Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

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

Home Who We Are Food Corner Events Statement of Faith Contact, Feedback


By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 7 


             Haralambos’ trip to Aintab, 280 kilometers to the east of his native Adana, was made on horseback in unfavorable weather conditions in December 1913.  This fascinating region of Cilicia stretched through the eastern end of the fertile Cotton Valley in southern Anatolia, sheltered by the majestic Taurus mountain range.

            The road traversed at that time was over harsh terrain, Gavur Dagi − Mt. Infidel − as the Turks used to call it. In classical language, the mountains were known as the Amanus Range. Its two famous passes were infested with robbers and bandits. These obstacles did not deter the young preacher. His burning passion for the Gospel in the legendary city of Aintab spurred him on.  No doubt he was expecting further encounters with the defenders of higher criticism, of whom there were a number there.

            Upon his arrival in Aintab, he received a hearty welcome from both Armenian Gregorian and Evangelical churches, as well as from the schools and the college. Immediately he started preaching. Word spread quickly that the writer of the controversial book was in town, preaching nightly. Crowds ran to hear him. The overflow crowd hung from the iron bars at the windows, a safeguard against thieves. The attendants remember the long sermons which seemed like only a few short minutes. The Holy Spirit moved among them, bringing spiritual renewal.

            People recalled a striking occurrence during one of the meetings. A large kerosene lamp hanging from the ceiling illuminated the sanctuary. Haralambos was praying from the pulpit. In his intercession he quoted with great force the words from Jeremiah 23:29: “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?” Suddenly the lamp was ablaze. Everyone was alarmed. Unperturbed he continued in earnest supplication, while a couple men climbed up to extinguish the flame.

            He spent several months in this renowned Christian city. During the day home visits were a joyful experience for him. This heart-to-heart connection always comprised a healthy extension to the pulpit ministry of pastors in Anatolia.  But opposition was sure to come.  Opponents of his unfaltering theological stance began showing signs of agitation.  At this time in a letter he wrote to Aneta he quoted a well-known verse from the New Testament: “For a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9).  While his message was warming many hearts it was causing disquiet among others.  Rahnuma, the Protestant magazine, at times took issue with him in caustic language.  Pastors who had previously opened their churches to Haralambos were warned not to continue inviting him.  In fact, he was accused of coming to Aintab to harm the churches.  The effect of modern theology was felt deeply in this foremost Protestant center.

            As Aneta received Haralambos’ not very cheerful letters she questioned why liberal theology should have entered into this spiritually vibrant land.  Why did it destroy the pure faith of certain local leaders, creating a split in the ranks of the church?  While the impending catastrophe was hanging ominously over the country, the churches in Anatolia were experiencing an unhealthy split.  This conflict brought great grief to Aneta’s soul.   She mused, “What kind of life-partner should I be to this person in order to daily strengthen him and stand with him in the biblical faith he is so diligently upholding?”

            As these thoughts streamed through her mind, the Holy Spirit touched her to become a more fervent teacher to the girls under her instruction.  Several approached her seeking guidance for the deepening of their faith.  During this time far away in Aintab a ministerial gathering was called.  Haralambos was summoned to explain the tenets of his beliefs and set forth his intentions.  The many questions projected opened the way for him to clarify his position.  He kept his composure throughout.

            The ministers decided to hold a private session among themselves. He was asked to leave the room. In the heated discussion a few pastors defended the evangelist, but the opposing ones got the upper hand. Their verdict was, “Close the churches to him! That is the only way we can stop him!”  Apparently they could not come up with any alternative. It was extremely distressing to have one church after another in the city close its doors to him. The college followed suit. Amazingly, one Armenian Gregorian school remained open, and the Gregorians continued their friendship.

            Miss Katy Frearson was an English missionary in Aintab who headed the Martin Hill Orphanage. She expressed her disappointment at the unpleasant way the pastors had treated the evangelist. Quite providentially she was in possession of the keys of an unused, run-down Anglican Church in the city. She visited Haralambos and offered the keys to him on condition that he and the other Christians restore the falling ceiling. This request was readily accepted.  A God-sent provision met the need of the hour, and normal gatherings resumed in the repaired building. This was an encouraging experience for the disheartened man. While the local people banned him from their halls, a foreign woman came forward to make an unexpected offer!

            Haralambos did not aspire to go out and start separate meetings. He was always desirous to use the pulpit of the existing churches to proclaim the message he believed to be valid and effective. But following the ban no alternative was left. He simply accepted the outcome and announced the meetings at the Anglican Church.

            From the outset, the building was overcrowded. Again people climbed up the barred windows to hear the message. Great numbers received the Savior. The ban by the opponents only boosted the success of the meetings elsewhere, but threats to disturb the gatherings were ordinary.

            The leaders were unhappy with Katy Frearson’s generous offer. They obliged her to stop orphanage girls from attending the meetings. The girls were broken-hearted. Several of them prayed for the restriction to be lifted. In six months it was.  One of the girls at the Martin Hill Orphanage was Vartanoush Ajemian. Her unusual story goes back to Malatya where she was born. The first Armenian massacre occurred when she was a two-month-old baby. Her father moved the family south to Belen, near Antioch (Antakya), thinking it would be a safer place. But another wave of massacres reached their selected area. Her father and mother fled for dear life with her and her two brothers. When the going got rough someone suggested, “Throw her away and save the boys!” The mother rejected this cruel and heartless suggestion.

            A while later, both mother and father were slaughtered before her eyes. The brothers were taken away, and she never saw them again. Little Vartanoush struggled to keep body and soul together. Through the pity of some kind people she survived and eventually was brought to Martin Hill Orphanage. Miss Katy Frearson became her mother as she was to scores of other helpless little girls. Vartanoush and six other girls were determined not to become Evangelicals. Their attachment to the Armenian Mother Church was the only emotional tie they had with their sad past.

