Thomas Cosmades



Apraham Hoja of Aintab


Chapter 1

The Years and Cities of Revival 1901-1904



October 1895 was one of the darkest and profoundly mournful months in the history of Armenia and the Armenian people.  The Ottoman government acting under the cruel order of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842-1915), reigned from 1876-1909, the perpetrator of extensive and pitiless massacres, did away with more than two hundred thousand Armenians in the initial genocide in the eastern parts of the empire.  This would reach unprecedented magnitude in the following century.  In Eastern Anatolia the homes and businesses of Christians were pillaged.  Wives were suddenly left widows and children orphans.  Misery and wretchedness fell upon the land.  In the face of such extreme cruelty by one group of people against another and the devastating catastrophe which ensued, people in need of comfort and support had nowhere to go but to the God of mercy.  At this time of human extremity Hosea’s words were literally fulfilled: “…in their distress they seek me, saying, ‘Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up’” (5:15b, 6:1). Vast numbers of people took refuge in churches, whose doors were kept open.  In their deepest heartache people came before the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find help in time of need. 


The unimaginable physical suffering brought about a spiritual awakening.  The deep longing of the soul for God was evident.  Prophetic preaching became the daily theme in churches.  The result of the calamity on the Christian population of Eastern Anatolia was a widespread spiritual awakening. The Holy Spirit was at work in many hearts. This was marked by weeping, public confession and the deep joy of salvation. People were repenting in deep agony.  One could only estimate the number of those who came into a living relationship with Christ, as there were so many. The sorrow on people’s faces gave way to deep joy by the new life discovered in Christ.  Men and women, young and old, who had been mourning gave testimony to His saving grace. The number of the saved was increasing daily.  Transformed lives were seen everywhere.  Suddenly a deep passion for Bible study and prayer took hold of the people.  Meetings were held in one house after the other, in small cottages and even in open fields.  A unique fellowship reminiscent of apostolic times was pervading the whole region.


At this time of severe distress, as always happens when revival breaks out, God raised up a humble servant to be one of the leaders of the awakening.  Commissioned for the task by the Lord himself, Apraham Hoja, his eyes flashing like an old Hebrew prophet and carrying only his Bible, went about preaching from house to house and church to church throughout the region. A man of unflinching courage, with uncompromising convictions, he preached repentance and the remission of sins.  His aim was to see ordinary sinners soundly converted. Equipped with absolute faith and spurred on by his mission, he bore a likeness to his Master.  As in several previous awakenings, here also the Lord highly honored the fervent testimony of his faithful servant.  As a result, a number of little-known, uneducated young men and women were brought into the kingdom of Christ.  They immediately joined ranks with Apraham, carrying on a burning witness to people undergoing an excruciating trial.  In the midst of universal sorrow, they testified with power and authority of the heart-transforming grace they had experienced through Christ. The advance of Holy Spirit-induced evangelism through the courage and boldness of this dedicated evangelistic band caught people’s attention. It was an unexpected development at a time when every person was totally caught up in saving his own neck. The courage of this small band of untrained evangelists made a deep impression on all classes, including the educated and cultured.


Evangelical preachers, ‘Lusavorjagan’ (the name is taken from Gregory, the Illuminator, who introduced the Armenian nation to Christianity) priests of the Armenian Apostolic Church and college teachers took note of the happenings, just as the Jewish tribunal did in the days of the apostles.  Here was a small group of unlearned, uneducated young men boldly inviting people to repentance and belief in Christ the Redeemer.  Apraham Hoja was the God-chosen leader for the hour.  He gave full backing to the young evangelists by his simple, but powerful preaching to return to Christ for forgiveness of sin and life everlasting.  The number of those who responded to God’s message grew continually.  Suddenly, doors of all churches were opened to this small group.  There was a quickening breath of revival sweeping through the region.  Churches were literally packed. While the massacre in the eastern regions was spreading, people were turning to God as the only refuge in their time of great need.  Literally thousands were saved.  The converts were discovering the power of God, not only to endure their ordinary trials but also the extraordinary onslaught being directed at them by a certain segment of their own people.  Their homes, communities, businesses—in brief, their whole world—was collapsing around them.


