Abandoning even this Congregation
The story of Nikos
I never dreamt to become a founder of a religion however; the fact of the matter was that I was headed in that direction. Plans were already in progress to establish one more congregations at Korydallos, and from there who knows where. Nasos and I had begun to work out the details of this possibility, when I started to get the felling that something was not quite right wit our congregation.
Everywhere in the Holy Scripture, I was seeing that the churches had presbyters, deacons and other charismatics. This was not the case with ours however. In addition, we appointed some ourselves, who would give us the right? Yet, without having this appointment ‘with what right’. I went along distributing the bread and wine during our communion service. Who gave me the right to baptize? Everywhere in the Holy Scripture, when such a ministry was given, some presbytery gave it. However, we acted on our own and I had no desire to become a heresiarch of a new heresy after leaving the previous one.
Nasos on the other hand, was not concerned at all about these matters. Being that we were increasing the understanding surpassing some of the other Protestant groups, we’ve met in the understanding of the faith that made him inflate little by little. He believed that we had the truth and our dogmatism was slowly retreating.
Even when I was still involved with the ‘witnesses’, back when I understood that the hope of the Christians is in Heaven, I expressed to Vlassis that I had a desire to take communion. He warned me however that doing this would be suicidal. Due to the doctrine of the ‘witnesses’ that always strives to lessen those who partake of the bread and wine, the leaders attempt to discourage all those who wish to commune. In this way, they succeeded in keeping the number very low. However, when I began to commune either at my own congregation or at other Protestant ones, I never questioned myself about this right. We only concerned ourselves with if the bread should be unleavened and how often we should commune. Now however, we had found proof from the Holy Scripture that Christians must commune as often as they wish and not necessarily from unleavened bread.
Not too long ago, I began to suspect that my friend George was approaching Orthodoxy. The things he was telling me were reminiscent of that environment, so when we were meeting I was trying to ‘bait’ him, but he was keeping his mouth closed. One day as we were parting, I told him in jest:
“The way we are headed, I see us Orthodox one day!”
“- God knows!” he told me and I looked at him from a side-glance but he was expressionless.
I remember that on the day he baptized me, I had invited someone who was with me in prison, and was also dis-fellowshipped. He had expressed a query, as to whether we should ask the Church if we could proceed with this baptism.
"- What Church is he referring to?" I asked George.
"- The Orthodox one!" he replied.
It seemed so strange, hearing these words come from the mouth of a former "Witness". It was so normal, for all of us to look upon the Orthodox as idolaters!
But now, by talking to George, I could see how some things made sense. For example, from the moment that I realized the souls of the Saints already reigned in heaven, together with the Lord, it made sense why it is feasible to pray to them, or to "ask for their prayers". In fact, I once had argued with Nasos on this detail, during a meeting.
Gradually, I began to discover other things also, most of which, through my talks with George. Finally, one day, he disclosed to me that he had become Orthodox.
“But, you also baptized me asking the Lord! He did the same thing!” I said disagreeably.
“- Listen! The baptism you enacted on the ‘witnesses’ was valid as ‘baptism of dedication’, and the baptism we underwent as Protestants, was valid for the purpose we had done it for, to give us a certain push as a special provision of the Lord. Now however we must fulfill all-righteousness and we must accept our baptism from those who succeeded the Apostates.”
“- Do you have something to give me about this?” I asked.
“- I have with me two books. Read them and you will understand what I mean” he said and handed them to me. The books were titled: ‘The canon of the Holy Scripture’ and ’Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries ’.
Both books shook the ground of my spiritual foundation. The first book was proving to me that it was ludicrous to accept the Holy Scripture, and not those who determine its canon, in other words which books to be included in it. If they were mistaken in their beliefs, it makes sense that the books they selected for the Holy Scripture would also be wrong. If I were to accept these books as God inspired, then I also needed to accept as God inspired the one who determined and canonized these books. Moreover, behind all this work was bishop of the first Ecumenical Council, whom I had so greatly misunderstood, Saint Athanasios! Could it be that I needed to begin to pay more attention to Orthodoxy?
If the first book caused me much problem, the second one totally convinced me. It included ancient Christian texts, which showed very clearly the office of apostolic succession, as it was practiced and preserved in the first three centuries of Christianity. These texts were unknown to the Protestants and for this reason they acted arbitrarily in giving baptisms, offering without the blessing of the local Orthodox bishop, who was the only one who has this "right", as a direct successor of the Apostles.
Characteristics was the text of Saint Ignatius the God bearer, who wrote during the second century:”Anyone who does something (in the area of missionary work) without the knowledge of the bishop, he worships the Devil" (Smyrna 9,1). After this, I understood that the parables of the faithful and wise servant and of the minas were referring to bishop. The subject of the bishops was very serious! We did not have the right to perform services in our congregation! This book also solved my old problem about "who to consider my brother".
