January 10, 2008

St. George of Ioannina

Posted in Holidays tagged , , , , at 9:26 pm by expatdiane

The memory of the New Martyr George “who was martyred in Ioannina” is honored every year with the appropriate dignity in his birthplace Aghios Georgios, Grevena (previously Tsourchli). A village which changed its name in honor of the saint in 1927.

On the 17th of January, a day our Church honors with the feast of St. Anthony, was also the day that the New Martyr George, at the age of 30 in 1838 came to a martyr’s death by hanging in the city of Ioannina. The gallows were set up in the busy Ioannina square of “Kormanio”, which is opposite the great Castle entrance. The square now bears the New Martyr’s name.

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The New Martyr, George, was one of the last victims of the forced recruitment of Christian boys by the Ottomans. This happened when he was 12 years old. Nevertheless, he was able to preserve his Christian faith untainted; a faith for which he was martyred despite the Turkish environs of Ioannina considered him to be a Turk and employed him in the Turkish army as a horse groom, with the name “Infidel (Giaour) Hasan”.

The New Martyr, George, who was modest in his ways, always war the traditional long foustanela of his village and an embroidered waistcoat, which he is depicted in, in icons.

A new phase in his life started in October 1836, when he decided to get engaged and then marry on the feast of St. Demetrios, a Christian girl from Ioannina, Eleni. They had a son together, born in December 1837, who was baptized in keeping with Christian tradition on the 7th January 1838, giving him the name John.

All this, of course, provoked his persecution and eventually his death by martyrdom. This was because, despite Turks’ torture, to make him deny his Christian faith, the saint confessed with courage “I was never a Turk, I was always a Christian. He even said this at the gallows, which he faced with composure and bravery.

His last words are typical. When his Turkish tormentors asked him “What are you?” before pulling up the gallows, George asked that his hands be untied, he made the sign of the cross and said, “I am a Christian and I shall die a Christian, I bow before my Christ and my Lady Theotokos.” Then, turning to the Christians who stood there he said, “Forgive me brethren, and God will forgive you.”

The body of the Saint hung on the gallows for three days, without, however, decaying, an incident that made even the Turks believe in his holiness and allowed him to be buried with the greatest honor.

George, the New Martyr, was officially recognized as a saint on the 19th September 1839 by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople under Patriarch Gregorios and eleven synodical bishops. However, he had already been accepted as a saint by the Christians of the area from the time of his death. Not only that, but according to some witnesses many Muslims who lived in the area of Ioannina also recognized his holiness.

Many biographies and services were written for the New Martyr, George, amongst them the one by the monk Gerasimos Mikrogiannitis, which mentions amongst other things:

“This distinguished New Martyr of Christ, George, who was the son of devout and virtuous parents, Constantine and Vasilo, from a certain village of the province of Grevena, commonly called “Tsourchli” now called “St. George”. His father, a poor man, obtaining life’s necessities by farming, who had George and brought him up in piety, could not educate him because of poverty. With no experience of formal learning, nevertheless, being orphaned of his parents at a young age he lived with his brothers for a time. In these circumstances, moved to Ioannina, where he earned his living as an waged worker, with simple manners, modest decency, gentle and kind, and not absent from marveling at the house of the Lord in his season.”

The first icon of the Saint was made on the 30 January 1838, only a few days after his Martyrdom, commissioned by the Hieromonk Chrysanthos Lainos, who is mentioned as his spiritual father and guide. In this icon the saint is depicted in his traditional clothes, holding a cross in his right hand and in his left a palm branch and a scroll with the petition: “Do not separate me from the glory of your martyrs, my sweetest Jesus, because I am consumed by your love, but also strengthened by your great mercy, O Christ.”

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December 1, 2007

Christmas in Greece

Posted in Christmas, Holidays tagged , , , , , , , at 6:35 pm by expatdiane

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St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. Greek ships never leave port without some sort of St. Nicholas icon on board.

Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays. Yet there are a number of unique customs associated with Christmas that are uniquely Greek. On Christmas Eve, village children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanda, the equivalent of carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. The children are frequently rewarded with sweets and dried fruits.

After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs are slaughtered and on almost every table are loaves of christopsomo (“Christ Bread”). This bread is made in large sweet loaves of various shapes and the crusts are engraved and decorated in some way that reflects the family’s profession.

Christmas trees which were once rare in Greece are becoming more popular. In some parts of Greece (mainly villages) almost every home the main symbol of the season is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Kalikatzaroi away from the house.

Gifts are exchanged on St. Basil’s Day (January 1). Although times are changing rapidly here in Greece and now children are opening gifts on Christmas Day and then again on New Year’s Day.

People greet one another by saying Hronia polla (many happy years).

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Kourabiedes – Crunchy cookie but melts in your mouth. Some recipes have walnuts or almonds in them. They are covered with powdered surger.

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Melomakarona – A traditional Christmas cookie, very soft in syrup with sprinkles of nuts on top.

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Vasilopita – St. Basil bread – A sweet bread (cake) type with powder sugar on top. It is baked with a coin inside. Consumed on January 1st. Anyone who gets the piece with the coin in it will have good luck for that year.

Christmas celebrations end on Epiphany (renewal of the waters), January 6. On this day, priests dip crucifixes in the nearest lake or river to sanctify the waters.