Opposed Pure Worship Flourishes in Eastern Mediterranean Lands
A report received from N. H. Knorr, president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, while on a lecture tour of southern Europe, the Middle East and India
WE SPENT a few days in Rome after the assembly. I was able to talk over many problems with the missionaries and circuit servants and check matters in the branch office of the Society, as well as to give instructions for the work that is still to be done in Italy. The visit at the Bethel home in Rome was very pleasant, and I was glad to see how nicely the home and surrounding gardens are kept.
Thursday, December 13, came much too soon. We rose at 4:15 a.m. and all of the members of the family and missionaries living at the home got up to say good-by. They all wanted to go to the airport with us, but there was no way at that hour in the morning to get to the airport. It would be so much more practical for all of them to go back to bed and get a little more rest for the coming day’s work. So off we went in a taxi with the branch servant to the airlines office.
When we arrived at the airport at daybreak we were surprised to find two Dutch sisters there. They had come to the assembly from the Netherlands, but we did not expect to see them at the airport. They had come to say good-by to us. We wondered how they got out there, and they said they had come out the night before and stayed at the waiting room all night.
At 7:20 we were on our way to Athens, Greece. As we flew along the western coast of Italy we saw the beaches made famous by World War II and the little harbors and villages of ancient origin. It was not long until we flew over Naples. There was Mount Vesuvius and near the base the ruins of Pompeii. Beyond were ranges of mountains whose peaks were covered with snow. It was clear and we could see hills and valleys below as we crossed the “toe” of boot-shaped Italy, not far from Catanzaro, and passed over the Ionian sea. It looked warm with the bright sun shining on the waters and scattered clouds. But once we approached Greece we could see a heavy blanket of snow covered all the land to the north and south of the Gulf of Corinth, and we knew it was cold down there.
We arrived at the Athens airport at 11:50 Athens time, there to be met by many happy brothers and sisters who there began their showing of warm hospitality. A car awaited us and took us along the seaside drive toward the city of Athens. Across the bay we saw Piraieus and to our right the snow-covered hills beyond Athens. The ruins of the Parthenon shone in the bright sunlight there on the Acropolis in the center of the city area. We were told that snow was a rare occurrence, because snow seldom falls in Athens. The day before our arrival had been a bad one, but now the sun shone brightly and all felt glad.
The branch servant, Brother Idreos, gave us a schedule for activities from the time of our arrival until we were to leave. Every minute was used profitably. We first checked in at our hotel and then went on to the Bethel home, where we had lunch with the family. It was a joy to be with them again. This time the quarters in the building were a little larger, because certain adjustments had been made during the years to get more space in the building. While the brothers have a nice apartment there, still it is not sufficiently large to accommodate all the family, and it is necessary for a number to find quarters outside.
The printing of the Greek Watchtower and books and booklets is managed by the branch in Athens for local use. That afternoon we visited the two locations where publication is done because it is impossible to find one place large enough to accommodate the whole printing department. All the publications are set up first in hand type and then the chases are carried to the printing factory. Some typesetting is done by a commercial firm on the linotype, but the greater amount of the work is done by hand-type composition. After the sheets are printed they are bundled and brought to the first location. We saw where the type is set, and there folding and stitching takes place. This adds a lot of extra work, but there is no way to change it unless a building can be obtained to house all the equipment or something is constructed by the Society. This presents a big problem.
We went back to the branch office to discuss the many questions that have arisen in Greece. The work in this country cannot be carried on as freely as in other democratic lands. The Greek authorities are powerfully influenced by the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the state church, and for years no permission has been given for public assembling of Jehovah’s witnesses. It is impossible to obtain Kingdom Halls and there gather the brothers for pure worship. So all of the Christians who desire to serve God must do so with the possibility of being arrested and put into jail. Many small meetings are broken up from time to time by the police, the accusation being made that Jehovah’s witnesses are proselyting others, which is contrary to the Constitution. But when it is found that all present are Jehovah’s witnesses and have the same faith they are usually allowed to go free after spending a night in the prison. The brothers and sisters are not fearful of this inconvenience to their daily work or routine, because they know that worshiping God according to his commandments is more important than possibly losing a job.
INCREASE DESPITE PERSECUTIONS
The zeal and determination to carry forward the preaching of the gospel found in the Greek brothers are something to be admired. In 1947 when I made the previous visit to the branch office and talked to some of the company servants there were 1,891 publishers on the average. Despite the persecutions and opposition against the work, the “other sheep” are being gathered together and in the year 1951 there were 3,368 regularly preaching the good news in all parts of Greece. They reached a new peak of 4,163. It really takes courage on the part of these publishers to press on in the work. In 1947 there were only five pioneers and now there are 27. They have some books and magazines, but even these cannot be distributed to the publishers through the mails. They must be taken about the country by other means. Jehovah is blessing them in their efforts to overcome their problems.
The first evening we were there we attended the service meeting and theocratic ministry school of the Bethel family, all of which was in Greek, but interesting to observe, for it showed how even in small gatherings they carried on with demonstrations and gave very instructive information to those present concerning how to conduct themselves in the field. After this meeting I spoke to the family for a while and then Brother Henschel made some remarks, all of which were greatly appreciated by them.