I remember that, I had been misunderstood from a number of people, since I did not call them 'brother' due to their belief in some wrong doctrine or because I considered their baptism invalid. Now however, I was seeing that I myself do not participate or share in the one body of that bread of Holy Communion, as it is canonically offered with the blessing of the local bishop. Neither was I a brother! In addition, anyone who did not commune from the same bread was excluded from the body of Christ! (First Cor. 10:17).
One of the young men I met in the military jail was reading many old books of Russel while incarcerated. Thus, when he was released, he became a Russelist. When we conversed for the first time, he was claiming that he is not interested in details, but in the faith of Jesus Christ. Consequently, he did not search well enough, and he ended up joining a Russelist offshoot.
His criterion, in choosing religion, was if they would accept him as a Christian, even though he did not believe in the Holy Trinity! He even began to publish a magazine, where soon enough he began to become involved with details, such as the symbolic significance of the dimensions of the arc!
I repeatedly pointed out some verses to him, which should logically convince him about certain things, but he ignored them. Yet he complained that I refused to call him "brother" because of my bias. But how biased was I, since now I wouldn't call myself a Christian? I simply needed to conform to the results of my research, whatever they happened to be.
In our following meetings I bombarded George with a pile of arguments. I could not accept the 'veneration' of icons, or even their construction. He went on to patiently explained to me that veneration and worship was not the same thing.
"In the icons we simply honor the depicted person," he explained and showed me verses such that of Revelation 3:7-9 where the Lord himself was declaring that he would make people to worship (venerate) another human being, the Bishop of the Church of Philadelphia! If the veneration was worship, the Lord would have never done this! He also explained that all icons are not 'idols'. The depiction of God only is considered idolatrous and not creation. The Orthodox Church does not permit the depiction of God, although some priests may occasionally use such icons due to their ignorance and unworthiness. The church however is not to blame for this but the uninformed priest.
He explained to me about the 'specific priestly office' which is nothing more than a liturgical office interwoven with the breaking of the bread. He explained to me about the practicality of the cassock and the bright vestments of the bishop of the church, as an image of Christ the King, and that the long beard is not mandatory but simple custom.
Finally, he explained to me which of the other writings the Church considered God-inspired besides the Holy Scripture. For the first time I realized it was wrong for me to accept the Holy Scripture 'only'. I needed to accept the entire Holy Trinity of the Church as God-inspired, which also includes the decision of the Ecumenical Councils, the texts of the Saints approved by the Ecumenical Councils, the hymnology of the Church and the liturgical texts. The same empowerment the Church had as 'pillar and foundation of the truth' (1st Tim 3:15) to define the books of the Holy Scripture, could also be enforced for all the remaining God-inspired texts. And what was of great importance here was the fact that the pillar and the foundation of the truth, of the Christian faith itself was not the Holy Scripture but the Church!
Then I understood that the reason Protestantism was created because it did not accept all the God-inspired texts, but only the Holy Scripture. If it accepted all the God-inspired texts it wouldn’t differ from Orthodoxy. Protestantism maintains that it bases its faith on the Holy Scripture (even thought there are no two protestant denominations alike). Orthodoxy however is not based on but it serves as the basis of Holy Scripture! I quickly realized all the things I considered as differences of the Holy Scripture from the rest of the Holy Tradition were unsubstantiated contradiction, like those which seemingly exist in the various books of the Holy Scripture.
I was constantly bombarding George with questions and I was receiving satisfactory answers. when I accused the Orthodox because they called people 'fathers', while the lord said "do not call any man your father upon the earth" (Matthew 23:9) he pointed out verses to me where the Apostles were considering themselves 'fathers' as in First Corinthians 4:15. verses, which showed the bread given out during memorial services was based on the Holy Scripture, verses bolstering the apostolicity of “chism”, the ever virginity of Mary, her Most-Holiness, and that it is acceptable to call her such, since even inanimate objects are called ‘all holy’; in the Holy Scripture.
One more time the Holy Scripture was revealing in front of me a new meaning, further completing all things I had discovered with the help of that congregation which we had started. Now, however, I needed to depart from there. That congregation served its purpose; it had prepared and led me to the true Church of the Lord. The Church which I unfortunately hated so much; the Orthodox Church.
Thus, at the very following gathering, I announced that I would be departing, so I can be baptized in the Orthodox Church. I explained the reasons and I called upon the others to join there as one body. Unfortunately however, only half of the permanent members responded. The rest were so negatively biased against the church to the point where they refused to even research this matter. Consequently, the congregation broke up.
All of us ‘former’ witnesses and a woman joined Orthodoxy. The rest continued as before. Later they were divided into two gatherings due to some discord, and today one of them exists.