Four decades after the Greek people abolished the monarchy, in a December, 1974 referendum, Greece is preparing for the first official visit since then of members of the British royal family.
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, better known to many as Camilla Parker Bowles, have accepted an invitation from President Prokopis Pavlopoulos to pay an official visit to Greece, which is scheduled to take place on 9-10 May.
It is hardly the first time that the heir apparent to the British throne has visited Greece.
It is well known that the prince has long harboured an attraction and fascination with the mystical monastic tradition of Mount Athos, a 1,000 year-old monastic colony that may be visited only by men, which he has repeatedly visited for spiritual retreats.
It is equally well known that Charles has a longstanding association with Vatopedi Monastery, one of the oldest and richest on Athos, and with its Abbot Ephraim, a Greek Cypriot with a large following that consider him a charismatic spiritual leader. Indeed, Ephrain had created a modest, small two –room suite with a desk for the prince’s use during his visits.
The Greece-born Prince Philip
The relations of the British royal family with Greece run deep, but have also been tumultuous.
Charles’ father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was born in the small but beautiful palace of Mon Repos on Corfu, and baptised into the Greek Orthodox faith, though he was later received in the Church of England in 1947.
But after the disaster of the Asia Minor War, his uncle, King Constantine was forced to abdicate, and his father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was banished from Greece, along with his family.
Royal historian Hugo Vickers has suggested that Philip harbours an antipathy for Greece due to the fact that his father was put on trial and nearly executed due to his role in the Asia Minor debacle.
The inglorious end of the monarchy in Greece, through its abolition by referendum, and perhaps the fate of the prince consort’s family, is considered the reason that Greece is not among the nearly 200 countries that Queen Elizabeth has visited during her exceptionally long reign.
Elizabeth did, however, visit Greece in 1950, prior to her accession to the throne, upon the invitation of her cousin, King Paul of Greece, then the reigning monarch.
Princes William and Harry have vacationed in Greece, and Princess Diana paid an informal visit in 1996, for the funeral in Evia of a man named Yannis Kalyviotis, whom the princess had visited and consoled in a British hospital.
The royal programme in Greece
The full details of the royal couple’s programme have not been made known, but certain standard elements of the presidential protocol will undoubtedly be followed.
Though Charles is not head of state, it is certain that the dinner hosted by President Pavlopoulos in honour of his royal guests will have all the trappings of a state dinner.
There, both Pavopoulos and Prince Charles will deliver remarks, and it will be exceptionally interesting to see whether the prince will refer to the royal family’s deep Greek connection, his strong attraction to the mystical element of the Orthodox faith, and the travails that the country and its people have experienced during the protracted economic depression.