Getting used to the new Environment
The story of Nikos
Before the unfolding of these events, I needed to once more prepare my mother and my grandmother. One day we were discussing something and she was accusing the orthodox.
“Don’t accuse them, because they may have their reasons about this” I said. She looked at me somewhat confused being accustomed to my open hospitality against them up to now. She had also observed that I had been reading many orthodox books lately.
“- Why are you reading Orthodox books these days?” she asked me.
“- What I have found In the Orthodox books; I have not found anywhere else. They have great depth” I said.
“- The Orthodox?” she asked in disbelief.
“- The Orthodox” I repeated and I began to explain a few things to her.
The greater hurdle however would be breaking this news to my wife. She already had a problem with me being disfellowshipped. What would be her reaction if I now became orthodox? I remember her repeating often: I married you as a ‘brother’, and you should have stayed this way!
“- If you really believed that, i.e., that people should not change their religion because it would upset their companion, then you shouldn't be knocking on people's doors, trying to lure others into your religion, for the exact same reason! So, stop complaining about something that you wanted to do to others, now that it is happening to you! I knew however that he murmuring would intensify if to top it all off I became Orthodox.
It was summer and we were vacationing at some Aegean island. We entered the car before we drove off I made my ‘cross’ noticeable enough to be seen by my son.
“Mom! Daddy made his cross”, the child said in great surprise.
“- What is this? New revelations?” she asked.
“- The Christian journey as a progressive one,” I answered, as I was driving off.
“- Don’t tell me you will become Orthodox!” she said.
“- You got it! Finally I discovered the true Church of the Lord!” I said.
Immediately she proceeded to challenge me dogmatically. This was surprising because she never discussed with me subjects of dogmatic nature. Now however in all likelihood accustomed to some other marginal orthodox who were easy victims she thought she could corner me spiritually. However, she found my answers so unexpectedly well targeted that made her to never dare such a thing ever again. The only thing she repeated often was:
“- You don’t know what you are doing! You are constantly changing religions!”
Of course this was not the case and she knew it, since after my departure from the witnesses I was simply undergoing a period of research and I had not officially joined any of the religions that were surrounding me. The fact that our congregation had evolved to a religion was something I didn’t willfully pursue.
“- I didn’t change a religion other than the ‘witnesses; and you know it! Finding Orthodoxy was the natural continuation of my research. It didn’t change any of my personal views that I held up to now except some remaining baggage I had still carried from the false teachings of the ‘Watchtower’ organization! All the things I had found in the congregation we had these recent years, the same things I believe even now." I was answering her.
Despite all this the more fanatical of the witnesses in their latest mudslinging campaign against me, also added that I change religion every year! This was reflective of the horror they felt, when faced by the reality that someone doubted their doctrine and had proof for this. So they resorted to mudslinging and the use of lies as the one I started, or that was for polygamy, or that I divorced my wife, or how at the final committee meeting they discussed with me the dogma of 1914 and how out of pride I was saying that they refused, and the list goes on and on. But despite all the mudslinging and some heated confrontations with my wife, I continued my steady walk toward the Church of the Lord.
George took me to his spiritual father, a priest monk from Mount Athos, who was coming to Attica at times for his spiritual children. There he listened to my first confession. I remembered the interrogation of the judiciary committees of the ‘witnesses’, what a huge difference! There the pseudo presbyters were arrogant accusers and judges. Here the true presbyter was s humble advisor. There reigned terrorism and fear. Here I found love and goodness. There I was looking to hide whatever I could. Here I was saying it all, and I was searching to see if I forgot to say anything. There I was leaving feeling heavy as lead, while here I felt as light as a feather. Yes! Here the atmosphere was full of the fragrances of freedom, love and joy of the Holy Spirit.
I admitted all the sins of my life in an atmosphere of compassion and understanding. I shed the most tears for nothing else other than the war I carried out against the true church of the Lord.
Often as a ‘witness’ I was accusing the Orthodox Church for not expelling her sinful members. Now however I began to understand that, what the Holy Scripture was referring to, by not allowing the ‘intermixture’ of the person who fell into sin with the rest of the church (not ‘keep company’ as it is badly stated in transition) was exactly what Orthodoxy was practicing for two thousand years. The person burdened by sin shouldn’t commune, in other words, he shouldn’t become one ‘mixture’ with the body and the blood of the lord with the rest of the Church. This was his expulsion from the church and not speaking to him or avoid his company as the ‘witnesses’ did erroneously.