            Several girls at the orphanage prayed together regularly. Their prayers seemed strange to her. She asked one girl why she prayed. The reply made her think: “If you loved the Lord, you wouldn’t let us pray alone.”

            Vartanoush had a valuable, but macabre possession from her dismal childhood. After the murderers killed her father, they burned his corpse. She went to the charred body in the dark and rescued a few pieces of bone. She never let these bits of bone part from her. Often she would withdraw to a corner to kiss them and cry disconsolately. The praying girls were concerned for her. They said, “We’ll bury the bones!” She didn’t resist. The bones were committed to the earth. But then she took frequent trips to the burial site and prayed.

            The influence of the girls on her was profound. One day during chapel hour she determined to pray audibly. Her friends sought to discourage her, but she overcame their resistance, stood to her feet and prayed, “Oh, Lord Jesus! Forgive all my sins. Save me from this condition!” The next morning she bought a Bible and joined the other girls for prayer. The group was introduced to Haralambos’ book on the Holy Spirit. This became a precious treasure which she read on her knees. While reading the book, she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

            When the news reached the orphanage that the author of the book was in right there in Aintab preaching, the girls eagerly went to hear him. Only they had to take turns to attend. When they were again forbidden from going to the meetings, they were cast into sorrow and persevered in praying until the ban was lifted.

            During his tenure at Zinjidere, Haralambos had written a chorus which became the song of the orphanage:

            Let all things become bitter to me.

            He who carries the cross receives the crown.

            I’ve set forth my course,

            Oh, Lord, along your footsteps!

The chorus was inspired by the assurance in Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand”. Haralambos always referred to this truth in his preaching. It became a convenient theme for taunting in the mouths of obstreperous children: “Korkma, sasma, Haralambos’a yanasma!  (i.e., Fear not, sway not, and approach not Haralambos!) The war of nerves intensified day by day. The evangelist did not like to entangle himself in this base conflict. Nevertheless, drastic measures had to be taken. The controversy knew no bounds.

            The Turkish authorities were understanding and accommodating. In their desire to prevent any unpleasant development, they decided to post two policemen in front of the church during the meeting hours for a whole week. The guards dutifully protected the place.

            The tactics of his opponents took on a new dimension. The confrontation became a personal assault rather than a doctrinal battle. The adversaries would have been pleased if Haralambos had abandoned his ministry and left town, but he didn’t even consider this option. The ministers sent a delegation to inform the authorities that Haralambos was preaching as a non-ordained person. The law clearly stated that anyone caught preaching as a non-ordained person could be thrown into prison immediately. There was no room for clemency. This restriction had been imposed by the government to combat draft-dodgers. Through special imperial dispensation ministers were exempt from military service. Therefore, any person pretending to be a preacher could only be a draft-dodger!

            This accusation against Haralambos was untrue. In 1909 the orphanage at Zinjidere had sent him to Switzerland to take some theological courses and to represent them in meetings. It was his only trip outside the country. That he had been ordained in Leo Lokel in a large Baptist church was general knowledge. The allegation against him stemmed from deep prejudice and nothing else.

            The authorities had no time or disposition to verify matters or check out facts. Martial law prevailed in the country. Edgy local officials treated many cases impulsively because of fear from the upper echelon. One evening men sent by the local government came to the meeting place, took Haralambos to the police headquarters and after administering fifteen rods to the soles of his bare feet, threw him into jail as a usurper of the pulpit. He accepted this treatment with praise and thanksgiving.

            However, there was a convenient provision in the law which propelled a great number of Christians into action. Military service could be bought for a certain sum of money. Immediately they started to raise the demanded amount to bail him out of prison and military service. The sum was forty-five gold liras, a huge amount in those days. But they managed it.  So his imprisonment didn’t last for even a day. He was a free man again, redeemed from prison and military duty.  He continued preaching every evening at the Anglican Church with large crowds in attendance.

            The execution of the law may sound quite strange and accommodating. But the Ottoman Empire during its final hours was governed by anything but logic. The whole governmental system was saturated with favoritism, corruption and decadence. Bribes solved most problems. 

            It has been mentioned already that there was a hospital in Aintab administered by the American Board. The head doctor was Dr. Frederick Shepherd, whose son Lauren followed him in the same profession and post. One day he entered uninvited into the ministerial gathering. Like a modern Nicodemus or Gamaliel he addressed them: “Brothers, this man has come to you with the New Testament in his hand and you meet him with governmental interference. While I respect your position I intensely dislike your tactics!” This did not bring about a conciliatory turn in the quandary. The conspiracy only intensified. This time a pernicious accusation was hurled at Haralambos. They fabricated a charge of immoral conduct and instigated the authorities to interrogate him. Again he was arrested and beaten. But when the authorities understood the truth he was exonerated. All these events caused the Muslim officials to take a keen interest in what was going on.  Some secretly attended the meetings.

            One of these, Osman bey, a very kind government employee, approached Haralambos and told him of other plots. He offered wise advice: “You have no friends in this place. The top echelon is determined to get you out of here. Conditions are deteriorating. If I were you, I would leave the city for a while to enjoy a measure of peace.”

            The Lord speaks in mysterious ways, in this case through this kind Muslim official. However, leaving was easier said than done. With large crowds attending every evening and many responding to Christ’s message, leaving Aintab would be a drastic decision. A few accounts from the Book of Acts unfolded before his eyes indicating what he was to do. In every age the decision to leave one fruitful place of service for another has been very hard for evangelists. Haralambos listened to the man’s advice and bade farewell to his friends and church people. He departed for his native Adana where he immediately started a wide evangelistic ministry.