Thomas Cosmades



Apraham Hoja of Aintab


Chapter 13


Apraham Hoja’s Personal Testimony

“The grace of God reached me, by which grace I am what I am” (I Corinthians 15:10)


The Lord fulfilled a marvelous work of grace in my heart, bestowing me a life which is blessed beyond measure.  This can neither be purchased at any price nor be expressed by mortal tongue.  For this marvelous fulfillment in my life I praise and bless the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit forever.  He totally separated me from the world, knitted my heart to himself and filled me with all-surpassing peace and joy.  It is impossible to describe my sixty-eight years of spiritual life and experience with my God.  All glory and praise be to him!  I pray that this testimony will be a blessing to my readers.  It is with this purpose that I am recording a few of the highlights.


My birth was in January, 1855, in the well-known city of Aintab.  My father’s name was Asdwazadur (translated, ‘Gift of God’).  He was a well-known school teacher.  His devoted allegiance was to the Lusavorjagan Armenian Apostolic Church.  He loved his church and the psalms and rituals sung there.  But above all, he loved the interpretation of God’s Word whenever it happened to be given.  He had a large number of books and much devotional literature.  He was a person known to have a positive influence in the church.  He was looked upon as a man of God.  People would frequently come to him with a list of requests for prayer, particularly for their sick.  There was a common belief at the time that if a man like my father would spend a night at the house of a sick person the sick one would receive healing. This must have been his gift. Because of this belief, my father often had to be away from home!  His mission was to help others and pray for the healing of the sick.  My father had an uncle whose name was Levon Krikorian.  He was a person of great influence in Aintab because of his wealth and position. My mother’s name was Manushak (translated, ‘Carnation’).  She was an only child, so was my father. But they made up for it in their marriage.  Their wedding was a big and happy event.  God blessed them with twelve children, ten sons and two daughters.  The first son died shortly after birth, which was fairly common in those days.  The two daughters were Nouritsa and Anna.  My father was a man of perseverant prayer.  Whenever the Lord’s Supper was going to be commemorated, he gave himself to fasting and prayer the day before.  He built a secluded place in our basement, which I called his ‘grotto’.  He would retreat there, kneel on a straw mat and spend the whole day in prayer, often with tears.  Those in the house who overheard him could not restrain their emotions either, and joined him in the spirit of prayer, also with tears. 


When the American Congregational missionaries reached Aintab and proclaimed the Good News of Christ, my father was among the first to accept their message.  His soul was set on fire when he came into touch with the teaching of the Bible. He hardly ever missed the midweek prayer meeting.  He would also attend any special service at the church.  He grew very rapidly in his new faith. Shortly after this life-changing encounter, he was appointed as a teacher at the school which had been started by the New England missionaries.  His teaching skills proved to be very effective and he came to be known as one of the best teachers.  Bible and Theology were his favorite subjects.  Training students in this area brought him great respect and also much joy. 


If anyone were to ask me about my mother and her life, I would say that in my view she stood out as a unique Christian woman.  She was truly a spiritual mother, entirely yielded to Jesus Christ and full of faith, a modest woman who would fit the description in I Peter 3:3-5: “Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands…”  She never allowed any fancy or showy dress to enter the house, and did not favor any item of decorative nature.  She repeatedly remarked, “Whenever fashion comes into a house, the blessing of God goes out!”  She seldom served meat at our meals and always cautioned against festive activity. She called highly-seasoned food a lustful habit.  She never allowed a guest to smoke in her house.  She never served coffee, tea or sweet cakes.  Naturally, alcoholic beverages were excluded. 


My mother would often remark, “I am in the wrong world; this is not my home.  My place is elsewhere.”  With prayer and tears she would plead God to take her out of this world.  Prayer was her most delightful exercise.  No matter what hour of the day I returned home I found her on her knees, given to concentrated prayer.  She always prayed with a loud voice.  She cried until her eyes were red.  Her longing was to depart and be with Christ ‘which is far better’.  She slept very little at night and whenever I woke, I saw her on her knees praying. 


