Flirting with the Spider
It was a freezing Sunday morning. Snuggled in my bed, I was enjoying the last few minutes of warmth before facing the elements and my frozen room. I loved to take it easy on Sunday mornings, especially during the winter when all of my “parea” had not made it to the neighborhood hangout yet.
My father worked on Sundays, and on this particular Sunday, my mother had gone to some memorial service even though she very seldom attended Church. But there are some religious “duties” that need to be carried out. I don’t remember her attending Church any other days beyond Holy Week and a few memorial services of very close relatives, like on this particular Sunday morning. Fortunately, I was still too young to have to attend to such duties. Besides, who has the patience to endure all these endless, nonsensical chants, I thought!
With my eyes still closed, I orchestrated the activities of the day. Sunday was the only day I could dedicate to myself. The rest of the week I worked at a jewelry design shop, and in the evenings I attended a trade high school. This was my first month in this area, and I was just beginning to get accustomed to this full daily schedule. Sundays I wanted for myself.
The ring of the door bell suddenly interrupted my thoughts. I opened the door shivering. Two well dressed men in suits and ties were standing in front of me sporting hearty smiles. One of them was wearing a long rain coat, a hat, and a characteristic “Hitler” mustache. They were both holding briefcases with the zippers open, to make some books visible inside.
They greeted me very politely, and then the man with the mustache started the conversation.
“My name is Constantine, and I am visiting the neighborhood with my friend here to bring good news,” he claimed.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Would you agree that the state of the world is getting worse and worse, and we hear on the news…”
I began to lose my temper. I was still shivering with the door open, and they still had not said what they wanted.
“What exactly is it that you want?” I interrupted.
“We are advertising these two magazines, “Watchtower” and “Awake,” and today they have the very interesting topic of…,” he began to explain.
I interrupted saying, “I’m not interested, thank you.”
He tried to talk me into it. “You know we also have an interesting book.”
“Thank you, but I’m not interested!”
They then went on to ask if they could come inside to discuss it, and I asked them who they were.
They responded, “We are Christian witnesses of Jehovah.”
Now I felt my blood boiling. How rude, I thought to myself. It is not enough that they step on the icons and the cross, that they refuse to serve our country as soldiers, and that they allow their children to die without blood transfusions, but now they are also coming to our homes!
“Get out of here, now! Before I call the police,” I said.
“But we are law abiding citizens,” they responded.
“That’s enough! I don’t want to hear anything from you,” I interrupted.
“But why? We are here motivated by love,” they claimed.
They had now become unbearable, and I slammed the door in their faces. I heard them go down the stairs, while I was getting dressed with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I felt bad for treating them in such a way because they were so polite, but on the other hand, I needed to do my duty as a Greek Orthodox. Thus, I felt proud for chasing them out since this is what they deserved, according to some adults who claimed that they knew them well.
The following evening I shared my Sunday morning “accomplishments” with the fellow who sat next to me in school. He was a boy a few years younger than I, whom I befriended a few days prior. Nikos and I were becoming good friends, and he seemed to be a very nice person. He did not like to curse or smoke as the other boys in school did, and he seemed to be quite satisfied with his life. He was one of the top students in school, and he seemed to “have his hands” in many different things. He listened to my experience with the “witnesses,” smiling now and then.
As the months passed by, that Sunday morning incident was forgotten. I was quite busy with my daily routine, so I waited for the holidays to catch up with my friends who had just about written me off. While they were out flirting at the plazas and cafés, I was working or listening to some boring teachers. Fortunately, I had met Nikos, and I had some good company during recesses.
One evening during religion class, after the daily oral testing of the students, the teacher began a lesson on the topic of “The Jehovah’s witnesses.” I listened very carefully much like my closest classmate who was also taking notes. I remember, among other things, the teacher saying that “The Chiliasts (Jehovah’s witnesses) do not accept the Panagia, the Saints, or the cross. They defame the flag, calling it a “rag.” They claim that the faithful before Christ will resurrect and will be senators with Abraham who will be president, Jonah who will be secretary of navigation, Gideon who will be the secretary of defense, etc. They have designated many dates for the end of the world, including 1924, 1925, and others, and they are constantly ridiculed. They go to homes searching to find and lead astray the illiterate and old women.”
When he finished his delivery of the lesson, my friend Nikos raised his hand, asking for permission to speak. The teacher gave his consent.
“Mr. Teacher,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I feel the duty to point out the untruths written in our class textbook about the Jehovah’s witnesses. It is not true that they deny the Panagia and the Saints, nor do they defame the flag. About them believing all these things about the senators and presidents for the faithful before Christ is a ridiculous lie, and it is also a lie that they lead astray the illiterate and the women. I’m saying this because I’m neither illiterate nor a woman, and yet I am a Jehovah’s witness.”
At the sound of these last words, the class fell into a deep silence. They all waited for the teacher to respond, but he also seemed to be at a loss for words. I was shocked! My eyes popped out, and I kept staring at Nikos with my mouth wide open. How is this possible, I wondered, my best friend is a Chiliast? How did it escape me all this time? I kept asking myself these questions, almost expecting him to have some kind of an identity display on his forehead or something! The school bell rang at the proper time and put an end to the teacher’s dilemma.
“Listen!” he said. “I’m supposed to tell you what is written in this book. We can discuss it if you wish, we can talk about it some other time.”
With these words, the teacher exited the room, while I, as though hypnotized, followed my friend outside. In the hall some other students were calling out to Nikos.
“Bravo! Great one! You told him off!” they cheered.
