marines; she was hoping I would be a doctor. I don't think even she realized what God had in store for her during the next twenty-two years. It is never easy being the parent of a son serving overseas in harm's way. It took a toll on her. I remember the morning we got the news that over two hundred marines had been killed in a bomb blast in Beirut. My leave had been cut short, and I was getting ready to travel back to Camp Lejeune, where I was a commander of an infantry company. Some of my friends were among the dead, including Major John Macroglou, a Greek American. Mama, who was usually talkative in the morning, was quiet, fighting back the tears and white as a ghost. The mothers of Spartan warriors used to send their sons to war with the words, "Return with your shield or on it." I think my mama was just praying I would come home in one piece, with or without the shield.
I am reposting a parody I made using this video clip from the German movie "Der Untergang" which earned worldwide acclaim. OK, maybe not, but my friends liked it. It has been used to make fun of a number of things on YouTube. Unfortunately, many of these parodies have been pulled because the Film Studio complained or someone who doesn't agree with the message or is offended somehow decides to flag it, an easy way to snuff out speech you may not agree with. How utterly misguided given that the film was made in 2004 and all the parodies have made it into a cult classic. I managed to salvage the video with the subtitles I wrote. I'm hoping to keep it up as long as possible. The Greek Debt crisis and Hitler, in particular, are hardly laughing matters, nevertheless, what can we do but laugh during times like this? I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.
One of my favorite authors, Thea Halo, wrote about the genocide of the Pontic Greeks, in her book "Not Even My Name." She writes: "To remember does not mean stirring up hatred within or without. Hatred destroys what was good and pure in the past and the present. It simply means to embrace what is ours'
September 6-7 is the 58th anniversary of the 1955 Anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul which I witnessed as a child. Those of us who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Read my recent article in Hellenic News of America:
It began after dark on a Tuesday night, at a time when howling wolves roam in their packs and evil flourishes unencumbered by the light of day. They had marked our home with a red cross and in so doing had also marked its inhabitants as enemies of the Turkish nation and Islam. We were ethnic Greek Christians in a country that had to be washed clean of minorities. The year was 1955. It was the start of the systematic destruction of the Greek community of Istanbul, which traced its lineage back thousands of years, before a single Turk had ever set foot there.
The events of that day are obscured in time, the subject of revisionist American, British and Turkish historians who seek to whitewash the sins committed that day against innocent people. The facts however are impossible to hide, the crime too heinous to cover up and as is always the case, truth will inevitably see the light of day.
Ειναι η εποχη τωρα οταν τα πιτσιρικια που παιζανe στην αυλη μας πατρευωνται και αρχιζουν καινουρια ζωη. Εχουνε βρει τωρα αγαπη σε μια αλλη αγκαλια. Ετσι ειναι η ζωη, ενας κυκλος για ολους μας. Ta χρονια περνανε και ολοι αλλαζουμε. Θελουμε, δεν θελουμε.
Στης ξεθωριασμένες φωτογραφίες βλεπουμε τα χαμογελακια τους και μας θυμιζουν μια αλλη εποχη. Μια που ακουγαμε της παδικες τους φωνες, τα γελια τους και το κλαματα. Και οταν πεφτανε τους σηκωναμε και τους φιλουσαμε και ητανε ολα καλα παλι.
Καποτε ο καθενας παιρνει το δικο του το δρομο. Οσο μακρια να ειναι ομως τα παιδακια αυτα απο μας, ζουνε ως την τελευταια στιγμη μεσα μας, κοντα μας, σε ενα σπιτακι που χτισαμε στην καρδια μας.
Σε ολους, σας ευχομαστε ενα δρομο μακρη και ισιο, μια ζωη γεματο χαρες και αγαπη. Και αν Θελει ο Θεος, Θα κρατισουμε τα δικα σας παιδια στην αγαλια μας, οπως μια φορα κρατουσαμε και εσας.
It's the season now when all the little kids that used to play in our yard are getting married and starting a new life. They have found love in someone else's arms. That's life, a circle for us all. The years pass and everything changes, whether we want them to or not.
In the faded photographs we see their smiles and we remember another season. One in which we heard their children's voices, laughing and sometimes crying. When they fell down we picked them up and kissed them and all was well again.
Eventually each one of us takes his own path in life. No matter how far away those children are from us however, they will live inside us until our very last moment in this world, close to us in a home that we have built for them in our hearts.