To refuse to speak to the one who slipped into sin translates into having no concern to help him. Characteristic are the verses of 2nd Thessalonians 3:14-15 where Apostle Paul writes: “and if any one does not obey our word through the Epistle, be noting for yourselves that man, and do not intermix with him, that he might be ashamed. And not consider him an enemy, but be admonishing him as brother.”
The purpose of the church is not to kick the sinner out to preserve its show-case image to the outsider, but to embrace him, in hopes that God will illumine him towards repentance. The church is especially needed for the sinners and not necessarily for the pure!
While exiting the confessional, at the reception area of the monastery there was a hollow wooden star with more than ninety small pieces of paper in it, with different verses of scripture on them. Thus, the visitors used to pray and to take a paper rather at random regarding this as a message from God. I also pulled out a paper and the message was most appropriate for my situation: “your sins have been forgiven! (Matthew 9:2).” This went on for a while and every time I went to the monastery, there was something useful for me in the star-shaped box. This was also true for my son, whose first message was (I will paraphrase since I don’t exactly remember the versa): “I will hold you in my hands until your old age and until your hands turn white!” during the following visit, the paper he chose said: “I will never forget my covenant with you!”
All this was very meaningful for my son, who was beginning to understand that God was eager to be occupied with him. I also received a power message in the last four times. Three of these times I picked the exact same verse and the fourth a different one with the same meaning as the other three!
The possibilities of all this to be a matter a chance choosing from ninety papers, were incredibly small! (One in millions!) This was a miracle! With a similar miracle I received a prophecy although veiled, revealing that my son would ask and buy a cross for the first time and that my wife would throw it away. When this actually materialized a few hours later, then I understood the prophecy!
God was constantly reaffirming everything I had accepted theoretically about the identity of his Church with some of his other gifted servants. I once more witnessed an impressive event at this very monastery when I had joined a friend of mine who was going for the first time. As I was waiting at the reception room an older nun whom I was seeing for the first time came to keep my company until my friend would finish his confession so I could go after him.
She was talking somewhat more than one would normally expect and this began to bother me, because I had brought a book along and I couldn’t wait for her to leave so I could read it. Due to her advanced age she was constantly forgetting and until I left she asked me more that a dozen of times who I was, it I had come to the monastery before of if I ever met the elder. Unfortunately however, as many times I responded to there questions a few minutes later she would ask these same questions again. I was regarding this conversation as lost time, however she was not leaving any time soon and she was repeatedly telling me her life story how from twelve years old until their advanced age she never exited this monastery.
At some point, I thought after so many years of struggle perhaps the Lord had endowed her with some charisma. So I decided to listen to her carefully. Suddenly this little old lady, who had never laid eyes on me before and every couple minutes she was asking me over and over who I was, began to narrate to me the history of my family! She told me about the death of my father twenty years prior, about the disability of my mother, about the fact that she has many proposals for marriage and she turned them down, to raise me as she believed more properly.
She advised me how to better conduct myself around my mother and my grandmother and so many other things. I couldn’t believe my ears! This little old lady who was forgetting the simplest things about me, and I repeated them for her numerous times, was now describing to me my family matters with great detail, things that she had never heard of! It was obvious that the Holy Spirit was speaking through her teaching me and convincing me through her mouth.
“What is your name?” I asked her.
“Chrysovalanti (Golden-purse) but I have nothing of God!” She told me laughing.
“- You have two gold things, a gold tooth and a gold crown in heaven!” I assured her. My friend came out of the confessional and I went on
When we were leaving, another older nun said to us:
“- Sorry for sister Chrysovalanti! She talks so much”
“- Don’t be sorry! I wish I could hear her talk more!” I answered having received a great lesson on spirituality. Up to now I thought that ‘spiritual’ was someone who knew a lot and could speak eloquently.
Now however this woman of advanced years made me question my book knowledge and made me think how greatly mistaken I was all these years being a “Christian” of the letter as opposed to this woman of the spirit.
“Taki, you will not believe what happened to me when you were upstairs!” I told my friend as we were leaving, and while he was driving. I described to him my entire conversation with Chrysovalanti.
“- I believe you! Because during the time you were upstairs, she described in great detail, how I divorced with my wife. Along with the emotional ordeal of that period!” he told me equally surprised and we glorified god.
Not long afterwards the spiritual father of George became my spiritual father also. I was baptized at the opportune time inside a big barrel from a real presbyter having George as my godfather. My mother and my grandmother had the orthodox baptism from their years of infancy so they simply underwent the Chrismation of repentance, a necessary action and mandatory for those who return from a heresy. With this, the energy of the Holy Spirit is once again activated, which man saddened when he was in heresy.
