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Rev. Barkev N. Darakjian was the former pastor of the Armenian Evangelical Church of Chicago, Illinois, and the former pastor of the First Armenian Evangelical Church of Glendale, California.  He is the former editor of CHANASSER, the official monthly publication of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches of the Near East, and the past editor of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America's quarterly publication, The Forum.  Rev. Darakjian is well versed in the history and literature of both the Armenian Apostolic as well as Evangelical Churches.  This article is the text of the lecture Rev. Darakjian presented at the conference on "Evangelism" that took palce in conjunction with the 76th Annual Meeting of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA). It was published in two parts in the AMAA News (November/December 1995 and March/April 1996) as part of a series of articles dealing with the Armenian Evangelical Church which were presented on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the church which was celebrated in 1996.

Evangelism in The Early Armenian Evangelical Church
Rev. Barkev Darakjian

Evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world. The central theme in evangelism should be Christ Jesus, the Son of God, his person and his redemptive work for sinners. Without Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Gospel of salvation, and the message of love and unity in Christ, evangelism will soon deteriorate into propaganda for certain religious doctrines, and will end up in proselytism. A person may change his/her religious views, and even become a convert to another faith or denomination under the influence of some religious propagators, and yet not be truly evangelized. Evangelism should not be understood as proselytism, because true evangelism does not recognize denominational boundaries. True evangelism must begin with Jesus Christ, and end up with the sinner’s ultimate surrender to the Savior.

Such a definition and characterization of evangelism will help us understand the nature and the objectives of the evangelism that was undertaken by the pioneers of the Armenian Evangelical Movement during the first half of the 19th century. In this paper we will first present a bird’s-eye view of the evangelistic work done by the Armenian Church, and then we will dwell on evangelistic ventures of the Armenian Evangelical Church until the year 1915, when they were curtailed by the Genocide.


Christianity was an underground movement during its first 300 years in Armenia. Its early converts used to get together to learn more about the new faith and also to hold worship services. It is not known if Gregory the Bartev, who later came to be known as St. Gregory the Illuminator, knew anything about these secret and small communities. However, when the Armenian King, Tiridates, was converted to Christianity through the testimony and efforts made by St. Gregory early in the 4th century, the latter became the first evangelist, the illuminator, and the Catholicos of Armenia. Gregory indeed became an evangelist in the image of the Apostle Paul. He traveled from one town to another, and even to the remote villages in Armenia, and preached the gospel, founded churches, and taught the Bible to the Princes and the courtiers of the King. St. Gregory and the King had one obsession, and that was to win the people of Armenia to Christianity. Gregory the Illuminator carried his missionary torch over to the lands of the Georgians and Albanians (present-day Azerbeijan). King Tiridates played an important role in these evangelistic ventures. Soon Grigorious, a grandson of the Illuminator, was consecrated as a Bishop at the age of 20, and was assigned to become the Primate of the Albanians. Following the example of his grandfather, Grigorious engaged in the evangelistic undertakings, traveling in the neighboring territories in order to win their pagan and unruly peoples over to Christianity. After listening to Grigorious’ gospel of peace and love, the chieftains were completely aghast. “What is this?” they exclaimed. “The Armenian King is plotting against us to occupy our lands! If we should not cheat, kill, and plunder, how are we going to survive?” Then they caused the young Bishop to be dragged to his death tied to a wild horse’s tail.

The next luminary in Armenian church history is St. Mesrop Mashtotz, who became one of the foremost evangelists and the cultural liberator of the Armenian people. With the encouragement and help he received from St. Sahak Partev, the Catholicos, he first invented the Armenian alphabet, and then together with St. Sahak and their disciples, translated the Bible into Armenian, using the Syriac and Greek translations. The translation of the Bible was completed by 433 A.D. The moving power behind this great venture was Mesrop's spiritual vision for his people, that they be able to read the Holy Bible in their own language and become better Christians. This also contributed to the preservation of the Armenian identity in the multicultural (Syriac, Persian, and Greek) and divided Armenian lands. Thus the evangelism that Sahak and Mesrop carried out in both the Persian and Greek sectors, contributed to the religious and national education of the Armenian people. They received Christ’s gospel of salvation in the language they spoke.