To all of them, may your path be long and straight, a life full of happiness and love. And if God desires it, that we may hold your children in our arms, just as once long ago, we held each of you in ours.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
From the poem "Ithaka" by Constantine Cavafy
Fifty four years have passed since the ship carrying my parents and I sailed down the Bosporus toward a new life in America. My birthplace, like some distant Ithaka has always been a constant companion in the recesses of my mind. My parents' memories became mine and now the ghosts of the past beckoned me back. I was accompanied by my sister and older son, both born in America, though raised on a steady diet of names, places, and tragedies lost in the mist of time. Like swallows we flew instinctively back to a long forgotten nesting ground armed with only a few clues that we were to put together like a puzzle with so many missing pieces.
Even now upon my return home it is difficult to make sense of all the bittersweet emotions that the city on the Bosporus evokes. My great grandfather, Foti came to Constatinople at the turn of the century to establish a thriving business. He was a grocer who turned over the family business to his oldest and most talented son, my papou Panayioti. My mother and her two siblings grew up in the town of Neohori or Yenikoy, a small fishing village on the Bosporus. My father, the son of a poor cobbler, came to the city to study at the Patriachal Seminary on the island of Halki, now called Heybeliada. After graduating he served as secretary of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the Taksim district. He eventually met and married my mother. I was their first child.
We left the city in the aftermath of the terrible events of September 1955 when our home was attacked and we barely escaped with our lives. These events which would decimate the city's once thriving Greek community and end forever the memory of a more tolerant multi-cultural city. Istanbul today is much changed from the city we left in 1956. It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world with a population of over twelve million. During our stay in the midst of a hot humid summer, one of my lasting impressions will be the crowds of people walking the streets of the city, of families sitting on grassy areas and picnicing, of children laughing and eating ice cream, of couples holding hands. It is of course a place of contrasts, a modern bustling city teeming with unceasing autombile traffic and high rise buildings against a backdrop of Byzantine and Ottoman antiquities that are a constant reminder of its past.
Long forgotten memories, dusty and covered in cobwebs, suddenly began to awaken from their long slumber as I walked its streets on our first night in the city. The narrow cobblestoned streets, the laundry hung to dry on clotheslines suspended between buildings above the street, the call to prayer emanating from loudspeakers on distant minarets. It all came rushing back.
The next day we made our way to Taksim square and the statute of Kemal Ataturk. In modern Turkey his likeness is ever-present, a constant reminder of his secular legacy. Yet, he looked smaller to me now, less threatening, overshadowed by the buidings that circled the square. He now looks down on the increasing number of Turkish women who defiantly wear headscarfs and veils, something he outlawed by decree in an attempt to drag Turkey into modernity. My yiayia would often bring me to Taksim which was near our apartment in Chihangir. I bought and shared a sesame covered bun just like the one she used to buy me and as I bit into it the memory hidden in my taste buds came to life again. There beyond the statue was the dome of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the church where I was baptized and reborn. The church was closed to visitors we were informed by the Turkish caretaker. I noticed two nuns in the courtyard and asked them in Greek if it would be possible to gain access. They smiled and one of them spoke with the caretaker who grudgingly allowed us in. As I entered I lit some candles in the narthex then walked into the breathtaking cavernous marble interior with tears streaming down my face. The church was well maintained but empty. It seldom hears the cries of babies being baptized anymore, the only worshipers who enter are the few old people still left, too old to change or flee. All the churches we visited were quiet, sad and similarly empty. A Potemkin village of sorts to make the outside world think that religious freedom actually exists in Turkey. We continued our walk through my old neighborhood, ate kebabs at a sidewalk stand, while I tried hard to remember where I had lived the early part of my life. My sister, like my mother, always on the lookout for a bargain and game to negotiate some hapless business owner to his knees, spied a small antique shop. The shop was stuffed with the customary debris of past lives and while I waited patiently outside, I struck up a conversation with the shop owner who spoke English. I asked him about the area which he pointed out was rarely frequented by tourists. "What brings you here?" he inquired politely. "Memories," I answered, explaining that my family once lived in his neighborhood. "Welcome back" he replied. As we began to leave, he ducked into his shop and came out holding an old rusty key. "I found this in Anatolia, it is very old. A gift to you. May it open doors that have been closed too long." he said smiling. I cleared my throat, visibly moved, "Insh' Allah (God willing)," I nodded, shaking his hand and whispered "Thank you."
