Thomas Cosmades



Apraham Hoja of Aintab


Chapter 11

Apraham Hoja Levonian


The renowned land of Asia Minor has seen mighty heroes of the faith since the apostolic days. While I was living in Marash word reached us that there was a distinguished soldier of the Cross in Aintab who was God’s instrument in the revival there.  A deep desire to get acquainted with this man welled up in every heart who had heard about him.  A missionary of the American Board in Aintab, Mr. Speakers, encouraged him to visit Marash.  When Apraham Hoja inconspicuously arrived some of us brothers called on him at Mr. Speakers’ home.  In our minds we had envisaged a person of attractive physical appearance.  But here we were, face to face with a plain-looking, weak man who normally wouldn’t attract anyone.  We thought he would be wearing some sort of elegant outfit.  But we were astonished to see an ordinary-looking man, clothed as if he were from the poorest peasant class.  Although he was tall, he was lacking the strong physical features characteristic of the typical Anatolian.  He had no mustache or flowing beard which would distinguish him as a religious leader. Just as the evangelist Isaiah described his Master, ‘he had no form or comeliness…; no beauty that we should desire him.’ Following an initial salutation, our conversation switched very quickly to heavenly realms.  We soon forgot our original impression and realized that we were sitting in the company of a holy person.  He was dressed as a pilgrim, and true to form he transported us to the very presence and power of God.  We listened attentively to his words which were permeated with grace and feeling.  We were enraptured by the words he uttered.  They were unforgettable truths.  This first meeting ended with the deep impression that we had been with a unique person.  We departed from his company with grateful hearts to God for allowing us to be in the company of this noteworthy Christian. 


He was visiting Marash with the intention of spending some time here.  The desire of his heart materialized shortly. He began preaching in the various churches.  When we heard him, our hearts were set on fire for Christ.  As days went by, we were mutually knit to each other.  Many of his words and explanations left an indelible impression on us.  We were greatly enriched.  The blessing wasn’t ours only, but from day to day it touched others, as well. 





                                                Apraham Hoja in his ordinary outfit


One day he was ministering in a place called Abez.  During one of his messages he called the person adhered to by the people of the country an imposter and false prophet.  He confirmed his conviction by declaring that Jesus Christ alone is the Son of God and that only he saves sinners.  In the sort of country where we lived the word spread around rapidly.  Somehow it came to the ears of the authorities what Apraham Hoja had said about the person they call prophet.  They arrested Hoja immediately and dragged him to court.  The judge directed the question: “Have you really called our prophet an imposter and false prophet?”  His reply was short and simple: “Yes.”  All his friends, including Dr. Shepard, head doctor of the American Hospital in Aintab, sought to calm the troubled waters.  They advised him to tone down his uncompromising statement.  At this, he took a New Testament out of his pocket and read, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). After this reading, he added, “Beware of hypocrites.  I would rather rot in prison than change one iota of my indisputable statement.”  Subsequently, the sentence was pronounced by the judge: “Imprisonment of one hundred and one years in Jebel, in the Taurus range, among murderers and major offenders.”


During the early days of his imprisonment he endured unspeakable maltreatment, both at the hands the prison officials and from the other prisoners.  He was beaten, left hungry for days at a time, was mocked and denigrated with many insults.  All these he graciously endured.  He manifested a fortitude and patience characteristic of a faithful soldier of Jesus Christ.  In the courtroom he had displayed humility and prayer, which attitude he carried into prison.  Slowly the officials were noticing a different kind of person than the other prisoners, and started changing their attitude toward him.  These men who were full of hatred and spite gradually began demonstrating warmth and friendship toward Hoja.  They came to realize that he was not an ordinary law-breaker, but a true man of God.


All of a sudden, the son of a top official got sick.  He was wrestling with death.  The news reached him that there was a prophet in prison and that his faith and intercession could heal the sick.  Immediately the top official gave the order to bring Hoja from the prison to his home.  God was extending an unusual opportunity to glorify His name and He was going to use Hoja to fulfill the longing of this important man.  Just as James verifies it, Hoja, a righteous man, gave himself to prayer, and indeed, a miracle occurred; the child was healed.  The father, flabbergasted, fell at Hoja’s feet, crying: “This man is a prophet of God!”  As the Apostle Paul had done in Lystra where the crowds were going to deify him and Barnabas, Hoja restrained this exuberant man with the same words that Paul had used: “We also are men, of like nature with you…” (Acts 14:15).  From then on, Hoja enjoyed the favor of the official as well as of the other prisoners. As happened from time to time on certain given occasions, a general amnesty emanating from the Porte’s palace in Constantinople was declared.  On one of these, Hoja was among the many prisoners set free.  While he was still in prison, I enjoyed a few visits with him.  We had excellent fellowship, as Paul had with those who came to visit him at the prison in Rome.  Once he remarked to me that this experience was a wonderful spiritual schooling and refining fire.  He said, “The Lord taught me what it means to die to self.” 