It is unfortunate that, in the published stories of the Armenian church to this day, the evangelistic perspective is lacking. We don’t find any reference to the Church’s evangelistic functions. In the three extensive volumes authored by the Patriarch Ormanian of Istanbul, Askabadoum, you find names of the rising and falling Patriarchs and Catholicoi, about their infighting, and their quarrels with the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches on faith issues. However, you do not find any evangelistic or missionary concerns there. This observation, however, should not undermine the value of this otherwise useful publication. Right or wrong, our impression from this work is that the Armenian Church has either failed in its evangelistic calling, or church historians have not considered the issue of evangelism important enough to be recorded. One can argue that the loss of Armenia’s political independence, the ongoing bloody battles waged against foreign invaders, the consequent massacres, and demographic changes had made the Church incapable of doing any evangelistic work. Furthermore, the ongoing ambitions of alien churches, governments, and cults over the Armenian Church have put the Church in a defensive position, struggling for survival. With all due respect to these arguments and the attempts at self-justification, we must not hesitate to admit that there have been no efforts made by the church hierarchy to revive the evangelistic legacy of St. Sahak and St. Mesrob among the Armenian people. Even if there were evangelistic activities in some remote areas, it is most probable that they were not recorded, or, if recorded, they have not been available to the public. It is a greater miracle that Armenian Christianity has survived to this day. Credit should be given to the monasteries and “universities” that were founded and functioned in remote areas where a new generation of religious scholars and pious monks did a wonderful job keeping the Christian faith and passing it on to the next generation. Indeed, we have had many theologians, mystics, writers, historians, teachers, and men of prayer. We should thank God for Nerces the Graceful (Shenorhali), Nerces of Lamprone, Gregory of Nareg, Movses Datevatzi, John Golod, Gregory of the Chain (Sheghtayagir), and others who became like shining stars in the otherwise darkened skies of Armenian church history. Among these the last three churchmen of the 17th and 18th centuries may be counted as evangelists in the tradition of Gregory the Illuminator and Mesrop Mashtotz. All three of them were deeply religious persons with true Christian convictions. They traveled extensively, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever they went. However, as we mentioned above, evangelism has hardly been a priority among the concerns of the Armenian Church.


