Daddy had just finished reading us our nightly chapter from the Bible. We were kneeling for our prayers when the noise froze us. Hobnailed boots were running on the terrazzo stairwell of the building. Doors opened and slammed, harsh voices yelled commands, women cried out. Then someone kicked the door open. Of all the terrors of the German occupation in Greece, the bombardments and enemy presence, this one night of the civil war remains for me the most terror-filled. It was the only time our home sanctity was violated by armed men.
They were members of the security battalions, and they searched the house looking for a communist guerrilla, while we stood by in helpless humiliation. If there had been a guerrilla in the neighborhood, I prayed they would never find him. My distrust of them was instantaneous. Yet, they were supposed to be on our side.
Years later, I discussed this scene with my family, and my father told me the story of the security battalions in our city. They had started out of justified indignation over the loss of a loved one and evolved into mindless destruction of innocent lives. We agreed that both extremes of the right and the left attracted people who loved violence more than kindness and persecution more than mercy. Our unique position as a minority group in a country with a state church made us vulnerable to both extremes.
Yet, mercifully, we were all spared. A particular memory of help coming to us from a leader of the extreme right has never ceased to amaze me.
It was early 1944. Europe was exhausted by war. Holes in the walls of buildings were so familiar we thought they had been there forever. And so many were homeless that even the smallest apartment had the sacredness of a sanctuary - home.
So it was for us until a Saturday morning when a man we did not know knocked on our door. He walked in and claimed our apartment for his own. ''On Monday,'' he ordered us, ''you are to have evacuated the premises. My fiancee is moving in. If you are not out, I'll return with German soldiers to evict you.''
Mother, summoning the last of her courage, ordered him to leave until then, and he left, taking our keys with him. Then we four clung to Mother and watched her weep. How could they do this to us? I am sure I did not understand the cowardly power of that man until later, but what gave it to him was an old sin of humanity - collaboration with the enemy.
Daddy's first reaction when he came home was to have the locks changed. Then he tried to give hope to my mother when, as he told me years later, he had little hope himself. The power of a collaborator was paralyzing. Yet, Daddy summoned a network of prayers.
That afternoon, a very special friend came to visit us. Her name was Ida and she, having been educated in England, was my first English teacher. We loved her very much. Ida saw my mother's despair, prayed with us, and then left.
Distances in our city were long and there was no transportation. So it was with great surprise that we saw Aunt Ida return, excited and out of breath. ''Vassili,'' she told my father, ''something strange has happened. I went to pray with Brother Yannis at the clinic of the wounded. Naturally, I told him of your predicament. There was a man in the next bed listening to us. When he heard your name he stopped me to ask, 'Is this Katsarkasm you are talking about?' When I said, 'Yes,' he insisted that I tell you to go to see him. He says you were classmates in grammar school.''
I don't remember the rest of that weekend. By Monday all our fears of homelessness were lifted. Daddy told us the peculiar story. ''A few months ago I met this man, Mitsos, in the street. He recognized me from grammar school, imagine, and told me with great pride that he was a leader of the security battalions. 'If you ever need anything,' he said, 'come to see me.' And I thought then, heaven forbid. I never would have remembered him had Ida not seen him. How strange the power of such people is. All he had to do was make a phone call and our home remains our own.''
''Daddy, is it wrong to accept help from such people?''
''I have thought about this for years. Throughout the Bible, help comes to the people of God from the most unlikely sources,'' Daddy explained. ''Those people, like Cyrus the King, did not even know of Him as the One God, but the Creator used them because He knew what was in their hearts.m I think we must be satisfied with that. God works in mysterious ways. So let us be joyful and offer thanks. That is the best we can do.''