Peter Colokathis, George Kyreages, Dionysios(Dan) Maglaras, and Arthur Polychronis frequented a Greek coffee-house in Dover. Here on several occasions they heard an itinerant preacher from Biddeford Maine speak about the bible. Frequently, discussions turned into lively question and answer sessions. It was a result of these sessions that these four young men began to gain an appreciation for the bible and for the love of God manifested in His divine plan of salvation. They purchased bibles and for the first time in their lives began to study them on their own. As they read and studied the bible together, they began to realize that many of the doctrinal teachings and ceremonial practices of the orthodox church were not in harmony with the bible. The simplicity of the early church and the meekness and humility they saw in Christ stood in sharp contrast to the elegance and ornateness of the buildings and the pride and arrogance of the clergy they had been familiar with. The fact that they were expected to, and indeed had all their lives called their priest Father, became abhorrent to them when they realized that Jesus teaches that we are to call no man on earth father (except for our parent), because one is our Father in heaven; the rest of us (including the clergy) are all brothers and sisters! -(Matthew 23). The vigorously taught doctrine of hell as a place of eternal torment could no longer stand in the light of the love of God which they had come to know. The honor and position ascribed to Mary as the "holy mother of God" could no longer be supported in the light of scripture. When these four young men confronted the priests with questions and sought explanations for certain practices, they were told in no uncertain terms that their only duty was to attend and support "the church" and to leave all matters of biblical interpretation and practice to the clergy. However, it was too late for that. They had already "tasted and seen that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). True to His Word, God had already started to teach them through the power of the holy spirit (1 John 2:27). There was no turning back. All four families left the orthodox church.
In the meantime, the itinerant preacher, a member of the International Bible Students Association (IBSA), was trying to get the four families to join that association. However, Galatians 5:1 had become a precious reality in their lives. They were commanded to: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ had made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." They had been slaves to a religious organization all of their lives. They had tasted what it meant to be free in Christ. They were not about to become enslaved by another organization. They chose to remain free and independent from any religious organization or system. They started meeting in their homes on a regular basis for worship and study of the bible. The simplicity with which they worshiped was reminiscent of the early church, and they attempted to put into practice the things God was teaching them.
As the years passed each family grew to include nine children (not by design, we are told!). Predicted persecution from the Greek community became a reality. As the children grew older, there was some pressure on the parents by the children to join a "recognized" church because of the ridicule they were experiencing from their peers in school. In 1940, the Colokathis and Kyreages families made the decision to join the Advent Christian Church in Dover. The Maglaras and Polychronis families continued to meet in their homes for worship and bible study. They were soon joined by other families from Somersworth - the Diamond and Rodis families, as well as an elderly Albanian couple. These families had previously left the Greek Orthodox as well.
As time passed and others joined the group, divergence of opinion on doctrinal issues was inevitable. True to human history, a couple of elders emerged in the group who thought that they could engender greater unity by restricting freedom of expression. What a grave mistake that was! It became immediately clear to some of us that this kind of restrictive environment was not conducive to spiritual nurture and growth, and therefore could not be tolerated. We were returning to the conditions that our parents originally escaped.
In 1960, a small group of us broke away and started our own bible study group - calling ourselves the Christian Believers Fellowship. Our desire and objective was to return to the "simplicity which is in Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3), which our parents so enjoyed, pursued, and jealousy protected, after renouncing the religious tryranny they were enslaved in. Like those before us, we wanted to emulate the early church as closely as possible. We desired to worship our creator in spirit and in truth, striving to maintain a spirit of freedom in which every individual would be encouraged to develop their fullest potential in Christ by personal and collective study and sharing of God's Holy Word. We met in a variety of places but eventually returned again to the old farm house at 431 High Street in Somersworth. As we began to grow in numbers, we converted a garage into a meeting place, and finally, in 1974 we tore down an old chicken barn and on that site built the chapel that was formerly located at 433 ½ High Street.
As we were growing up, our parents had contact with other Greek families across the country who had experiences similar to ours and were meeting as small bible study ecclesia's. Indeed, there was a fairly good sized group of believers in Manchester NH, a small group in Biddeford ME, and another group in the Boston-Winthrop MA area with whom we got together periodically for "all day conventions". All this time, of course, our worship services were conducted in the Greek language.
Some of us were beginning to think that what we experienced in our religious lives was a "Greek Phenomenon"! But that was not the case at all. One summer in the early 1960's, Greek friends from New York were going to attend a conference in Feeding Hills, MA. They invited some of us to attend the conference as well. It turned out to be a conference at the home of Bro. and Sr. Louis DePalma who we met for the first time. That is the conference that continues on today as the Christian Believers Conference in the Northeast. Even more amazing, this particular conference had its start in 1909 in Brooklyn, NY. So there were, indeed, individuals who had similar experiences to ours long before we did - and were English speaking, no less! Through the friends we met at Feeding Hills, we were introduced to the Berean Christian Conference, held at Grove City, PA. From these encounters we went on to meet many other what I would call "free Bible-Student groups" not only in this country but in foreign lands as well. All have similar backgrounds of having left organized religious systems to experience true freedom in Christ, and all have remarkably similar doctrinal views.