Tied on the Web
In those days, when I first began knocking on doors, Nikos explained the method used by the international “Watchtower” organization to direct this work. He explained that the organization closely followed the work and progress of those sent out to evangelize by keeping track of monthly statistical data which showed any weak points. He showed me a report that needed to be filled out by every “witness,” showing specific elements of his monthly activities. If I wanted to, I could also report the statistics of my own personal activity to the organization, thereby contributing to the international data. Nikos also explained that by reporting my activities, I would officially be included among the “evangelizing.” What he failed to impress upon me, however (something that he was not very conscious about either), was that by filling out such a report, the person evangelizing was acknowledging his full submission to the “Watchtower” organization. It was no long permissible for him to have his own opinion, or any different opinions than the organization in matters of faith, nor could he act independently or use methods not approved by the organization. If he showed any disregard for these bylaws and acted or believed differently, the sword of “disfellowship” was hanging over his head. Disfellowship or expulsion was decided after one or more court hearings by a “spiritual court” convening “behind closed doors,” thus excluding the presence of any spectators. This was the worst possible punishment for a “witness.” After his disfellowship (for whatever reason) from the society, this person would be an outcast. Not even a simple greeting was permitted from the rest of the “witnesses” who would also be “penalized” with disfellowship! Anyone found with the stigma of disfellowship would suddenly lose all friends and relatives who were also “witnesses,” even his parents and children, who possibly lived at a different house. His marriage could possibly receive a deadly blow, and he could even lose his employment if his employer were a “witness.” Only a future re-enrollment in the ranks of the organization could restore the relationship of all other “witnesses” with him. All of this was possible after he handed in even a single form with his personal statistics for the organization. Being ignorant of all these consequences, I began to hand in my activity report. At that time, and for a number of years to come, I regarded the society as the “loving” organization of God. It would be much later that I would come to know its true self.
At one of the organization’s gatherings, I was approached by an “elder” and asked if I wished to enroll in the “school.” I accepted the invitation, and in no time I was being notified to present a short sermon and to read and interpret a passage from the Holy Scripture. The goal of this school was to train “preachers” and “evangelists” for the organization. The students practiced giving small sermons, and afterwards corrections and suggestions would be offered by one of the “elders.” The gathering were held every Thursday and lasted two hours in conjunction with another meeting, the examination of “ministry,” a small internal booklet given only to those who evangelized. On Sunday, there was a common gathering for everyone to study the “Watchtower,” the most basic periodical of the organization and to hear the public homily of the week. On Tuesday, there was a study of some designated book (I first started out on one of these meetings), where only a few people would gather in a family environment. This series of meetings took place in three separate homes because the local witnesses were divided into three groups.
On the day designated for me to give my sermon, I prepared myself for the homily with some notes taken from several articles of the “Watchtower” magazine pertaining to the text I was assigned to read. I was overcome with stage fright when I stood in front of the microphone with 60 pairs of eyes staring at me. Fortunately, outside of a few mistakes in reading, everything went well. I finished one minute before my allotted time, and thus the alarm clock used by the “elder” to check the time of the homily rang shortly thereafter. Afterwards, my examiner came to the speaker’s stand and marked my report in the “advice” section with a “G” for “good” in one part of my examination and with a “W” meaning “more work is needed” in another area of my examination. After the initial homilies that I was assigned to read, things became more difficult, because now I needed to expand on the subject quickly and from memory, without reading the homilies from my notes with the exception of the Holy Scripture verses. In a short while, I overcame my initial stage fright, and I delivered my homilies with confidence and without notes.
Throughout this period I continued to teach my mother about the organization by exposing her to some of the books of the “witnesses.” She had already espoused everything I believed, and she urged me to “progress in the organization.” As far as my father was concerned, he also began to display some interest, influenced by the change in my mother. In the beginning, they attended the meetings to see me offer a homily. Later on they started coming to the weekly gatherings. In a short period of time, they developed acquaintances and their interest was intensified. Soon they too began to fill out “the evangelizing report” and to witness to others.
In the second year of our involvement with the “witnesses,” all three of us participated in the “baptism of dedication” of the “witnesses.” Although we had been baptized by the Orthodox Church, we believed that baptism to be invalid, because we received it when we were infants and lacked understanding. “An infant does not possess knowledge of its ‘dedication’,” they had told us, and they pointed out the verse in Mathew 28:19-20: “Go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep everything I have commanded you…” They emphasized, “You first become a disciple and then you are baptized! And we, like total idiots, never took the time to analyze this verse grammatically. This would have to wait a number of years to come to fruition; we were all made to feel confident that we would survive “Armageddon,” and we would progress toward human perfection in a period of a thousand years, before the final tribulation. For us, this was a tremendous hope since we had never heard the true Christian Gospel.
Much like the merchant of the Lord’s parable, we were searching for pearls without yet having discovered the most “precious pearl.” We believed that the only thing needed for our Salvation was the adherence to the “organization” as an arc of salvation and to preach to others about all of these things. Woe to anyone who found himself “in the world” and outside of the organization during Armageddon. God himself would kill this person without any hope of resurrection. This instilled a deep sadness in us and we agonized for our friends, our relatives, and for everyone around us in general. This compelled us to speak “in season and out of season” for what we firmly believed, in order to have these people saved along with us. We were deeply saddened by the malice and bad attitude of certain individuals who accused us, claming that somehow we were bribed or that we stepped on holy icons, while we were sacrificing much of our energy and time for their sake. Rather quickly, our relatives and friends began to avoid us. They asked us not to speak to them about our newly found faith. However, we insisted on speaking to them about it.
When informed about my mother’s change in faith, her godfather and uncle stopped speaking to us for years, up until his dying moments. We had almost succeeded in proselytizing him, but he died Orthodox. He could never understand that he was partly responsible for our ordeal because he never took care to teach my mother the Orthodox faith as a godfather should.