Armenian Bible Church            

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Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 40322  Pasadena, CA 91114 USA

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 21 


           He was the only one in the group of seventeen, who was in bonds for the sake of Christ and his Gospel.  There was no sentence; just a vague accusation which never went to the ruling of a higher court.  He was branded as a dangerous person who deserved death.  Everyone in the same company was to receive his judgment at the hands of the executioner.  Each was guilty in the eyes of the authorities for some real or imagined crime, therefore unfit to live.

            It was a bright morning in early December. These denigrated people were marched through the quiet streets of Marash to the gallows.  A large company of gendarmes led the way; others followed at the rear and some were walking along on both sides of the doomed men. Onlookers were curiously watching. Their eyes had become used to such gripping scenes. They had already seen vast crowds marched away for deportation. But this was the march of immediate death. There was not the slightest prospect of clemency or reprieve.

            The most renowned prisoner in the group was the Reverend Haralambos Bostanjoglou, walking in an unbending, dignified manner like the victorious soldier he was.  He displayed an air of triumph as he proceeded on his way to the City where there is no death. His King was ready to welcome him. Actually, the captors’ and onlookers’ sentence was far worse than his which had been pronounced by earthly rulers.  As they walked along, he was speaking to the fifteen common criminals who in all likelihood were Muslims. They were going to meet their Maker and ultimate Judge shortly, he told them.  Therefore they should utilize these last minutes to prepare for life’s most crucial encounter. The gendarmes, all of them Muslims, were not happy to have a Christian evangelist telling the Muslims what they ought to do before death, much more so because these words were coming from a condemned person about to be hanged. They whipped him mercilessly. They wanted no more of this kind of talk.

            At last they arrived at the main square where seventeen gallows had been set up. The professional executioner was ready to play his role in the drama. He was used to this work. Very coolly he slipped the noose over the head and fixed it around the neck while the condemned man stood on a chair. Then moving back a few steps he ran forward with force, pushing the person into the air away from the chair. With a quick grab, he retrieved the chair for the next victim.  Each person to be executed was put into a white sleeveless robe. On the person’s chest hung a label from the neck, indicating his offense. Following the execution the bodies were left hanging for some hours. The reasoning behind this merciless display was that everyone should see and be warned.  Onlookers would gather around the gallows from the early hours of the morning. For those not affected with dread, it was a scene they wouldn’t miss. There were others who didn’t want to observe such a horrifying scene.

            When the act began, the common criminals were hung first, one after the other. The label ‘criminal’ dangled from each neck. Then came the seventeen-year-old Armenian boy. Even though their law did not prescribe execution of minors he was hung anyway.  He was an alleged insurrectionist.  Assuredly, he went into the arms of his heavenly Father since he had received Christ through Haralambos’ witness.  Finally it was Haralambos’ turn. Keeping him until the end was a well-designed torture. To see sixteen men put to death in front of his eyes one after another prolonged the agony and awareness of his impending doom. It was capital punishment many times over. Mercy and pity were cast aside by the stony-hearted perpetrators. The gavur (infidel) deserved to be put through this tortuous scene again and again before finally meeting his own death. 

            Ordinarily a description of the court verdict would be put on the chest of the condemned person, but in his case there was no such adjudication.  Neither was there any reprieve for this preacher who had shunned the offer of an unjust bribe at the peril of his own life.  What was on his label then? Revolutionary. The only revolution he had fervently worked for was the one to be brought about by the King of kings.  Because he was a wholehearted believer and declarer of Christ’s Second Coming, from the world’s standpoint it was not out of place to call him a ‘revolutionary.’

            Calmly he climbed onto the chair and quietly asked for permission to speak. The last request of a condemned person was always granted. The man whose preaching had covered a wide region in his very brief lifetime was now proclaiming his last message from the execution chair. He had been arrested just before he stood at his pulpit for an ordinary evening meeting, and now a few minutes before his departure, the chair on which he stood served as a platform under the shadow of the gallows. He said, “I praise my Lord for this day, because I have been allowed to suffer for His sublime Name. You are sending me to my heavenly Father by the short route. Mine has been an arduous experience. I am a preacher of the Gospel and have nothing to do with the offense tagged on me.” He then bowed his head and voiced his last prayer just as his Lord had done: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

            The hangman approached him, placed the noose around his neck and proceeded with the normal routine. Haralambos joined the vast company of believers in Jesus Christ who did not count their lives worthy of ordinary living but committed themselves for that higher cause by which they would regain their immortal lives.  His death came through violence, exactly the way he had persistently foreseen it. He was only thirty-two.

            So Haralambos was torn away from Aneta after just two years and three months as a married couple, of which only ten months they lived together. That short period of their marriage stood out as the most valuable time in her earthly pilgrimage, even though it was fraught with the most devastating developments.

            The crowd watched the happening in deep awe. It was a peculiar climax to this horrifying sequence of hangings. They could never have imagined that the last person to be executed would give them such thoughts to ponder. A German soldier stood nearby. With paper and pencil in hand, he was making sketches. He remarked about the extraordinary serenity with which Haralambos had left this world.  One of those standing by was a high ranking Ottoman officer. He began thinking about the brief message of this courageous preacher. He approached a German soldier and asked the source of the executed person’s faith. The German soldier, apparently familiar with the Turkish Bible eventually provided him with one. “How could this man die so gallantly?” the officer asked. For a soldier to whom death especially in time of war was nothing unusual, the manner in which Haralambos faced that cruel death was puzzling.  Aneta and other fellow-believers later learned that the officer in question had diligently searched God’s Word and met the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Prior to Haralambos’ being hung, someone told the authorities that he was a true man of God and a powerful evangelist.   By sending him to the gallows they may actually be making him popular and hurting their own cause. The officials lacked such discernment. His death did not stir any commotion anywhere, but induced some to come to the Savior. Among them were some of his relatives in his own city of Adana, who adhered to the Greek Orthodox religion. When they heard of Haralambos’ ordeal and his appalling execution for the sake of Jesus Christ they turned to the Savior.  What did not happen in his lifetime God accomplished at his death.

            Sister Katerina, his spiritual child during his last days of imprisonment, grateful for what she had received from him, approached the authorities as Joseph of Arimathea had done, and asked for the body. The ordinary treatment of the executed was to bury them in mass graves. However, she succeeded in obtaining his body. With the help of friends, she provided him with a proper burial. His remains were left in Marash, where a vast number of departed saints await the glorious resurrection morning.

            There is no church in this city today. There are a handful of Turkish believers nevertheless. These are the fruits of present-day missionaries from many countries who are using every means to evangelize the Turks. The flood of spiritual revival so prominent in Marash at one time has long given way to the cold stereotype Islamic religion.

            Haralambos’ execution turned out to be the high point of his life. The victory was won and its sequel would be felt in many places.  His sermons and writings began to be circulated by those who loved him and his Christ.  While many efforts had been made to snatch him from the clutches of death, the loving heavenly Father saw fit to bring his ordeal to this conclusion. Deep sorrow held Aneta’s and Anastasia’s hearts tight, but there were bright days ahead.  God’s loving presence transcended their grief, and he opened new paths before them.