The might of the German air force and 22,000 highly trained paratroopers fell on the island of Crete this day (20 May), 79 years ago. Ranged against them were troops from Greece, Australia, New Zealand and Britain who had mostly just escaped the German onslaught in Greece. They were to fight for 12 days in one of the fiercest encounters of the Second World War.

On Sunday, Archbishop Makarios of Australia delivered a message commemorating the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Crete which follows below:

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, Christ is Risen!

I feel deeply moved and have great spiritual joy and pride in addressing the Cretans and the fellow Greek members of our Community with this message on the occasion of the celebratory events for the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

The big island of Crete and the battle for freedom are synonymous. This is just and right as it has been so from the years of old. You only have to refer to the rebellions by the Cretans against the Venetians and the Ottomans during the years of occupation; with the legendary Arkadi and the heroic Daskalogianni in order to remember the Battle for Crete.

On the 20th May 1941, 79 years ago one of the most particular military missions of the Second World War began; specifically the Axis Balkan Campaign.

Within 12 days the mission Ermis had completely captured Crete from the air, but this was in effect a Pyrrhic victory because the Germans in the Eastern front had suffered huge setbacks in terms of human and other losses. And all this because of the courage of the Cretans and other Greeks resisting – like the 300 young men from Evro who fought together with them as well as the brave foreigners, the British, the Australian and the New Zealand soldiers who with their sacrifice became closer to them than their own family.

Like every year, so too this year, we honour our forefathers who with self-sacrifice defended to the full the greatest good which is freedom. The Cretans have been enmeshed with their Orthodox faith throughout the centuries and know from experience that which distinguishes the human person is that “he was made in the image of God”, which means he has the God given gift of being independent. It was this independence that they defended, the old and the young, women and children, all the people of Crete manifested this 79 years ago and this is why we memorialise them before the Triadic God with doxology and prayers in the Churches. Our eyes, after all, fill before the rivers of blood that were spilt in the wake of this invasion, as well as the reprisals leading to mass executions in Latzima Rethymnos, Alikiano, Kantano and  Kontomari in Hania. May Our Lord remember them in His Kingdom for ever, now and always and to the ages of ages.

For all of us today who are gathered here in Australia to remember them, place has a special significance. It seems as though it was God’s providence that allowed us to transport Crete to the Antipodes, and in this way to be enabled to offer our debt to the Australians who fought and left their last breath on our proud island. The Battle of Crete has united our people with unbreakable chains of friendship. We will never forget them.

We also will never forget that we are indebted to guard the Thermopylaes as we were taught by our ancestors. This is the highest responsibility to which we are  called upon to rise to the challenge, every year in this celebration. Even trough the circumstances in which we find ourselves during this pandemic do not allow us to celebrate in the way we would have wished, we look forward to the 80th anniversary in the next year so as to celebrate triumphantly the Battle of Crete.

With these thoughts, I address the Committee of the Federation of Cretan Brotherhood of Australia and New Zealand and I assure you that you have the unconditional support of the Holy Archdiocese of Australia and of myself in the organization of the forthcoming celebrations for the 80th anniversary. I remain in the love of the Risen Christ and with many blessings.