Giving Jehovah What He Deserves
AS TOLD BY TIMOLEON VASILIOU
I had been arrested for teaching the Bible in the village of Aidhonochori. The police took off my shoes and started beating the soles of my feet. As the beating continued, my feet became numb and I could no longer feel the pain. Before I explain what had led up to this abuse, which at the time was not uncommon in Greece, let me relate how I became a Bible teacher.
SOON after I was born in 1921, our family moved to the town of Rodholívos, in northern Greece. During my youth, I led an unruly life. When I was 11, I started smoking. Later, I became a heavy drinker and a gambler, and I went to wild parties almost every night. I had a flair for music, so I joined a local band. In about a year, I could play most of the band’s instruments. Yet, at the same time, I was studious and loved justice.
Early in 1940, while World War II was raging, our band was invited to play at the funeral of a little girl. At the graveside, relatives and friends were weeping with unrestrained grief. Their sheer hopelessness made a profound impression on me. I began to wonder, ‘Why do we die? Is there anything more to life than our brief existence? Where can I find the answers?’
A few days later, I spotted a copy of the New Testament on a shelf in my house. I took it down and began to read. When I read Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:7 about war on a large scale being part of the sign of his presence, it dawned on me that his words must apply to our time. In the following weeks, I read this copy of the Christian Greek Scriptures several times.
Then in December 1940, I visited a family nearby—a widow and her five children. In their attic, among a stack of booklets, I found one entitled A Desirable Government, published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. I stayed up there in the attic and read the entire booklet. I became fully convinced from what I read that we are indeed living in what the Bible calls “the last days” and that Jehovah God will soon bring this system of things to an end and replace it with a righteous new world.—2 Timothy 3:1-5; 2 Peter 3:13.
What particularly impressed me was the Scriptural evidence that faithful ones will live forever in an earthly paradise and that suffering and death will be no more in that new world under the rule of God’s Kingdom. (Psalm 37:9-11, 29; Revelation 21:3, 4) As I was reading, I thanked God in prayer for these things, and I asked him to show me what his requirements are. It became clear to me that Jehovah God deserved my whole-souled devotion.—Matthew 22:37.
Acting on What I Learned
From that time on, I quit smoking, ceased getting drunk, and stopped gambling. I gathered together the widow’s five children and my three younger brothers and sisters, and I explained to them what I had learned from the booklet. Soon we all started spreading what little we knew. We became known in the community as Jehovah’s Witnesses, although we had never met any Witnesses. Right from the start, I devoted more than a hundred hours every month to telling others the wonderful things I had learned.
One of the local Greek Orthodox priests went to the mayor to complain about us. But some days previously, unbeknownst to us, a young Witness had found a lost horse and had returned it to its owners. As a result of such honesty, the mayor respected the Witnesses, and he refused to listen to the priest.
One day in about October 1941, while I was witnessing in the marketplace, someone spoke about a Witness of Jehovah who lived in a nearby town. He was a former policeman named Christos Triantafillou. I went to see him and learned that he had been a Witness since 1932. How happy I was when he provided me with many older Watch Tower publications! These really helped me make spiritual progress.
In 1943, I symbolized my dedication to God by water baptism. By then I was conducting Bible studies in three of the neighboring villages—Dhravískos, Palaeokomi, and Mavrolofos. I used the book The Harp of God as our Bible study aid. Eventually, I was privileged to see four congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses formed in this area.
Preaching Despite Obstacles
In 1944, Greece was freed from German occupation, and sometime later, communication was established with the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Athens. The branch office invited me to share in preaching in a territory where hardly anyone had heard the Kingdom message. After moving there, I worked on a farm for three months and spent the rest of the year in the ministry.
That year I was blessed to see my mother get baptized, as well as the widow and her children, except her youngest daughter, Marianthi, who was baptized in 1943 and became my beloved wife in November of that year. Thirty years later, in 1974, my father also became a baptized Witness.
Early in 1945 we received the first mimeographed copy of The Watchtower from the branch office. Its feature article was entitled “Go, Disciple All the Nations.” (Matthew 28:19, The Emphatic Diaglott) Marianthi and I immediately left our home to work faraway territories east of the Strymon River. We were later joined by other Witnesses.
We often walked barefoot to reach a village, covering miles through ravines and over mountains. We did this to save our shoes because when they wore out, we had no others to replace them. During the years from 1946 to 1949, civil war was ravaging Greece, and it was very dangerous to travel. It was not unusual to see corpses lying by the open road.
