afternoon in August 1915, Aneta was alone in their small home. Her husband
was at church preparing for his evening message, as was his custom. Another
inspiring meeting was anticipated, though the crowds were dwindling week by
week because of the intensifying deportations. At the time her
mother-in-law was at a neighbor’s house.
The doorbell rang.
Aneta looked out of the window, only to be suddenly terrified at the sight
of a number of policemen standing at the door. She ran downstairs, invited
them into the house and rushed over to the church to tell Haralambos. He
didn’t lose his cool. Very calmly, he told her to stay in his study at the
church while he went home and talked to the officials.
She obeyed as a
little child. There was no fear in her heart. The Lord granted her
extraordinary composure. She thought it would be only right to send word to
her mother-in-law immediately. Her stay at the church study lasted for over
an hour. No word came from Haralambos.
It was almost time
for the evening service. Early comers, so common in this place, were already
showing up. There was life around. Twice born people gathered in small
clusters and began praying. Aneta didn’t say anything to them about the
abrupt visit of the police. But it was very likely that they had heard of
the policemen’s visit to the couple’s home. News like this spread like
wildfire. Aneta waited and waited. Worry started to grip her.
At last the church
bell rang, announcing the evening meeting. But the minister was nowhere in
sight. Finally, realizing the crucial situation, Aneta passed the news
around, and asked the people to pray for her husband. They responded
immediately with burdened intercessions ascending to heaven.
While they were
still praying, her mother-in-law hurried in. With deep anxiety she asked,
“Why are you sitting here? They took your husband to prison!” The gravity of
the situation had already dawned on Aneta. She could never have imagined
being able to face this ordeal with such calmness and sense of resignation
to the will of her heavenly Father. Several women came over to Aneta,
offering their consolation and support. They accompanied her on her way
home, while many others continued to persevere in prayer at the church.
At entering her
house Aneta was shocked. The whole place had been thoroughly searched and
ransacked. Her mother-in-law told her that the main purpose of the police
was to find concealed weapons! It was a known fact that Ottoman
authorities always acted with deep suspicion and apprehension, targeting
totally harmless individuals or groups. Even though they held total sway,
they were fearful of a single pistol or other firearm. They shouldn’t have
anticipated discovering anything of this sort in the possession of a
minister of the Gospel. Naturally, they didn’t know the command of the One
who told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place, for all who
take the sword will perish by the sword.” Afterwards the police looked
for papers. They took every letter and document, even the couple’s own
personal letters and their wedding certificate. Everyone was aghast. People
were trying to learn why this had happened. Suddenly the doorbell rang. A
small boy clutching a slip of paper in his hand stood there. The note was
from Aneta’s beloved husband to whom she had been married for less than a
year. It read, “I am in prison. Please send me a mattress and a cover.” At
once a few young men from the church were mobilized. They took the
requested necessities and a few other needed items. The duty now of Aneta
and others in the church was to make his life in prison as agreeable as
possible. Haralambos was neither the first not the last person to be
incarcerated for his faith, a fact that offered some consolation.
It was a dark and
distressing night. A young woman who suddenly sees her much-loved life
partner snatched away from her and thrown into prison has acute feelings of
dread. Aneta’s husband was gone. She was now alone in a city not her own.
But loneliness and fear did not overpower her. The Lord’s presence was very
real. Friends, more numerous than she could have ever anticipated, stood
ready to lend support. Throughout the night they came to offer consolation.
Several of them had seen the deportation of their own loved relatives to
Deir ez-Zor from where they never returned. They could empathize with
her because of their own sorrow and suffering. The news of Haralambos’
imprisonment spread rapidly. Friend and foe heard of it. The antagonists
were not so dismayed. It was heard that a few of them expressed their
sentiments, rubbing salt into her wounds.
Typical of a mother
with pathos, Anastasia took milk to the prison not knowing if she would even
be allowed to visit her son. They let her into the outer court, but no
further. Right there she began wailing, “I want to meet the prison
director.” She kept repeating her plea, like the woman at the door of the
director’s room was near the courtyard. Hearing her cries he came out. She
loudly moaned, “Mr. Director, he is my only son. Please let me bring milk to
him every morning!” Having learned how to handle such situations, he
tactfully spoke to her, “It is against the rules for you to visit him, but
in respect to your old age I’ll let you see your son now for a few minutes.”
So she could personally give him the milk. Afterwards he called over the
sentry and told him to let this woman in every morning. Then he quickly
reminded her in a loud voice about the regular visiting hours to ward off
any accusation of favoritism.
Until that moment
she was apprehensive about Haralambos’ well-being. As soon as she saw him
behind bars and that he was well, she loudly praised the Lord. Inhibition
was unknown to her. She found him calm and confident. As a soldier of Jesus
Christ, he was undaunted and prepared for any eventuality. Many a time he
had spoken about getting into trouble for preaching Christ. His hour of
testing had come and he was courageously facing it. The Lord was standing by
grateful for his mother’s successful penetration into the prison. He
requested that she bring Aneta with her during the regular visiting hours.
He was eager to have paper and pencil, which his mother took to him the next
morning. A regular pattern of visits was established. After each morning’s
visit a much-appreciated letter was relayed to Aneta.
The letters were
full of inner confidence and serenity. Confinement within the narrow prison
walls did not incarcerate his spirit. This was one chapter in the life of
faith. He wrote that Aneta should calmly face the situation and God’s
sovereign purpose would prevail. What he had proclaimed from the pulpit was
now being demonstrated in his imprisonment. Aneta began to more fully
appreciate the Apostle Paul’s prison letters and the dimensions of truth
they convey. Through this trial, her faith was fortified and timeless
lessons were making their impressions on her life.
on learning from the authorities why he had been arrested, but no
information was provided. Those on the outside ventured into similar
inquiries, but these efforts were also left unresponded to. Aneta came to
comprehend the deep agony of those kept day after day, month after month in
prison without charges brought against them, all the while wondering what
the future would bring. It was ordinary practice for men in this country who
held the power in their hands to oppress their citizens at will.
The day after
Haralambos was snatched from the house, the wife of one of the church elders
ran to Aneta and Anastasia in tears. “You will never guess!” she cried, “I’m
in the same predicament as you are; they have taken away my husband, too!”
He was head elder of the church, Haralambos’ right-hand man. The news gave
Aneta the chills. This was an ominous clue about what the unpleasant
prospect could be. Could the whole scenario be a plot? While the Armenian
Gregorians had been deported in vast numbers, none of the Protestant leaders
had yet been touched. They still were tolerated to carry on their work. The
government’s policy was to deal with every person or group in turn.
Haralambos was the first minister to be arrested, and he was not an
Armenian! Something was startling about the whole matter.
Friends and church
people were visiting the house in a steady flow. It was Saturday evening.
The Sunday morning church service was going to take place, nothing barring
it. But who was going to conduct the service? Both the preacher and the
head elder were in prison.
Aneta went to her
room to pray. In deep anguish of soul she thought about the meeting to take
place in a few hours’ time. Who would preach? She knelt in the shadow of a
kerosene lamp, opened God’s Word and started seeking guidance. Nothing
occupied her mind but the morning service. She wrestled in prayer like
Jacob—an agonizing time—that lasted until three in the morning. At last a
small voice reached her ear, “You will take his place at the foot of the
pulpit.” The direction was clear. This was her call.