As the ruthless execution of an unscrupulous government was being carried on in unimaginable ferocity, the Christian faith was being fortified in many hearts who until then had simply subscribed to their ‘religion’.  The authorities were seeking to stamp out Christianity, but in actuality they were buttressing the very faith they were determined to destroy. “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit on your descendants and my blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah 44:3). Everybody was witnessing the fulfillment of these promises.  Faithful to his word, God was pouring his Spirit on people who were approaching him in humility and repentance.  The presence and power of the Holy Spirit were very evident.  Everywhere, young and old, men and women, ministers and congregations were hushed by an incredible silence induced by the conviction of sin.  While governmental powers were boasting of their harsh measures leveled at a helpless segment of the populace, the church targeted by the vicious cruelty did not become impotent. Authorities were quite satisfied with the accomplishment of the sword, totally unaware that hearts everywhere were being broken in contrition before God and experiencing a Holy Spirit revival.  


The Holy Spirit’s operation upon penitent hearts resulting in their restoration to the faith was absolute. Men broken before God were not only carpenters, blacksmiths and builders, but common sinners; also among them were church leaders and other folks in Christian ministry.  There was no pulpit pressure put upon people, no prolonged pleading, but the act of reproving and convicting by the Holy Spirit.  The confessions, conversions and restitutions were evident fulfillment of the Scriptures:  “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.  For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!  At every point you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter” (II Corinthians 7:10, 11).


The striking feature of this revival, mostly forgotten, was that it originated from among the people.  This was characteristic of many previous revivals.  Here was a people smitten on every side, suffering intolerable injustice; the helpless prey of a pitiless government bringing terror everywhere.  They needed one single consolation to make life bearable, that which would give them tangible hope for the future.  The high road to the life ahead was covered with thorns; nevertheless it was leading to the eternal home prepared for them by God himself.  The evangelical message was bringing tidings unparalleled by any earthly platitude.  People everywhere were responding to the wooing of the Holy Spirit.  This genuine revival was attended by deep sorrow, with redressing human wrongs and cruelties, with the defense of the helpless and transforming this sad world into God’s kingdom. 


Like all great revivals, this one also was spreading from one place to another on the wings of song.  The singing of hymns in these meetings was something new — different from what had been experienced until then.  This was singing inspired by the Holy Spirit.  No one could recall such heartfelt melodious music being sung in the churches.  The hymns were loaded with evangelical doctrine, spiritual fervor and linguistic clarity, all in Turkish. Trained and untrained voices joined in sweet harmony without perturbance or discord.  Those who sang the songs were amazed at the extraordinary impact experienced through the singing of these hymns.  One was reminded of the exhortation in the Scriptures: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).


The Holy Spirit did a special work in grieved hearts, bringing people into new touch with the heavenly Father, whose presence had not been quite real in their lives until then.  There was an apostolic simplicity in these spontaneous gatherings.  The revival was stirring hunger and thirst for spiritual reality everywhere.  It brought forth a new sense of actuality and deep emotion, replacing all the deadness in the heart until then.  People in deep sorrow were caught up with a new sense of Christ’s verity. Faith was brought down to people who needed God’s touch at their time of great need.  Hearts burdened with the griefs and sorrows of this present world discovered true solace and rest.  The Person of Jesus Christ and the Christian life were no longer something of mere habit.  Someone was touching these hearts in a mysterious way, and Jesus Christ was becoming intimate and precious.  The reality of the Incarnate Word was being thoroughly experienced. 


Every day there was a set of three meetings: The first one from seven to nine in the evening, the second from nine to ten-thirty and the third from ten-thirty to midnight.  There was an uncharacteristic freshness in each gathering — nothing stagnant or mere habitual.  People came with a thirst for God and an expectation that His righteousness would become real in their lives.  They came into the meetings feeling weak and helpless but went away endowed with new strength.  They mounted up with spiritual wings like eagles. They walked long distances to attend; some even ran, but they never grew weary or faint along the way.  The Lord was daily adding to the Church those who were regenerated.  A great joy was felt throughout the metropolis of Aintab.  Homes, businesses, market places and schools echoed what was happening in their immediate vicinity.  The sole topic in the city and its environs was God’s miraculous transforming of lives.  Unexpectedly, God’s mighty visitation of grace spilled over from the Christian population to the Turks.  Word spread around that many Turks were drawn by this extraordinary power and started attending the meetings. 