Rather than being discouraged by the difficulties, we continued serving zealously. Many times I felt as did the psalmist who wrote: “Even though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear nothing bad, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are the things that comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) During this period we were often away from home for weeks, and I sometimes spent 250 hours a month in the ministry.
Our Ministry in Aidhonochori
One of the villages we visited in 1946 was Aidhonochori, perched high on a mountain. There we met a man who told us that there were two men in the village who wanted to hear the Bible message. However, because of fear of his neighbors, the man was unwilling to direct us to them. We located their homes anyway and were received hospitably. In fact, after a few minutes, the living room was filled with people! They were either relatives or close friends. I was absolutely amazed to see with what attentiveness they sat and listened to us. We soon learned that they had eagerly been waiting to come in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, but during the German occupation, there were none in the area. What had stimulated their interest?
The two family heads had been prominent in the local Communist party, and they had introduced Communistic ideas to the people. But then they came across a copy of the book Government, published by the Watch Tower Society. As a result of reading it, they were convinced that the only hope for a perfect, righteous government was God’s Kingdom.
We sat up talking to these men and their friends until midnight. They were completely satisfied with the Bible-based answers to their questions. Soon afterward, however, Communists in the village plotted to kill me because I was considered responsible for converting their former leaders. Incidentally, among those present that first night was the man who told me about the interested ones in the village. Eventually he progressed in Bible knowledge, got baptized, and later became a Christian elder.
It was not long after meeting these former Communists that two policemen stormed into a house where we were conducting a meeting. They arrested four of us at gunpoint and escorted us to the police station. There the police lieutenant, who had close connections with the Greek Orthodox clergy, berated us. Finally, he asked, “Well, what am I going to do with you?”
“Let’s give them a good beating!” the other policemen standing behind us shouted in unison.
By then it was late at night. The policemen locked us in the basement and went to the tavern next door. When they were quite drunk, they came back and I was brought upstairs.
Seeing what condition they were in, I realized that they might kill me at any moment. So I prayed to God to give me the strength to endure whatever I might have to suffer. They took some wooden rods and, as I related at the beginning, started beating me on the soles of my feet. After that they beat my whole body, and then they threw me back into the basement. Next they brought out another victim and began beating him.
In the meantime, I used the opportunity to prepare the other two young Witnesses to face the test ahead. But the policemen chose instead to bring me back upstairs. They took off my clothes, and the five of them beat me for about an hour, trampling on my head with their army boots. Then they threw me down the stairs, where I lay unconscious for about 12 hours.
When we were finally released, a family in the village put us up for the night and looked after us. The following day, we left to return home. We were so worn out and exhausted from the beatings that the trip, which was normally a two-hour walk, took us eight hours. I was so swollen from the beatings that Marianthi hardly recognized me.
Growth Despite Opposition
In 1949, while the civil war was still going on, we moved to Thessalonica. I was assigned to serve as assistant congregation servant in one of the four congregations in the city. After one year the congregation increased to such an extent that we formed another one, and I was assigned as the congregation servant, or presiding overseer. A year later the new congregation had nearly doubled in size, and yet another congregation was formed!
Opposers were angry with the growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Thessalonica. One day in 1952 when I came home from work, I found our house burned to the ground. Marianthi had barely escaped with her life. At the meeting that night, we had to explain why we were there in dirty clothes—we had lost everything else. Our Christian brothers were very sympathetic and supportive.
In 1961, I was assigned to the traveling work, visiting a different congregation each week to strengthen the brothers spiritually. For the next 27 years, Marianthi and I visited the circuits and districts in Macedonia, Thrace, and Thessaly. Although my dear Marianthi had been practically blind since 1948, she courageously served with me, enduring many tests of faith. She too was arrested, tried, and imprisoned many times. Then her health began to deteriorate, and she died in 1988 after a long battle with cancer.
That same year, I was appointed to serve as a special pioneer in Thessalonica. Now, after more than 56 years of service to Jehovah, I can still work hard and share in all features of the ministry. At times, I have conducted as many as 20 Bible studies with interested ones each week.
I have come to appreciate that we are really at the start of a great teaching program that will continue into Jehovah’s new world and on for a thousand years. Yet, I feel that this is no time for us to take things easy, to put things off, or to spend our time satisfying our fleshly desires. I thank God for helping me to keep the promise I made at the very beginning because Jehovah truly deserves our whole-souled devotion and service.
[Picture on page 24]
Giving a talk while our preaching work was under ban
[Picture on page 25]
With my wife, Marianthi