Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

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

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 30 


            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 fratricide.

           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).

            Since she 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.

              The Evangelical 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 until now. 

            The chief 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 establishment. 

            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.

            Pastor Zodhiates 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.

            Aneta considered 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 ministries.