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A Peloponnesian Anzac

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The lives of migrants often consist of divisions and collisions. At least partly: that’s the way it seems to me, anyhow, although ‘collisions’ may be the wrong word. There is the border between the old life and the new, the line drawn between past and present, the home country left behind and the strange one with its various demands and necessary adjustments. But sometimes both lives come together in unexpected ways, and one such conjunction is about to happen to me.

My youngest grandchild, a little girl of 15 months, is to be christened the day after Orthodox Easter, which this year falls on the 24th of April. Result: she is to be christened on Anzac Day! I have told my three sons about this important anniversary: they are amused by the coincidence, and pleased that I am pleased. There is, of course, no more reaction to be expected.

I can remember my first Anzac Day. Not even five, I held my partner’s hand as the class wound in a crocodile towards the local war memorial. Then I put the cross of white chrysanthemums my mother had made on the memorial’s lowest step. Even after decades spent in Greece, I still remember Anzac Day. It is no effort, while I’ve always thought it is the least I can do, as both my father and grandfather saw active service, my father in Borneo, my grandfather in France and Belgium. The day is remembered in Greece, too, for Greeks and Anzacs fought together in the last war, so that in years not beset by pandemic very moving memorial services are held in various places throughout the country. The biggest is held at the beautiful military cemetery in Phaleron, Athens, and is always well attended.

But Anzac Day has been a controversial anniversary for years, with many people maintaining it glorifies war. I have never agreed with this point of view, thinking instead of young people’s willingness to make the supreme sacrifice, and believing that they will always have a right to some acknowledgement. At the time of the first war, Australia’s population was under 5 million, 417,000 men between the ages of 18 and 44 enlisted, and 60,000 died. Do the math, as they say.

Such thoughts will be tucked away at the back of my mind this year, because baptism is a very important day, the day one begins the Christian life. My granddaughter will be given a classical name in memory of her great-grandmother, and a saint’s name for her maternal grandmother, who died only six months ago. To this day, Greek parents refer to their infant as Baby until after the ceremony of baptism. But I did, however, know a couple in long-ago Melbourne, who temporarily called their baby boy Clayton: the name you have when you haven’t got a name.

 

'She will be starting her new life, but I know that by the end of the day I will be thinking of another place, another time, and of those whose lives have ended, but are still part of hers.'

 

Symbolism, as can be imagined, is an integral part of the liturgy. The blessed water cleanses the child in the most significant way, washing away original sin and achieving union with Christ. Said child of course does not realise this, and usually shrieks with indignation at being immersed three times in homage to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in memory of Christ’s birth, death, three days in the tomb, and resurrection. (But our priest, a relative, is both considerate and comforting.)

Chrismation then takes place, and the baby is anointed with oil on forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, chest, hands and feet in a repetition of the gift of the Holy Spirit received by the Apostles at Pentecost. He or she often takes Holy Communion immediately afterwards. Children also have their hair cut for the first time on this occasion: the priest usually cuts two locks in the form of a cross in order to signify that God guides the child’s life from now on.

The godparent, having already renounced Satan on behalf of the child, presents him or her with a new set of clothes, usually quite elaborate and expensive, and a gold cross, gold being a symbol of eternity and incorruptibility. Family and friends then line up to wish the child well, and are given koufeta, sugared almonds presented in often elaborate favours such as decorated jars or little baskets. There are always five, representing health, wealth, love, prosperity, and happiness.

And then the celebratory feasting can begin.

On Anzac Day my granddaughter will join the great flow of Orthodoxy, but I hope one day she will know about her little trickle of Australian blood. She will be starting her new life, but I know that by the end of the day I will be thinking of another place, another time, and of those whose lives have ended, but are still part of hers.

 

 


 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Greek Orthodox baptism. (Michelle Farsi / Getty Images) 

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, ANZAC, Orthodoxy, Christening

 

 

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Existing comments

In the final line of John Blight’s “Ant, Fish and Angel” are words I associate with baptism: Angels and gods come bite and take your share. Baptism is a form of otherness as we enter new life. Jesus asked his disciples “Are you able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?” These words speak of sacrifice and our thoughts can turn to Anzac Day. As you say, on this great occasion for your granddaughter and your family your thoughts will be on unexpected conjunctions.