The 19th century has been known as the Great Century of Worldwide Missionary Movement. We must keep this in mind when we think about or discuss the presence of foreign missions in the Middle East, and especially among Armenians. Many of you may have heard those stereotype statements, made by non-Evangelical writers and priests, that “The Armenian missionaries came to Turkey in order to divide the Armenian Church and community by converting the people to Protestantism.” In the first place, the missionaries did not specifically choose the Armenians in Turkey as a target for their missionary enterprise. Second, the missionaries did not belong to a monolithic and hierarchical church body (like the Roman Catholic Church) and were not assigned to overthrow the Armenian Catholicosate and occupy the Armenian churches. In fact, the missionaries belonged to different American church denominations, and their mission was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Third, there was already a revival of the evangelistic spirit among Armenian priests and seminarians when the American missionaries set foot on Turkish soil at the turn of the century. The Armenian Evangelical Church is the product of a religious revival in the early 19th century. This revival brought together a group of people to form the Society of the Pious. Their objective was to raise the Church from its spiritual apathy to implement some reforms through which the Church would be more effective in its spiritual mission. The appearance and activities of the Bible Societies and missionaries was a welcomed coincidence for the members of the newly-formed Pietist movement. These foreign agencies provided them with the necessary tools: Bibles, religious tracts and other publications, and methods of learning, teaching, and doing evangelistic work. The Armenian Church could have contained this new quest and surge of religious reform within the premises of the Armenian Patriarchate. However, its timing was bad in the first place. The Patriarchs in those times, the amiras, and the faithful of the Armenian Church were engaged in a fierce struggle against the incursions of the agents of the Vatican and their Armenian Catholic followers and sympathizers. It began in the year 1700, and lasted until 1831, the year the first American missionary arrived in Istanbul. The Turkish government used these fratricidal struggles to its own advantage, siding at times with the Apostolicals and persecuting the Catholics, and then reversing its policy and persecuting the Apostolicals. Tens of thousands of Armenians from both sides were sent to exile, where many of them perished. All this infighting within the Armenian population came to an end in the year 1831, when the Armenians of Catholic persuasion were given the status of a millet, or “community”, separate from the Armenian Patriarchate. We can understand now the fears of the religious and secular leaders of the Armenian community when some seminarians and a few priests began to attend the prayer meetings and Bible studies led by Protestant missionaries. Apparently the Armenian leaders were unable to distinguish between the Catholic and Protestant objectives and church polities. They feared another division within the Armenian community. Such a division would never have occurred had the Patriarch and the amiras shown more understanding and wisdom, and a spirit of acceptance. Instead, they persecuted the members of the Society of the Pious, and disowned them. Under the Ottoman civil laws, these reformists had no option other than to ask the government to give them a millet status, which the government did. Thus, on July 1, 1846, the Evangelical Church of Armenia was founded with 40 members, 37 men and 3 women. As a church, the Evangelicals continued to evangelize the Armenian people more fervently. As stated above, this new church was the product of evangelism, and it was very natural that it should continue to be an evangelizing church.


The church reform movement among Armenians began with Bible studies. The place where some young seminarians and priests began to study the Bible was the office of Gregory Peshtimaljian, Principal of the Armenian Seminary for Religious Studies. This school was founded in 1828, under the patronage of the Patriarch, to prepare young men for priesthood and to serve the Armenian Church. Peshtimaljian was considered to be a renowned Biblical scholar of his time who opened the minds and souls of his students to Biblical truths to the extent that they discovered the value of the Bible for their priestly vocation. From then on, the Bible became their point of reference when they tacked religious issues. Nevertheless, these Bible studies became a stumbling block for those who saw the danger in these intensive studies. When the Seminary was closed down, some of the more serious students began to attend the weekly Bible studies held by the newly-arrived missionaries. These former seminarians began to carry Bibles or New Testaments in their pockets, making the Patriarch and other church dignitaries more suspicious. Some of the high-ranking priests began to criticize these new Bible-oriented evangelists. Even their former Principal, Peshtimaljian, advised them to be more prudent. But a few of them would not give up. It was at this time, in 1836, that the Society of the Pious was founded in great secrecy. They were afraid of possible retaliation by the Patriarch and his traditionalist colleagues and amiras. At times, these young evangelists were challenged by the agents of the Patriarch. Debates were organized, held in different homes. They went there fearlessly, holding open Bibles in their hands. Their traditionalist adversaries were silenced when the evangelists brought testimony from the Scriptures to defend their points. They let the word of God speak for them.

The evangelistic campaign of the Society of the Pious gained momentum from the publication of Bibles in classical Armenian, in Turkish with Armenian characters, and in the Armenian vernacular (Ashkharhapar). The newly-organized Russian, British, and American Bible Societies were instrumental in providing Bibles, New Testaments, and selections from the Bible for distribution. The evangelists thus enhanced their activities by disseminating Biblical literature among Armenians all over Turkey and neighboring countries where Armenians lived. The people were hungry for the word of God, and they were nourished by it, especially when it came to them in their own language. We should thank God for our 19th century translators of the Bible along with our Holy Translators of the 5th century, and should pay tribute to their saintly memory for the wonderful work they did in order to save our people from Biblical illiteracy. Missionary William Goodell worked on the Turkish Bible with Armenian characters; Missionary Elias Riggs became the chief translator and editor of the Bible in modern Armenian; The Revs. Mardiros and Stepan Shmavonian, Bedros Amirkhanian, Der Ghazarian, and Kauvme Ablahatian became the translators of Armeno-Kurdish and Kurdish Bibles. Missionary A.H. Dietrich and Deacon Movses translated the new Testament into Eastern (Araratian) Armenian, while Rev. Apraham Amirkhaniantz was the translator of the whole Bible into Eastern Armenian, Azerbeijani Turkish and into many other Caucasian languages. It is interesting to know that Amirkhaniantz translated the Islamic Koran from Arabic into Caucasian Turkish, then had it printed side by side with the New Testament translation, so that a Moslem Turk reader would be able to compare the Christian Gospel to the Koran.

