Rejoicing in the Kingdom Hope
As told by Alex Kellaris
ONE day when I was but eight years of age, while kneeling at prayer, the words “Thy kingdom come” became deeply riveted in my mind. I jumped up and went to my mother, asking: “What do those words mean?” Instead of answering my question as she usually would, she told me that I had better ask the priest. Since we always went to the Greek Orthodox Church in our village of Lutron, in Greece’s province of Corinth, I decided I would do what mother suggested.
We had always been regular church attenders. In fact, my father was one of the directors of the local church. And by reason of his great interest in religion I received considerable religious training, later even serving as an altar boy. So there was every reason to go to the priest with my question, confident of a good answer. However, he not only failed to answer my question, but rebuked me, saying: “You have no right to ask a priest questions. A priest takes neither orders nor questions from others.” Needless to say, I was quite taken aback. And to think that my mother’s fondest hope was that I would one day be a priest!
As I grew older I never forgot that question, and kept asking people about it, especially those who seemed to be religiously inclined. But no one could give me any real satisfaction. It seemed strange to me that we should be saying those words over and over in prayer and not know what they really meant.
In 1912, when I was sixteen years of age, my parents gave me permission to emigrate to the United States of America, where I could join my brother in Toledo, Ohio. That started a new life for me, in more ways than one. It happened one day, as I looked out the window of the restaurant where I was working for one of my relatives, that I saw a horse-drawn wagon with placards mounted on its sides. The driver was ringing a bell to attract attention. It was an announcement of a showing of the “Photo-Drama of Creation”—a picture show that promised to tell all about the Bible’s true-life story.
Since I was unfamiliar with the city, I persuaded my uncle to take me to the place where this film would be presented. After the showing, which was a real revelation to me, I asked the one in charge of the meeting, A. H. Macmillan: “What does ‘Thy kingdom come’ mean?” He was amused at my youthful earnestness, and asked me to read Daniel 2:44, not once, but twice. When he saw that I still did not grasp it, he explained: “The kingdom of God is his hammer by which he will destroy all the kingdoms of the world and bring blessings to all survivors.”
SHARING KINGDOM HOPE WITH OTHERS
That answer gave me just what I wanted. On the next day I eagerly told my friends and relatives about what I had seen and learned. And for the next three evenings I went back for the remainder of the Drama’s showings.
Longing to know more about this newfound hope, I visited a number of bookstores looking for books on the subject. At one of these I was delighted to obtain Volume One of Studies in the Scriptures, on the topic “The Divine Plan of the Ages.” It was in Greek and cost me only ten cents! But what a valuable source of knowledge it proved to be, and what joy it brought me!
As opportunity afforded I was able to get the other six volumes of this series of “Studies” from itinerant colporteurs. The more I read the more I felt obligated to share this wonderful Kingdom hope with others.
Soon World War I came, and, to my amazement, the seventh volume of Studies in the Scriptures was banned by the government. Agents seeking copies of the banned publication began to harass me, so I decided to move to Springfield, Ohio, where I had some relatives. It turned out to be the right move, for there I was soon in touch with the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known, and I was able to associate regularly with them in Bible study. In those days we met quietly in the attic of a seven-story office building where one of the Bible Students was an elevator operator. Among those I met here was Chester Goings, with whom at a later date I was to serve in the headquarters of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
I kept on witnessing to people about the Kingdom hope, especially among Greek-speaking people. I recall at least two families who took their stand for God’s kingdom.
Speakers from Columbus, Ohio, came to deliver public lectures, adding much to our knowledge of God’s will. At first I did not understand the need for being baptized again. But as I matured, I recognized that that former dipping in water in infancy was of no effect. So I was baptized on December 31, 1923, at Wheeling, West Virginia.
KINGDOM JOY OR WORLDLY SUCCESS?
I was always keen to expand my service of the Kingdom interests, having begun the race “for the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) Often I wished that I could be of some help at the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. But someone told me that they could use only experienced help, so I set aside the idea for the time being.
Then, on one occasion, a “Pilgrim” brother, or traveling representative of the Society, W. J. Thorn, visited our congregation. When I was out in house-to-house preaching with him, he inquired: “Brother, why are you not serving the Kingdom with all of your time at Bethel?” “Because I don’t know how to make books,” was my reply. “Don’t worry,” he said, “they will show you how,” and with that he handed me an application. Joyously I filled in the form and mailed it off to the Society’s office.
I was certainly free to go, for I had just sold my share of a certain business. But then, suddenly, came one test after another. First, I received a most tempting and lucrative business offer. But I was through with materialism, so I turned it down. Next, a lifelong friend and Christian brother planned to visit his folks in Greece and asked that I care for his business while he was gone. For some months I had been awaiting some response to my Bethel application. I told him: “If in two weeks I do not hear from the Society, I will look after your business.” But in a few days a special-delivery letter came. I was requested to report for service at Bethel.
That settled it! On March 17, 1930, I walked into the Bethel Home to commence a period that has abounded with joyous privileges for me—a period that has so far embraced almost forty happy years.