The order of these services was entirely different from the commonly known ‘revival meetings’.  There were no special leaders, no polished and persuasive sermons, and no lengthy doctrinal discourses.  There was no publicity or promotion whatsoever.  The meetings started with prayer, hymns of praise and expectation.  Following was a message from the Bible on the Lord’s all-sufficiency in any given situation.  This spiritual awakening stirred people to read God’s word, thus bringing uplift and hope to their anguishing hearts.  The whole atmosphere was charged with the Holy Spirit’s power.  The Holy Spirit drove truths of God, probably often overlooked, into the depth of each hungry heart.  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  The old person was replaced by the new in many a life through this sweeping spiritual awakening.  “Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29).  Peripheral or incidental preaching gave way to solid presentation of God’s pervading word. “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.  What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:28).




Marash is a city located one hundred and ten kilometers northwest of Aintab.  Before the Armenian genocide, it was a large evangelical center with many churches.  The revival which started in Aintab could not be confined to that city alone.  Marash was the next city that was affected by what God was doing in Aintab.  It was mentioned before that some young people had found their way into the Kingdom of God and become fervent evangelists. 


At the beginning of the twentieth century, Mr. Speaker, a missionary sent by God, came to Marash to open an orphanage. As reference has previously been made to the genocide in the East, there were many orphaned Armenian children who needed a home.  Mr. Speaker’s first interest was to find out if there were true believers meeting together in the city. He was told of the fiery young evangelists who were holding meetings in churches and homes.  Of course he was eager to meet them.  On hearing about his desire, seven young men, including Vartan Bilezikian, initiated their contact with him by going to his home that same evening.  Everybody was impatient to reach out in a city-wide effort to present Christ and offer comfort to the suffering people.  Mr. Speaker didn’t know Turkish, but had a great passion for evangelism.  At that first meeting with the young people, the lack of a common language strangely did not constitute a barrier.   It was as if the Holy Spirit was in control of the conversation.  Details of that meeting could not be recalled exactly, but there was a general consensus among the young people about Mr. Speaker’s faith and evangelistic zeal.   His humility reminded them all of Jesus Christ’s meekness.  It was an evening of great joy and inspiration.


Everybody contributed to the planning of an ongoing evangelistic outreach. They all thanked God for the opportunity before them. They decided that they should get together with Mr. Speaker once a week in his spacious home, so meetings were started after their initial commitment.  More people started joining them and attendance grew from week to week, with many people coming to Christ.  One day the Holy Spirit worked mightily in their midst.  The brothers were so moved that they felt the urge to humble themselves in fasting and prayer in order to be used more effectively in the revival.  A fresh dedication was made and meetings spread from house to house.  One evening while they were praying, a visitor arrived from Aintab with the joyful news that a revival had broken out in that city.  Hearing this was a great encouragement to everyone present.  They prayed that a similar revival would come to Marash and envelop the surrounding communities.


In the spring of 1901, Pastor M. G. Papazian being greatly affected by the Aintab revival, was prompted to visit Marash and further enlighten the believers about the Holy Spirit-stirred awakening in his city.  Great joy came upon the Christians in Marash when Pastor Papazian told them of the on-going revival in Aintab.  Everyone concurred that special meetings should be held in Marash, expecting that revival would visit their city also.  Meetings spilled over to a church and were held every evening.  It wasn’t long before revival showers fell upon the city.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was experienced in Marash for the first time. Meetings were charged with extraordinary power and divine presence.  The preaching of the Word, the singing of hymns and fervent prayers under the persuasive power of the Holy Spirit touched hearts and brought many to repentance.