The translation of the Bible into the vernacular was welcomed by the Armenian communities living in Turkey, Persia, Armenia, and in the Caucasus. These Bibles were sought everywhere and there was a new interest in religion and morality. Where there were not enough Bibles, the people would borrow from each other, and would spend days and nights finishing them before they were returned to the owners. It reminded us of the olden times when St. Mesrop and St. Sahak had translated the Bible into Armenian and the Princes and Princesses carried some portions with them and read them during their hunting expeditions. There was great rejoicing over the rediscovery of the Bible along with its reviving messages. The more they studied the Bible the more they were convinced that the church which was in the making should be named the Evangelical Church --the Evangelical Church of Armenia. It is most significant that the Society of the Pious chose this name when they were asked by the missionaries of Congregational and Presbyterian backgrounds during the inauguration service. The name Evangelical emphasized the Bibliocentric nature and character of the new church. It also provided a perspective for its future direction. It is very important for us to keep this in mind. Our evangelical forefathers were not satisfied with a characterization of the church’s polity. Perhaps there were some concerns over the new church’s Armenian identity and therefore an inclination to reject any foreign denominational name. However, it is more plausible that the Founders wanted to emphasize the Biblical foundation of their church. It is not strange that their Manifesto begins with these words, “We, Evangelical Christians of the Armenian nation, believing hat the true foundation and perfect rule of Christian faith is the Holy Scripture alone, have cast away from us those human traditions and ceremonies which are opposed to the rules of the Bible…” I would appeal, therefore, to our churches that on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Evangelical Church of Armenia, we remember this beautiful legacy from our forefathers, and retain the name Evangelical for our churches.


Having been born of Bible study and evangelism, it was natural that the Armenian Evangelical church would continue to propagate Bible reading and evangelism among Armenians. According to one report, in the 1870’s, 30,000 Bibles were sold to Armenians, and 300,000 Bibles were used daily. Along with the Bibles, religious tracts, brochures, magazines, and books became available in the vernacular. These publications were very popular, and there were instances when a New Testament, a portion of the Bible, or a religious tract would prepare the way for further evangelism, resulting in the founding of a new church. It is beyond the limits of this paper to write about the extension of evangelism, and about church growth among the Armenians in the Middle East. However, according to some sources, in 1914 there were about 150 churches with over 100,000 adherents. The founding Fathers realized that their reform movement could be justified only as a bibliocentric community, and by manifesting the saving power of the gospel in their lives. They testified to their reformed lives by living according to the spiritual and moral teachings of the Bible. Besides the Bible, the following ancillary activities contributed to the growth of evangelistic mission, and consequently, to the spreading of the Evangelical Movement.

