A Cretan Freedom Fighter’s Son Remembers


In 1975, the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected Metropolitan Stylianos Charkianakis to become the new primate of the Orthodox Church in Australia. He was then Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Thessalonica, as well as exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate over northern Greece mediating on behalf of the monastic community of Mt Athos with the local Greek governing bodies. This new calling to such a faraway place seemed to him totally out of his expertise. He did not even know where Australia was on the map!

Now after four decades, our Archbishop remembers his response to this invitation: “They gave me three days to think about it. I was not the man they should send.” Every day they asked him, and every day his response was the same. “No, I am not the man for this. I am a man of letters, you know this.” Then on the third time they said that I was timid, that is why I did not want to undertake this calling. “Timid!” I said to to them, “How can I be timid after having had such a father?”

His father was one of the leading members of the resistance against the Germans during the battle of Crete in 1941. He was executed in front of his fellow fighters and in his own fields. “My father represented whatever was most sacred to me and so after this challenge I knew the decision had been made for me. I would show those who thought me timid that I had to honour my father’s memory.” Archbishop Stylianos narrates the story of his father’s execution, a story embedded in his memory since he had experienced it as a young boy.

The Germans knew of the elder Stylianos Charkianakis’ resistance, but they also knew of his whereabouts and they waited for the moment to capture him. He knew he was a wanted man. Together with other resistance fighters from his town, as well as his civilian compatriots, his wife and young family, the resistance fighter had gone into the mountains to hide as the Germans approached. His elderly mother refused to leave her home, stating that she would remain where she was, even though most of the townspeople had left.

When the Germans entered Rethymnon, Stylianos the elder, the resistance fighter, sneaked back into the town to check on his mother. The Germans had planes flying overhead and with their close-up cameras they could track the movements of those on the ground. Stylianos the elder was caught and rounded up with other members of the resistance group and made to march off to a distant field. There, the captives were made to dig their own graves with a small shovel, and then asked to take off their shoes so that the Germans could replace these with old boots instead.

As he bent over, Stylianos the elder knew that this was the last action prisoners were expected to do before being executed and so he grabbed the small shovel, knocked the guard down, and made a run for it through the citrus trees that were densely covering the field, which was his own. He knew it as well as he knew his own hand and so an escape would be easy. The Germans were afraid that he would get away from them and so they used a bomb to stop him.

The distraught mother, unaware of what had transpired, searched for her son, whom she had seen being taken away with the other prisoners. She made him rabbit stew as it was his favourite food, and covered it with a towel, and with this casserole in her shaking hands she searched everywhere, asking if anyone knew where he was. The news eventually spread that there had been a bomb let off to stop the fighter Stylianos Charkianakis the elder, who had tried to escape.

Eventually the family approached a newly dug mass grave, and with sunken knees fell just before the mound. They knew their loved one was there because the family dog was sitting plaintively on the side, faithful to his master till the very end. It is indeed an honour for us to have the son of a hero as our Archbishop, who himself is a spiritual hero, sacrificing 42 years, governing, serving and laying down his life for his flock, whom God and the Church entrusted him with.

Source: Lychnos June – July 2017