Increasing the distance
The story of Nikos:
The following months for me were months of intense study. I asked my friend George to introduce me to Friskoula, so I keep becoming more informed. He gave me his phone number, I called him and we met. But since the phone calls were long distance, we could not have long conversations. Then he suggested introducing me to an ex-Jehovah’s Witness couple, who had a summer home in Salamina so they could supply me with whatever publications and tapes they had about the Christian faith. During that time the ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses were gathering in a home in Athens once a week and Friskoula was sharing with them the result of his studies.
The more I got to know Friskoula, the more I understood how badly he was treated from the people of my faith. Every so often, a certain rumor was spread about him: that he had become a chain smoker, that he had divorced, and many other ridiculous claims that would hardly pass for accusations but the witnesses with ill imaginations would consider them proof that when someone exits the organization he becomes a scoundrel. Similar accusations circulated about my friend George; one of the most bizarre was that he had become a papist priest. Such was the irresponsibility of those who were spreading this nonsense, who couldn’t think that a papist priest cannot be married; and here my friend had a wife and children!
The standard accusation against the apostates and especially against Friskoula was the fall of pride. That supposedly out of pride like the devil, they considered themselves better than the organization and apostatized. In reality the opposite was true. For someone to accept that what he believes is wrong much humility is needed. Humility is needed to only even consider that he may be on the wrong path. On the contrary their accusers did not even possess the trace of humility to allow such a thought. They believed proudly, like the Pharisee of the parable, that they were good and all others were worthy of destruction. They had the truth and they could only teach. There was no one outside of the organization, from whom they could be taught.
Friskoulas was a receptive man, committed in helping the ex-‘witnesses’ to escape all the delusions they had learned there over the years, so they could be reestablished in society without haughtiness.
As far as Friskoulas himself goes, when the ex-‘witnesses’ were asking him to lead a new religion in Greece, he kept refusing. And when he realized that some participants had begun to develop a dependence on him, as they did sometime ago on the organization of ‘Watchtower’, he even discontinued the weekly gathering, often encouraging the ex-witnesses’ to form their own study group and their own gatherings. During the duration of his gatherings however, he had recorded all the subjects studied on cassettes. The man who undertook this task was a man of good quality and humble, who came to Greece from Egypt with his mother, both exiled because they were ‘witnesses’. Now however, while witnessing the anti-Christian activities of Roulis, which culminated to the videotaping of his opponents by his agents, he distanced himself from the organization and at some point he became acquainted with the congregation of Friskoula.
More that one-hundred of his recorded homilies one-by-one were coming to my hands. And every cassette tape I listened to secretly at my work was shaking the foundation of the structure that was built by the ‘watchtower’ inside of me from the years of my childhood. This knowledge was beginning to re-build a new structure stone by stone, which would provide the ladder that would eventually lead me to the one and truly infallible Church of the Lord.
Initially, I heard an interpretation about the ‘great crowd’ of the Revelation, which refers to the seventh chapter. I was shocked by the discovery that not only the ‘144,000’ but the ‘great crowd’ will also go into heaven. The verses were crystal clear on this! Found at the same place as the twenty-four presbyters in heaven, was the great crowd in the vision! And furthermore there was one more verse in Revelation 19:1 which was very overt in showing that this was a heavenly order.
Then, what were the “other sheep” of the parable of the Lord in John 10:16?
The next cassette I listened to dealt with this topic. To my great surprise, it provided me with a number of reasons that convinced me that the sheep in the sheep pen were the Israelites of the Mosaic Law and the other sheep were the Gentiles who would accept Christ and would become one flock with the faithful Jews. Or could it be that the gospel could change it and it would refer to some Earthly order, as the ‘witnesses’ believed? Another series of cassettes was proving that the Gospel was once for all delivered to the Saints (Jude, 3) and it wouldn’t change even if an ‘Angel from heaven’ would ask this (Galahans 1:8). It must always speak about the same heavenly hope preached by the Lord and the apostles. Anyone who would preach a different gospel, would be anathema (eternally condemned - Galatians 1:7-9).
But what then? Is it possible that the organization was not of God? Was it anathema? I began to suspect this, when I heard the cassette about the ‘faithful and wise servant’. In this cassette, a series of dozens of verses proved that anyone who calls himself wise (much like the ‘governing body’ of the ‘witnesses’), ‘runs ahead of the Lord’ and ‘is a fool’ (1 Corinthians 3:18, 4:1-5, 10. 2 Corinthians 10:12). It was also proven that the term ‘servant’ here was not pertaining to a group of people, but to each individual, whether evil, or righteous.
For the first time however, in this cassette, I observed Friskoulas himself had made some error in the interpretation of the parable of the servant. It was not possible to speak about every Christian here in this parable! There was something else happening, but it would take another three years before I would understand it.
The use of the cassettes was difficult. You needed to have a tape-player available, and it was difficult to find the specific points of interest, so something needed to be done to make all this information more useful and easily accessible. Thus, I began to record all these verses and interpretations transcribing all the homilies. Listening to the cassettes took many months; the fact that I was transcribing them was beneficial to me. It enabled me to absorb all the wealth of knowledge, and I could also have it in front of me on paper, at will.
In the group of the ex-‘witnesses’ there was no presence of a ‘governing body’ which would exclusively hold and provide the results of its studies, for everyone. Everyone could study a subject of interest and he could share his views with others. Consequently my own work was very useful for all those who took advantage of my transcripts from the cassettes. Of course, other than Friskoulas, there were individuals who studied and produced much work. This was especially true for two people whom I was very happy to meet later. They worked quietly in the background, and one of them while in jail!
Their work brought to my hands some extremely useful publications: the first one was the translated book of Raymond Franz titled ‘Crisis of Conscience’. In this book, Raymond wrote about all the events leading to the schism of 1982, about the discovery of the mistake of 1914, how the ‘governing body’ rejected the suggestion for correction, and the methods used to distance him from the organization.
The other one was the study of Johnson, which was proving with indisputable historical elements that the twentieth century was not the ‘worst century of history’ as the ‘witnesses’ claimed, but the best century of history. The worst was the fourteenth century. However, up to this point, I never opened an encyclopedia to ascertain this but I solely depended on all the distortions put forth by the organization! I was given the text of Friskoulas’s press conference, which was highly upsetting. Essentially, it was very different compared to the version of the reporters. Through it all, the months were passing by, but in the meantime some problems began to emerge.