Our hotel was a stone's throw from the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia where tourists and Turks alike in large numbers line up to see its interior. We ate our breakfast on the roof top of the hotel, enjoying the gentle breezes from the Bosporus and staring up at Hagia Sophia. As we crossed the threshold of its narthex through the massive main doors I crossed myself and bowed three times. Surprised tourists stared at me. The church is visually stunning, its scale overwhelming and awe inspiring. It has been desecrated twice and washed in blood, once by Catholic Crusaders in the 13th century and then by the victorious troops of Sultan Mehmet, the conqueror of Constantinople. It is a museum now, in disrepair, its bells, altar and iconostasis were removed and its mosaics plastered over long ago. In their place huge disks with the names of Allah, Mohammed and the first four caliphs were installed on interior columns and minarets built to stand guard over her. One can only marvel at her proud beauty and mourn her present condition.
The ride out to Neohori, now called Yenikoy, took us along the coast of the Bosporus, past the two impressive looking suspension bridges connecting the Eurpean and Asian sides. I bantered back and forth with the driver who spoke even less English than I spoke Turkish. I told him my mother was from Yenikoy. He looked at me and asked me if she was Turkish, "Yok, Rum," I replied. He understood. He tried as best he could to point out places of interest along the way. Where he was taking us I had no idea. Eventually, he stopped the taxi at the gated entrance to a walled compound. The sign in Greek and Turkish informed us that it was the Greek Orthodox cemetery. I smiled broadly, shook his hand and tipped generously saying thank you in my broken Turkish: "tesekkur ederimhe." He smiled, proud of a job well done. The gate was open and we let ourselves in.
We walked down a tree lined gravel path that ran the length of the cemetery. The place was serene, bursting in color, with the wind blowing gently through the trees. I wandered down the path as if in a dream, while my sister and son tarried to read names on the marble tombs. I was drawn inexpilcably elsewhere eventually walking right up to my grandfather tomb with his faded photo on the base of cross above it. I read the dates and realized that we shared the same birthday, something I never knew. We lingered there for awhile, praying for his soul and those of my great grandparents.
Yenikoy is now a fashionable suburb, dotted with the gated homes of the rich and famous, guarded by the ever present security cameras. A Mercedes dealership with shiny sportcars in its showroom is conveniently located on the main drag, a few short blocks from my grandfather's old corner grocery store, now a pharmacy. Armed with my Uncle Elias' directions we made our way to a traditional old wooden three story building where my mother grew up and the nearby church of the Panagia, which unfortunately was closed. We sat for a bit in the church courtyard in the heat of mid-day, among the ghosts of days gone by. I tried to picture things as they had been in happier times, the church overflowing with worshipers on Pascha, my mother and her siblings walking home holding their candles so they might burn the sign of the cross over the threshold of their home. The years pass so quickly; it's been two years since my mother passed away joining my father who had died less than a year before her own untimely death. Retracing their steps brought us closer to them even though the moment was fleeting.
That evening we went to dinner at a local restaurant. The owner, a young man named Abdul, realizing that we were Americans, struck up a conversation. He lived in the United States and came home every summer to manage the family restaurant. Turks, like Greeks, are a curious lot and it wasn't long before we had sized each other up. He sat down with us, treated us to a delicious dessert and we talked about our adopted home. Abdul was a likeable guy, warm and friendly, a gracious host. "What do you think of Istanbul?" he inquired. "We love it like it is our own," I said with a wink and a smile. He smiled back. "You know Greeks and Turks are very much alike, whether we admit it or not, only our religion separates us."
There was a lengthy pause, "Perhaps," I replied uncovincingly,"some day we can learn to live side by side again." I knew that the signs for the future were not auspicious. Turkey, a country that continues to flex its muscles at the expense of Greeks is spurred by a renewed Islamism and a deep seated robust nationalism. It is no secret that its leadership desires to renew the Ottoman legacy. No matter what many well meaning and Western oriented Turks think, the pashas will inevitably over-reach. "Peace in the world and peace at home" the dictum of Ataturk will inevitably be set aside to the detriment of all in the region. We chose to ignore politics and religion that night, the four of us preferring to talk and laugh about other things until we finally left to get ready for our last day in Turkey.
The nine Princes' Islands are a one hour boat ride from the Katabas ferry terminal in Istanbul. They are a quiet sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city. Cars are prohibited, the horse and carraige still being the preferred mode of transportation. A place of exile for Byzantine and Ottoman princes, they are now a highly prized getaway for well heeled Turks.
The Greeks who once inhabited the islands are now virtually extinct, their presence expunged save for a few vestiges of the island's Greek past. My father had often reminisced about the seven years he spent there from 1938 to 1945. He remembered the island of Halki or Heybeliada as the most beautiful place he had ever seen. The school sits at the top of the highest hill on the island.