One by one, people would stand up, weeping and expressing the sentiments of their broken and contrite hearts.  Attendance kept growing.  The meeting place was overcrowded with all kinds of people present — men, women, young, old, educated and uneducated, coffee-house ‘regulars’ and people given to drink. The presence of the Holy Spirit was pervasive and persuasive.  Sinners couldn’t resist the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  The fear of judgment gripped hearts, causing them to turn to God. As happens everywhere, mockers and rabble-rousers were also present.  Amazingly, some of them broke down in tears and confessed their sins.  They took part in the meetings they had intended to disturb and disrupt.  Suddenly they were transformed.  One evening a humorous thing happened:  a few people came with the intention of stealing coats, overshoes and umbrellas.  But they were converted, their hearts stolen by the Holy Spirit!  The revival touched them, too!  The Scriptural doctrine of justification by faith became flesh and blood in these people.  Meetings were saturated with the lively singing of hymns such as, “Just as I am, without one Plea”, “When the Roll is called up Yonder”, “Holy Spirit, Light Divine”, among many others, sung vibrantly and harmoniously.  If it had been possible to record that singing it would have been a stirring challenge to present-day choirs.  Psalms and hymns sung in the power of the Holy Spirit were showing sinners the gateway to God’s kingdom. 


As happens in so many revivals, two outstanding features—confession of sin and reconciliation with restitution—dominated this one, as well.  A prominent member of the church stood up one evening in the meeting, confessed his sin and asked forgiveness from people he had offended.  This bold and yet humble stand taken by the well-known person brought a sense of hush and humility to others as well, and one confession followed another.  It reminded the congregation of the prophecy recorded in Habakkuk 2:20: “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”  At times, an unusual silence prevailed during the meetings.  This was a sign of the Holy Spirit quieting hearts, leading them to confession and repentance.  Men and women were being converted in this holy atmosphere.  Those standing to their feet to confess and repent, obeying the wooing of the Holy Spirit, were a nightly marvel.  Peace and joy fell upon the congregation and the unceasing confessions brought constant vitality to the meetings.  The revival continued for weeks; in fact, it went on indefinitely.  There was no sign of slackening of enthusiasm in these meetings.  This extraordinary experience brought the divine presence down to the lives the Holy Spirit visited.  It was as if their whole beings had been invigorated by a special medicine— even their bodies were rejuvenated.  Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain in the presence of the LORD and came down with a shining face.  Here, too, many faces were shining, giving testimony of the unusual experience they had received from God.


News of the unusual events of the revival in Marash soon reached Aintab, which was itself in the excitement of a revival.  The Christians in Aintab decided to send three people to witness the awakening and encourage the local Christians.  They were: Dr. John Merrill, President of Central Turkey College, Hovhannes Shnorhokian and Sarkis Akkelian.  They recounted God’s amazing work in their city and greatly encouraged the folks in Marash.  Their visit brought uplift.  The Holy Spirit revival which had begun in Aintab and touched Marash spread all over St. Paul’s Cilicia like a prairie fire.  Extraordinary moving of the Spirit was evident in every single place visited.


Zeytun (translated, ‘Olive’)


During the apostolic days the Holy Spirit led Philip first to Samaria and then to the desert to be used as an instrument of revival—initially to a city and afterwards to a prominent individual.  The writer, Vartan Bilezikian, and Hovhannes Shnorhokian felt led of the Holy Spirit to visit Zeytun, an Armenian city of fifteen thousand, forty kilometers from Marash.  When they arrived, the church people of Zeytun welcomed them with open arms and immediately invited them to hold meetings. Church doors were thrown open and nightly meetings got underway.  Once again, the mighty work of the Holy Spirit was evident.  Night after night attendance in the various churches grew.  Just as had happened in Aintab and Marash people were being convicted by the Holy Spirit and ushered into the kingdom of God.  The whole city was influenced by what was going on in a few churches.  When the Holy Spirit works, he spreads his blessed touch in every direction. 


Other cities were affected by what was happening in the places already referred to. These were Adana, Hadjin, Tarsus, Urfa (Edessa), Kilis and southward to Aleppo.  Distant cities in the northeast like Van and Harput were also engulfed by this mighty visitation of the Holy Spirit.  This was nothing less than another fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, “Be glad, O sons of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD, your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before” (Joel 2:23).  One could say that what was happening reminded people of Joel’s authoritative prediction.  Also, the cheering prophecies in Hosea 6:3 and Zechariah 10:1 were finding their realization in these places of Anatolia.  God was at work and a revival was occurring in the very areas where Paul and the other apostles had ardently labored with great effect.