My grandmother slept in the Lord in her ninetieth year as a Christian. After forty years in heresy, the lord preserved to a very ripe old age, to call her and prepare her as an Orthodox Christian to His presence. Her final words before she fell into a coma, and during the months she regained consciousness, were “Glory be to God!”; while her weak hands were moving with her final remaining strength attempting to make the sign of the cross.
At my baptism I did not fail to invite the Orthodox man who first spoke to me about the error of 607 B.C. from the encyclopedia. In reality we had some contact, long before I became Orthodox, from the initial time of my disfellowship. Our first meeting after my disfellowship had an interesting outcome, and I believe it would be beneficial to bring it up to offer some help to all those who try to approach those in heresy.
Immediately after I found myself outside the organization I felt the need, on the one hand, to help others to avoid the traps of my previous religion and on the other hand to announce my freedom! I also wanted to thank my former ‘enemy’ who annoyed me at the work of the streets, because he was the first person who aroused my curiosity to search this life-changing subject. Deep down however, I also wanted to teach him a good lesson, how he should never label someone a ‘wolf’ and an ‘agent’ since only God knows the heart of a person. I also wanted to express to him how wrong he was by mistreating the non-orthodox and to expose him the truth behind all the inaccuracies he held about the ‘witnesses’.
That evening he was standing outside of the gathering of the ‘witnesses’ along with many others, to most observe who the ‘new inquirers’ of the ‘witnesses’ were. I went up to him and said:
“Can I please have a little time with you,” and I waved to him to go away from the others for more privacy.
“- No! Whatever you have to say, say it here in front of everyone! Nothing needs to be a secrete here.” he shouted with animosity something that would make me hate the Orthodox even more if I were still a ‘witness’, reassuring the teachings of the organization that they are enemies.
Now however I knew that whatever he says it would be inconsequential for everyone involved so I simply told him in front of the others:
“- Very well then! I simply wanted to thank you, because during our last discussion you helped me to understand my mistake. Last Sunday I was disfellowshipped from the ‘witnesses’ because I contradicted the organization on the date of 1914.”
“- What did you say?” he shouted, swallowing his anger and running towards me.
I fought hard to keep from laughing, watching his eyes pop out and his jaw drop. I was bombarded by his questions and all those around him. I briefly described to them what had taken place. Finally, I made sure to tell them that their accusations, about the ‘witnesses’ being remunerated financially, was wrong and in reality the opposite was true. They were paying for their expansions of the organization, much like me, my mother and my grandmother where we had given all our finances for the purchase of a lot of the organization.
I further told them that their method of approaching the ‘witnesses’ was terrible because it served to alienate them even more and to push them deeper into the organization. Finally, I spelled out to them that although I left the ‘witnesses’, “I AM NOT ORTHODOX AND I DO NOT WISH TO BE ONE!” They invited me to a discussion many times since then, however this never materialized. In reality I was not ready to listen yet even though he had been initially helpful to me, I believed that an Orthodox had nothing worth while to offer me. I was avoiding another discussion with him, until I gather more information about subjects such as the priesthood, with the purpose of providing to him this his religion is also wrong. As I was going about gathering this information, I was the one being convinced and our differences were diminishing until I finally agreed with him.
So when I invited him to my baptism in the Orthodox Church he could hardly hide his joy. On my part I never stopped reminding him, and anyone else in this matter, that you never know which one of those whom you consider ‘wolves’ could really be a lost sheep who will find its way toward the Lord. Since then he also became more understanding toward the non-Orthodox and thus more apt to help them out.
In my attempt to enlighten people around me about the organization of ‘Watchtower’ I gave Father Antonios Alevizopoulos a collection of hundreds of classified letters of the organization addressed to its ‘presbyteries’. Although I was never a ‘presbyter’ I managed to photocopy them when I had access to these texts. Back then I believed that this would be additional ‘Spiritual nourishment’ and beneficial when I would become a ‘presbyter’.
Now however, I understood that their real usefulness was to make known the unlawful methods and oppressive measures carried out by the organization against its members. Some more epistles were added to the collection provided by other ‘witnesses’ earlier and more recently who happened to have them. These are significant documents having much to prove about the totalitarian organization of ‘watchtower’. A short while later, I escorted a ‘former’ witness to his Orthodox baptism; at the same time, his parents received the Chrism of repentance.
When my wife was pregnant, back when we were knocking on doors as ‘witnesses’ the priests wife who was standing behind us and speaking to us about converting, had said about our unborn child: “Dear, what a pity for your unborn child! You must baptize it! I will be happy to sponsor the baptism!” after all these years, we remembered her words. So we agreed to have them baptize my son who was ten years of age, something that he accepted with much anticipation.