Built in 1844. Its grounds and facilities are kept in pristine condition waiting someday for future patriarchs to fill it once more with their youthful enthusiasm. As I walked in the main entrance, I lit a candle and kissed the icon of the Panagia holding the Savior. It was an eerie feeling to walk through the classrooms that my father knew so well and to worship in the main chapel where my Dad chanted in the school choir. It is a place frozen in time. The future of the school is in doubt and with it the fate of the Ecumenical Patrarchate. A portrait of Kemal Ataturk looks down on empty classrooms as if to remind us that "they" are watching lest seminarians plot the destruction of seventy million Turks. The Patriarch must be a Turkish citizen and since a training ground for priests in Turkey no longer exists it is only a matter of time before the potential candidates dry up completely. As the ferry pulled away from the island I could not take my eyes off the building on the hill nor stop thinking of Baba. I regret never having had the opportunity to make the trip with him.
At the airport going through passport control, the Customs official looked at my passport and noticing my birthplace looked up and spoke to me in Turkish, I looked him in the eye: "I'm sorry, I don't speak Turkish, my family had to leave Turkey before I could learn." He waved me through.
Thus, ended my return to Ithaka, like Odysseus I was a stranger in a familiar land. I'm not ready to end my journey, there is still too much to see and do. Ithaka made the journey possible, it helped form the person I have become, now it has nothing else to give except the fading shadows of my past.
On the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the Turkish military invasion in Cyprus, I would like to post the youtube video of Michael Cacoyiannis' documentary film "Attila 1974". This timeless documentary captures the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, also known as Attila I, on July 20, 1974 and its disastrous aftermath. The northern part of the island remains under Turkish military occupation 39 long years later.
Every movie has a soundtrack, why shouldn't a book have one too? These are some of my favorites and each speaks to some aspect of the journey to Ithaka. Perhaps you may find a few that you might like as well. They have a way of finding a way into your heart.
Turn off the music at the bottom and listen to all of them or just the ones that suit your fancy.
Just a quick update on my upcoming book, "Ithaka on the Horizon." The process has taken a little longer than I expected. I started writing it six years ago so I've learned to be patient. I had to make some minor tweaks in my manuscript and this has delayed things a bit. The final proof is at the printer and once I approve it, God willing, it will become available on Amazon. A link will be provided on MGO for your shopping convenience. Can't give a hard date but I will go out on a limb and say it will be by next week. The Kindle version will go up after the book becomes available. Probably a week or two later.
I'm also planning to post a video interview with yours truly in the near future to talk about writing in general and the book in particular.
Sometimes a photo can bring tears to your eyes. Reading today's online edition of Kathimerini I happened upon this photo of Yiannis Antetokounmpo. It was taken when this 6 foot nine inch 18 year old who was born and grew up in Athens (his parents are Nigerian immigrants) was picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA draft. Nicknamed the "Greek Freak," he is an engaging youngster who got started in Greek basketball and finally came to the attention of the NBA.
I cannot speak to Yianni and his family's experience of life in Greece, however I believe that this photo speaks volumes. We should always welcome those who want to be Greek whether they happen to live in Greece or not. I say that as someone who was not born in Greece and whose parents and grandparents were not born in Greece. Greeks are a hospitable people but even their ingrained hospitality cannot survive the mass influx of unwanted guests who arrive in Greece illegally. Even here in the United States, a country idealized for its ability to take in people from all over the world, we are grappling with millions of illegals who thumb their nose at our laws. No country can survive very long when it loses control of its borders and fails its own citizens in this manner.
There is a great deal being written about the backlash against undocumented immigrants in Greece. To be sure Greece has been inundated with one million illegal immigrants while in the midst of a economic depression. Many are Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh and thus it is imposssible to absorb let alone assimilate so many people in what has been since its inception, a largely homogeneous and Christian country. Now Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey has offered to pay for a mosque in Athens and the Greek government is falling all over itself to accommodate him in a all too familiar "European" spirit of dhimmitude and deference even when it is self-defeating.
Largely forgotten is the current condition of the dwindling Christian and past Greek populations in Muslim territories and now the latest affront aimed at transforming one of Christendom's greatest cathedrals, Hagia Sophia, into a mosque. More here and here.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
BY HIEROMONK JOACHIM
Evgeny Rodionov was born on the 23rd of May 1977. He was baptised as a child—not because of any strong faith on the part of his parents, but because his mother was afraid for his health. A common superstition was to have a child baptised to ensure good health. His parents were typical Soviet citizens and thought rarely about God.