  • Evangelism through evangelical literature - Even before the founding of the Armenian Evangelical Church, the members of the Society of the Pious were already disseminating religious tracts and brochures within the Armenian community near and far. One particular tract, which has been mentioned by almost all Armenian Evangelical historians, was Leigh Richmond’s The Dairyman’s Daughter, which advocated the importance of spiritual life, and the studying of Scripture. This tract was handed to an Armenian teacher by m missionary William Goodell while the latter was passing through the town of Nicomedia. It was printed in the Armeno-Turkish language. Soon a few priests and the notables of the town gathered around Kit Varjabed and listened to the reading of this tract. Afterwards, they began to hold Bible studies, and a few of them became evangelists. Not much later, an Evangelical church was founded in that town. I mention this because it shows a pattern for evangelism and church growth. The following are the names of other tracts that are mentioned in the reports of the missionaries: On the Lord’s Prayer, New Heart of the Child’s Best Portion, Thy Kingdom Come, Christ the Way to God and HeavenM, The Great Salvation, Mr. King’s Letter, and Little Henry and His Beaver. These tracts were supplied by the American Mission Press at Malta. Later, after Armenian Evangelical churches were organized, a number of magazines were published in cooperation with the American missionaries of Baku, Azerbeijan: Eshtemaran Bidani Kideliatz (The Repository Of useful Knowledge), Avedaper (the Herald), Avedaper Deghayotz Hamar (The Herald For Boys), Puragn (Thousands of Sources), Yeprad (Euphrates), Yeni Emur (New Life), and Pari Loor (Good News). All these were published in the vernacular in the languages spolken in their respective areas. One timely book was Dobigny’s “History of Reform in Germanu”, translated by Sarkis Hovanessian into beautiful Ashkharhapar Armenian (modern Armenian). Besides these, some portions of the Bible were published and distributed by the thousands. In Armenia and in the Caucasus, wandering minstrels, such as Minstrel Shirin, Minstrel Mayil, and others were instrumental in the dissemination of the good news of salvation with their odes. The hymns, which were translated from the English and German hymn books, should not be overlooked as a means to evangelism. They were sung not only at the Evangelical worship services, but also in homes during family visits and even in the streets. The pastors of my generation will probably remember hearing hymns with gospel words, and with music that had been taken from some Armenian revolutionary or folk songs.
  • Evangelism through schools and charitable institutions - It is a pity that the history of the evangelical schools in Turkey has not been written to this day. A few years ago I read a book on Armenian culture, written by an Armenian scholar, Vahe Erganian of Armenia. I didn’t believe my eyes when I read that there were 675 Armenian evangelical schools operating in Turkey before the Genocide. No source was given for this information. Many people, especially non-evangelicals, either would not believe it or would think that these schools were established by the missionaries with the intent of proselytizing. It should be admitted that without the support of the foreign missionaries, the Armenian Evangelicals would have been unable to establish and support so many schools. However, we should also be proud to learn that those schools were run by Armenian evangelicals, and the evangelical churches and communities raised educational funds to give their support to those schools. Each church, and so each church member, had to pledge, besides a church-pledge, a certain amount of money for this great educational enterprise. They were definitely religious-evangelical schools and biblical instruction was a must in their curricula. The method of teaching was in general Lancasterian, a method in which advanced students taught those below them. I mention this because of its importance in person-to-person evangelism. For those who had gone through this system, person-to-person evangelism would not raise any problem. As for the orphanages, such as Baghdassarian’s Arevelian Vorpanotz in Brussa, Hallajian Vorpanotz in Aintab, and the Tarayan Vorpanotz in Baku, Azerbeijan, and later, Shirajian Vorpanotz in Syria, and all other charitable institutions, which were established and run by Armenian Evangelical pastors and religious workers, they had taken their inspiration and lead from the gospel, and had demonstrated Christian charity to all who sought their help, without discrimination. They fed the body but also healed the whole person, following the example of their lord and Master.
  • Evangelism through prayer and witnessing - Right after the recent election, consecration, and installation of the Catholicos of All Armenians, H.H. Karekin I, the new Vehapar attended a religious convocation in Etchmiadzin. While reading about this event in a local Armenian newspaper, my attention was drawn to a line in which the reporter mentioned that the Catholicos’s opening prayer had been a spontaneous prayer, that is, without using any printed prayer from the church’s prayer-book. This was not the first time that Karekin I had prayed in this manner. Back in the 1970’s, then a Bishop in Antelias, His Holiness was the chairman of the Near East Council of Churches. At this Council I represented our Armenian Evangelical Union in the Middle East. He would open the meetings by praying like any Protestant minister. Now that he is the Supreme Patriarch of All Armenians, I have a feeling that they should pray in the language of the people and do it spontaneously. I was very pleased.

