By: James Meletiou

From Religion

To Truth and Life!

After being raised in the traditions of religion, one day I came to know Truth and Life. After finding the reality of Truth and Life, all of the symbols of religion lost their meaning. I wish to describe how I came into the reality of Truth and Life.

My parents raised me in a church that was full of elaborate ceremo­nies. When I was a teen­ag­er, my mother ar­rang­ed for me to wear a priest­ly robe and assist our priest. I held a candle stick and stood beside the priest while he ministered before the altar and the peo­ple, while he chanted the scriptures from the ancient language. (This is correct: He ‘chanted’ the scriptures; he did not read it. He read from the ancient language, not from a modern language.)

During those years I understood that everything in the church was a sym­bol, every­thing sym­bolized some truth. The altar room symbol­ized heav­en, the candle light symbol­ized the light of the world, the bread symbolized the one who is the bread of life, and the oil symbolized the Holy Spirit. Even the items on the priestly robes had sym­bolic mean­ings. But the sym­bols were only sym­bols of the truth without the reality. The symbols did not satis­fy, and I began won­dering why we had only sym­bols of the truth instead of the truth itself?

As a teenager, I began think­ing: “I won­der what this church is all about. I’m a mem­ber of this church, and I don’t even know what it teaches. It’s not right to be­long to an organi­za­tion if you don’t even know what it tea­ches,” and, “What if Jesus did die, what does his death on the cross have to do with my go­ing to heaven or not. What’s the connec­tion?” With these ques­tions in my mind, I set out to get some an­swers.

First, I got a Bible and start­ed read­ing in the New Testament, the part that tells about Je­sus. What I read real­ly amazed me. I found that Jesus lived a plain, simple life­style, and mixed with ordinary folks. He did not wear priestly robes or conduct any ritu­als, cere­mo­nies, or masses! Rather, he went about teach­ing men the right way to live—to forgive their ene­mies, and he healed the sick. But what aston­ished me was that his life­style was com­pletely dif­ferent from any of the Chris­tians that I knew. None of them mea­sured up to his standard, and I didn’t either! He taught peo­ple to for­give those who sinned against them and even to love their ene­mies.

When I looked in the churches, I real­ized that they had taken that simple and beau­tiful teaching and made it into a ritual, a cer­e­mony, a symbol, a pro­gram, an orga­ni­za­tion. I did not find the puri­ty and sim­plicity of Jesus’ tea­chings and life­style in the church. While I was still a teenag­er, I be­gan to realize that the church had de­generated or become corrupt­ed. I want­ed to tell peo­ple that God’s power was real, that we could have its reali­ty, and that we did not have to merely follow the sym­bols. But being of young age, I rebelled. I decided to have fun while I was young and serve God when I was old.

Howev­er, it didn’t happen that way. When I was 18 years old, I had an experi­ence that com­pletely erased any thoughts of want­ing to have fun while I was young and serve God later. It hap­pened like this:

On the first of April, when I was in the twelfth grade, I was sitting in the school cafe­te­ria when a friend invit­ed me to a Bible club meet­ing. At that meet­ing, I heard some high school kids spea­king joyfully about their re­lation­ship with Jesus. I had never met Christians who had such a relationship with Jesus, and I was astonished. I realized that these high school students had found the same purity and simplicity of Jesus’ lifestyle that I had found while reading in the Bible about Jesus. I had never heard any­thing like that in any of the chur­ch­es that I had been in. In the churches, I had seen only somber-faced peo­ple who acted as if they were afraid that God would strike them dead if they cracked a smile.

I felt that I be­longed with those kids. I en­joyed just sitting in their midst, enjoying God’s pres­ence. For the next few weeks, I lived for those Bible club meet­ings. All I had on my mind was going to the next meet­ing. Those meetings were my life-line during my last two months of high school.

Then one month later, my last month in high school, on a Sunday af­ter­noon, I was walk­ing down Main Street of my home­town when I saw a group of teen­agers having a meeting out on the street; a  16-year-old from the Bible club was prea­ching. When I stopped to lis­ten, a guy named Pinky came up to me and asked, “Are you saved?”

