Thomas Cosmades



Apraham Hoja of Aintab


Chapter 12

Hoja’s Visions and Revelations


“The prophet of Islam was an imposter,” a statement boldly made by Apraham Hoja.  For this he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Jebel-el-Bereket.  Many of his influential friends interceded with the authorities on his behalf.  Under normal circumstances it would have been unthinkable to obtain his release.  One day while he was fasting and praying in his prison cell, God revealed to him that on the seventeenth day of that month he would be set free.  As Hoja explained later, he did not entertain any doubt concerning the validity of this vision.  Following this, he wrote a letter to Mrs. Miriam Koundakjian, who was the resourceful wife of the minister in Hasanbeyli, one day’s journey from Marash.  The prisoner on whose head was hanging a sentence of one hundred and one years, wrote the following: “By the grace of God, on the seventeenth day of the month I shall be free and will be on the way to your home in Hasanbeyli where I will preach and exalt the name of Christ.  Please prepare a nice meal for me—by this I mean, a good pilaf.”  Nothing being impossible with God, He fulfilled his promise to Hoja and the prisoner was set free.  The expectation promised in the vision materialized.  The imperial edict from the Sultan came on the very day indicated in the vision.  Hoja was freed from prison and made the long journey on foot to the Koundakjian home. 


In the spring of 1909 the triennial convention of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in Asia Minor was set to be held in Adana.  Pastors, evangelists, missionaries and many lay delegates prepared for the journey.  Professor Sarkis Levonian, Apraham’s brother, was among them.  Before the group which had gathered in Aintab left, Apraham Hoja warned his professor brother: “I perceive that this journey will be dangerous.  The Lord has shown me that there is fire ahead waiting to devour all of you.  I entreat you to abandon this trip.”  However, his brother had made up his mind to attend the convention.  Furthermore, he and the others entertained no qualms about going.  The professor and the twenty-seven delegates set out on their journey.


On the way to Adana, they came to Osmaniye, which was a town in the province of Adana at the foot of the Taurus Range.  There they gathered in the church for a night of prayer and meditation concerning the journey and the convention.  It was a quiet, starry night, very calm.  But suddenly, a storm broke out, as happens in the Taurus Mountains from time to time.  Another vehement storm, much more dangerous, was about to come upon them. All of a sudden, the Christian leaders found themselves surrounded by a frenzied mob of soldiers and civilians whose hatred of Christians was profound.  A secret edict had been issued from Constantinople to massacre Christian leaders in that region.  The church building was an old wooden structure.  The mob drenched it with kerosene and set it alight.  Within moments the church became a blazing inferno, from where no one could escape.  The participants of this ghastly plot stood off at a distance, enjoying the tragedy.  They were armed with knives, clubs and axes, lest anyone should attempt to escape.  The professor and twenty-seven chosen leaders of the evangelical congregations in Cilicia were burned to a crisp, leaving their ashes among the rubble.  This way they joined the mighty convention of the Church Triumphant. 


This was a very sad and woeful fulfillment of Apraham Hoja’s vision and prophetic warning.  The consequence was widespread weeping and lamentation in all the family and church circles of these men.  Women were widowed, children suddenly became orphans and churches were left shepherdless.  While the flames were surrounding the praying delegates, Professor Sarkis Levonian admonished the whole group: “Brethren, be strong and courageous.  Stand fast in the faith.  Soon we will join the ranks of the martyrs in Christ’s presence.”  Following this, he stretched his hand out of the window of the flame-swept church building as if pronouncing a benediction on their determined foes.  He prayed the prayer of Jesus on the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  This villainous murder came to be known as “The Adana Massacre of Pastors”.


Sarkis Levonian, a venerable man and an illustrious person, was commonly known as ‘Sarkis Hoja’.  He was without any particular attraction.  He was of medium height, of pale complexion.  His hair had receded, and his countenance had the look of a scholar.  He was a very able and distinguished professor at Central Turkey College in Aintab.  He was third in a family of twelve children.  He received his early education in his father Asdwazadour’s school until he was fifteen.  Even as a child he had to contribute to the support of the large family.  He became an apprentice to a weaver, a menial occupation.  However his abilities and talents did not go unnoticed. Mr. Marden, an American missionary in Aintab, took the initiative to send him to Marash for training at the seminary there.  Following this preliminary education, he went to the United States in 1880 and studied three years at Yale University.  His intention was always to return to his native country.  His alma mater, Central Turkey College, invited him to teach.  He became chairman of the mathematics department.  His ability in mathematics was unsurpassed.  He wrote a book on mathematics which he sent to Yale University. This achievement aroused amazement of the faculty that one of their graduates in the remote Ottoman Empire should author such a book. 


Even while teaching in the Department of Sciences, his mind was set on God and His Word.  He was one of the highly respected leaders of the Armenian Evangelicals, speaking often in their churches. Backtracking to the beginning of the 1900’s, the aforementioned revival in Aintab touched many teachers and students, among them Sarkis Levonian.  He traced his spiritual awakening to that revival.  As a professor at the college he always liked to listen to young people give their radiant testimonies.  They renewed his own spiritual life, so he shared them with others.


The climax to his spiritual experiences was when he was visited amazingly by the Holy Spirit.   One morning, he did not go down for breakfast.  Neither did he go to teach his class.  At noon, again he was absent.  He had a higher mission to fulfill.  He devoted the entire day to his Lord, praying on his knees and enjoying sweet communion with his Savior.  Suppertime came and went and still no sign of him!  That evening he attended vespers in the nearby church.  The congregation was very large.  The Spirit of God was working conspicuously in their midst.  He approached the leader of the meeting and asked if he would be allowed to speak for a few minutes.  The whole assembly waited in expectancy of what Sarkis Hoja was going to say.  In profound humility he confessed that up to that day he had not lived the life that his Lord wanted him to live; therefore, he had not been used by him.  Right there in front of everyone, he publicly submitted his life to Christ to serve him totally. 


The evident humility of this outstanding leader struck awe in every heart.  People were genuinely affected by this unexpected testimony, and discussed it for several days.  As a direct result of his breaking down in confession many present in that meeting examined themselves.  Some repented of their sin; others dedicated themselves anew to Jesus Christ.  There were reconciliations in the church and restitutions were made.  From that day on, Sarkis Hoja’s life was a constant demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.  I can say that he was living a continuous experience on the Mt. of Transfiguration.  His messages took on a new dimension as he expounded God’s Word with fresh fervor and power. His deep devotion to the Word of God was evidenced by his absolute firmness to live it and proclaim it.  After that he was writing deeply studied articles based on God’s Word.  These fortified the faith of the saints and resulted in full commitment of many.  I shall never forget this message taken from Ephesians 3:17, ‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.’  While he was visiting and preaching in our city of Marash, I happened to be in one of the services.  His message was Spirit-directed and life-transforming. 


Professor Levonian was one of the highly-educated leaders of our Armenian Evangelical community.  But this position didn’t cause any element of pride in him.  He would interact with ordinary people and after talking with them, would say, “Let us kneel and pray.”  He always made it a point to encourage Christians who were struggling with some problem.  He truly was an epistle written in the hearts of the believers, read by everyone. 


It was he, along with twenty-seven other Christian believers, who were burned to death in Osmaniye on April 14, 1909, on their way to the Cilician Convention in Adana.  When the Muslims burned Sarkis Hoja and his companions to death, they actually set aflame a new commitment among the Christians. From then on the evangelical churches marched victoriously forward, overcoming hurdles and barriers, including the menacing storms ahead.  These martyrs joined the ranks of heroes in the tradition of Abel, the first martyr in the Bible.