Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 40322  Pasadena, CA 91114 USA

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 13 


             It was a Saturday afternoon when they arrived in Aintab. Although it was an entirely fresh experience for Aneta, she felt that she practically knew the place and the people from all that Haralambos had related to her. His friends were elated at the news of Haralambos’ arrival. He had left them so abruptly and now suddenly here he was with his bride!

            There is always something special about Armenian hospitality and friendship. It is so warm and generous, truly unique. Everyone wanted to claim the bridal couple for their own. Until they were settled in a house that evening, there was a solicitous display of competition as to who would get to entertain them!

            Haralambos and Aneta had looked forward to the Lord’s Day, but even before Sunday, they were informed about the unpleasant atmosphere prevailing in church circles. Haralambos was apprehensive and at the same time quite confident that God would work all things out.

            Before his return he had written an open letter to the editor of the Protestant periodical Rahnuma. In it he clearly stated his theological position in all love and humility. He assured everyone that he entertained no ill feeling or malice toward anyone. He offered to serialize his beliefs in the same magazine should he be given the opportunity to do so. If this was not accepted, he indulged their understanding to respect his convictions and not attempt to frustrate his efforts. His only interest was to preach Jesus Christ crucified, risen and coming again.     In the same letter he mentioned the various suggestions which had come to him to sue the Protestants for their polemics and other tactics, but as a minister of the Gospel he could not entertain such a thought! The import of his overture was totally conciliatory, and a “Let’s have a new start” approach.

            The editor was apparently touched by it. He printed a very gracious and placatory reply in his magazine, pledging himself never to resort to the former methods in his periodical again. This was taken as a victory for the Lord by Haralambos. But unfortunately, there were other troubles in the making.

            On Sunday morning the young couple prepared to go to the Anglican Church where Haralambos was going to preach. Miss Katy Frearson, a British citizen, was now in England because of the state of war between the two countries. Even so, the church building was still available.  Aneta didn’t walk to church with her husband as she wanted to avoid the scrutinizing gazes of people along the way. Instead, she covered her head with a shawl and took another route so as to make her way without being noticed.

            The sanctuary of the immense building was packed to capacity. The church stood right in the center of a vast courtyard. Much money had been spent to build it. When constructing this unusual edifice the Anglicans must have had in mind, at least through faith, a spectacular growth of the church.  Their vision materialized, though only in part, since the fellowship ministered to by Haralambos was not considered to be part of the Anglican Communion!  Due to the interdenominational nature of the meetings, people from all affiliations felt free to attend. They included Armenian Gregorians, Roman Catholics and Protestants.

            The first Sunday was filled with unforgettable blessings. Tears streamed down many cheeks as people heard Christ’s message from one they had grown to love and respect. It was a long service. No announcement or recognition was made from the pulpit that Haralambos was now a married pastor. This practice did not fall into the realm of the pulpit. There was no need of it anyway since everyone already knew it. At the end of the service people spotted Aneta and a spontaneous hour of congratulations and best wishes began. Elderly men and women, middle-aged and young people, all came around to extend their warm regards and express their love.

            An announcement was made that there would be a meeting every evening except on Saturdays. Haralambos began his preaching in full power. Every message was evangelistic and with a clear emphasis on consecrated Christian living. Evening after evening, numerous people wholeheartedly responded, discovering new spiritual depth in their lives. Exuberant joy filled the hearts of all who came. The outcome was so remarkable and interest so high that Haralambos felt the need to train young people who had been deprived of opportunities to study. Starting a Bible school became his immediate goal. So many people had found faith in Christ and were in need of some form of training. Haralambos and Aneta spent much thought and time in prayer about this. The leading to begin a Bible school was clear.  They had all the needed space. Nothing stood in the way!

            The inception of the Bible school was made with eight girls and four boys. Everybody was joyful. They had not thought that such a school could exist! They eagerly attended classes every day and then spread throughout the city inviting people to the evening services. This they did with unbounded enthusiasm. Success was overwhelming. Haralambos was also aware of the need for physical exercise for the boys. He often led them to a place called Kurban Baba and joined them in lively games and sports.

            There was now a need for a magazine to promulgate the Evangelical faith. The name chosen for the magazine was “The Truth.”  Soon the plates and other equipment were purchased and the type was set in a corner of the church. An Armenian printer in Aleppo took on the task of printing the magazine.  Sales started climbing and its production was the source of great encouragement.

