I Found True Wealth in Australia
IT WAS April 1971. After spending seven years in Australia, I had recently returned to Greece to visit my family. It was evening, and I was sitting quietly at a café table in the village square of Karies when the local priest and the mayor came and sat opposite me. It was obvious they were eager to pick a quarrel.
With scarcely a greeting, the priest charged that I had migrated to Australia only for the purpose of making money. To say that I was taken aback would put it mildly. I replied as calmly as possible that while I was living in Australia, I was able to acquire wealth far more valuable than money.
My answer surprised him, but he then demanded to know just what I meant. I replied that among other things, I had learned that God has a name. “And this is something you neglected to teach me,” I said, looking him straight in the eye. Before he could retaliate, I asked, “Would you please tell me the name of God that Jesus referred to when he taught us to pray in the model prayer: ‘Let your name be sanctified’?”—Matthew 6:9.
Word about the dispute spread quickly in the village square, and within ten minutes some 200 people had gathered. The priest started to feel uncomfortable. He would not answer my question about God’s name, and he had weak answers to further Bible questions. His embarrassment showed by his constantly calling the waiter for more ouzo, a Greek alcoholic drink.
An interesting two hours passed. My father came looking for me, but when he saw what was going on he sat down quietly in a corner and observed the scene. The lively discussion continued until 11:30 p.m., when an intoxicated man began shouting angrily. At that I suggested to the crowd that in view of the late hour, we should all go home.
What had caused this confrontation? Why did the priest and the mayor try to pick a quarrel with me? A little background about my growing up in this part of Greece will help you understand.
I was born in the village of Karies in Peloponnisos, in December 1940. We were extremely poor, and when I wasn’t attending school, I was working alongside Mother from sunrise to sunset in the rice fields, standing knee deep in water. When I finished primary school at age 13, my parents arranged for me to work as an apprentice. For me to receive training as a plumber and window installer, my parents gave my employer 1,100 pounds [500 kg] of wheat and 45 pounds [20 kg] of vegetable oil, which was almost their entire income for a year.
Life as an apprentice—living miles from home and often working from dawn to midnight—was far from easy. At times I considered returning home, but I could not do that to my parents. They had made such an unselfish sacrifice in my behalf. So I never let them know about my problems. I told myself: ‘You must persevere, no matter how difficult it becomes.’
Over the years, I was able to visit my parents from time to time, and I eventually completed my apprenticeship when I was 18. I then decided to go to Athens, the capital, where job prospects were greater. There I found employment and rented a room. Each day after work, I returned home, cooked for myself, cleaned up the room, and then spent what little free time I had learning English, German, and Italian.
The immoral talk and behavior of other youths troubled me, so I avoided their association. But this caused me to feel quite alone. When I turned 21, I was required to perform military service, during which time I continued my study of languages. Then, in March 1964, after I left the army, I migrated to Australia, settling in Melbourne.
Religious Search in a New Land
I soon found work, met another Greek immigrant, named Alexandra, and within six months of my arrival, we were married. Several years later, in 1969, an elderly lady, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, called at our house and offered The Watchtower and Awake! I found the magazines interesting, so I put them in a safe place, instructing my wife not to throw them away. A year later two other Witnesses called and offered me a free home Bible study. I accepted, and what I learned from the Scriptures was just what I had been looking for to fill the emptiness that had existed in my life.
As soon as my neighbor found out that I was studying with the Witnesses, she referred me to the Evangelists, claiming that they were a better religion. As a result, I also began studying with an elder from the Evangelist Church. Soon I began attending meetings of both the Evangelists and the Witnesses, for I was determined to find the true religion.
At the same time, in fairness to my Greek upbringing, I began looking more deeply into the Orthodox religion. One day I went to three Greek Orthodox churches. When I explained the purpose of my visit at the first one, the priest slowly showed me to the door. As he did, he explained that we were Greek, and so it was wrong to associate with either the Witnesses or the Evangelists.
His attitude surprised me, but I thought: ‘Maybe this particular priest is not a good representative of the church.’ To my surprise the priest at the second church reacted similarly. He did tell me, however, that there was a Bible study class conducted by a theologian at his church every Saturday evening. When I tried the third church, I was further disillusioned.
However, I decided to attend the Bible study class conducted at the second church, visiting there the next Saturday. I enjoyed following the reading from the Bible book of Acts. When the portion about Cornelius kneeling before Peter was read, the theologian interrupted the reading and pointed out that Peter had correctly refused Cornelius’ act of worship. (Acts 10:24-26) At that I raised my hand and said that I had a question.
“Yes, what is it you want to know?”
“Well, if the apostle Peter refused to be worshiped, why do we have his icon and worship it?”
There was dead silence for several seconds. Then it was as if a bomb had dropped. Tempers flared, and there were cries of, “Where did you come from?” For two hours there was heated debate, with a lot of shouting. Finally, as I was leaving, I was handed a book to take home.
When I opened it, the first words I read were: “We are Greek, and our religion has shed blood in order to preserve our tradition.” I knew that God does not belong only to the Greek people, so I immediately severed ties with the Greek Orthodox Church. From then on I continued my Bible study only with the Witnesses. In April 1970, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism, and my wife was baptized six months later.
Contact With the Village Priest
Toward the end of that year, the priest from my home village in Greece sent a letter requesting money to help repair the village church. Instead of sending money, I sent him the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, along with a letter explaining that I was now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that I believed I had found the truth. Upon receiving my letter, he announced in church that an immigrant to Australia had rebelled.
Afterward, the mothers who had sons in Australia kept asking the priest whether it was their son. My mother even went to his house and begged him to tell her. “Unfortunately, it is your son,” he said. Later Mother told me that she would have preferred he had killed her than tell her this about me.
