LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. VIII.
AMERICAN CIVILISATION IN THE MIDST OF TURKISH DESOLATION — REVIVAL OF RELIGION IN AINTAB — REMARKABLE SERVICES IN THE OLD GREGORIAN AND PROTESTANT CHURCHES.
AINTAB, April 27, 1896.
I MUST not delay to write and tell you how increasingly interesting our work
here is becoming, and how wonderfully the way is being made before us. We
are much impressed by what we see here, both as regards the conflict between
civilisation and barbarism, and as regards the religious emancipation of the
people from their ancient superstitions. We are staying here at the American
College, which has been doing a great work in this part of Turkey, and is
naturally much hated by those who are fanatically inclined amongst the Moslems.
It is an unspeakable comfort to be landed in this oasis, where one can enjoy
for a little while the comforts and conveniences of Western life. Will it
sound strange to hear that in Aintab I play tennis with the professors and
students of the college, and that last night we had some passages from the
Messiah sung for us ? If it surprises you, it is equally strange to
us, who were quite unprepared to find how fast things have been moving here
in the last few years. No wonder the authorities are alarmed, as they
see the old order passing away, and feel their supremacy disintegrating from day to day. But enough of this; I only want to impress upon you the fact that Armenia is very little understood as far as relates to its place in civilisation, for the simple reason that its place is changing so rapidly.
You must imagine us then as living in a beautiful American house in the midst of the college grounds. We look across the valley to the American Hospital and the Girls’ Seminary, behind which is the city with its minarets. On the left the old Arab castle, which appears to be rebuilt from an earlier structure of the Crusaders. If that is right, as I think it is, the view comprises the obsolete chivalry of Western Christendom, the decaying barbarism of Islam, and the rush of advancing progress from beyond the sea. A singular combination! One moment the eye rests upon the burnt ruins of the massacre of last November, the next upon the towers and parapets which tell of the battles of the medieval world, and side by side the splendid buildings which represent the missionary impulse and the philanthropy of the nineteenth century.
But what I want to tell you most of is the remarkable religious phenomena
that are before us here. The first result of all these horrible massacres
has been to draw together the various bodies of Christians, and to accomplish
a religious unity such as no councils could ever have found a basis for. I
think I mentioned in one of my previous letters that an Armenian Protestant
pastor in Constantinople had said to me, in view of the reconcilia-
tion that was going on between the Protestants and the old Armenian Church, that it would not be long before the evangelical preachers would be occupying the old churches. But I certainly hardly expected to see this so soon fulfilled, still less to be myself a small factor of the fulfilment. But here in Aintab the thing is an accomplished fact; and when I tell you of it you will, I am sure, be astonished, and praise God. Yesterday my wife and myself preached to audiences of about 11,000 people, and this alone is sufficient to make the day one of the most memorable in our lives.
The way it comes about is something like this : it is the result of three
operating factors. First, the solidifying influence of an awful persecution;
the same cause which brought in the early Christian Church the orthodox and
the so-called heretic before the same tribunal, and often resulted in the
canonisation of the heretic along with the orthodox (as in the case of Perpetua
and Felicitas, and other well-known martyrs), has been at work here; and the
Christians here have been wonderfully drawn together by the trials through
which they have had to pass. As one of the pastors said to me to-day, “We
were like pieces of cold iron, but this persecution has welded us together.”
The second cause which has been at work is the sympathy of Western Protestant
Nonconformity. The Armenians know very well how much of sympathy has come
to them from the old English and American Evangelicals, and they have drawn
their own conclusions. They say: “ We understand the Protestants now,
and know that they are not heretics.” And thirdly, since the alleviation
of the suffer-
ings of the people has largely flowed through the hands of the native Armenian pastors, working with the old Gregorian Armenians, the two poles of religious thought and life have been brought into such contiguity that sparks of material love have been passing all the time. No doubt other and higher influences have also been at work which do not admit of classification under firstly, secondly, and thirdly, because they are above all, and through all, and in all. Well, one result of this upheaval in Aintab has been that the Protestants (including the college professors and native preachers) have been preaching the Gospel in the old Gregorian Church, and in the very midst of the old Gregorian ritual.
The people, too, in the midst of their sorrows, have turned their attention to religion in a way that has probably never been known before. All the churches are crowded, generally twice a day, and the people will sit for hours listening to the consolations of the kingdom of God. Yesterday, as I said, was our great day. Dr. Puller, president of the American College, had been invited to preach at the Gregorian High Mass, and he obtained permission for me to come and share the privilege with him. It was the first time he had ever had the opportunity, and the first time I had been in anything of the kind. The service began before daybreak, and as the ritual is extremely long, and without any preaching occupies about two hours, you can judge what it would be like with a couple of Protestant addresses intercalated in it.
I was out of bed by ten minutes after five, and after a cup of coffee and
a bit of bread we were soon on our way
to the church, where we found the service already well advanced. But what
a sight! From end to end of the building a sea of heads ; the men stood, of
course, as there are no seats, but only carpets on the floor, and I need not
say that the capacity of a building is vastly increased when the people stand
or when they sit close packed upon the floor; away in the galleries and behind
lattice-work was a throng of women, and a glance overhead at the lantern showed
that a crowd of women were also listening on the roof. I suppose there must
have been 3000 people present, and they say that another thousand was in the
courtyard and unable to get into the church. When the first sunbeams fell
on this crowd within the church, with their red fezzes, blue jackets, and
striped shirts, it made a fantastic sea of colour that is not easy to describe.