Following this happy outcome, Hoja concluded that God’s call for him was not to work as a pastor with a set salary.  The little money that he possessed he distributed to the poor and needy. Then he returned from Marash to Aintab, his native city.  Like the Apostle Paul, he felt that he should work for his living.  By trade he was a weaver.  He took a part-time job in this line.  In his spare time he preached the Gospel from house to house and wherever he could find a hearing.  He was constantly pleading with people to repent of their sin, turn to Jesus Christ and receive his salvation.  He never accepted any money for his preaching from this point on.  During a financial crisis, he couldn’t find employment.  This did not move him; he devoted himself to prayer, meditation and proclamation of the Gospel.


In 1905, I took a mission trip to Aintab.  Every morning I went to Apraham Hoja for fellowship and prayer.  His custom was to get up very early and go straight to a cave outside the city.  I joined him in this.  There in the cave we studied God’s Word on our knees and gave ourselves to prayer.  Filled with the consciousness of the Lord’s sweet presence, we returned to the city and proclaimed the Gospel on the streets, in shops and wherever the Lord opened a door for us.  During this unusual association and cooperation I observed certain distinctives in Hoja’s life which influenced me from then on.  In 1915, oppressive darkness hung over the Armenian segment of the Aintab population.  Deportation was starting in all its fury.  Christians were compelled to leave their churches, schools, homes, lands, shops, possessions and whatever else they had, to be driven through tortuous paths into the death-dealing desert.  Amazingly, there was an exception made for Hoja.  “This man is a prophet, a man of God,” they said.  In 1920, having migrated to the United States eight years earlier, I sent him a gift of twenty-five dollars.  I asked him to use this amount for his immediate needs.  To my great surprise, he returned the check, saying, “In twenty-five years, my hands have not handled twenty-five cents.  Now I have no need for money.”  This shook me at a time when many ministries were valued by the amount of money given to them.


Such experiences were Apraham Hoja’s practical demonstrations of his total commitment to the teaching of Jesus Christ.  I should immediately add that his doctrine was impeccable.  He kept himself unspotted from the world.  He often made this remark: “To live the right kind of Christian life, one ought to be possessed by the right kind of teaching.”  He felt sorry for those who said, “I do not preach doctrine; I preach Christianity.”  He would say, “Doctrine is the foundation.  A life that is built upon the shaky basis of clay will certainly fall.”  Apraham Hoja was among those who stood firmly for Christian truth. He witnessed the creeping of liberal theology into Asia Minor and lamented about it. His indisputable devotion to the historical Christian faith was shared by his other contemporaries in this land.  Whenever he would hear of some preaching which did not subscribe fully to the teaching of God’s Word and to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, he would respond by saying, “This is the position of the enemies of the Cross.  It must be rejected.”


In 1906, the Armenian Evangelical Union held its annual convention in Marash.  Visitors from many regions came—preachers, missionaries and lay delegates.  Apraham Hoja and several of our brothers also were in attendance.  One of the leading ministers, the Reverend Simon Terzian, opened the session by reading from Acts 15:28—“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”  Then he added these words: “This convention likewise ought to seem good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”  Immediately Apraham Hoja leapt to his feet saying, “Listen to the Word of God.  If this convention is to seem good to the Holy Spirit and to us, then let all those who have not received the Holy Spirit leave the meeting.”  Everyone was taken aback by this unanticipated warning. A hush fell upon the entire body of delegates as if they had been struck by a thunder bolt. The moderator broke the silence by stating, “Apraham Hoja is out of order.”  Hoja immediately replied, “It is not I, but those who do not believe the Word of God who are out of order.  They should leave this assembly at once.”  The Reverend M. G. Papazian ordered Apraham Hoja to sit down.  He said, “I will not sit down.”  Someone who wanted to pacify the tense atmosphere asked what Apraham Hoja meant, and what his intention was.  Apraham Hoja replied, “There are adherents of liberal theology in this place who reject the deity of Jesus Christ.  There is no room for them here.”  Hoja was given the assurance that if this was the case, the liberals would be examined.  He then sat down.


Shortly afterward, Hoja rose to his feet again, “Our people are of plain, simple faith,” he declared. After saying this, he pointed to the missionaries and continued: “These are the people who came and caused our believers to depart from the true faith.  Would to God that they had never come!”  We were all astonished at Hoja’s agitation.  Some of us asked him, “Why are you so excited?”  He answered, “For some time I have been attending morning devotions with the students at Central Turkey College in Aintab.  I heard some of the teachers flagrantly denying the Word of God, the Incarnation of Christ, and the deity of our Lord.  All these deviations are being quietly overlooked.  This modernist teaching is ruining the spiritual life of our believers and the evangelical churches.  It is draining the very sap of our spiritual strength.  If we are true believers we must be awakened and be on the alert about this insidious peril.  We ought earnestly to contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints, and now to us.”