During my childhood I was sent to a flour mill to work at night.  The place was extremely cold and my body trembled with chills throughout the night.  I was seized with excruciating colic, so the folks at the mill had to give me some medication.  The medicine they resorted to was a spoonful of whiskey.  When my mother learned of it, she admonished me by saying, “My son, no matter what your condition is—colic, sickness or some other distress—even if you are at the point of death, tough it out and never again let liquor touch your lips.”  Both father and mother cautioned all of us boys not to set foot in coffee houses.  They would say, “Keep your eyes from looking into those places.  Such places are gateways to hell.  When you pass by them, turn your face the other way. Never let it be said of you that you took a good look at what was going on in those centers of leisure.”  My father was a person of meager income.  However, whatever he earned he committed it to God with a special prayer that God would bless what he had allowed him to earn.  The scanty provision which we enjoyed was not only ample to meet our needs, but also enough to lay money aside.  My parents considered family worship a most important function of daily life.  They would never neglect it.  Even during our family worship my mother’s face was saturated with tears.  She was always touched in these times of reading God’s Word and prayer. 


My mother told us that it was better not to play with other children in the neighborhood, lest we hear bad language.  She was very strict about this.  She refrained from frequent visits to neighbors for fear of being caught in idle words or gossip.  She often remarked, “I fear more the company of a few women than standing before an executioner.  I cannot conform to their ways.”  She was a woman truly separated from the world.  There was no trace of love for the world in her soul.  One day after a long time of prayer, her countenance radiant with heavenly light, mother said with great joy, “My son, I have good news for you.  It has been revealed to me that in the near future I shall move out of this present world.” Strangely, from that day on, she ceased her weeping and crying.  Instead, an attitude of joyful praise took over.  Singing spiritual hymns were her constant expression.  Two months after this vision, she breathed her last.  She closed her eyes to this world, which she had not liked.  She opened them in that heavenly realm for which she had intensely longed.  The love I had for my mother far surpassed all other love, except of course, for my Lord.  The greatest influence upon my life came from my mother.  I was eighteen when she died.


Six years earlier the Lord had come into my life. This invigorating text made a deep impression on me at the time: “And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” ( II Corinthians 5:15). The Lord Jesus Christ became precious to me through this verse.  He disclosed himself in an ineffable way, which is beyond the power of my pen to describe.  From that time on, Christianity was not a faith inherited from my godly mother.  I now enjoyed a personal and living relationship with my Savior. God’s truth became my own treasure. Christ was so valuable to me that I often wondered whether there was another living person who loved him as wholeheartedly with soul and mind, and was as fascinated with him, as I was.  I can truthfully bear witness that my call to God through this Scripture was as real and clear to my heart as the call to Abraham was in the life of the old patriarch. 


One Sunday morning I stood before six hundred Sunday school children.  I read the verse just quoted and then I went on to speak to them.  “Listen to me, young friends.  From this day on, I have turned over my whole being and all my possessions to Jesus Christ.  I shall live for him alone.”  God’s work in my life and the testimony with which I expressed it was not something I took lightly.  To me, it was an unforgettable experience.  The Lord Jesus Christ worked in my heart in such a deep way that all fear and doubt evaporated. 


During my childhood years I had memorized the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew (five through seven).  Following my conversion the verse which influenced me most was Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Christ’s utterance ‘you cannot’ made a complete and profound impression on my life.  It gave me a new direction for my earthly life. This unforgettable experience grew stronger and stronger as the days went by.  There are numerous valuable passages in God’s Word, but these two words took possession of my whole existence.


In 1880, a pressing urge gripped my heart.  An extraordinary power was leading me to the work of evangelism all the way up in Harput at the source of the Euphrates River.  In obedience I left Aintab and departed for Harput.  Harput was completely inhabited by Armenians.  Among the many churches and schools was also Harput College, established by the Congregational missionaries.  There were several evangelical churches in the wider area.  God opened my way to visit one church after another and proclaim the Good News of his Son.  My message was quite direct: “You have misunderstood Christianity; you are serving two masters.  This is impossible.  Do not be deceived.  You cannot be the servant of two masters.  Wake up!”  I could sense that my heart was on fire for God.  The Lord showed me that I must avoid all talk of religious politics in my messages.  I should not be preaching ethical culture.  The Lord gave me strength to proclaim the uncompromising, unadulterated truth of his Gospel. 


