Russia – Greece:
Together Through the Centuries
The year 2016 has been declared a "Year of Russia" in Greece and a "Year of Greece" in Russia.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of Greece Prokopis Pavlopoulos made the respective announcements during their meeting on 15 January 2016. The President of Russia highlighted the spirit of friendship in Russia – Greece relations and unique historical ties between the two countries.

Governments of both states have prepared extensive cultural, scientific, art and sport programs. Youth exchange programs have been prepared, as well as Greek language learning programs in Russia and Russian language learning programs in Greece. The Russia – Greece Cross-Cultural Year will become an excellent opportunity for Russians to visit Greece, and for Greeks to visit Russia.
Friendship between the peoples of Russia and Greece goes into the depths of time. Greeks had been settling in the Northern Black Sea area even in 6–5 BC. Modern cities of Odessa, Feodosiya, Yevpatoria and Sevastopol that were founded on the sites of ancient Greek settlements, have retained their Greek names to this day.

In 957 AD Princess Olga, ruler of the Ancient Russian state, visited the capital of the Byzantine Empire and converted to Christianity. In 988 AD her grandson Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich christianised the Ancient Rus, thus laying the new foundation of the continuously growing communication between Greeks and Slavs.

Russian church art, philosophy and theology are all of Greek origin. Many Greek scholars and figures laboring on Russian soil became an integral part of Russian culture: Theophanes the Greek, a Russian icon painter; Maximus the Greek, a Russian saint, thinker and scholar; Alexander Konstantinovich Ipsilanti, a Russian general.

Saint brothers from the city of Thessalonica, equal-to-apostles Cyril and Methodius, devised the Slavonic alphabet and the Church Slavonic language. The Gospels and church texts were for the first time translated into Slavonic word for word. For ages Church Slavonic had been not only the church language but also the language of science and of Russian literature.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the establishment of Ottoman supremacy in Greece, thousands of Greeks came to Russia seeking shelter from cruel persecutions. Several decades later a Greek quarter appeared in Moscow. In the middle of the 17th century the Greek monks that had brought to Moscow a copy of the miraculous Iberian Icon of the Mother of God, were granted St. Nicholas Monastery in Kitay-gorod (a historical district in central Moscow).

Greek scholars and theologists brothers Joannicus and Sophronius Leichoudes were the first teachers at the Slavo-Greco-Latin Academy in Moscow, established in 1687. Many of the Acade-my's graduates became outstanding figures of science, state, diplomacy, church, art and culture, among them great polymath and scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, mathematician Leonty Magnitsky, first Russian Doctor of Medicine Piotr Postnikov and many others.

In 1775 the theological faculty of the Academy evolved into a separate institution, known today as the Moscow Theological Academy — the higher educational institution of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Academy itself is now titled the Moscow University.

Numerous Greek scholars, monks, priests and translators of sacred books had not only helped the Russians absorb the Byzantine culture, but also played a significant role in the history of the Russian state. In this matter, the fate of Ioannis Kapodistrias is very telling.

Ioannis was born on Corfu on 11 February, 1776. Educated in philosophy and medicine, he entered the diplomatic service. After the liberation of Corfu from the French forces by Admiral Ushakov in 1799, Ioannis worked as a chief medical director of the Russian military hospital on Corfu. In 1800 Ushakov offered him the position of the Secretary of the Legislative Council of the Septinsular Republic, and he accepted.

After the Ionian Islands had been ceded to France, the young politician entered the Russian service, and from 1816 to 1822 he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire. After his retirement due to health problems, in 1822 Count Ioannis Kapodistrias was elected the ruler of Greece for 7 years.

One of the central streets of the Greek capital, the Queen Olga Avenue, is named after Grand Duchess Olga Konstanti¬novna Romanova, the granddaughter of the Emperor Nicho¬las I, his son Konstantin's daughter. Princess Olga was the grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and Head of the Commonwealth.

Like all the children in the Grand Duke Konstantin's family, Olga was raised in Orthodox religion, received excellent education and was fluent in several languages. Grand Duchess Olga was married to George I, King of Greece, thus becoming the Queen-Consort of Greece.

There is hardly another people with fate as close as to that of the Russian people. For many centuries, united by the common religion and common cultural traditions, Russia and Greece have been supporting each other in their struggles for freedom and independence.

Since the origins of the Russian state, from Kievan Rus and to this day, the cultural connections and mutual aid between Russian and Greek nations have never been interrupted and continue evolving to this day.


The International Charity Festival of Christian culture Russia – Greece: Together Through the Centuries is held on the natal day of the saint bishop Spyridon for a reason. Spyridon of Trimythous is one of the most venerated saints in Russia. He has been a "comfort for the sad", "a defender of the weak", "a healer for the afflicted" and "a helper in the misfortunes" for many. In Russia churches were erected in his honor, icons were painted, he was addressed in prayers.

The Russian people remember and retell many cases of the saint's miraculous help and protection. One of such cases happened in 1552, during Ivan the Terrible's third Kazan campaign (his first two marches against the Kazan khanate were unsuccessful).