Nikos seemed very disappointed about the bell cutting him off. He seemed like he wanted to say much more.
“Another time,” he said, looking at me and smiling, probably from the dumb expression that was still stuck on my face.
“Are you really a Jehovah?” I asked.
“Witness of Jehovah,” he corrected me. “Jehovah is the name of God. It is not permitted for us mere humans to be called Jehovah. There is only one Jehovah, God. We only bring witness to his name.”
We were already at the front yard, and I found myself shocked and confused. My various biases were pushing me to get away from him. But since he was my friend, it would be rude to treat him this way! Not to mention that my curiosity was growing by the minute! All this time we had been together, we enjoyed each other’s company, and he was always friendly! I had told him my problems, and he had told me his. He was a normal human being, like all of us. He had no horns, nor did he show any signs of evil, as I had been forewarned about the people of his religion. On the contrary, he did not curse, did not “chase” after girls, did not smoke, and treated people around him with respect. Could all of these traits be superficial?
“What relationship could you possibly have with God?” I asked him, “since you and your people hold to the heresy of Arius, that Christ is a creation. Saint Athanasios proved this to be a heresy!”
I came up with this, mobilizing all of the information I had learned in school. I wanted to “corner” him to prove that he was not right. I did not appreciate someone being inconsiderate of the religion I grew up with. Instead of stumbling on my question, he answered me with his own question.
“What is the meaning of Creation?”
I kept staring at him.
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“Is Jesus Christ not the Son of God?” he asked me again.
“Of course!” I said.
“If, in fact, he is the Son of God, at sometime He ‘begot’ him. In other words, ‘created’ him. Is this not so?” he concluded.
“It makes sense!” I replied, making my first dogmatic error.
“Well then, this is exactly what we ‘witnesses’ are saying, and that’s what Arius
was saying. Does it seem unreasonable?” he asked.
“No! But then, what are we and Saint Athanasios saying?” I asked.
“Although you should know, I will tell you. You are claiming Christ to be without beginning—anarchos--but isn’t it illogical to be beginningless since He has a Father? If he always existed, then how was he born?
I was speechless.
He went on to say, “As you see, Arius was not the heretic, but Saint Athanasios, and I’m pleased that you are able to see how illogical the dogma of Trinity is.”
I had never attended catechetical school, nor did my parents take any special care to teach me the Orthodox faith. I very seldom attended Church, and when I did, it was not for the sake of being churched but for the fireworks of Pascha.
Neither did my godfather ever teach me anything. He considered his only obligation to provide me with a gift during my name day once a year and a “lampada” during Pascha. Thus, I grew up without anyone explaining to me the difference between the word “Son” and the word “Creation,” without anyone explaining to me how the Father and the Son can exist pre-eternally, since they are found outside of the realms of time. I grew up without someone explaining to me that the sun, which though it gives birth to light, does not exist before the light, but sun and sunlight exist simultaneously and that sunlight is also “sun” and “begotten” of the sun. No one told me that the Son is the reflection of the “Light of the Father” outside of time. (Hebrews 1:3)
I had no idea that the Father was the origin, the source of the Son as to the cause. I thought He was His beginning as to time, being clueless about the Father creating time through the Son. (John 1:3 – Hebrews 1:3)
I now found myself weaponless in front of a man who was speaking to me about matters which he did not know as well as he thought he did. I was acknowledging before him not only ignorance of my savior, but even denial for His own revelation. And while I was good at searching out and finding exclusive social spots with beautiful girls, I never had the same appetite for the search of my God! I never even questioned myself about Him and about my faith. To me it was a given that the faith I was born into was the only true faith, just as I would have believed had I been born into some other religion.
And now this “given” was crumbling! I had a man in front of me who was more than ready to demolish and knock down whatever I held with certainty up to now. I was already greatly disturbed for having agreed to something opposed by my faith. What if Nikos was right? No! I didn’t even want to think about it! The rest of the evening in between classes we dedicated all of our free time to a theological discussion. What impressed me was that he had a well tailored answer for each and every one of my questions. Many times he would even beat me to the punch, answering my question before I had a chance to pose it. He must have had these same discussions with many others before me. He knew in advance what my answer was going to be, and in reality he steered the discussion towards the direction he wanted.
Finally, when we finished school that evening, and we said our “good nights,” I left in deep thought, seriously perplexed. I always believed that discussions about God were pointless and boring imaginings of backward old men. Now, however, I had discovered for the first time that behind all this there was a secret fascinating charm, some thought provoking magnificence. In full amazement I was discovering that behind the word “religion” there was a world of enchantment, a complex and fascinating science that I wanted to get to know much better. As my train glided home through the dark, I sat engulfed in my thoughts, hardly noticing I was already at my stop.
At home, I greeted my parents, and we sat at the table to eat. I did not mention anything to them about my friend, about whom I had told them many good things up to now. I felt that they would ask me to part company with him if they found out that he was a “witness.” That night, even though I was exhausted, it took me a long time to fall asleep. I could not stop thinking about the discussion I had at school. I learned so much!
 The veneration of the Virgin Mary
 Translator’s Note: Rationalism (i.e., logic) is the mother of all heresies, the attempt of man to explain the mysteries of God logically.
 Translator’s Note: Huge dogmatic error. If a snake “begets” snake, a sheep “begets” sheep, a man “begets” man, then God “begets” God. What is born of God is of the essence of God. Thus, Christ is God.
 An old custom in some Greek villages is to set off fireworks during the Resurrection service.
 Large, festal candle.
 Translator’s Note: “Through whom (the Son) indeed he created the ages.”