One of God’s notable acts in my life was to allow a serious sickness to grip me for a period of two years. During this time, I became an invalid.  The doctors offered no hope for recovery.  But to the astonishment of many, my Lord raised me up.  People started calling me Lazarus.  The time of my convalescence was spent in Jibin.  There I met St. Minas.  He was a totally consecrated believer in Christ, one who was worthy of the title ‘holy’.  In the whole area villagers and townspeople looked at him as a man of God.  His life not only influenced me most positively, but also gave me true purpose and direction.  I joined ranks with him, spending night after night together in song and prayer.  Anyone hearing him pray would be moved to tears.  To utter a frivolous word or act in any sinful manner before him would bring tears to his eyes and deep lamentation to his soul.


After my mother’s death, my heart was set on fire for God. As a result I secluded myself in a cave for two days. No one knew where I was.  There in the secrecy of my cloister I wept and cried unto the Lord. I wrote a solemn contract of twenty-four paragraphs, entitled, ‘My Covenant with God’.  I signed this covenant in an absolutely unforgettable and indisputable surrender.  The gist of it was to obey God the Father to the utmost till death, to surrender thoroughly to his Son and depend on the Holy Spirit once and for all.  How thankful I am to God that to this day he has cared for me and protected me by his daily presence and grace!  Otherwise, I would not have had the strength to continue my earthly pilgrimage.


Reference to a lesson of great value which I learned during this period is apropos.  At the time I was in a town called Abez; hundreds repented and were converted.  The scene before me was so strange and other-worldly that it seemed like heaven on earth.  How sad I am to confess that at this juncture, to my shock and sorrow, that cursed sin—spiritual pride—manifested its ugly head in me.  Although Satan was powerless to drag me back to the world, by this sin he sought to ruin and overcome me.  God saw my wretched condition and knew that I was in danger.  To help me see myself and be raised from the pit into which I had fallen He brought me to a prison experience.  The outer cause of this imprisonment was one thing; the inner cause an entirely different one.  I knew it.  The Lord was seeking to cleanse and purge me of that awful spiritual pride.  The price of this pride was very costly.  For long hours I wept, with my tears falling on the ground.  Those lamentations, confessions and mortifications were God’s grace working in me.  I bless his name for it.  By this the Lord taught me that I should constantly be on guard with utmost caution against the sin of spiritual pride.  As a result my heart was overwhelmed with an inner desire that I should not work among those who loved me, but among those who mocked and despised me. 


I mentioned that the external outlook of my imprisonment was different than the internal aspect.  The actuality was that in my field of labor I preached and proclaimed to the Muslims that if they did not believe in Christ there was no salvation for them.  The Lord had given me extraordinary courage and strength to put forward this truth to every Muslim I met.  The emphasis of my ministry was heard all around, ultimately taking me to court.  There once again the Lord enabled me to give a clear-cut testimony in the presence of government officials.  Humanly speaking, it would have been unthinkable for me to be delivered alive from that prison.  As a matter of fact, I was gripped with a deep desire that if it pleased the Lord I might endure martyrdom for him, for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  Oh! What a blessed privilege to become a martyr for Christ!  I longed for it, but I was denied this privilege. 


Finally, one of the government spokesmen said, “We have been in this office for many years, but we have never met a man of such strength and consuming passion.  No one has ever spoken as fearlessly   regarding his faith as you have.”  By God’s grace, I found favor with a centurion and the governor.  With unbelievable reverence, they listened to God’s Word.  I could clearly detect that their aim was to set me free.  Indeed, the Lord honored their efforts and once again I became a free person through my Lord’s intervention. 


This was a valuable schooling for me.  The lessons taught by the Lord and the truths learned were priceless.  I cannot name them one by one, but the distinctive truth came from Philippians 3:3: “For we are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit, and glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.”  May the Lord who taught me not to have any confidence in the flesh be pleased to teach everyone who reads this the same lesson.    Your brother in the Lord, Apraham Levonian