The next day found us discussing with the Society’s legal counsel many of the legal issues and we prepared some material to present to the American Embassy to see what could be done in the way of claiming constitutional rights for Jehovah’s witnesses in Greece. An arbitrary ruling has been set forth by one department of the Greek government saying that all publications of the Watch Tower Society and Jehovah’s witnesses must be marked “Heresy of Jehovah’s witnesses”. At the present time they are marked in accordance with the law as “Publications of Jehovah’s witnesses”. The Protestant organizations can distribute their literature when it is stamped with merely the name of the organization or marked as “belief” or “dogma” of an organization. But for Jehovah’s witnesses they insist on using the word “heresy”. There is no law which requires the use of this word, but the post office will not accept our publications without it. This makes a great expense for the Society in the distribution of the publications, especially the subscriptions, so we will try to see what can be done. There is certainly no objection to stamping the publications with the words “Beliefs of Jehovah’s witnesses” because we are proud of what we believe, which is based on God’s Word of truth.
That afternoon the big event of the visit to Greece was to take place. An effort had been made by the branch servant to obtain permission for a special meeting of Jehovah’s witnesses in a theater in the city and application was filed with the police. The branch servant was not able to get a satisfactory answer and when he went to the police headquarters on the day of our arrival he was told that the “opinion” of the archbishop was being awaited and that he must be patient. So it was not possible to hold a regular convention.
MEETING WITH THE BROTHERS
The alternative was to visit many of the brothers throughout the district of Athens. The schedule was made whereby I would be taken from one home to another by taxi to talk to the brothers for approximately twenty minutes. There were groups of forty to more than a hundred that met at certain hours of the afternoon in different homes. Sometimes there were considerable distances to cover between homes. All this was scheduled from 1 o’clock until 7:15 at night. Brother Henschel followed me at every one of these homes and he too talked about twenty minutes through an interpreter. By this means all of the brothers possible were given attention, spiritual admonition and encouragement.
It was one of the most blessed experiences of our lives, and in this way we spoke to 905 of our Greek brothers for a period of more than six hours. It was a pleasure to see the joy on the faces of all these faithful servants of the Lord. It was not like speaking from a platform, with the audience some distance from you, but you were in the midst of a group of eager people with eyes sharp and ears hanging on every word that was spoken and everything done. We did not have time to shake hands or give special greetings to individuals. It was just moving into the home, usually not taking off the coat, and starting in talking. The publishers appreciated the love and greetings from the brothers world-wide and were delighted to receive information direct from headquarters and to be told how their zeal was helping their brothers in other lands and their brothers were shoulder to shoulder with them in this great fight for freedom and proclaiming the message of the Kingdom. Words will never describe the joy they had nor ours.
Anything to happen in Greece after this experience would be mild as far as excitement and pleasure are concerned. These groups had all risked arrest by coming together, but they had no fear. They wanted to take in more life-giving knowledge. Their only complaint was it was too short. The day ended with a late evening meal at the Bethel home amidst a happy and contented family. The day had been a success and a great time of spiritual feasting for the publishers in Greece. It made the heart of Brother A. Karanassios, the former branch servant, glad as he lay in his sickbed. He had seen the work grow over the years in Greece and now in his old age he was nearing the finish of his earthly course with joy over the blessings and protection of Jehovah upon the good work.
PLANS FOR EXPANSION
Saturday’s work started with the consideration of the morning Bible text with all the Bethel family at breakfast, and then more discussions on problems and visiting properties which might be purchased by the Society for the building of a home that would house the local printing plant and office and the whole Bethel family. This matter was given serious consideration and it is hoped that arrangements can be made by the Society to obtain property and build a structure that will facilitate the work in Greece.
At noon we called on the American Embassy and presented our problems to a friendly official. He assured us he would pass the information given him on to those in authority in the Greek government and see what could be done to bring some relief from the difficulties we face. It was interesting to talk with him and see how he was well aware of the attitude of the Greek Orthodox Church officials toward our work and that of other non-Orthodox people in Greece. His explanation of their conception of freedom was informative.
Later in the afternoon discussions were had with the company servants from many cities in Greece, as well as islands of the Aegean sea, dealing with their problems, and later with the circuit servants who visit the companies throughout all of Greece. They asked many questions and problems were discussed pro and con. The meeting began at 1:30 p.m. and concluded at 5:45. There were 67 persons in attendance. A few of the full-time publishers asked about going to Gilead and it is hoped more publishers from Greece will soon have that privilege.
Sunday’s coming meant our time for departure had arrived and our busy days in Athens were quickly gone. More of Jehovah’s witnesses were to be visited and Istanbul was the next stop. So off to the airport we went. About 55 were there to see us off and we were happy with them over the fruitful visit we had together. Indeed they had had an assembly and they were determined to press on diligently in aiding the “other sheep” to take their stand before the final battle of Armageddon. There was no question in their minds that the new world ruled by Christ Jesus is the thing that is needed and they are going to preach the message even if it means the governments of this earth take their life. Some in Greece have lost their lives. Many have been in prisons and are now there. Many are persecuted. But the Lord’s Word points out that when his people are scattered, then they will go forward everywhere preaching the gospel. Trying to scatter Jehovah’s witnesses in Greece has resulted in a great witness and they will continue to promote clean, undefiled worship of the Most High God, Jehovah.