GREEKS ABROAD
Epitaph and Evzones at Oakleigh’s Good Friday Procession

By Mary Sinanidis

Evzones received a rock star greeting at Sts Anargiri Church, Oakleigh, on Good Friday as a sea of parishioners flowed onto the surrounding streets to see them and attend the mass led by Archbishop Makarios.

Phones and flashing cameras captured the grace and dignity of the 13 young men accompanied by three generals, all members of an elite military unit dating back to 1824 which has come to symbolise the epitome of freedom for Greece.

Stylianos Grigoriadis, an Evzone of Pontian descent, told the Greek Herald he could not have imagined when signing up for duty in December 2021 that he’d be in Melbourne within a few months. He had nothing but gushing words to say about the city.

                  Stylianos Grigoriadis, an Evzone of Pontian descent.

“When we heard we were coming to Melbourne, we were all very enthused. The truth is that in Melbourne, the Greek pulse beats profusely, and we are now here to witness this up close,” he said.

“We came here and met with… a hug. We see Greeks so proud to be Greek.”

When asked if he would ever make the choice to migrate to Australia, he politely declined, stating “my heart belongs to Greece”.

A disappointment for the swooning girls loitering around the church to catch a glimpse of the handsome young men, but no surprise coming from someone carefully handpicked for an overriding reason – loyalty to country.

To serve at the Hellenic Presidential Guard, Stylianos and his cohort must be at least 1.9 metres tall and devout Greek Orthodox Christians. But that’s just the tip of a gruelling process which involves rigorous training to test the discipline, physical endurance, mental stamina and patriotism of the Evzones in training. Only 50 per cent make the cut.

“It is a huge honour for us to be able to take the Guard abroad, to reach Hellenism around the world, to do here what we do every day at Syntagma Square, in the heart of Greece,” Mr Grigoriadis said.

“I could never have imagined that I would travel so far, but neither could I have imagined all the feelings that the Presidential Guard would stir in me. It is a huge honour for us as evzones to be able to wear the evzone’s uniform, to parade, and to be present of national events of great importance.”

While on duty, the young conscripts stood motionless within church, a stark contrast to the fidgety myrrh bearers, young girls in the front pew, waiting for their turn to shower the Epitaph with flowers. Meanwhile, agile church volunteers ushered curious people away from doorways and photobombed the shots of the snap happy.

The church’s red carpet looked more like an Oscar runway with ropes separating the hoi polloi from the guards of honour flanking the Epitaph, but Archbishop Makarios did not seem to mind. It was a chance for him to drive home his message for Australia and Greece “to proceed for the good of all humanity and all
of the world”.

Victoria’s Liberal Opposition leader Matthew Guy, a self-professed Philhellene, was also there. By now a regular at Greek events, he has told the Greek Herald that he has felt a deep connection with Greece since Russian bombs started dropping on his relatives back “home”. “Greeks gave us our Cyrillic alphabet, our
Orthodox religion and now we’re looking for the courage that you guys had against the Turks in 1821,” he had said about a month ago.

Victoria’s Liberal Leader Matthew Guy, followed by Greek Community of Melbourne President Bill Papastergiadis
behind the Epitaph.

Mingling with the crowds, sharing a banter, he too followed the Epitaph, and when the procession had ended families rushed outside the evzones’ dressing quarters waiting for photo ops until late into the night. It didn’t seem to matter whether they were dressed up in military uniform or just in their official
trackpants.

The young men too were very outgoing, eager to engage in conversation, engulfed in cigarette smoke from the land where the average packet still costs a few euros.

Natasha Spanos had also been involved in the evzones’ previous visit to Melbourne in 2018 as a member of the Organisational Committee for the Greek National Day. She said, “They are 13 young boys, full of energy, very enthusiastic with the whole thing and very impressed with Melbourne.”

Melbourne too was impressed. Louisa and Mia waited outside for their chance to see the guards. “We were excited because they are here from Greece and they came in uniform, and I hadn’t seen them since 2018 when I visited Greece,” Louisa told the Greek Herald.

            Louisa and Mia waiting outside the dressing rooms to catch a glimpse of the evzones

Earlier in the evening, Fifi Giannaros told the Greek Herald, “We would have come anyway, but the evzones are an extra reason to come early,” she said, adding that the crowds were similar to pre-COVID times.

               Oakleigh resident Fifi Giannaros and her daughter

Contrary to many others, young teens Sebastian and Lambros weren’t drawn by
the evzones. “We come every year, and we’re not here just for the evzones but
for Good Friday,” Sebastian told the Greek Herald.

                   Sebastian and Lambros came for the Epitaph procession, not the evzones

Little Olympia Siachos, aged 3, begged to differ. She told the Greek Herald, “I’m here today to see the evzones. I want to see them. I just do,” she said.

                   Little Olympia Siachos and her mum.

Source: Greekherald.com.au

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