ATHENS AND KATERINI
The war had ended.
But Aneta’s dedicated work at the Veteran’s Hospital went on until 1948.
With funds realized from her service she could at long last take a
well-deserved journey to her country. Greece was still in the midst of an
internal war. The nation and the people were torn apart. The devastation
was general. Practically every family had lost one or more persons during
the German occupation—from starvation or retaliatory killings. The civil war
which followed World War II was taking a heavy toll on lives and property
across the land. The present and the future were unsettling. Under these
circumstances a trip to Greece would be beneficial to people she knew and
also to others she did not know.
Taking a step back
in the development of events, the Greek army was defeated in Anatolia and
was pushed from Asia Minor in September, 1922. Compulsory migration followed
close on the heels of this defeat. This marked the end of Grecianism in
Anatolia. But within twenty years Greece was plunged into another conflict.
The German occupation in World War II ended in 1945. Without a respite the
country was thrust into an ill-fated internal war, which was to reap its
bitter harvest until 1948. It was at this time that Aneta felt the urge to
visit her country. She had many friends, both Greeks and Armenians, who had
fled Anatolia, leaving many dead loved ones behind. These people, totally
stripped of all belongings and in deep lamentation, found their haven in
Greece. Among them were her mother, sister and a brother, as well as other
close relatives. For thirty-four years she had been cut off from them. The
last she had seen her mother was in 1914 at the time of her wedding.
Haralambos’ promised trip to Zinjidere never materialized.
Aneta’s mother was
among the two and a half million Greeks who sorrowfully parted from their
centuries’ old ancestral homeland of Anatolia and immigrated to Greece in
the aftermath of the war between Turkey and Greece. The conflagration had
ended with Turkish victory and Greek catastrophe in September 1922. Great
numbers of Anatolian Greeks lost their lives during and after the
devastating conflict. Then Greece and Turkey launched the ambitious
arrangement of exchanging the segment of their population belonging to the
other nation. It was a unique venture moving an ethnic minority from one
country to another. As a result of this exchange, within a few short years
not a single Greek was left in Zinjidere, or for that matter anywhere else
in Anatolia. There was a small minority, however, who sadly converted to
Islam just to be able to continue living in their land.
The ravages of
World War II and the civil war immediately following left their woeful
imprint on the land. Maimed, blind and starving folks were everywhere.
People in general were trying to bind their wounds left by the savage
Aneta having also
been transplanted as a young widow in the new world still carried that
mental picture when she left New York at the end of 1948. She was praying
that God would use her in Greece. People who were informed of her coming
gathered at the port of Piraeus and enthusiastically received her. What a
touching reunion it was! Her time in Greece was to be invested in one city
after another ministering in churches, homes and institutions. As it had
been in the U.S.A., once again homes of friends were wide open to her.
Churches gave opportunities for special Bible studies, youth meetings, and
of course, women’s gatherings.
Aneta stayed with her
mother and her sister Andriana in Athens. Andriana was extremely helpful to
her until life’s end. She handled all the practical aspects of daily life,
including going around with Aneta all over Athens for church meetings and
house visits. On week days they would leave the house in the morning and
wouldn’t return to their mother until late evening. All the families they
visited were visibly grieved and heart-broken due the war and then the
internal conflict. In every house people poured out their sad stories and
more general experiences. Aneta would listen, extend comfort and offer
prayer. Those she visited expressed that their load of grief had been
somewhat alleviated by her heartfelt counseling and comfort. God’s Word was
again proving its dynamic force: “It is better to go to the house of
mourning than to go to the house of feasting…” (Ecclesiastes 7:2a).
herself had undergone a shocking experience of the same sort, the Holy
Spirit was using her words to bring the needed balm to wounded hearts. Also
her age played an important role, as by then she was a mature woman. Her
year in Athens became a very fruitful time. Even after she went to the
Lord, many people continued to mention her fervent services. She always
gave an evangelistic testimony and was privileged to lead some people to a
personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
After a whole
year’s efforts in Athens and Piraeus, an invitation came to Aneta from the
Evangelical Church in Katerini, Macedonia. Christians from other countries
who have visited Greece are familiar with this largest Evangelical church in
the country at the foot of Mt. Olympus, Greece’s highest mountain, and its
nearby campsite at Leptokaria on the sea. Before 1924, Katerini was a
simple town on the plain. But when the Greek population was uprooted from
Anatolia the picture changed.
