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Sailing to Byzantium

On Thursday 13th of May, 2021, St Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, Mascot, hosted the first talk for its annual Sailing to Byzantium series, this time dedicated to the period from 1453 to 1821 so as to coincide with the 200-year anniversary of the Greek Revolution. The series, which falls within the framework of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia’s 2021 programme, is organised by the parish together with the Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies Department at the University of Sydney and St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College. For the first talk – which was in Greek – the Dean of St Andrew’s and Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, His Eminence Archbishop Makarios, spoke about ‘The Orthodox Clergy during the Ottoman Occupation.’ His Eminence was introduced by Sir Nicholas Laurantus Professor of Modern Greek and Chair of the Modern Greek and Byzantine Studies Department, Vrasidas Karalis, just after the event opened with a choir from the Greek Orthodox Christian Society singing traditional Greek folk songs on the Fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman occupation, and the Greek Revolution.

Professor Karalis expressed deep gratitude to His Eminence on behalf of his own Department at Sydney University – but also his colleagues at other tertiary institutions in Melbourne, Adelaide, and Darwin – for our Archbishop’s remarkable initiatives to promote Hellenic language and culture and Orthodox tradition. He noted especially His Eminence’s role as a unifier among the disparate Greek communities, His work for young people, and His cultivation of St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College all within the short time span of two years since His arrival.
His Eminence Archbishop Makarios then gave an electrifying talk on the role of the clergy during the Ottoman occupation, which, He noted, is especially important in light of criticisms made against the Church by secular politicians and academics in Greece and elsewhere. In His speech, He noted the martyric role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as stewards of the Orthodox γένος in these times of persecution. Of the 110 Patriarchs who held the throne of Constantinople during this four-hundred year period, only 13 reposed in the Lord peacefully! The rest were harassed, tortured, and many were martyred for Christ and in defence of Greeks and other Orthodox.

As if this wasn’t enough to demonstrate the self-sacrificial leadership of the Church in this period, His Eminence noted that the heroism of the clergy could be discerned from their sacrifices and the risks they took to teach children Greek in the ‘hidden schools’ of the time. Along the Greek language, the whole mentality – Orthodoxy itself – was communicated by clergy to subsequent generations of Christian faithful. Exemplary in this regard was St Kosmas of Aitolia who, during his ministry and before his martyrdom, founded no less than 200 schools; a feat that has no rival even these days.
The event was MC’d by Mr Chris Baghos, Librarian of St Andrew’s College, and ended with final songs by the choir of the Orthodox Christian Society. Notable clerics present included His Grace Bishop Iakovos of Miletoupolis, Archiepiscopal Vicar of Brisbane; His Grace Bishop Elpidios of Kyaneon, Archiepiscopal Vicar of Perth; His Grace Bishop Silouan of Sinope, Archiepiscopal Vicar of Adelaide; Very Revd Father Evmenios Vassilopoulos, Archiepiscopal Vicar of Northcote Melbourne; and Very Revd Father Prochoros Anastasiadis, Archiepiscopal Vicar of Canberra and Tasmania.

The event was well-attended; and gratitude must be extended to the Choir of the Greek Orthodox Christian Society, the ladies auxiliary of the parish for catering, as well as the Very Revd Father Athanasios Giatsios for organising this important event.

Mario Baghos
St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College