We Were Enthusiastic Fencers
AT THE age of thirteen I saw a movie based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Three Musketeers.” I was enchanted by the art of fencing, as well as the mutual friendship of those three men whose slogan was “one for all and all for one.”
At the time, I was going to a secondary school in an eastern European country, and became a member of a fencing club. I was enraptured, and did my best to master the techniques. Because I made good grades at school, my parents did not object to this new fancy of mine.
Eventually, at age nineteen, I enrolled at the University to study law. But the first thing that I did was to seek out the University fencing club, where there were excellent coaches. Both boys and girls belonged to the club.
One of the girls, Mary, drew my attention. She displayed unusual skill, knowing how to force her opponent to respond to her own style and to maintain absolute control of the situation. I looked forward to a duel with her, fully appreciating all the subtle tricks of fencing that she employed.
In time, three of us boys in the club came to be very close companions. There was John, who was studying natural science, and Paul, who was a mathematics and physics student. Both were fully committed to fencing, although they had been involved in the sport only a relatively short time.
The three of us would spend parts of our vacations together in picturesque mountains. And that’s where our friendship was born. Soon we discovered that we complemented one another very well. John had immediate, and sometimes even unrestrained, enthusiasm, which Paul attempted to rectify with his concrete opinions. The three of us, the same number as in Dumas’ novel, became good fencers and inseparable friends.
During our holidays we worked out plans for the coming fencing season. We devoted almost all our leisure time to the physical and psychological preparation for the competitions that we so much enjoyed.
But there was also Mary. Actually she excelled us in fencing finesse and elegance. She shone in many important tournaments. And so, in time, the four of us came to enjoy a unique relationship.
A THREAT TO OUR UNITY
When I turned twenty-two, we took part in a skiing tour arranged by our fencing club. It was there that Mary surprised us by talking about some changes that would affect the whole world, and she quoted something from the Bible—the twenty-fourth chapter of Mt Matthew’s Gospel. Each of us responded negatively. I simply said: “There are certain values in the world that I am not going to abandon because of some questionable prophecy.”
About a month later Mary came to the fencing club looking quite changed. By this time we had known each other for about two and a half years. She packed up her fencing gear, said good-bye and left. To say the least, we were shocked, for it seemed as if she was leaving for good. We called her up and asked whether we couldn’t pay her a visit that very evening. She agreed.
That evening we encountered an entirely different person—someone whom we had never seen before. Mary, who was always able to score masterful hits with her foil, to parry attacks promptly, and to join in our laughters, now had tear marks on her face. But at the same time she appeared confident. She opened her Bible and read in a serious voice: “And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.”—Isa. 2:4.
When she finished, she looked at us and there was a great question mark in her eyes. I think she expected our approval when she said: “I want to serve Jehovah, our God, and abide by the principles of the Bible. I no longer want to learn to fight, and fencing is a martial sport.”
I felt crushed, sensing that my dreams of the musketeers’ friendship were collapsing. Later I told John, who was closest to me, that, at all costs, we must bring Mary back to our fencing school.
“Yes, of course,” John agreed, “but how? I certainly don’t agree with Mary’s decision,” he said, “but I admire it. It takes a good deal of courage to make such a decision.”
EFFORTS TO CHANGE MARY’S MIND
In order to get Mary to change her decision, I borrowed a Bible and began reading it. I discovered what I was looking for in the Song of Solomon 3:7, 8, chapter three and verses seven and eight, which reads: “Look! It is his couch, the one belonging to Solomon. Sixty mighty men are all around it, from the mighty men of Israel, all of them in possession of a sword, being taught in warfare, each one with his sword upon his thigh because of dread during the nights.”
I was elated by this discovery. I couldn’t help saying aloud: “So the Bible not only does not condemn the bearing of arms; it directly exhorts us to use them!” I wrote Mary about my discovery. Before long I received her answer. She showed me that in ancient days, before the coming of Christ, servants of God were at times authorized to fight with literal swords, but that the weapons of true Christians are entirely different. Her letter explained:
“Robert, God’s servants are like a special army, ready to master any task. And that’s why they are armed. The armament of God’s servants is like that of Roman legionnaires, described by the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians [6:14-17]: ‘Stand firm, therefore, with your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and with your feet shod with the equipment of the good news of peace. Above all things, take up the large shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the wicked one’s burning missiles. Also, accept the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word.’”
“Even this armor,” she continued, “is not in itself sufficient. We must learn to abide by the principles laid down in God’s Word. Only then will we be like that man, about whom Jesus says in Matthew [7:24-27]: ‘Everyone that hears these sayings of mine and does them will be likened to a discreet man, who built his house upon the rock-mass. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and lashed against that house, but it did not cave in, for it had been founded upon the rock-mass. Furthermore, everyone hearing these sayings of mine and not doing them will be likened to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain poured down and the floods came and the winds blew and struck against that house and it caved in, and its collapse was great.’”