            A successful choir was organized at the church which Haralambos directed. He taught them many hymns, some of which he had written. One could hardly wish for more — a church with large crowds, including many outsiders attending services every evening, a small Bible school, a monthly magazine and a lively choir, all in a spiritually-charged atmosphere.

            But when does Satan strike? — During such seasons of spiritual jubilation. The tide of opposition began rising once again. A pervasive unpleasant atmosphere developed. Often success on one side invites jealousy on the other. The tension was not lessening, rather worsening day by day.

            Those attending the services were the prime target. Their children were made unwelcome in the official Protestant school. Haralambos had a ready response to their tactic. In faith, he went ahead and started his own elementary school at the church! This was a peculiar school as there were no qualifications required for the teachers, no set curriculum, and no required tuition.  There were always a few ladies ready to teach the basic subjects. Within a short time, the new school blossomed.

            Haralambos was a person of initiative, always in search of new horizons.  He sought fresh opportunities, then prayed for wisdom and strength to fulfill them.  Getting to know him better each day, Aneta couldn’t restrain herself from asking what new inducements for service would be next on his agenda.  In the meantime tension was relentlessly building up.

            The Ottoman Empire was already at war on the side of the Central Powers. Battles were raging on several fronts. Young men, also from Christian communities, were drafted into the army. But this was the least of the woes. Waves of deportation of Armenians, brutal massacres, snatching away of girls and women as well as all Armenian property, were already in progress.

            Until these disasters came upon the Christian community there had been a precarious balance of relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.  But this was totally disrupted.  Suddenly, hostility took over between the two groups.  Muslims with the instigation of the government in Constantinople turned against their neighbors overnight. Good relations were shattered. Man’s depravity displayed its inherent ruthlessness in detestable behavior.

            Conditions were deteriorating very fast; fear was gripping the hearts of everyone. The Ottoman scheme to exterminate the Armenian population in Anatolia, which they considered a trouble-causing element, was diabolically plotted in Constantinople.  The government was under the leadership of the party called ‘Union and Progress,’ made up of so-called ‘Young Turks’ whose political philosophy was based on pan-Turkism.  The shrewd mind behind the whole contrivance was the Minister of the Interior, Talat (1874-1921), who carried out his plot to the very end (1918).   The execution of his plan began with the deportation of the Armenian population to a desert location in Syria by the Euphrates, Deir ez-Zor.  The first group to be targeted were the Armenian Gregorians because they were the mainstream of the populace.  Young and old men and women, along with their children encountered a cruel annihilation as they were forced to walk all the way without food, drink or sleep.   Many perished on this horrible trek and were simply abandoned along the roadside.  Mothers threw their starving and crying young children into some body of water to take them out of their misery. Young women committed suicide to avoid being brutally raped.

            The Armenian populace, for long aspiring self-rule, felt that the time had come. With the Ottoman forces engaged in battle on several fronts they thought there could not be a better time than now to pursue their historic ambition. But how wrong they were! Outrageous retaliation struck like lightning. It knew no mercy or limit. Much has been said and written on this subject. History has already vociferously remonstrated these shameful atrocities in its dark annals.

            The deportation very adversely affected the ministry of the Gospel, even though the Protestants were not yet being targeted. Actually, most of the people in the Protestant church were enlightened Gregorians. They had not joined the Evangelical church, but had retained their formal affiliation to the ‘Mother Church,’ as they customarily referred to it.

            At this time, Haralambos was warned by certain friends to leave Aintab because of the ingathering storm. He was also told that those who did not care for his preaching may not act in a favorable way toward him. Vindictiveness from his doctrinal adversaries appeared as a threatening possibility. He was not a man to be moved by fear in the face of trials so the counseling had no effect on him.  He probably thought that his having submitted to pressure before was enough. Getting out of Aintab where he had a call to minister because some people so desired was not going to happen again! Besides, he had good reason to believe that no harm would befall him. To those who cautioned him, he said, “I am Greek by ancestral extraction. The deportation is being carried out against Armenians; the Greeks are not being affected.  I will never consent to leave the flock. Such a decision would make me miserable. I couldn’t live with it.”

            Haralambos and Aneta were concluding a fast-fleeting ten months’ stay in Aintab. What a rich and rewarding time it had been!  Many people of various ages had entered into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. A small Bible school and an elementary school were now running efficiently, and an effective publishing work was growing steadily. His mother Anastasia had traveled from Adana to join them as Aneta was joyfully expecting their first child. As is the custom in Anatolia, the mother or mother-in-law is around to assist the couple during this time.  But the arch-enemy was closing in to silence all these happy developments.