In 1989, 10 year old Evgeny put on his baptismal cross and never took it off again. His mother said to him ”Maybe you should take it off in public so that no one should see you wearing a cross.” Evgeny responded, ”Never say such things mother.”
In his childhood years and youth he was strong and healthy, finishing his ninth year at High School. He was interested for a while in boxing, even winning second place in a competition, but later quit after having doubts about such a sport, saying, ”I cannot hit a person in the face.”
After finishing his schooling, he found work at a furniture factory, where he made more money than his mother who was forced by their modest circumstances to work three jobs.
Evgeny attended church services in an outlying Moscow suburb called Podolsk but it is not known to whom he confessed.
In 1994 the family moved into a small 2-bedroom apartment.
In 1995 Evgeny was called up to serve in the army. The Russian armed forces require all young men to serve a period of time in the armed forces. He followed an ancient pious Russian custom of wearing a belt embroidered with Psalm 90, and wore this when he entered the army.
His mother, Liubov Vasilievna, recalled that Evgeny did not want to go, but felt that it was his duty to serve his country. He and his friends understood that there are things in this life that you do not want to do but have to do, and they had no thought of evading their military duty. His letters home were affectionate, filled with love and poetry.
Upon induction into the army, Evgeny was allocated to the Border Guards whose main responsibility was border security, and found himself, with other young conscripts, sent to serve in the Russian republic of Chechnya where the Russian Army was fighting a long running war against Moslem separatists. The conduct of the leadership of the Russian armed forces in this conflict has been severely criticised for its ineptitude, lack of planning and failure to provide even basic equipment for their troops.
On the night of the 13th of January 1996, Evgeny and some other young soldiers were posted, unarmed, to a checkpoint 200 metres from their base near the mountainous border between the republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia. The checkpoint, a control and registration post, was a small hut with no electricity and no method of communication back to their headquarters. It was situated on a road which was frequently used by terrorists and criminals for smuggling weapons, ammunition, captives, drugs and so on between the two republics. They disappeared.
Officers at the base later reported at an official investigation that they heard the young soldiers screaming, but did not investigate, and later falsely reported to the divisional commander that the missing men had deserted and this lie was repeated in letters to the missing soldier's families. Chechen rebels had in fact forcibly abducted Evgeny and his comrades from the checkpoint. They had commandeered an ambulance, which they drove up to the unsuspecting young soldiers, and then the armed rebels had leapt out, forced the conscripts into the ambulance and drove them off into captivity.
A later army investigation revealed signs of a struggle and blood stains at the checkpoint, and as a result it was decided to upgrade security by moving the post away from the roadside and issuing weapons to the soldiers who manned it.
Upon capture the young conscripts were held in the cellar of an abandoned house for 100 days as ransom demands were sent to their families. Kidnapping and demanding ransom was almost a cottage industry in Chechnya during that time. They kept Evgeny hanging by his wrists in a basement, starved and beat him. Rodionov's ransom was reported to be 50 million roubles (1.6 million US dollars)—at the time an impossible sum. Another report says it may have been in the US$10,000 range. Whatever it was, the ransom was not met, his parents did not have that kind of money.
Evgeny was held captive for three and a half months. The Chechens demanded that he remove the cross that he wore around his neck, deny his Christian faith and agree to become a Muslim to stay alive. Evgeny refused to renounce his faith. Having suffered indescribable tortures and torments, he did not betray his Orthodox faith, but confirmed it with his blood. Finally, on his 19thbirthday, May the 23rd 1996 (new style), they sawed off his head. He proved that Russian Orthodoxy is still alive and that today, after many years of atheism, Russia still has the potential as it did before to beget martyrs for Christ.
It wasn't until a month after the abduction, on the 16th of February 1996, that his mother received an official telegram notifying that her son had absconded from his military post—in fact while she was reading this telegram his captors were torturing her son.
Liubov, knowing her son, felt affronted by such an accusation, and wrote a number of letters in reply to the Border Guard division trying to convince them that her son would never desert the army. She was not believed, and so she decided to journey to Chechnya to find out the truth of her sons disappearance. Upon meeting Evgeny's Lieutenant and the Commander she felt that they were indifferent to her anguish and the fate of her son. They recommended that she return home and not get involved.
Instead, she ended up in the Russian region of Ingushetia, attending an Orthodox Church where the priest, Father Basil, offered her accommodation near the parish church. Here she received Holy Communion as a believer for the first time. Liubov then set off travelling throughout Chechnya searching for her son, showing his photograph, asking questions and continually praying to God for help. Her journey, which lasted for ten months as she chased down leads and questioned anyone who would talk to her, led through minefields, aerial bombing, and the threat of bandits. She met other Russian mothers searching for sons who had been reported missing in action or having deserted, or been captured by the Chechen rebels, and she met mothers of sons who had been murdered by beheading.