Pam | 21 April 2022  

‘temporarily called their baby boy Clayton: the name you have when you haven’t got a name.’

Appropriate for the etymology of the name as we all come from clay – or mud – or dust.


roy chen yee | 22 April 2022  

Gillian: Yes - the intersections of lives with dates and religious observances - memorial or rites de passage - such things draw my own attention - and as with anyone who finds another with the same birthday or on a more simplistic level - being the same "star sign" even - much musing over coincidence or serendipity. What are the chances! But as you have done here - in describing the traditional Greek Orthodox baptism of your grand-daughter - in Greece - and by chance that event taking place on ANZAC Day - your own memories of long ago taking part in a ceremony - and your reflections now on the sacrifice of lives of young men - of those from far away during the Great War - and yet again engaged during WWII in Greece - the connections and entanglements of our two nations - it does add to meaning!


Jim KABLE | 22 April 2022  

A fascinating article as usual, Gillian. Apart from anything else, it took me back to two trips to Turkey in the 1990s, where, of course, one becomes very aware that the ANZACS were in effect invaders.
One of the more astonishing gravestones commemorated a Greek doctor adorned with, surprisingly, the Turkish crescent, not the cross I had expected.


Juliet | 22 April 2022  

What a beautiful description of the celebrations for the baptism of the little girl ! Most inspiring. As an Australian I too remember 25th April as ANZAC Day --that sad useless loss of life by ANZAC soldiers to no real purpose -- and then the tragic withdrawal. At the present time, with war rageing once again in all its savagery we mourn again the terrible loss of life.


Meriel Wilmot-Wright | 22 April 2022  

A superb article on what Anzac Day really means, Gillian. The First World War need not have happened and if it had not, or Germany had been treated better after the Allied victory at the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, I doubt Hitler would have risen. Meriel sounds like one of those feisty ladies in the Women's Peace Movement who opposed our entry into WW 1. They have an important part to play in any History of Australia. The Dardanelles Campaign was a hopeless folly, but, as a Kiwi historian at Sandhurst said, it broke the back of the Ottoman Army. My own paternal grandfather, who I sadly did not know, probably had his life considerably shortened by his experience in Iraq in WW 1. Two of my uncles served in the British counterattack against the Japanese through Burma after the victory at the Battle of Imphal in WW 2. One suffered a severe case of PTSD and was never the same again. Your grandaughter is an inheritor of Anzac and its spirit. Baptism is a sort of ritual drowning and rebirth which symbolises Christianity. I believe it also has a spiritual content. May she, you and all your family be blessed at and by that event.


Edward Fido | 23 April 2022  

Gillian – yours is a rare talent: you are able to stand inside an event redolent with meaning, and craft a verbal portrait that captures the essence of a moment while laying bare the hues of meaning which hold your attention and awe.
As the evening of the 25th takes you to your Peloponnesian Anzac reverie, it may be of interest to you, your children and grandchildren, that it was inspiration from the Peloponnese which informed the centre piece of Sydney's Hyde Park War Memorial.
In the Hall of Silence stands a sculpture – a dead young warrior lies on his shield, which rests on the heads of his mother, his sister and his wife nursing a child. Spartan military ethos has been married with caryatid architecture to evoke the courage of the young men who died and the emotional loss endured by their loved ones. The power of the image is felt, daily, in the silent respect it evokes from all who come upon it.


Bill Burke | 23 April 2022  

What memories of how moving and spiritual the orthodox baptism ceremony is and to bring it together with memories of sacrifice and remembrance makes it doubly important. thank you as usual for your thoughts.


Maggie | 24 April 2022  

I am always very grateful when people take the time and trouble to submit a comment. Thank you all. On this occasion I am glad to be reminded of the instruction given by Spartan mothers: With your shield or on it. Sparta is only about 60 km from where I live.


Gillian | 27 April 2022  

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