I answered, “What do you mean, saved from what?” (I had never heard any­one in my parents’ church teach that we are supposed be saved.)

He replied, “Are you a Chris­t­ian?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I’ve been going to church all of my life.”

Pinky also asked me this question: “Have you ever been to an altar call?” But “altar call” was another religious expression that I had never heard any in church. I answered Pinky this way: “I don’t know what you mean. The only time we go to an altar at our church, we go to partake of the communion.”

But Pinky didn’t give up. ­His last ­ques­tion really got me: “If you were to die right now and go to stand before God, would you be ready?”

I couldn’t answer him. I couldn’t say “Yes” because of my decision to have fun while I was young and serve God when I was old­er. But I was ashamed to say, “No.” Like most peo­ple, I sheep­ish­ly answered him, “Well, I think so.”

Pinky took time to show me from the Bible that we can know God, we can know we are saved, we can know the forgive­ness of sins, and we do not have to live in uncer­tainly, doubt, or fear of standing before God. Pinky also gave me a little tract with some Bible verses on it. I thanked him for the tract and told him I would study it and pray about what he had told me.

That night after study­ing the Bible verses on the tract, I got down on my knees beside my bed and prayed like this: “Dear God, I al­ways thought I was a Chris­tian, and I have repent­ed of my sins, but that fellow today put some doubt in my mind. I want to be sure. I’m sorry for my sins. Please for­give me.” That’s all I prayed, but a peace came over me. The guilt of sin was lifted off of me and I was not afraid to stand before God. I took the tract, wrote on it, “Now I know I’m ready to meet God,” and sent it back to Pinky. Never again did I want to have fun while I was young and serve God later. I wanted to serve God now, just like Pinky and all of the kids at the Bible club were doing.

Now that first day of May, in my twelfth year of school, was the starting point of my new life. I felt peace and joy. Today, many years later, I am sure that day was my salva­tion, the day I arose from the sym­bols and came to know God’s reali­ty.

However, a whole new set of prob­lems also started that day. I no longer want­ed to go back to all of the symbols in my parents’ church. I now had the reali­ty, and go­ing back to the symbols was like going from light into darkness. I now knew that there were people in the world who also had the reality and were not tied down with the sym­bols. I could under­stand those people, and I could relate with them. I wanted to be with them and to wor­ship God together with them.

But that wasn’t the way my par­ents looked at it. My mother wanted me to be a priest, but I looked at the priest­hood as the epito­me of all of the symbols of reli­gion in the place of the reality. I did not find re­ality by join­ing a church or getting baptized or taking part in any ceremonies or religious exercises. I found real­ity when I did a sim­ple act of submis­sion to God—instead of a priest. But, I should add this: My father considered me a godly man; whereas, my mother considered me a heretic. So, over the next few years, my parents argued a lot; Dad said, “He’s a good boy,” where mom said, “No, he left the true faith, he has gone after those “evangelicals”. I suppose if I had been a drunkard, but went to church every Sunday and took communion, mom would have been satisfied. Such are the deceptions of religion.

After studying these things, I found that they boil down to one point: my parents’ church claims that she has the right to add to the tea­chings of the Bible (which were given by God) with their own tradi­tions (which were added by men). And the church has many tradi­tions that have been added by men since the Bible was written. I want­ed to go back to the origi­nal, pure and simple tea­chings of Jesus be­fore the church add­ed her tradi­tions. The church is so deeply entangled in those tradi­tions that she is un­able and un­willing to remove them; once a priest admitted this to me. I asked him why the church people call the priest ‘father’ when Jesus told us that we are not to call any man on earth ‘father.’ (Matthew 23:9) This is the answer that he gave me: “Well, it is such a deeply ingrained custom that it would be impossible to change it”—thus he confessed to me that they are putting their own teachings above the commandments of Jesus the son of God and the Messiah of Israel whom they claim to be serving.