Liubov related ”I think that God was watching over me. I was walking along mined roads, but I did not step on a bomb. He protected me from bombings, He did not let me die, because my duty was to find my son, to bury him on his native land, according to Christian traditions. I have realized that recently. When I was walking along those military roads, I just kept silence, praying to God in my heart.”
In one region of Chechnya with a group of Russian mothers, Liubov came across 55 Russian soldiers surviving out of a group of 150 held captive. But only two of them had become Muslim to save their lives and they were now guarding their former comrades and beating them cruelly. One of the converted soldiers, surrounded by Chechens told his mother, ”I have no mother. I have only Allah. I am not Kostya, I am Kozbek!” The man's mother quietly replied, ”It is better for you to die rather than be like this.”
Liubov found the breakdown of normal society in Chechnya had led to such a levels of corruption, that everything was decided on the amount of money one was willing to spend. In September 1996 she finally met a Chechen rebel field commander named Rusland Haihoroev (also spelled Khaikhoroyev in some sources) who claimed to have knowledge of Evgeny. On first meeting him, Haihoroev told Liubov that her son had been killed during a Russian bombing raid. Liubov felt that he was lying, the man seemed very uneasy at her questioning, and he then told her that unless the Russians stopped their bombing, all Russian captives would be killed.
Haihoroev later admitted that Evgeny had tried to escape but was unsuccessful, and that he had been given the choice—change his faith and take of his cross, or die—but Evgeny had refused to remove his cross. Haihoroev eventually beheaded Evgeny with a rusted saw, an horrific task that took over an hour to complete on May the 23rd, 1996 (his 19th birthday) near the settlement of Bamut. His body, along with those of three other young Russian prisoners, was placed in a bomb crater outside the village of Alexeevskaya and covered up with lime and dirt.
The Chechens preferred this atrocious method of execution because they followed a local superstition believing that a decapitated victim would not come for the murderer after death. Such is their barbarity that the Chechens would often record the executions. There are at least over 400 hours of such recordings on the internet of Russians being beheaded by Muslim Chechens.
Russian troops occupied the village where Evgeny was murdered the day following the execution, too late to have prevented the deaths.
Rusland Haihoroev told Liubov seventeen times over the course of seventeen separate meetings, that she had born a bad son who refused to adopt Islam and join the separatists in their fight against Russia. ”Your son had a choice to stay alive. He could convert to Islam, but he did not agree to take his cross off. He also tried to escape once,” said Haihoroev to Evgeny's mother. She finally agreed to pay Haihoroev some 100,000 roubles (about US$4000) to take her to his gravesite in the forests outside of Alexeevskaya. This was money she did not have, so she had to sell her apartment to finance the deal.
Chechens in Moscow handled the deal and when all was done Haihoroev showed her where his body was. There, late at night, with the assistance of the Russian military, she was able to exhume his body. She found her son's headless body together with the cross he wore and died for among his bones and stained with small drops of blood. The head was discarded in another place. According to Evgeny's mother, this event took place in the following way:
”When I came to Chechnya in the middle of February, a living private cost ten million roubles. This price was 50 million in August. A friend of mine was told to pay 250 million roubles for her son, since he was an officer. It was night-time when I and some sappers began digging into the pit in which the bodies of four Russian soldiers were thrown. I was praying all the time, hoping that my Evgeny was not going to be there. I could not and did not want to believe that he was murdered. When we were taking out the remnants, I recognized his boots. However, I still refused to accept the fact of his death, until someone found his cross. Then I fainted.”
Liubov took Evgeny's body away, along with the bodies of his murdered friends. She returned to Moscow with the aid of the Russian Orthodox Church and buried him. Sadly her grief was compounded because when Liubov Rodionova came back home, Evgeny's father died five days after the funeral. He could not stand the loss of his son.
Evgeny was posthumously awarded the Order of Courage by the Army. Liubov later returned to Chechnya on a second trip and recovered her son's head.
Haihoroev himself and his bodyguards were killed on August the 23rd, 1999 in a fire fight between his group and a rival Chechen band.
While unrest in Turkey continues to capture attention, more subtle and more telling events concerning the Islamification of Turkey — and not just at the hands of Prime Minister Erdogan but majorities of Turks — are quietly transpiring. These include the fact that Turkey’s Hagia Sophia museum is on its way to becoming a mosque.
