The Importance of Greek Independence Day


Michael Gabriel, Head Cartoonist

Every year on March 25, the Hellenic peoples of Greece, Cyprus, and the greater diaspora across the world celebrate the independence of the Greek nation from the Ottoman Empire. As a proud Greek American myself, I celebrate this day with pride, a pride instilled in me by my grandparents. I decided to write this article because Greek culture, history, and religion were all so important to my late Pappou (grandfather), the man I am named after, Dr. Michael Peter Gabriel. Though he has fallen asleep and moved on to the Church Triumphant, I know teaching the story of our great ancestors would have made him proud. I hope you all can take something from this.  

The Greeks, living across the eastern Mediterranean, had been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire ever since the fall of the old Byzantine Empire when the Ottomans captured its capital city, Constantinople, in 1453. The majority Orthodox Christian population of the Byzantine Empire now were governed by the Ottoman Empire and its Sultan, but since the Ottomans were a predominantly Islamic empire, these Christian peoples, such as the Greeks, were regarded as second-class citizens to those who were Muslim. Over time both societal pressures and Ottoman law would push many of these Christian Greeks to renounce their religion and convert to Islam, stripping away their heritage and culture in the process. 

Over the centuries, resentment built to what was seen as an Ottoman occupation of the Greek lands and this destruction of the Greek people’s culture and Orthodox Christian religion. Rebellions and revolts would pop up throughout the Balkans but to no avail. It wasn’t till around the turn of the 19th century after the success of the American War of Independence and the advent of the French Revolution that a relatively organized and driven attempt at independence, or at least greater autonomy, for the Greek people arose.         

Though fighting had already begun by then, March 25, 1821 was chosen to be the day for when the Greek War for Independence would officially start. March 25 was intentionally chosen because it was the Orthodox Church’s feast day commemorating the Annunciation of the Theotokos, or the day when the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

That religious significance, depicting hope for the future through the birth of Christ, was incredibly important for the Greeks because they did not know what was to be their fate. The war hero, Theodoros Kolokotronis, is famously quoted as saying, “Greeks, God has signed our Liberty and will not go back on his promise.” Faith in God was all the Greeks had, and by God’s grace they eventually gained their independence. 

On February 3, 1830, almost 400 years after the fall of Constantinople, a proper Greek nation would be established with the help of the larger European Powers. Though it only consisted of the Peloponnese, central Greece and a couple of islands in the Aegean Sea at the time, it was a start and it would grow over the years into the nation that we know today. The Greeks were finally free, and that is what we celebrate every year on March 25. 

To everyone who took the time to read this, thank you. My Pappou would be so happy.