Jesus ran into the same problem in his day. Several times he con­tended with reli­gious lea­ders about certain tra­ditions that they had added to their religion (tradi­tions that were not part of the in­struc­tions that God had given them through Mo­ses. These he called “the tra­ditions of the elders”). Jesus accused the religious lead­ers of break­ing God’s law in order to keep their own (man-made) tra­di­tions (Mat­thew 15:1-6). I under­stand that the churches are doing the same thing by getting away from the sim­plic­ity of Jesus’ teach­ings and life­style, and substitut­ing their own tra­d­i­tions.

It is quite obvious that Jesus never wore priestly robes, never taught his disciples to wear any, that none of his disciples wore priestly robes, and that he spent his time teaching and healing the people instead of conducting religious ceremonies or rituals.

Once Jesus said to them:

You hypo­crites! Isa­iah was right when he pro­phe­sied about you: “These peo­ple honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They wor­ship me in vain; their tea­ch­ings are but rules taught by men.”–Matthew 15:7-9

That, in a nutshell, is the reason why I left my pa­rents’ church.

Lord Jesus told us not to con­demn (Mat­thew 7:1-2). I do not condemn any par­tic­ular church, denomination, or min­ister. Jesus only condemned hypoc­risy and man-made tra­ditions, and we can do the same. May the condem­nation fall on whom it will! Only God is qual­ified to judge—and all chur­ches and denomi­na­tions have true and false min­isters in them. All churches have some truth and some error—in­cluding the one I’m a part of. First we must recog­nize the error in our­selves; then we will be qual­ified to rec­ognize it in a church or a minister.

How can I be sure that I know God? The Bible tells us that we know that he lives in us by his spirit that he gave us (1st John 3:24 & 4:13). This is not an emo­tion; it is an inner knowing that is so strong that there can be no deny­ing it. It is so strong that millions have died a martyr’s death rather than give up that as­surance and inner peace.

In later years I came to realize that the word religion (as commonly used) signifies the symbols of the truth without the reality of the truth, and I have come to dislike religion! Please consider:

Did Jesus come to start another reli­gion? Or to bring us life, true life, abun­dant life, sat­isfying life, and truth, the real truth? He himself answered that ques­tion when he said, “I have come that you might have life and have it more abun­dantly” (John 10:10)

When Jesus came about 2000 years ago, the world was already full of reli­gion. It did not need another reli­gion; it needed life, true life, full life, victo­rious life. The world needed truth, the real truth, an under­stand­ing of God’s purposes.

These are the things that Jesus gave them, but in the next few centuries most of Jesus’ fol­lowers took his simple and beau­ti­ful teach­ings and turned them into an­other religion, a ritual, a ceremo­ny, an orga­niza­tion, a bu­reaucracy, a welfare agency, a denomina­tion, and some­times even into a philoso­pher’s club or a “mu­tual admiration” soci­ety or a social club.

However, that is noth­ing new. Be­fore Jesus, Bud­dha taught a simple and proper way to live. Af­ter he died, many of his fol­lowers turned his simple and beau­ti­ful teach­ings into a ritual, a cere­mo­ny, an orga­niza­tion, a reli­gion. The denomina­tions of Chris­tianity have done the same thing!

The world has always preferred reli­gion to pure and sim­ple truth. One of the founders of Com­munism once said, “Religion is the opium of the mas­ses.” He was right; the mass­es of people are addicted to reli­gions with elaborate ceremo­ny and ritual. Even the poor­est of peo­ple will donate their last penny (their widow’s mite) to support the religious bureaucracy that is spending millions of dol­lars on reli­gious sym­bols such as cathe­drals and priestly robes.

Why does the world love reli­gion? Per­haps it is because reli­gion provides ex­cus­es for sin. Millions of religious people have held on to their sins while doing reli­gious things such as joining a church, get­ting baptized, going to confession, listening to plati­tudes on Sunday morning on how much God loves us and how he always for­gives us —all this instead of deep and hearty repen­tance and turning away from their sins. The religious world says, “Well, no­body is per­fect” or “Ev­ery­body is doing it.” Rather than give up their sins, the religions of this world devise the most compli­cated systems of theol­ogy and write many books about them—making excuses for their sins.

