AN ODE TO OXI DAY
On October 28th, 1940, The Greek Prime Minister Mr Ioannis Metaxas was approached at 3am by an Italian emissary, who demanded free passage through Greece for the armies of Mussolini. The Italian forces were in Albania, and massing on Greece’s North-West border. The answer that Prime Minister Metaxas gave to Mussolini’s demand is famous: Oxi.
So just before 6am on that very morning, Italy invaded Greece. It was supposed to be a walk in the park – “a stroll down to Athens”. But the courageous Greeks proved to be too much for the Italian army, and repelled the invaders, pushing them back well into Albania. This was the very first defeat for the Axis Powers, and gave great hope to England, who was desperately holding out against Hitler after the fall of Vichy France.
Hitler was furious. On his mind was Operation Barbarrosa – the long-planned invasion of the Soviet Union. But instead of launching his invasion in the Spring or early Summer, he had to divert his forces to deal with the Greek people, who refused to capitulate to the Fascist Wave that had engulfed the rest of Europe and most of the Balkans. Hitler invaded Greece on April 6th, and the city of Athens had fallen by the end of that month, but the Greeks had succeeded in delaying the invasion of Russia by at least 8 weeks – maybe longer. This delay would prove costly for the Axis, as they later became bogged down by the harsh Russian Winter, just as Napoleon had a century earlier, and were ultimately crushed by the Red Army.
Historians have noted that Oxi Day – October 28th, was the beginning of the resistance to Fascism that ultimately led to the downfall of Hitler and the end of WWII. Without the heroic spirit of the Greek people, we might have had a different outcome to the war.
But under German Occupation the Greeks suffered horribly – losing 10% of their population – a higher percentage of casualties than any other country during the war. German occupation was brutal – they purposely starved the Greeks to death, and The so-called “reprisal killings” instituted by Hitler, where 20 to 50, and sometimes 100 innocent Greek civilians, would be executed for every German soldier who was killed by the resistance, are infamous, and led to the death of so many more innocent Greek civilians.
On the island of Zakynthos, when the German commander demanded the names of all the Jews who were living there, the sitting Archbishop of Zakynthos Chrysostomos, refused, and handed-in only two names – his and the Mayor’s. This is merely one example of the heroic defense of human life and dignity that the Greek people fought for during The Occupation. Many of these heroes died for the sake of their brothers and sisters.
When the Greeks handed the Axis its first defeat on the field of battle, The Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill, was so impressed and elated, that he made his famous proclamation to the world: “Henceforth, we will no longer say that the Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks”. The Greek Orthodox Church rightly recognizes the providence of God that fueled this heroic stand of the Greek people against evil, and this is why on October 28th we also celebrate the Feast of The Protection of the Theotokos – a Feast that was originally celebrated on October 1st, but which was transferred to October 28th on the Greek liturgical calendar, in acknowledgment of the Faith of the Greek people in God our Savior, Who protected them from worse calamity, and Who’s Divine Providence, through the intercessions of His Mother the Theotokos, led to the victory of the Allies and the destruction of the Axis Powers.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, my prayer for us on this day is that we would all fight like these Greeks – like heroes, not so much physically, but spiritually. May we show ourselves to be soldiers of Christ who are courageous enough to defend the soil of their hearts, who say OXI to the oppression and temptations of the Devil, who declare war on sin, and who are not afraid to die to their self-will in order to live forever as sons and daughters of God. May we all have this courage and tenacity in the fight for our salvation!
By God’s grace, mercy, and love for mankind. Amen.