    In our Armenian Evangelical tradition the practice of offering individual and spontaneous prayers began with the members of the Society of the Pious, prior to the founding of the Armenian Evangelical Church. They would open their Bible studies and meetings by offering ardent prayers to God for the revival of the Armenian Church and the people. We have no doubt about the fact that the foreign missionaries initiated this practice. Be that as it may, evangelicals everywhere were recognized by their peculiar way of praying, with their eyes closed and usually kneeling. We read that individual and group prayers were offered to God by evangelical men and women everywhere. Prayers in those days were mostly intercessory. They believed in the changing power of a prayer when it is offered in faith and obedience. They prayed for the Mother Church, the nation, and especially for unrepentant souls and for those who derided them, persecuted them, and separated them from their loved ones. Then there were the revival meetings in churches and schools. These were the dynamics for evangelism and church growth. Such revival meetings were held first in Marash, Aintab. Paghesh, Kharpert, and in other Cilician towns from 1861 to 1869. In 1888, another wave of revivals began in the Aintab area, and then another in 1901, followed by two after-shocks in 1903 and 1904, affecting many towns and villages. In the revivals of Aintab and Marash, the entire population was involved. The revivals were so effective that most of the taverns and coffeehouses went out of business. Many Apostolical priests and lay leaders in those towns joined in these revival meetings. Wherever you went, be it a house visit or shopping, you would hear about nothing but the revivals and the people who committed their lives to Jesus Christ. We must remember that Cilicia was the heart of the Armenian Evangelical movement, with its beautiful church buildings and educational institutions.

    A life of prayer and revivals produced courageous witnesses who were undaunted and unashamed about their beliefs and practices. We are not talking about non-Christian adversaries, but about our Armenian co-religionists who were not yet ready to accept the idea of church reform and renewed Christian faith with its ethical and moral implications. Many of us may have read or heard about the harsh and inhuman measures that were taken against the members of the Society of the Pious first, and then against all Armenian Evangelical dissenters. Official anathemas were solemnly pronounced against the reformists by the Patriarchs of that period. The Evangelicals were thrown out of the Armenian Church, losing the civil protection and services of the Patriarchs and Amiras. They were even denied the name Armenian. Many were exiled, jailed, and ostracized by their compatriots. Despite all these persecutions, the evangelicals stood fast in their faith and their demands for church reform. Sometimes when I think about the injustice and inhumanity that were done to our evangelical predecessors by the Armenian Church hierarchy, I ask myself why we should not demand a formal apology from the Catholicos and Patriarchs of today for the unnecessary suffering and anguish that the Armenian Church inflicted upon our forefathers. In recent years even nations asked other nations for forgiveness for their past sins and faults. Even the Pope has condescended to express his apology to women for the Vatican’s past unfairness towards them. This may sound a very bold and untimely position, but I stand by it and am ready to defend my case. What I want to emphasize is that despite all these adversities, the Armenian Evangelical witnessing grew even stronger during those early periods, and evangelism flourished. One classical example, an incident which I greatly cherish, is the story about an old man whom the people called Uncle Megurian. He used to read the Bible and the religious tracts which he received regularly, and then would pass them on to others. One day some young boys began to throw stones at him. Uncle Megurian collected those stones and without uttering any complaint, he called back saying, “Sons, throw more stones at me; tomorrow a church will be erected with these stones.” This happened in Bardizag, a suburb of Istanbul, in the 1840’s. And not much later, the Armenian Evangelical Church of Bardizag was erected on that very spot.


    The history of Evangelism in and through the Armenian Evangelical Church has not yet been written. This presentation may serve as an introduction to such a work and an incentive to a future historian. I will present here only a sketch of those Armenian evangelists whose evangelistic vision, steadfast faith, and courageous actions have been a source of inspiration to me. Again, I have to limit myself to the formative years of the Evangelical Movement, and only to a few representative figures.