Return to Greece
After our baptism, my wife and I wanted to return to Greece and tell our families and friends of the good things we had learned from the Bible. So in April 1971, accompanied by our five-year-old daughter, Dimitria, we returned for an extended vacation, staying in the town of Kiparissia, about 20 miles [30 km] from my home village of Karies. Our round-trip airline tickets were good for a six-month stay.
On the second night home, Mother broke down and told me tearfully that I had taken the wrong course and had disgraced the family name. Crying and sobbing, she implored me to turn from my “erroneous” course. Then she fainted and collapsed in my arms. The next day I tried to reason with her, explaining that I had simply increased my knowledge of the God about whom she had so lovingly taught us from infancy. The following evening I had that memorable encounter with the local priest and the village mayor.
My two younger brothers, who lived in Athens, had come to stay for Easter. They both avoided me as if I were a leper. One day, however, the older of the two began to listen. After several hours of discussion, he said that he agreed with everything I had shown him from the Bible. From that day on, he defended me before the rest of the family.
Afterward I visited Athens often to stay with my brother. Each time I did, he invited other families to come and hear the good news. To my great joy, he and his wife, along with three other families with whom they conducted Bible studies, later symbolized their dedication to God by water baptism!
The weeks passed quickly, and just before our six months was up, a Witness serving in a congregation about 40 miles [70 km] from our village visited. He pointed to the help needed with the preaching work in the area and asked whether I had given thought to staying permanently. That night I discussed the possibility with my wife.
It would be difficult to stay, we both agreed. But it was obvious that there was a great need for the people to hear Bible truth. Finally, we decided to stay for a year or two at least. My wife would return to Australia to sell our house and car and bring back what belongings she could. Having made our decision, we went into town the next morning and rented a house. We also enrolled our daughter in the local primary school.
Virtual war was soon declared on us. Opposition came from the police, the school principal, and the teachers. At school Dimitria would not make the sign of the cross. School officials called a policeman to try to frighten her into complying, but she stood firm. I was called in to see the principal, and he showed me a letter from the archbishop that ordered that I take Dimitria and leave. After my having a long discussion with the principal, however, she was permitted to remain in school.
In time I learned that there was a couple in Kiparissia who had attended an assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we were able to renew their interest. My wife and I also invited Witnesses from a nearby village to our home for Bible studies. Shortly, however, the police came and took us all down to the police station for questioning. I was charged with using my house as a place of worship without a license. But since we were not imprisoned, we continued our meetings.
Although I was offered a job, as soon as the bishop heard about it, he threatened to have my employer’s shop closed unless he dismissed me. A plumbing/sheet-metal shop was for sale, and we were able to buy it. Almost immediately two priests came with threats to close us down, and a few weeks later the archbishop ordered that our family be excommunicated. Anyone then excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church was treated as a total outcast. A police officer was stationed outside our shop to deter anyone from coming in. Even though there were no customers, we doggedly kept the shop open every day. Our predicament soon became the talk of the town.
Arrested and Put on Trial
One Saturday another person and I set out on his motorbike to witness in a nearby town. There the police stopped us and took us down to the police station, where we were kept in custody all weekend. On Monday morning we were taken back to Kiparissia by train. News that we had been arrested spread, and a crowd gathered at the railway station to see us arrive with our police escorts.
After being fingerprinted, we were taken to the public prosecutor. He began proceedings by saying that he would read aloud accusations against us that had been compiled from villagers who had been questioned by the police. “They told us that Jesus Christ had become King in the year 1914,” the first accusation said.
“Wherever did you get this strange idea?” the prosecutor asked belligerently.
I stepped forward and took the Bible he had on his desk and opened it to Matthew chapter 24 and suggested that he read it. He hesitated for a moment but then took the Bible and began to read. After reading a few minutes, he said excitedly: “Hey, if this is true, then I should drop everything and join a monastery!”
“No,” I said quietly. “You should learn the truth of the Bible and then help others to find the truth as well.”
A few lawyers arrived, and we were also able to witness to some of them during the day. Ironically, this resulted in another charge—proselytizing!
During that year, we had three court cases, but finally we were acquitted of all charges. The victory seemed to break the ice as far as the people’s attitude toward us was concerned. From then on they began to approach us more freely and listen to what we had to say about God’s Kingdom.
Eventually the small study group in our home in Kiparissia was formed into a congregation. A Christian elder was transferred to our new congregation, and I was appointed a ministerial servant. The meetings in our house were soon being attended regularly by 15 active Witnesses.
Back to Australia
After two years and three months had passed, we decided to return to Australia. The years here have passed quickly. My daughter Dimitria has maintained her faith and is married to a ministerial servant in a Melbourne congregation. I am now serving as an elder in a Greek-language congregation in Melbourne, where my wife and our 15-year-old daughter, Martha, attend.
The small congregation we left behind in Kiparissia has now grown much larger, and many deserving ones there have opened their hearts to Bible truths. During the summer of 1991, I visited Greece for a few weeks and gave a public Bible talk in Kiparissia, and 70 were in attendance. Happily, my younger sister Maria has become a servant of Jehovah in spite of family opposition.
I am grateful that in Australia I have had the opportunity to obtain true wealth—a knowledge and understanding of our Creator, Jehovah God, and of his Kingdom government. My life now has real purpose, and my family and I await the near future to see the blessings of God’s heavenly government spread over the whole earth.—As told by George Katsikaronis.
[Picture on page 23]
Kiparissia, where I lived after returning from Australia
[Picture on page 23]
With my wife, Alexandra