EXECUTION IN MARASH
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
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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