03 July 2015

Γονεις χωρις δουλεια
πωσ θα ζησουν τα παιδια …
If the parents have no jobs,
how will the children survive?

Reflecting on what the future holds for Greece … the harbour in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday’s preparations are complete. I have finished working on my sermon for Sunday morning, I have gone over the readings, the Collect and Post-Communion Prayer again and again, and I hope everything is in place.

Tomorrow looks like a busy day, with a full morning workshop with lay ministry trainees form the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, and an afternoon in Maynooth for the launch of Treasures of Irish Christianity, Volume III, a new book to which I have contributed two chapters: one on martyred missionaries from Ireland in China, and another on Sir Richard Church from Cork who became a Greek patriot, commander-in-chief of the army during the War of Independence and a life senator.

Church became involved in coup attempt against the monarchy that had been imposed on Greece by the European powers and was a strong advocate of Greece’s rights and the country’s fledgling democracy.

This afternoon, two of us headed out to Bray, Co Wicklow, to clear our heads in preparation for this busy weekend, and for a walk along the seafront before a late lunch in Carpe Diem.

But despite clearing my head with the sea air and the sound of the waves this afternoon, it was impossible not to think of so many beach walks in Greece. And it is impossible this evening to think about Sunday next, or about Sir Richard Church and his idealism, and not to think about the referendum in Greece on Sunday and the problems and divisions the people of Greece face at this moment.

A branch office of the National Bank of Greece in Rethymnon in Crete … what is going to happen to the people of Greece after Sunday’s referendum? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I saw a film-clip on social media this evening of one protest in Athens this week, with a parent wearing a T-short that asks: «Γονεις χωρις δουλεια πωσ θα ζησουν τα παιδια», “If the parents don’t have jobs, how will the children survive?”

In what appears to be a call for a Yes vote on Sunday, Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece warned yesterday that Greeks must not allow the poison of division to seep through the souls of Greeks and said we need to guarantee for our children that Greece will remain within the European family core.

In his message to the Greek people, he said what Greeks are experiencing today is “perhaps the most crucial in the nation’s course, after World War II.”

Archbishop Ieronymos called for unity, and acknowledged that “above everything and everyone,” in each institution in the country, in all political parties, in the Church, in every Greek individual “there is a sense of patriotism and love for the homeland, a sense of anguish about its present and future situation that unites us all.”

“There is nothing separating us. That is why we must not allow the poison of division to seep in our souls. It is a crime against the future generations,” he said. “We need to make Greece a country of growth and progress for our children”

But, I wonder this evening, no matter which way Greeks vote, what is going to happen to the children of Greece after Sunday? And I found myself thinking about Never on Sunday (Ποτέ Την Κυριακή, Pote Tin Kyriaki) a 1960 Greek black-and-white romantic comedy film starring Melina Mercouri, who was one of the potent figures in resistance to the oppressive junta of the colonels in Greece almost half a century ago.

The theme song, “Never on Sunday,” also known as Τα Παιδιά του Πειραιά (Ta Pediá tou Pireá, “The Children of Piraeus”), was written by Manos Hadjidakis and became a hit when it was released with film score on 1 October 1960.

The Greek version has been recorded by Melina Mercouri, Nana Mouskouri and Pink Martini; English versions have been recorded by Bing Crosby, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Andy Williams, Trini Lopez, The 4 Seasons, Connie Francis, Julie London, Eartha Kitt, Petula Clark, Lale Andersen, and The Chordettes; and there are instrumental recordings by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and James Last.

The movie tells the story of Ilya, a self-employed, free-spirited prostitute who lives in the port of Piraeus in Greece, and Home Thrace, an American tourist from Middletown, Connecticut – a classical scholar with a romantic view of all things Greek. Homer feels Ilya’s lifestyle typifies the degradation of Greek classical culture and he attempts to steer her onto the path of morality. At the same time, Ilya helps the uptight Homer to loosen up.

The film, starring Melina Mercouri (Μελίνα Μερκούρη) and Jules Dassin, won the Academy Award for Best Song and was nominated for numerous other Academy Awards. Melina Mercouri also won the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 1960.

Jules Dassin was the director, producer, writer and main male actor in the movie. Like the character he plays, Dassin was actually from Middletown, Connecticut. He was from a Russian Jewish background, but became completely immersed in Greek life and culture after he met Melina Mercouri at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1955 and simultaneously discovered the literary works of Nikos Kazantzakis.

The couple married in 1966, and he became a Greek citizen (spelling his name Ζυλ Ντασέν). She went on to star in many of his subsequent movies, including Phaedra (1962), Topkapi (1964) and Promise at Dawn (1970).

She played the title role in Phaedra (Φαίδρα), an adaptation by Margarita Lymberaki of Hippolytus, the tragic drama by Euripides about how the wilful actions of parents can have devastating and deathly consequences for their children. The film is set in Paris, London and the Greek island of Hydra. The music was composed by Mikis Theodorakis and her recording of Αστέρι μου φεγγάρι μου (Asteri mou, Fengari mou, “My Star, My Moonlight”) remains a popular song in Greece.

With the colonels’ coup in 1967, Melina and Jules fled Greece and in 1970 they were accused of financing a plot to overthrow the regime. The charges were dropped but the interior minister, Colonel Stylianos Pattakos, revoked her Greek citizenship and confiscated her property.

When she was stripped of her citizenship, she said: “I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek. Pattakos was born a fascist and he will die a fascist.”

When the colonels fell in 1974, Melina and Jules returned to Greece, where they lived out their lives. Alongside Andreas Papandreou, she was a founding member of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK).

In 1977 she topped the polls when she was elected to Parliament, and in 1981 she was the first woman to become Minister for Culture in Greece. She was a strong advocate for the return to Athens of the Parthenon Marbles, which remain in the British Museum in London.

When PASOK returned to office after the election in 1993, she returned to the Ministry for Culture.

When she died in 1994, the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Karamanlis, said: “Greece mourns the loss of a rare human being, a significant artist and true friend. His passion, his relentless creative energy, his fighting spirit and his nobility will remain unforgettable.” She was honoured with a state funeral at the First Cemetery of Athens, where she is buried close to the grave of Sir Richard Church.

Olive groves in Crete above the harbour and city of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Last month, another woman achieved prominence in PASOK. Fofi Gennimata is the first woman to become the leader of the beleaguered socialist party when she defeated two male candidates, Andreas Loverdos and Odysseas Constantinopoulos, for the presidency.

She is seeking to bridge the gap with other centre-left parties in Greece, including Democratic Left, which was part of the coalition government in 2012-2013, and the Movement of Democratic Socialists launched by the former PASOK leader George Papandreou in January.

PASOK, along with most other opposition parties, is calling for a Yes vote on Sunday, showing the divisions within the Greek Left remain open fissures.

Jules Dassin was captivated by the literary works of Nikos Kazantzakis, probably the greatest Greek writer of the last century.

In his introduction to Report to Greco, Kazantzakis says “My entire soul is a cry, and all my work the commentary on that cry.” The author’s grave on the bastion above Iraklion is marked by a simple cross and an epitaph carved in his own handwriting, with his own words:

Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα.
Δε φοβάμαι τίποτα.
Είμαι λέφτερος

(Den elpizo tipota. Den fovamai tipota. Eimai leftheros, “I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free”).

Whatever, or never, happens in Sunday’s vote I shall continue to hope. But I shall also worry about the children of Greece and the freedom and the future of Greece.

The grave of Nikos Kazantzakis on the walls of Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)