Sunday, 27 April 2014

  CHRYSOSTOMOS, METROPOLITAN OF SMYRNA (1922)


Born in Triglia, Bithynia in 1867, Chrysostomos showed early promise in the Church, being appointed Metropolitan of Drama in eastern Macedonia in 1902, at the relatively early age for a bishop of 35. At that time, the area was still under Ottoman rule and his main concern was the spiritual and physical care of the majority Orthodox Greek population. He involved himself in the building of schools, churches, hospitals and even sports facilities and these actions, together with his tendency to make political statements, resulted in exile in 1907 and again in 1909. In 1910, he was elected Metropolitan of Smyrna (now called Izmir) on the east coast of Turkey. This also had a large Greek Orthodox population and, here too, he combined church duties with social and charity work* and vociferous opposition to the persecution of Turkish Christians. He organized a full day rally against the violence of the Bulgarians against the Greeks in Macedonia, which was condoned and perhaps encouraged by the Turkish government.  He spoke to diplomats and the world press, and the German ambassador in Constantinople was so impressed by his efforts that he described him as “the best of living clerics.” He was again exiled to Constantinople in 1914, not returning to Smyrna until 1919.
He returned to a city embroiled in the turmoil of the Greek-Turkish war (1919-1922). Under the Treaty of S√®vres, Smyrna was occupied by the Greek army and Chrysostomos was able to continue his pastoral work not only among the Greek Orthodox but also the Armenian and Turkish residents. He also worked towards the creation of an autonomous Greek state in the area round Smyrna, should the Greek army lose the general war in Asia Minor.  With the defeat of the Greek army in Anatolia in 1922, however, Smyrna was quickly retaken by the Turks, who set about expelling the Greek population. Chrysostomos was encouraged to flee by the English and French consuls and even the Roman Catholic archbishop begged him to leave, actually booking his passage on a ship. Chrysostomos, however, refused point blank saying, “It is the tradition of the Greek Church and the duty of the priest to stay with his congregation.”
On the 9th September, he conducted the Divine Liturgy in the cathedral, where many of the Orthodox had taken shelter. In what was to be his last sermon he said:
God is testing our faith, our courage, and our patience at this time. But God will never abandon Christians. It is in turbulent seas that the good sailor stands out, and it is during a time of tribulations that the good Christian does the same. Pray and all this will be gone. We shall again see happy days and we will pray to the Lord. Have courage as all good Christians should.
Immediately after the service, Chrysostomos was taken to the police chief who instructed him that all Greeks and Armenians should surrender their weapons and stay in their homes. He returned to the cathedral, where he read out the orders. What happened next is not entirely clear but Chrysostomos was certainly seized again by the police and probably taken to the military governor, General Noureddin Pasha. The latter was fanatically anti-Christian and, instead of following legal processes, seems to have incited a mob to abduct the bishop. The mob attacked him with such savagery that doubt has been cast on the gruesome details but there seems to be plenty of documentary evidence for their accuracy. They tore off his beard, stabbed him repeatedly and blinded him. To all this he responded by trying to say words of forgiveness and raising his hand in blessing. When one of the attackers realised what he was doing, he cut off the bishop’s hands with a sword. Eventually, Chrysostomos was dragged into an alley, where he died of his wounds.** The attack was witnessed by a group of French marines who wanted to go to his aid but were held back at gunpoint by their commanding officer who was under strict orders to remain neutral.***
Metropolitan Chrysostomos was officially canonised by the Church of Greece in 1993, with a feast day on 27 August. Later, however, the celebration was moved to the Sunday before the Elevation of the Cross, when he is remembered along with the other new martyrs of Asia Minor. Since the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch remains in Istanbul (Constantinople), for diplomatic reasons these saints are not commemorated in the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

*        Intriguingly, Chrysostomos was the founder of the original Panionios football team in Smyrna. After the expulsions of 1922, the team was reconstituted by the refugees in Nea Smyrni in Athens, where it continues to this day.
**      An interesting testimony comes from an eminent academic, G. Mylonas. As a student, he had been imprisoned with others awaiting execution. A Turkish officer came to their cell and said that he had been involved in the murder of Chrysostomos and had, in fact, shot him through the head to end his torture. He had been so impressed by the courage of the bishop and so horrified at the events he had taken part in that he freed the group of prisoners in the hope that this act might assuage his guilt and give him some peace of mind. This story comes from an article by Sarantos Kargakos in the magazine Oikonomikos Tachydromos, 8/10/92. (Translated source OrthodoxWiki)

***    To be fair to the officer, in spite of the humanitarian instincts of his men, it is doubtful if they could have done much to protect the metropolitan and would probably have perished themselves in the hysteria of the attack. My father was a young soldier in the British “peacekeeping” force in Smyrna in 1922. He told me that, whatever horrors they witnessed, the British troops were also strictly ordered not to intervene unless attacked themselves. 

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