There had been
prosperous Greek Evangelical communities across Pontus on the Black Sea
Coast of Turkey. These people had their Evangelical churches, alongside the
Orthodox, in every single city and town in the general region of Pontus,
such as Trabzon, Giresun, Ordu, Samsun and many more. Suddenly the Greek
populations of all these places were compelled to migrate to Greece. The
Christian element in Pontus moved out entirely. Moreover, Greeks from the
Black Sea Coast cities in Russia, Romania and Bulgaria also migrated to the
country of their ethnic identity. In the middle twenties, the government of
Greece made a wonderful provision for all these refugees, offering them a
potentially productive farming area in and around Katerini. This pleasant
farming town is one of the most prosperous places in northern Greece. It did
not take very long for the Pontian immigrants to establish themselves and
play an important role in the affairs of the region.
church which was established here was made up of transplanted Evangelical
Greeks from churches in every Pontian city. When the immigrants arrived,
they were looked on by the locals as foreign intruders. The people in the
province entertained all sorts of erroneous notions about them. Before
putting up homes for themselves, the newcomers erected a large church and a
school in the center of town. Jealousy became acute. The natives had not
even heard of Evangelicals. They were asking each other, “Who are these
people?” The simplistic opinion of many was that they were heretics. The
same notion to some degree continues up to the present. For quite a long
time they endured ridicule and persecution. But these people, having
existed within the Ottoman Empire under not-friendly circumstances were
accustomed to humiliation, and by God’s grace, knew how to cope with it.
Many of them had
been outstanding business people in their former country. As part of their
savvy they knew from experience that buildings should be covered by
insurance. So the first thing they did for their newly-built church was to
insure it. And good thing! Because one night it was deliberately set on
fire. A considerable sum of money was realized from the insurance payment,
and a bigger and better church edifice was soon built, which is in existence
contributors to the Evangelical community in the whole of Greece were the
immigrants from Asia Minor. Without them the Christian witness would have
remained rather small. Whole congregations uprooted from Anatolia
established themselves in Greece. Their vital role is undeniable. The Greeks
of Anatolia were beneficiaries of the Evangelical message brought by the
Congregational missionaries long before Greece proper was evangelized. When
they were forcibly moved to Greece, they became a vibrant force for the
Evangelical faith. Many of the well-known pastors in Greece were immigrants
from the then emptied Asia Minor. The Sovereign God employed human disaster
to build His work in a neighboring country.
Returning to the
subject of Katerini and the surroundings, the whole area had been devastated
by the civil war. Pastor Lazarides who had held the church together
faithfully during the German occupation left for the United States, because
of advanced age. The church was without a minister for some time. Finally,
a young pastor was providentially provided. While his flock was from
Pontus, Pastor Argos Zodhiates was a native of Cyprus. He was well versed in
the Scriptures, an able pulpiteer and impressive pastor. During the postwar
period, he built the church into an effective community of believers. This
raised the eyebrows of the Greek Orthodox diocese, particularly of the
bishop, who became an avowed antagonist of the Evangelicals’ advance. Many
prolonged conflicts and frictions were in store. The target of course was
the energetic young pastor.
Pastor Argos was
not a Greek citizen. Having come from Cyprus he held a British passport.
This was used as a pretext to expel him from the country seventeen years
later. During the years of his service in the church he faithfully
proclaimed the message of life, always to a full house. At that time, the
church purchased a beautiful piece of land on the seashore in Leptokaria
which was built into an impressive campsite and recreation center.
Alongside his ongoing accomplishments, jealousy from the part of the
established Church intensified. Nevertheless he made every effort to live
peacefully in the midst of its ongoing onslaughts. Those were the days when
the State Church reigned supreme, influencing and swaying the political
In such a climate
of controversy the Evangelicals prospered. They built a Bible school which
trained young people who had a call for service. The graduates ministered in
several Evangelical churches, some of them in small villages. One of these
men succeeded Rev. Zodhiates after his expulsion from the country, where he
pastored until he died. The beautiful campground by the Aegean Sea became a
hub of summer activities, including Bible conferences. At a time when there
were so many orphans and poor children without care, a home was established
in Katerini to take care of them and provide their education.
was continually begging Aneta to move to Katerini and assist in the growing
ministry of the church. In 1950, Aneta made the move. She arrived one
Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning she was amazed to find the large
church sanctuary filled to capacity, of whom about five-hundred were young
people. Aneta concluded that this was God’s appointment for her.
Working with Pastor
Argos Zodhiates and his energetic wife was a greatly-appreciated tenure for
Aneta. Again she found herself among persecuted people, taking her memories
back to Anatolia. She concluded that this was life’s share for her. Her
effective contribution included regular meetings with young people, ladies’
meetings twice a week, an adult Sunday school class and children’s worship
service on Sunday mornings.
Katerini a unique city in Greece. The large church gave the impression of a
tabernacle with houses surrounding it. Practically the whole social and
religious activity of the Evangelicals centered around the church. Aneta
always spoke in glowing terms about the ten fruitful years she spent with
Pastor Zodhiates and his wife, Victoria, who happened to be a distant
relative of hers. One day Aneta endured a bad fall and injured her back.
Also her age was advancing. She realized that she couldn’t continue any
longer in Katerini. With deep satisfaction and some regrets she returned to
Athens. There were younger women capable of taking over her duties and