Serving the Trustworthy God
As told by Kimon Progakis
It was a bitterly cold evening in 1955. My wife, Giannoula, and I began to worry because our 18-year-old son, George, failed to return from the kiosk where he worked. Unexpectedly, a policeman knocked on our door. “Your son was hit while riding home on his bicycle,” he said, “and he is dead.” Then he leaned forward and whispered: “They will tell you it was an accident, but believe me, he was murdered.” The local priest and some paramilitary leaders had conspired to kill him.
IN THOSE years, when Greece was recovering from times of strife and hardship, it was dangerous to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I knew firsthand about the power of the Greek Orthodox Church and the paramilitary organizations because for more than 15 years, I had been an active member of them. Let me tell you about events that led up to this tragedy in our family over 40 years ago.
Growing Up in Greece
I was born in 1902 into a well-to-do family in a small village near the town of Chalcis, in Greece. My father was active in local politics, and our family were devout members of the Greek Orthodox Church. I became an avid reader of political and religious books at a time when the majority of my countrymen were illiterate.
The poverty and injustice prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century created in me a desire for a world with better conditions. Religion, I thought, should be able to improve the sad situation of my countrymen. Because of my religious inclination, leading men of my village proposed that I become the Greek Orthodox priest of our community. However, although I had visited many monasteries and had long discussions with bishops and abbots, I did not feel ready or willing to accept such a responsibility.
In the Midst of Civil War
Years later, in April 1941, Greece came under Nazi occupation. This began a miserable period of killings, famine, deprivation, and untold human suffering. A strong resistance movement developed, and I joined one of the guerrilla groups that fought the Nazi invaders. As a result, my home was set afire several times, I was shot, and my crops were destroyed. Early in 1943 my family and I had no other choice but to flee to the rugged mountains. We remained there until the end of the German occupation in October 1944.
Internal political and civil strife erupted after the Germans left. The guerrilla resistance group that I belonged to became one of the major fighting forces in the civil war. Although Communistic ideals of justice, equality, and comradeship appealed to me, the reality eventually left me totally disillusioned. Since I had a high position in the group, I saw firsthand that power tends to corrupt people. Despite apparently noble theories and ideals, selfishness and imperfection spoil the best of political intentions.
What especially shocked me was that on various sides of the civil conflict, Orthodox clergymen were taking up arms to kill ones of their own religion! I thought to myself, ‘How can these clergymen say that they represent Jesus Christ, who warned: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword”?’—Matthew 26:52.
During the civil war, in 1946, I was in hiding near the town of Lamia, in central Greece. My clothes were completely worn out, so I decided to disguise myself and go to a tailor in the city to have some new ones made. There was a heated debate going on when I arrived, and soon I found myself speaking, not about politics, but about my old love, religion. Noting my informed viewpoints, onlookers suggested that I speak with a certain ‘professor of theology.’ Immediately, they went to get him.
Finding a Reliable Hope
In the discussion that followed, the “professor” asked me what was the basis of my beliefs. “The Holy Fathers and the Ecumenical Synods,” I replied. Instead of contradicting me, he opened his small Bible to Matthew 23:9, 10, and asked me to read Jesus’ words: “Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called ‘leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ.”
That was an eye-opener for me! I sensed that this man was telling the truth. When he identified himself as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I asked him for some literature to read. He brought me the book Light, which is a commentary on the Bible book of Revelation, and I took it back to my hiding place. For so long, the beasts referred to in Revelation had been a mystery to me, but now I learned that these represented political organizations that exist in our 20th century. I began to comprehend that the Bible has practical meaning for our times and that I should study it and adapt my life according to its truths.
Captured and Imprisoned
Shortly thereafter, soldiers burst into my hiding place and arrested me. I was thrown into a dungeon cell. Since I had been a wanted outlaw for some time, I expected to be executed. There, in my cell, I received a visit from the Witness who had first spoken to me. He encouraged me to trust implicitly in Jehovah, which I did. I was sentenced to exile for six months on the Aegean island of Ikaria.
As soon as I arrived, I identified myself, not as a Communist, but as a Witness of Jehovah. Others who had learned Bible truths were also exiled there, so I located them, and we regularly studied the Bible together. They helped me to gain more knowledge from the Scriptures and a better understanding of our trustworthy God, Jehovah.