On the road from Moscow the Tsar Ivan the Terrible had a vision of the saint bishop Spyridon of Trimythous. The saint had strengthened the sovereign's spirit in his determination to liberate almost 800,000 Russian people, captured by the Nogai usurpers into slavery during their raids and invasions into the Russian lands. By the blessing of Saint Spyridon the assault on Kazan was successful and brought the Kazan khanate to an end. After the victory of the Russian forces, the Tsar had the Spyridon Monastery erected on the place of the saint's miraculous appearance.


Alexander Suvorov
Another miracle took place in 1790. Not wishing to accept the results of the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774, in July 1787 Turkey demanded that Russia return the Crimea peninsula, cease protecting Georgia and agree to the search of Russian merchant ships passing through the straits. Having received no satisfactory answer, the Turkish government declared war upon Russia.

The Russian army under A. V. Suvorov and Prince G. A. Potemkin-Tavricheski had won a series of brilliant victories over the Turks but the enemy still would not agree to the terms of a peace treaty. Then it was decided to capture the impregnable Danube fortress of Izmail.

The Izmail garrison numbered 35,000 troops commanded by the Serasker Aydozly Muhammad Pasha. Suvorov's army numbered 31,000 men.
Having thoroughly examined the fortress, Suvorov made a disappointing conclusion: "This fortress has no weaknesses". But as he was preparing for the siege, Alexander Vasilyevich said: "Today we pray, tomorrow we learn, the day after tomorrow we'll have victory or death!"

Before the fight, Suvorov made everything he could to avoid bloodshed. On 7 December 1790 an ultimatum was sent to the commandant of Izmail demanding the surrender of the fortress. The answer was: "First Danube will turn back its waters and the sky will fall down than the Izmail surrenders".

On 11 December, at 5:30 AM, the siege began. By 8:00 AM, all the Turkish bastions were occupied by Russian troops, the resistance on the streets continued until 4:00 PM. The Turks lost 29,000 men killed. The Russian losses were 4,000 dead and 6,000 wounded.

The siege, an amazing military feat, was ended when it was already the next day according to the church calendar — 12 December, the natal day of the saint bishop Spyridon of Trimythous. The Izmail mosque was immediately turned into an Orthodox church dedicated to Saint Spyridon of Trimythous the miracle worker, and a thanksgiving service was held.

The capture of Izmail had made a significant impact on the war and on the conclusion of the peace of Jassy between Russia and Turkey in 1792 .


Feodor Ushakov liberated from the French troops the impregnable fortress of Corfu

The next story took place in 1799. One of the stages of France's politics of conquest at the end of 18th century was the capture of the Ionian Islands. In 1797, the revolutionary forces of France drove the Venetians from the island of Corfu. The Emperor Paul I, who venerated St. Spyridon greatly as the patron saint of his eldest son Alexander Pavlovich (born on 12 December 1777), decided to free Corfu from the invaders.

The emperor Paul I allied himself with Turkey, his recent opponent, and through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles an allied fleet was sent to the Mediterranean under the command of Vice Admiral Ushakov. The first thing he did was send small landing troops with the appeal to the population of the isles. He called upon the Orthodox Greeks to aid the friendly fleet in "overthrowing the insufferable oppression" of the atheist French. The local population, inspired by the arrival of the Russian fleet, responded with ubiquitous armed aid.

From 1 October to 1 November 1798 the French garrisons, having lost 1500 men dead, wounded and captured, were driven from the islands of Kythira, Zante, Kefalonia and Lefkada. It remained to take the largest and best-fortified island of the archipelago, Corfu.

The assault began at 7 AM on 18 February 1799 on the island of Vido. After a four-hour bombardment, all five shore batteries on the island had been suppressed. At 11 AM the allied fleet then landed on Vido 2160 men from two directions. By 2 PM, after the 2-hours fight, the island was taken.

After the fall of Vido, the key to Corfu was in Ushakov's hands. The Russian batteries were set on the captured island and opened fire on the Old and the New Fortresses. They were supported by the nearby ships and the shore batteries at the village of Manducchio and from the St. Pantaleon hill.

The Alban troops moved in to storm the fort of San Rocco, but were thrown back. The next assault by the Russo-Turkish forces made the French clinch their guns, blow up the powder rooms and retreat to the San Salvatore. But the Russians stormed the bastion right after and after a half an hour of vicious melee fighting took it as well. Soon the last outpost of the New Fortress, the San Abraham, also fell under the pressure of the assailants.

An assault on the main forts was planned on 19 February, but in the morning the French sent envoys to discuss their sur¬render. The honorable capitulation was accepted on 20 February 1799 after negotiations. According to its terms, the French were allowed to leave the island with the promise not to engage in hostilities for 18 months.

On the next day Admiral Ushakov and commanding officers of Russian ships set ashore to participate in the thanksgiving church service. The population of the island gave a warm welcome to the Admiral and his companions. The Russian sailors, surrounded by the excited crowd, walked to the cathedral church of Saint Spyridon, accompanied by the ringing of church bells and constant gun salute of local residents. At the church the service was held.

On March 27, the first Easter day, Admiral Ushakov offered the clergy to hold a sacred procession and carry out the hallows of the saint Spyridon of Trimythous. The people came from all the nearby villages and islands. The Russian troops were positioned on both sides of the road; during the carrying-out the reliquary was supported by the Admiral himself, his officers and important persons. The holy relic was carried around the walls, and the procession was for all the time accompanied by gun fire and cannon fire. The city was celebrating all night long.
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