The service is much more extended than most masses of which I know anything.
The main features of the eucharistic method, however, were not difficult to
recognise. The Nicene Creed was recited by the whole congregation, and the
kiss of peace was given, usually by turning one’s cheeks to one’s
neighbours, first to the one side and then to the other, but without any actual
contact between the lips and the face. The procession of the priests, as they
brought the elements from one altar to the other to place them in the hands
of the celebrant, was very interesting. The approaching priest recites from
the psalm, “ Lift up your heads,” &c, and the celebrant inquires,
“Who is this King of Glory ? ” and so on, the elements being placed
on the altar. But I need not enlarge further on this ancient ritual. Indeed
I do not understand it as well as
I could wish (speaking as an archaeologist). In the midst of the service one of the clergy read a paper of subscriptions for the poor, usually in the form of thanksgivings or requests for prayer, and it was very interesting to note that no less than four donations were made in thankfulness for the safe return of the American doctor (Dr. Shephard) from Zeitun. One person added, “ and for the safe return of the English Consul,” who had been prayed for by the people in the great church.
When it came to the time for the sermon, Dr. Fuller was introduced and preached to the people extempore; they listened with breathless attention, and often by a murmur of sympathy or by a responsive “Amen,” expressed their approval of what was said. I was back in Antioch by this time with Chrysostom ! Then came my turn to say a few words. After this the service continued; the elements were elevated, portions of blessed bread were distributed amongst the people, and finally the first chapter of the Gospel of John was read (in the Old Armenian, I think), and so the liturgy concluded. A short service was then commenced in commemoration of the dead, but by this time we were tired, it was eight o’clock, and most of the people were leaving. So we came back to the college with thankful hearts for the opportunity we had enjoyed of speaking of the Kingdom of God to a people who do not generally hear anything on that point, beyond the obscure intimations of the ritual.
At noon the great church was crowded again, but this time 3000 women had
the floor, and my dear wife was the celebrant of the mysteries. I must leave
her to give her own impressions of that remarkable service.
The afternoon was appointed for services in almost all the churches, and I promised to come and help them at the First and Second Protestant Churches, beginning with the latter, and then going on to the former. As there was likely to be a great crowd, a service was also arranged by the Protestant pastors in the old Armenian Church. Not to allow the brotherly kindness to be all on one side, the first hour of the service in the Second Protestant Church was given up to the Gregorians, who were allowed to bring their altar with them, and set it up, with a censer and other necessaries, in front of the Protestant pulpit. And when they had done their evening service the Protestant worship began. Here, again, it was a wonderful sight. The open galleries and a small part of the main floor were, reserved for women; the rest was filled with a dense mass of worshippers, who filled the building long before the appointed hour, and would, to judge from their interest, have willingly stayed all day. Professor Papagian led the service and expounded the Scriptures; he then called upon me, for whom he interpreted most beautifully; and when I had done, we slipped off to the other church, and left him to preach to the people on his own account.
The First Church is a splendid building, with a waggon roof on wooden pillars
— no galleries. This time the women sat on one side of the floor in
a place reserved for them. Here there must have been again 3000 people; and
how they listened ! First of all their pastor (educated at Yale University
in America) preached them a closely
reasoned discourse on the necessity of progress in the interpretation of Christianity, and then I had my little say, and so we ended. My own mind was full of blessed astonishment at the things which I had seen and heard.
In the evening we had a meeting with the students of the college, to whom my wife and I both said a few words. But you may very well believe that by nightfall we were tired enough. But who would not be tired in such a service!
And now I must conclude this letter. The people of whom I have been speaking to you, are as good material as any similar audience you could gather in England. Alas! that they should be destroyed. The preachers with whom I have been working are earnest, educated, and devout. We are well and happy. The time of our coming is the right time. A few weeks ago the people could scarcely stir abroad; even now there is great danger and constant fear. But they are plucking up courage a little, and we are doing all we can to help them. Continue with us in your prayers to God for this unhappy land and this precious people.
Table of contents
The cover and pages 1-4 | Preface | Table of contents (as in the book)
Turkish Armenia with Route of J.R. & H.B. Harris (a map)
Letter I | Letter II | Letter III | Letter IV | Letter V | Letter VI | Letter VII | Letter VIII
Letter IX | Letter X | Letter XI | Letter XII | Letter XIII | Letter XIV | Letter XV
Letter XVI | Letter XVII | Letter XVIII | Letter XIX | Letter XX | Letter XXI | Letter XXII
Letter XXIII | Letter XXIV | Letter XXV | Letter XXVI | Letter XXVII | Letter XXVIII
Memorandum: Notes of Information from J. R. H. | Letter XXIX | Letter XXX
Letter XXXI | Letter XXXII | Letter XXXIII | Letter XXXIV | Letter XXXV
Letter XXXVI | Letter XXXVII
J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris. Letters from the Scenes of
the Recent Massacres in Armenia. London, James Nisbet & Co.,