Why does the fate of an old building matter?
Because Hagia Sophia — Greek for “Holy Wisdom” — was for some thousand years Christianity’s greatest cathedral. Built in 537 A.D. in Constantinople, the heart of the Christian empire, it was also a stalwart symbol of defiance against an ever encroaching Islam from the east.
After parrying centuries of jihadi thrusts, Constantinople was finally sacked by Ottoman Turks in 1453. Its crosses desecrated and icons defaced, Hagia Sophia — as well as thousands of other churches — was immediately converted into a mosque, the tall minarets of Islam surrounding it in triumph.
Then, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, as part of several reforms, secularist Kemal Ataturk transformed Hagia Sophia into a “neutral” museum in 1934 — a gesture of goodwill to a then-triumphant West from a then-crestfallen Turkey.
Thus the fate of this ancient building is full of portents. And according to Hurriyet Daily News, “A parliamentary commission is considering an application by citizens to turn the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque…. A survey conducted with 401 people was attached to the application, in which more than 97 percent of interviewees requested the transformation of the ancient building into a mosque and afterwards for it to be reopened for Muslim worship.”
Even lesser known is the fact that other historic churches are currently being transformed into mosques, such as a 13thcentury church building — portentously also named Hagia Sophia — in Trabzon. After the Islamic conquest, it was turned into a mosque. But because of its "great historical and religious significance" for Christians, it too, during Turkey’s secular age, was turned into a museum and its frescoes restored. Yet local authorities recently decreed that its Christian frescoes would again be covered and the church/museum turned into a mosque.
Similarly, the 5th century Studios Monastery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is set to become an active mosque. And the existence of the oldest functioning monastery, 5th century Mor Gabriel Monastery, is at risk. Inhabited today by only a few dozen Christians dedicated to learning the monastery’s teachings, the ancient Aramaic language spoken by Jesus, and the Orthodox Syriac tradition, neighboring Muslims filed a lawsuit accusing the monks of practicing “anti-Turkish activities” and of illegally occupying land which belongs to Muslim villagers. The highest appeals court in Ankara ruled in favor of the Muslim villagers, saying the land that had been part of the monastery for 1,600 years is not its property, absurdly claiming that the monastery was built over the ruins of a mosque — even though Muhammad was born 170 years after the monastery was built.
Turkey’s Christian minority, including the Orthodox Patriarch, are naturally protesting this renewed Islamic onslaught against what remains of their cultural heritage — to deaf ears.
The Muslim populace’s role in transforming once Christian sites into mosques is a reminder of all those other Turks notprotesting the Islamization of Turkey, and who if anything consider Erdogan’s government too “secular.”
Their numbers are telling. In May 2012, Reuters reported that:
Thousands of devout Muslims prayed outside Turkey’s historic Hagia Sophia museum on Saturday [May 23] to protest a 1934 law that bars religious services at the former church and mosque. Worshippers shouted, “Break the chains, let Hagia Sophia Mosque open,” and “God is great” [the notorious “Allahu Akbar”] before kneeling in prayer as tourists looked on. Turkey’s secular laws prevent Muslims and Christians from formal worship within the 6th-century monument, the world’s greatest cathedral for almost a millennium before invading Ottomans converted it into a mosque in the 15th century.
The desire to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque is not about Muslims wanting a place to pray — as of 2010, there were 3,000 active mosques alone. Rather, it’s about their reveling, and trying to revivify, the glory days of Islamic jihad and conquest: Reuters added that Muslims “staged the prayers ahead of celebrations next week marking the 559th anniversary of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet’s conquest of Byzantine Constantinople.” According to Salih Turhan, a spokesman quoted by Reuters, “As the grandchildren of Mehmet the Conqueror, seeking the re-opening Hagia Sophia as a mosque is our legitimate right.”
Like many others I have been watching with revulsion as peaceful demonstraters have been crushed by Turkish security forces. The fantasy of a democratic Turkey too often touted in European and American circles has finally been exposed by Erdogan's heavy handed approach to those who have the temerity to disagree with his vision of Turkey's future.
As the now almost extinct Christian minorities of Turkey can attest to there is no room for those who are different from the ruling elites. It is interesting to note that many who share in the Kemalist ideology of Ataturk now find themselves an out group along with other disenfranchised groups such as the Alevis and the Kurds. What goes around comes around.
