In the Nest of the Spider
The months were passing by, and my knowledge of the faith of the “witnesses” increased on a daily basis. It is so ironic that while I never showed any interest in discovering the faith I was born into, I now found myself zealously searching a foreign faith, which only a few days ago I knew nothing about. And while I had never dedicated even one hour in the search of Orthodoxy, for a foreign religion I was already dedicating countless hours!
I had also observed that some evenings during the week Nikos skipped the last two hours of school. They were always the same evenings and always the same courses. He was not afraid of absenteeism, because the person in charge of roll call was his friend and did not mark him absent. One day I could not hold back my curiosity, so I asked him what was going on. He told me that he left class to go to the “congregation” or to the “church” of the “witnesses.” He invited me to go along with him some time to see what takes place there. In reality I was afraid, but my curiosity was unbearable. So the very same evening, after we worked things out with the roll caller, we gathered our schoolbooks and departed. We walked for a few minutes discussing, as always, various religious matters. I, however, although I did not show it, had much internal strife and anxiety. I was feeling embarrassed because I did not know what I would run into, and I was also feeling like a traitor to my faith, a faith that considered these people heretical.
We came near a building which housed a manufacturing plant in its lower level where machines were buried inside some objects arranged in rows. It was barely visible in the dark. Directly on top there was a balcony, and inside the balcony a glass patio totally covered with red curtains. After climbing the exterior concrete staircase, I noticed on the painted glass of the entrance door, a scratched area where the paint was purposely removed and an eye watched us from inside. My heart was beating very fast as we entered the half-opened exterior door that led into a small reception area. The “owner” of the eye was waiting for us there with a big smile. His name was John, and he was a very likeable young man with a wide mustache. He quickly approached us and greeted us with a very powerful and heartfelt handshake. We introduced ourselves, and then proceeded to ascend the circular concrete staircase. I attempted to walk as noiselessly as I could on the self-stick vinyl-covered stairs, even though the introduction of this most friendly doorkeeper had helped chase away much of my initial anxiety. At the top of the staircase, inside the opened door, about 20-30 well-dressed people occupied the neatly arranged rows of chairs.
I stared at the floor and observed that it was covered with a wood-pattern linoleum. I immediately thought of all the things I had heard in the past about such meetings of “witnesses,” and I leaned over to Nikos and whispered in joking manner, “I hope there are no icons underneath the floor!” He broke out in laughter, then ran inside leaving me there at the doorstep. He relayed something to someone, and in front of my astonished eyes, Nikos and two or three others actually lifted up the vinyl flooring for me to check if there were any icons underneath.
In spite of the embarrassment that I felt for causing this scene, I looked under the floor from the corner of my eyes, ascertaining that the accusations I had heard were false. Soon after, all those present came over to introduce themselves, still laughing. I felt at ease since they had not gotten upset from lifting up the vinyl floor. In fact, they were rather amused by it. Among them were people of all ages, from the very old to little children. There were men and women, some educated, others of few letters, and a few who were illiterate.
“If we stepped on icons, we would be ascribing some worth to them! For us, icons have no worth whatsoever, and it would be a total waste of time to deal with them!” someone pointed out.
I sat down, and in a few minutes the teaching began. John, the likeable young man we met at the entrance, was the teacher. After a prayer, everyone opened a red book which had recently been published. The book was entitled, “You Can Live Forever in Paradise Here on Earth.” The “witnesses” referred to it as the “Red Bomb.” It was a very colorful book full of pictures presenting the entire basic teaching of the “witnesses” in a concise form. As a reader recited a few paragraphs, I curiously studied the meeting room.
The chairs were positioned in rows, and the room could accommodate about 70 individuals. In the front there was a raised, carpeted, wooden stage and on the center of this stage there was a speaker stand with a microphone. Behind the speaker stand there was a large, red curtain, and directly above it there was a plaque with a verse of the Holy Scripture. Directly across the other side of the room there were more red curtains, and I realized that these were the ones I saw from the outside as we entered the building. On two sides of the room there were four air fans placed on shelves, and throughout the room there were picture frames on the walls depicting events of the Holy Scripture and handicrafts of the tetragram “YHWH” or the “Watchtower.”
When the reading ended, John began to ask questions, and the rest raised their hands to answer. I lowered myself into my chair somewhat terrified, and I whispered in Nikos’ ear, “If he calls on me, what do I say?”
“He will not call on you if you don’t raise your hand!” he answered laughing. Then he showed me the questions at the bottom of the page in the red book, and he explained how to find the answers appropriated by the organization in each corresponding section of the book.
“If you want, you can answer too,” he told me. But I did not feel courageous enough until the very end of the first hour of our study. When the last paragraph had been read, I nervously raised my hand and offered a brief answer to a question.
After we finished with one more self-made prayer from a bystander, we remained for another hour to socialize. I questioned them constantly. The discussion was centered around icons, traditions, and priests. They “informed” me that the veneration of icons amounts to worship and that icons are “idols.” Moreover, they pointed out some passages of the Holy Scripture against “idols.” They also pointed out how Jesus Christ had condemned the Jewish traditions, and, consequently, we must only accept the Holy Scripture. At the time, I was not aware of “the difference between worship and veneration,” nor “the difference between icons and idols.” I was not at all knowledgeable of “the difference between the Jewish and the Christian tradition.” So I accepted with out protest all those inaccuracies they were telling me.
Worse yet, after being influenced by the anti-Orthodox spirit of judgementalism existing among the “witnesses,” I began to accuse the priests of every known and unknown scandal, of every sort of rumor that reached my ears without having any proof or direct experience of what I was saying. As I spoke to the crowd of “witnesses,” I noticed that I had become the center of attention. Everyone listened to me, shaking their heads with satisfaction. I was feeling very good because I had people around me eager to listen, to discuss, and to share my views. As we left, I had the confidence that these gatherings were very “edifying.”