In 1947, when my sentence ended, I was summoned to the office of the public prosecutor. He told me that he was impressed with my conduct and said that I could use his name as a reference should I ever be exiled again. Upon arriving in Athens, where my family had moved in the meantime, I began to associate with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and soon was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah.
Charged for Proselytism
For decades, Greece prosecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses under laws passed in 1938 and 1939 forbidding proselytism. Thus, from 1938 to 1992, there were 19,147 arrests of Witnesses in Greece, and the courts imposed sentences that totaled 753 years, 593 of which were actually served. Personally, I was arrested more than 40 times for preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom, and altogether I served 27 months in various prisons.
One of my arrests came as a result of a letter I had written to a Greek Orthodox clergyman in Chalcis. In 1955, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been urged to send the booklet Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is “the Light of the World”? to all clergymen. One of the high-ranking clergymen to whom I had written sued me for proselytism. During the trial, both the Witness attorney and the local lawyer gave a masterful defense, explaining the obligation that true Christians have to preach the good news about God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 24:14.
The presiding judge of the court asked the archimandrite (a church dignitary ranking below a bishop): “Did you read the letter and the booklet?”
“No,” he replied vehemently, “I tore them up and got rid of them as soon as I opened the envelope!”
“Then how can you say that this man proselytized you?” the presiding judge inquired.
Next our attorney cited examples of professors and others who donated entire stacks of books to public libraries. “Would you say that those people tried to proselytize others?” he asked.
Clearly, such activity did not constitute proselytizing. I thanked Jehovah when I heard the verdict: “Not guilty.”
My Son’s Death
My son George was also continually harassed, usually at the instigation of Orthodox clergymen. He too was arrested scores of times because of his youthful zeal in declaring the good news of God’s Kingdom. Finally, the opposers decided to get rid of him and, at the same time, send an intimidating message to the rest of us to stop preaching.
The policeman who came to our house to report George’s death said that the local Greek Orthodox priest and some paramilitary leaders had conspired to kill our son. Such “accidents” were common during those perilous times. Despite the grief his death caused, our determination to keep active in the preaching work and to trust fully in Jehovah was only strengthened.
Helping Others Trust in Jehovah
During the mid-1960’s, my wife and children would spend summer months in the coastal village of Skala Oropos, about 30 miles [50 km] from Athens. At the time, no Witnesses lived there, so we did informal witnessing to neighbors. Some local farmers responded favorably. Since the men worked long hours in their fields during the day, we conducted Bible studies with them late at night, and a number became Witnesses.
Seeing how Jehovah was blessing our efforts, for some 15 years, we traveled there every week in order to conduct Bible studies with interested ones. Almost 30 persons we studied with there have progressed to the point of baptism. Initially, a study group was formed, and I was assigned to conduct the meetings. Later the group became a congregation, and today more than a hundred Witnesses from that area form the Malakasa Congregation. We rejoice that four of the persons we helped are now serving as full-time ministers.
A Rich Heritage
Shortly after I dedicated my life to Jehovah, my wife began to progress spiritually and was baptized. During the difficult period of persecution, her faith remained strong and she kept firm and unwavering in her integrity. She never complained about the many hardships suffered as a result of my frequent imprisonments.
Over the years, we conducted many Bible studies together, and she effectively helped many with her simple and enthusiastic approach. Presently, she has a magazine route that includes dozens of people to whom she regularly delivers The Watchtower and Awake!
Largely because of the support of my loving mate, our three living children and their families, which include six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, are all active in Jehovah’s service. Although they have not had to cope with the persecution and bitter opposition that my wife and I faced, they have put their implicit trust in Jehovah, and they keep walking in his ways. What a joy it will be for all of us to be reunited with our dear George when he returns in the resurrection!
Determined to Trust in Jehovah
During all these years, I have seen Jehovah’s spirit operating upon his people. His spirit-directed organization has helped me to see that we cannot put our trust in the efforts of humans. Their promises for a better future are worthless, amounting to nothing more than a big lie.—Psalm 146:3, 4.
Despite my advancing years and severe health problems, my eyes are focused on the reality of the Kingdom hope. I truly regret the years I spent devoted to false religion and to trying to bring about better conditions through political means. If I were to live my life over, without question I would again decide to serve Jehovah, the trustworthy God.
(Kimon Progakis recently fell asleep in death. He had an earthly hope.)
[Picture on page 26]
A recent photograph of Kimon with his wife, Giannoula