God knew that the world would al­ways love religion, and one time he just gave them one. This was the Ten Command­ments and the sac­ri­fi­cial sys­tem that he gave to the world through Moses. It had plenty of cere­mo­nies and rituals, elabo­rate priestly robes, an initia­tion plan, reli­gious holidays or fes­tivals, plen­ty of rules for daily liv­ing, and de­tailed plans for a tem­ple.

But this religion was not God’s ulti­mate purpose. Rather, all of the command­ments, rituals and articles of the temple were sym­bols of the truth and life that were later fulfilled by Jesus of Naza­reth, Israel’s Messiah. Once Jesus told his followers, “I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. In Jesus the Messiah we see the true life of victory, joy, and bless­edness without any of the old hang-ups that Moses’ followers failed to obey. (The purpose of the sacri­fices on the altar was to bring into sharp focus the difference between sin and righteousness, and to fore-shadow the ultimate sacrifice which was Jesus’ death on the cross.)  Whereas once the Jews offered a little lamb on the altar as a burnt offering, Jesus was called “The Lamb of God” because when he died, he became our sacri­fi­cial lamb. There is no longer any need for us to go to the Temple in Jeru­salem and offer up a burnt of­fering to God. We just simply believe the message that Jesus is our sacri­ficial offering that paid for our sins. That believing starts us on the path of life, the true life, the abun­dant life.

Many years later, when I was over 60 years old, one day I went to visit my sister. While there, something that happened when we were young just popped into her head. She said, “One Sunday evening, you told mom that you were going to visit your friends, but instead you went to a church. Mom said, ‘Your brother lied to me; he told me that he was going to visit his friends, but instead, he went to one of those evangelical churches’.” This was especially disturbing to my mother because she wanted me to be a priest in her church: the Greek Orthodox Church.

Immediately I knew that I should go and apologize to my mother. However, at the time, my friends were in church, so I didn’t consider it a lie. If I had gone to apologize to my mother when I was young, I would probably have said, “Mom, I did not lie to you because my friends were in church. However, because I was then about 60 years old, I had gained a lot of wisdom over the years, and I knew I should apologize for ‘telling a lie’ and not mentioning ‘all of my friends were in church’ —not making any excuse.

When I went to see my mother, my sister and her husband (both very much devoted to the church/denomination that our parents raised us in) went with me to the nursing home where my then 90-year-old mother was confined.

When we arrived at the nursing home, first my brother-in-law testified for me: “Mom, your son is a much better Christian than I ever thought about being.” But that did not faze my mother; she sat stony-faced. Next my sister testified for me: “Mom, your son didn’t leave the church, he joined Jesus, God’s son,” and she quoted Jesus’ admonition to “….forsake all to follow me: father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, and daughter.” Neither did this faze my mother. She remained stony-faced.

Finally I spoke: “Mom, I came to apologize for telling you a lie a long time ago.” She immediately snapped back with: “Are you returning to Orthodoxy?”

Well, I wasn’t expecting this response; I was expecting her to accept my apology. So, I did what I had to: I said, “No, I am only apologizing for telling you a lie a long time ago.” She sat stone-silent for a minute. Not knowing what else to do, I repeated my apology, and I added: “Please forgive me”. Again, she sat there stony-faced for a while, but finally, without looking at me, she said in a very cold, unfeeling manner: “Okay, I forgive you.” And that was all there was to it.

I understand that my becoming a priest was the greatest ambition in my mother’s life, and she spent most of her life broken-hearted over my leaving her church, but I have never doubted that I did what our Lord Jesus told us to do. My mother died 97 years old after out-living her 14 brothers and sisters.

(Both of my parents were born and raised on a small island close to Turkey, name: Samos. Apostle Paul visited that island; see Acts 20:15).

Thank you for permitting me to share these things with you.

Your brother, James

Printed:  September 10, 2013

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