SERVING THE KINGDOM AT BETHEL
Despite my lack of experience I was soon shown how to work in the bookbinding department, on the casing-in machine. I really liked the work. In fact, before I knew it I had been twenty-three years on that same job. Many were the younger men I was privileged to train, encouraging them to stick to their service of the Kingdom.
Added to the satisfactions of Bethel service have been the many opportunities to share in all the features of the Kingdom-preaching work. Right up to this time I have been able to keep up with house-to-house privileges of preaching, making return visits on interested people and conducting Bible studies with them. Offering Bible-study magazines on the streets has also been a joy. In the Riverside congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses in West Manhattan there is one book-study group held in the home of a Greek family. Since it was first organized in 1937 I have had the great pleasure of serving as the study servant.
Imagine my satisfaction during the years at seeing “children” and even “grandchildren” from this group become proclaimers of the message of God’s kingdom!
To me a very significant event in Bethel history was the start of the Theocratic Ministry School for Bethel workers. That was in 1942. I enrolled right away, and I still attend classes and give student talks. The marvelous training provided by that School has equipped many, including myself, to give public lectures.
A BROADER VIEW OF GOD’S GRAND WORK
Serving at Bethel headquarters all these years has certainly done much to broaden my view of the Kingdom interests and the marvelous work Jehovah is having done in all the earth. Witnesses from all parts of the United States and from all other parts of the world have come to visit here or to attend the Gilead School for missionary training. It has been wonderfully strengthening to see people of all nationalities with the same zeal for God’s service.
Especially has this been noted at large assemblies of God’s people; for example, those I was privileged to attend in Europe in 1955. There was the delightful trip across the ocean on a ship chartered by the Society, the Arosa Star. Then came the never-to-be-forgotten assemblies, and then to Greece, where the Kingdom work was being carried on under great difficulties. In my little hometown I spoke to many about the Bible’s message of hope—even gave two public talks in the town square and one in the home of an elder in the Greek Orthodox Church. Night after night I would chat with my Christian brothers until two or three in the morning.
I had the opportunity to visit some invalid Witnesses in Sparta. One of them, upon hearing of my coming, got up and dressed and, as I entered the house, threw his arms around me and said, “Now I can die happy, for I have met one of the Lord’s anointed from Brooklyn headquarters.” The doctors had not given him much hope, but he lived for five more years after that.
Letters I had written to my father, I now learned, had borne more fruit than I had supposed. One day a Witness, pursued by a violent mob, fled to his house. My father met the mob with a gun and threatened to shoot anyone who got too close. Though he never did take his stand for God’s kingdom, he had learned that intolerance against those who preach the Bible’s message is not the way of the true Christian.
Then came the exciting year 1969, when once more I had the great joy of traveling to Europe, this time by air. The thrilling assembly in Nuremberg, Germany, was the highlight. Here I had the joy of meeting and sharing assembly sessions with Witnesses from all parts of Greece, from Australia, France, Belgium, and many other lands. The love among the brothers was manifest on every hand. I can truly say that I have never had another experience that was so upbuilding.
Again I visited Greece and exchanged greetings with fellow Witnesses in Athens, Corinth, and Sparta. It was truly enjoyable to hear of their many experiences. For example, one elderly Greek pioneer minister told of coming upon a group of workers eating their noonday lunch. They invited him to share their meal, and meantime all were listening to a Communist who was telling them about the “Red Paradise.” When the man got through with his speech, the pioneer minister tactfully told him: “I am 87 years of age, and if you can stop this aging process and hold off my death, I am willing to go along with you.” Of course, the man could give no such guarantee. So the pioneer minister went on to explain Jehovah’s provision for all mankind. The man eagerly listened, accepted the Kingdom message, and is now a zealous Witness.
In one small village, a visitor asked the local priest: “What is going on in this village? Everyone seems to belong to the Witnesses!” The priest answered: “Perhaps pretty soon I will be one of them too.”
One Witness was haled into court by a priest on the charge that he was going about like a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The accused said to the judge: “Your Honor, I wear clothing just like everyone else wears. The priest is the one who wears different clothing.” At that the priest left, while the judge dismissed the case.
All in all, it was grand to see the zeal of the Witnesses in Greece. Men of responsibility in the congregations and throughout the country spend long hours shepherding the flock of God, their work rendered doubly hard by all the restrictions. But they are joyful, and they surely have great love for the brothers at the Society’s headquarters who work hard to keep them supplied with spiritual nourishment. I am truly thankful that the Society made it possible for me to go and visit so many of our European fellow servants of the Kingdom.
More than ever, even at the age of seventy-two, I appreciate that the Kingdom for which I prayed as a boy is indeed mankind’s only hope. I am thankful for the measure of health and strength that makes it possible to go on serving daily in the Bethel Home and, in addition, to spend some fifteen to twenty hours each month in activities having to do with the Riverside, New York, Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses—a zealous group of Kingdom publishers. To young people particularly I would say: While you have strength of youth, expend it in the interests of the Kingdom! No other activity can bring such satisfaction and peace of mind.