A Letter from Constantinople, March 24, 1821

Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Greek Revolution. The traditional date for the beginning of the Revolution is March 25, 1821 — the Feast of the Annunciation. That was based on the Julian Calendar, which was still in use across the Orthodox world. According to the Gregorian Calendar, Annunciation in 1821 was on April 6. But just like the American Revolution really started well before July 4, 1776, the Greek Revolution actually began earlier than Annunciation 1821.

One key moment came in early March (or late February on the Julian Calendar), when the Greek politician and general Alexander Ypsilantis essentially declared a war of independence, claiming the backing of the Russian Empire. At the time, Ypsilantis was in Moldavia, where Prince Michael Soutsos put troops at Ypsilantis’s disposal. As you might expect, the Ottoman Empire did not react well to any of this. The following is an extract from a letter written in Constantinople on March 24, 1821 (Gregorian), and reprinted in the London Statesman on May 8 of the same year:

The Greek Patriarch, in obedience to the command of the Porte, assembled yesterday in the principal church the most distinguished individuals of the Greek communion, and read to them a Firman, in which the Grand Seignor [i.e., the Sultan] charges Michel Suzzo, Prince of Moldavia, with high treason, and pronounces his condemnation, as well as that of his accomplices. A Greek Bishop, and several Boyards have been thrown into the prisons of the Bostandgi-Baschi.

The Grand Seignor had resolved to avenge the massacre of the Turks by that of all the Greeks of distinction residing in the capital. Thanks, however, to the intercessions of the Russian Ambassador, and of several other Christian Ministers, as well as to the supplications of the Greek Patriarch, his Highness has abandoned that sanguinary plan. The sword, however, remains suspended over the heads of the Greeks, and threatens to strike them as long as the insurrection of their countrymen shall not be subdued. It is stated, however, that permission to quit the capital has just been granted to all the Greeks who cannot produce Mussulmen [Muslims] to answer for their fidelity.

The Statesman goes on to report that two Greek spies were executed on March 30, and on the 31st, three bishops were strangled. All of this was before the Annunciation launch of the uprising in the Peloponnese, when, according to legend, Metropolitan Germanos of Patras raised the banner of revolution, turning Annunciation into Greek Independence Day.

The March 24 letter in the Statesman ends ominously, with the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the Greeks in Constantinople. That sword would fall on Pascha, when Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V was hanged from the doors of the Phanar after the Paschal Divine Liturgy, and many more bishops, clergy, and Greek Orthodox faithful were slaughtered by the Turks. But that is a story for another day.

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