Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

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

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 14 


             One Friday afternoon in August 1915, Aneta was alone in their small home. Her husband was at church preparing for his evening message, as was his custom.  Another inspiring meeting was anticipated, though the crowds were dwindling week by week because of the intensifying deportations.  At the time her mother-in-law was at a neighbor’s house.

            The doorbell rang.  Aneta looked out of the window, only to be suddenly terrified at the sight of a number of policemen standing at the door. She ran downstairs, invited them into the house and rushed over to the church to tell Haralambos. He didn’t lose his cool. Very calmly, he told her to stay in his study at the church while he went home and talked to the officials.

            She obeyed as a little child. There was no fear in her heart. The Lord granted her extraordinary composure. She thought it would be only right to send word to her mother-in-law immediately. Her stay at the church study lasted for over an hour.  No word came from Haralambos.

            It was almost time for the evening service. Early comers, so common in this place, were already showing up. There was life around.  Twice born people gathered in small clusters and began praying. Aneta didn’t say anything to them about the abrupt visit of the police. But it was very likely that they had heard of the policemen’s visit to the couple’s home. News like this spread like wildfire. Aneta waited and waited. Worry started to grip her.

            At last the church bell rang, announcing the evening meeting. But the minister was nowhere in sight. Finally, realizing the crucial situation, Aneta passed the news around, and asked the people to pray for her husband. They responded immediately with burdened intercessions ascending to heaven.

            While they were still praying, her mother-in-law hurried in. With deep anxiety she asked, “Why are you sitting here? They took your husband to prison!” The gravity of the situation had already dawned on Aneta. She could never have imagined being able to face this ordeal with such calmness and sense of resignation to the will of her heavenly Father.  Several women came over to Aneta, offering their consolation and support. They accompanied her on her way home, while many others continued to persevere in prayer at the church.

            At entering her house Aneta was shocked. The whole place had been thoroughly searched and ransacked.  Her mother-in-law told her that the main purpose of the police was to find concealed weapons!   It was a known fact that Ottoman authorities always acted with deep suspicion and apprehension, targeting totally harmless individuals or groups. Even though they held total sway, they were fearful of a single pistol or other firearm.  They shouldn’t have anticipated discovering anything of this sort in the possession of a minister of the Gospel.  Naturally, they didn’t know the command of the One who told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Afterwards the police looked for papers. They took every letter and document, even the couple’s own personal letters and their wedding certificate. Everyone was aghast. People were trying to learn why this had happened. Suddenly the doorbell rang. A small boy clutching a slip of paper in his hand stood there. The note was from Aneta’s beloved husband to whom she had been married for less than a year. It read, “I am in prison. Please send me a mattress and a cover.”  At once a few young men from the church were mobilized.  They took the requested necessities and a few other needed items. The duty now of Aneta and others in the church was to make his life in prison as agreeable as possible. Haralambos was neither the first not the last person to be incarcerated for his faith, a fact that offered some consolation.

            It was a dark and distressing night. A young woman who suddenly sees her much-loved life partner snatched away from her and thrown into prison has acute feelings of dread. Aneta’s husband was gone. She was now alone in a city not her own. But loneliness and fear did not overpower her. The Lord’s presence was very real. Friends, more numerous than she could have ever anticipated, stood ready to lend support. Throughout the night they came to offer consolation. Several of them had seen the deportation of their own loved relatives to Deir ez-Zor from where they never returned. They could empathize with her because of their own sorrow and suffering.  The news of Haralambos’ imprisonment spread rapidly. Friend and foe heard of it. The antagonists were not so dismayed. It was heard that a few of them expressed their sentiments, rubbing salt into her wounds.

            Typical of a mother with pathos, Anastasia took milk to the prison not knowing if she would even be allowed to visit her son. They let her into the outer court, but no further. Right there she began wailing, “I want to meet the prison director.” She kept repeating her plea, like the woman at the door of the unjust judge.

            The prison director’s room was near the courtyard. Hearing her cries he came out. She loudly moaned, “Mr. Director, he is my only son. Please let me bring milk to him every morning!” Having learned how to handle such situations, he tactfully spoke to her, “It is against the rules for you to visit him, but in respect to your old age I’ll let you see your son now for a few minutes.” So she could personally give him the milk. Afterwards he called over the sentry and told him to let this woman in every morning. Then he quickly reminded her in a loud voice about the regular visiting hours to ward off any accusation of favoritism.

            Until that moment she was apprehensive about Haralambos’ well-being. As soon as she saw him behind bars and that he was well, she loudly praised the Lord. Inhibition was unknown to her. She found him calm and confident. As a soldier of Jesus Christ, he was undaunted and prepared for any eventuality. Many a time he had spoken about getting into trouble for preaching Christ. His hour of testing had come and he was courageously facing it. The Lord was standing by him.

            Haralambos was grateful for his mother’s successful penetration into the prison. He requested that she bring Aneta with her during the regular visiting hours. He was eager to have paper and pencil, which his mother took to him the next morning. A regular pattern of visits was established. After each morning’s visit a much-appreciated letter was relayed to Aneta.

            The letters were full of inner confidence and serenity. Confinement within the narrow prison walls did not incarcerate his spirit. This was one chapter in the life of faith. He wrote that Aneta should calmly face the situation and God’s sovereign purpose would prevail. What he had proclaimed from the pulpit was now being demonstrated in his imprisonment. Aneta began to more fully appreciate the Apostle Paul’s prison letters and the dimensions of truth they convey. Through this trial, her faith was fortified and timeless lessons were making their impressions on her life.

            Haralambos insisted on learning from the authorities why he had been arrested, but no information was provided. Those on the outside ventured into similar inquiries, but these efforts were also left unresponded to.  Aneta came to comprehend the deep agony of those kept day after day, month after month in prison without charges brought against them, all the while wondering what the future would bring. It was ordinary practice for men in this country who held the power in their hands to oppress their citizens at will.

            The day after Haralambos was snatched from the house, the wife of one of the church elders ran to Aneta and Anastasia in tears. “You will never guess!” she cried, “I’m in the same predicament as you are; they have taken away my husband, too!” He was head elder of the church, Haralambos’ right-hand man. The news gave Aneta the chills. This was an ominous clue about what the unpleasant prospect could be. Could the whole scenario be a plot? While the Armenian Gregorians had been deported in vast numbers, none of the Protestant leaders had yet been touched. They still were tolerated to carry on their work. The government’s policy was to deal with every person or group in turn. Haralambos was the first minister to be arrested, and he was not an Armenian! Something was startling about the whole matter.

            Friends and church people were visiting the house in a steady flow. It was Saturday evening. The Sunday morning church service was going to take place, nothing barring it. But who was going to conduct the service?  Both the preacher and the head elder were in prison.

            Aneta went to her room to pray. In deep anguish of soul she thought about the meeting to take place in a few hours’ time. Who would preach? She knelt in the shadow of a kerosene lamp, opened God’s Word and started seeking guidance. Nothing occupied her mind but the morning service. She wrestled in prayer like Jacob—an agonizing time—that lasted until three in the morning. At last a small voice reached her ear, “You will take his place at the foot of the pulpit.” The direction was clear. This was her call.