Greeks were the first humans who gave considerable thought to the concept of freedom. As a commodity, it is much sought after these days, as events in Turkey attest to. Ordinary people are willing to endanger their lives in order to get a taste. In America, freedom has taken on the form of a religion. Our freedom, is unlike the freedom that the Greeks called "eleftheria, " that is, freedom from being tyranized, enslaved or being violated. No wonder then that when Turks pour into the streets in a culmination of years of such tyranny that Americans might have a little difficulty recognizing what it is these people want and our President can only mouth meaningless platitudes. To many Americans, freedom merely means choosing for oneself based on personal desires without respect to moral obligations.
In a nation that has few communal standards other than freedom, diversity and choice, increasingly, anything goes. In our evolving democracy, I say evolving because it seems to be changing before our very eyes, the state is assuming ever widening powers aimed at protecting our "rights." These rights are no longer those delineated in our Bill of Rights, which are trampled daily in the name of liberal altruism. They are maleable and ever expanding. The right to an abortion, free health care, a job, an income, with or without working, transportation, daycare, a college education, the right to vote regardless of qualifications and even the right to violate the law if you meet certain criteria. So if one enters the country illegally as an aggrieved minority or even "forgets" to pay his taxes before being considered for a cabinet level position, allowances can be made. The price of such freedom is a government controlled by a ruling elite that is no longer representative of a portion of the elctorate. You know, the one's that didn't give them their votes and must now be vilified and subjugated. Increasingly the massive apparatus at the disposal of those who run that government has been put to use by our betters to stifle, impede and erode the opposition. If you buy into their vision of the future you will reap its benefits, stand in their way and you will be swept aside like so much flotsam. No wonder Erdogan and Obama see the world in a similar fashion.
In this brave new world, security and safety are paramount. The NSA can gather up all types of information on innocent Americans in the name of security but border control agents cannot use profiling lest it offend anyone. It can cast its wide net on Google and Facebook but can't effectively use information passed on by the Russian security services. In so doing it manages to completely miss the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing while violating the basic privacy of millions of Americans. In the United States, increasingly political opponents are seen as the enemy. Tea Party members are subject to more scrutiny than radical Imams preaching Jihad. So too in Turkey, Erdogan's heavy hand is needed to protect Turks from outside conspiracies eager to destroy the regime. He calls upon his followers as if these other Turks in Taksim Square are merely a collection of terrorists instead of fellow Turkish citizens.
As we are finding out, elections do not guarantee freedom and those elected democratically do not always behave so. Increasingly elected governments seek to impose the will of the majority on the minority with every means at their disposal. Debate and dialogue are things of the past, the rule of law discarded, individual rights ignored. We have strayed very far from the original Greek concept of freedom.
"For every human being, one's country and faith are his all, and he must make sacrifices of patriotism so that he and his kinsmen may live like honorable people in society. And οnly when adorned with patriotic sentiments do people earn the name of "nation." Otherwise, they are mere shams of nations and a burden οn the earth. This country belongs to each and every one of us and is the product of the struggles of even the smallest and weakest citizen: for he too has a vested interest in this country and this faith. It is improper for any person to be lazy and neglect these duties. Αnd the educated man must proclaim the truth as an educated man; and the simple man must do the same. For the earth has nο handle with which a single person, nο matter how strong οr weak, can lift it οn his οwn shoulders. And when a person is too weak fοr a task and cannot take up the burden single-handed, he gets the others to help: in that case, let him not imagine saying, "Ι did it!" Let him say, τatheτ, "We did it!" For we have all, not just one, put our shoulders into it. Οur rulers and leaders, both native and foreign-bοrn, have become "Most Illustrious" and "Most Brave" : nothing stops them. We were poor and became rich. Here in the Peloponnese Kiamil Bey and the other Turks were extremely wealthy. Kolokotronis, his relatives, and friends have grown rich οn the lands, factories, mills, houses, vineyards, and other wealth that belonged to the Turks. When Kolokotronis and his companions came from Zakynthos, they didn't οwn even a square foot of land. Νοw all can see what they possess. The same thing happened in Roumeli: Gouras and Mamouris, Kritzotis, the Grivas clan, Staikos, the Tzavelas family and many others. And what are they asking of the nation? Millions more for their great services rendered. And they never let up in this. They are always at work trying to come up with laws and parties for the good of the country. Our country has endured more sufferings and lost more brave young men to their "laws" and "good" than it did in our struggle against the Turks. We have forced our people to live in caves with wild animals. We have desolated the countryside and become the scourge of the earth."
From the Memoirs of General Ioannis Makriyiannis, a hero of the Revolution
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
C. P. Cavafy
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