Still, from what Mary was saying, I couldn’t see any good reason that I should quit fencing. Paul, too, was doing what he could to get Mary to change her mind. He even began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. We weren’t afraid of his being influenced, knowing his purely materialistic outlook.
At the same time, we continued our fencing. In fact, I did so to the neglect of my law studies. Paul encouraged me to study more. I resented his counsel, but for my refusal to heed it I paid by having to repeat a whole year of my studies. Paul, on the other hand, had excellent grades, and because of that my attitude toward him became even more standoffish. When I complained to John, he retorted that Paul, unlike us, attached some weight to his studies.
GETTING TOGETHER AGAIN WITH MARY
Having not seen Mary for three months, John and I decided to call on her. She listened eagerly to the news from the fencing school and then sighed: “What a pity we don’t see one another the way we used to. What would you say to the idea of meeting regularly to read something nice together—perhaps even the Bible? I know you like dramatic reading.” We agreed.
We started to read Matthew’s Gospel, but we didn’t stick to dramatic reading alone. We also discussed the meaning of what we were reading. Once I wondered aloud about man’s responsibility toward the God of the Bible. John interrupted: “Listen, Robert, where did Jesus receive his moral strength that enabled him to forgive those who had wronged him so greatly?”
This was the sort of question I couldn’t answer, but I realized that it must be somehow connected with Jesus’ relationship with God. Because we wanted to know the true answer to these religious questions, we began to study the Bible with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses recommended by Mary. The Bible aid we used was called “The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life.”
GETTING DOWN TO SERIOUS STUDY
We readily confided to Paul the insights that we were gaining in the course of our studies. Paul explained to us the conclusions that he had come to, as a result of comparing the Bible with mathematics and physics. He often discussed with John the question of the extent to which the Bible agrees with biology.
Once both my friends were hotly debating the problem of whether the Bible does or does not deny the existence of brontosaurs. The debate went so far that they decided to stop their studies of the Bible. This dismayed me, and so I attempted to finish their debate, saying: “Look, I think that in this case the most important thing is not the scientific, but the moral question. And until I understand the problem of responsibility clearly, I shall continue my studies.”
So I succeeded in calming down their fierce debate to such a degree that they also decided to continue their studies. Now it was John who thought that we were spending too much time fencing and arranged things so that the Bible study took place after fencing. I did not like this very much because this meant that we left off fencing two hours earlier than before.
Only a short time before this such a decision would have been unthinkable, but we were becoming increasingly attracted to the study of the Bible. In fact, we had become so engrossed that we underlined with colored pencils those texts in the Bible that we liked best. And because we liked all the texts that were explained to us, our Bible soon shone in all colors!
WOULD I GIVE UP FENCING TOO?
I was slowly receiving an answer to my question about responsibility to God. Mary proved to be very helpful in this and so, after about five months, I confided to her that I was seriously considering dedicating myself to Jehovah, but that I would like to wait for Paul and John.
“Look, Robert,” Mary answered, “I continued fencing in order to have a chance to talk with all of you, but none of you took me in earnest until I left. And then all of you suddenly began wondering why I had done it—and today you are all studying the Bible.” This talk with her did a great deal to speed up my decision to dedicate my life to Jehovah.
Now I was faced with the same problem that Mary had: Should I stop fencing too? I pondered again over the words of the Bible that I had heard for the first time just sixteen months before: “And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.”—Isa. 2:4.
Before my eyes my ten years of fencing passed by. The early morning risings, the coaches, the bitterness of defeat and, recently, my successes, and the chance of advancing even farther in the sport. But I arrived at the conclusion that Mary had been right. And I understood her tears completely, because now my eyes were full of tears too. Yet, at the same time, I had the same confidence that she had.
WHAT ABOUT JOHN AND PAUL?
John and Paul were very surprised by my decision. But imagine my pleasure when they, too, decided to put aside the steel foils and, together with me, stop fencing. John and Paul came to our Christian meetings, but they did not then feel the need of dedicating their lives to Jehovah and symbolizing this by water baptism.
It was a year after my own baptism that all four of us met again. What a joyful reunion it was—all of us by now were dedicated Christians! We had been enthusiastic fencers, full of determination and ambitions. But when we came to know God’s will, we put aside our foils of steel and took up the sword of the spirit, which is God’s Word.—Eph. 6:17.
We realized in ourselves that “the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) It is good to fight with this spiritual sword for the honor and glory of Jehovah God and this is now our greatest desire and continuous endeavor.—Contributed.