  • Priest Vertanes Eznakian - A priest of the Armenian Church, Eznakian joined the Society of the Pious and became one of its most active members. In 1843 he was defrocked for this insubordination. After his expulsion from the Mother Church, Eznakian was engaged in missionary travels which took him to all the Armenian provinces and other towns in Cilicia. This fruitful expedition was sponsored by the Society. He was instrumental in the conversion of the three Utujian brothers, one of whom, Apisoghom, became the first ordained minister of the Armenian Evangelical Church. The other two brothers, Simon and Stepan, also became pastors and served in newly-founded churches. Neither the Patriarch’s anathema nor the persecution prevented him from being a traveling evangelist, an educator, and a true servant of the Lord until 1884, when he entered his eternal rest.
  • Hovhanes Der Sahakian - He was one of the Founding Members of the Society of the Pious and later became its General Secretary. His father was a very pious person who made every effort to raise his children to fear the Lord. Hovhanes was first educated under Peshtimaljian, and later participated in his Bible studies. He also attended Cyrus Hamlin's college in Bebek, and attended Bible studies led by the Missionaries. He later spent a couple of years in the United States to continue his theological education. In 1852, Hovhanes, who was back in Turkey and was serving the first evangelical church in Adapazar, decided to undertake a missionary tour in and around Asian Turkey. His trip took him to 27 towns, accompanied by a teacher, Simon Tavitian. Back in Istanbul, he reported that at least 40 pastors were needed to serve in those areas. According to one historian, the years 1847-1852 recorded an unprecedented growth in the Armenian Evangelical Movement. He was sent into exile by the Patriarch and later was put in prison. But whether in exile or in prison, Hovhanes continued to preach the gospel to his compatriots.

  • Rev. Simon Tavitian - Simon was a born evangelist. He had received his early education in a number of Armenian monasteries where he mastered Armenian grammar and rhetoric. He wanted to become a celibate priest in the Armenian Church. On his way to Jerusalem, he met a teacher from Istanbul and borrowed a Bible and some religious brochures. In his readings, he discovered the evangelical truth and experienced real conversion. He left the monastery secretly and went to Istanbul. He studied at Cyrus Hamlin's religious school, from where he graduated in 1848. From then on he devoted his time and energy to evangelism. As we saw above, he engaged in his first missionary trip with Der Sahakian. In the histories of the evangelical movement, I have not met any other person who visited to many cities, towns, and villages as Tavitian. He covered Cilicia, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan, Armenia’s Eastern Provinces, Persia, the Caucasus and many other places. He does not seem to have been an evangelist who played on the emotions of his hearers. However, he had a special talent for talking people into re-evaluating their old concepts of religion and morality. Despite his evangelistic temperament, he served for 25 years as the pastor of the Evangelical Church in Paghesh. Even during this period, he would take time off to go and search for new towns and villages for evangelistic work. He was also known as the author of many articles on Christian faith and teachings, and on other subjects. He died in 1894 in Negomitia.
  • Evangelists in Armenia and in the Caucasus - Armenia and the Caucasus also had their reformists, even though they were not as vocal as the members of the Society of the Pious. The history of the evangelical movement in this extensive area had its beginning in the year 1821, when two Swiss Bazelian missionaries were allowed by the Russian government to open a school in Shoushi Karabagh. They were August Dietrich and Felix Zarempa. Dietrich knew Armenian, even classical Armenian. They saw that Armenians were a religious people and showed great interest in religion. So they started a mission for Armenians. In 1838, the Russian government sent these missionaries home. A young man, Sarkis Hampartzoumiantz, insisted on following them in order to learn more about the Christian faith. Reluctant at first, the missionaries finally agreed to let him join them. After receiving an education in the Baltic States, and earning a teaching degree from a German institution, Sarkis returned to Shamakh, his home-town, in 1842 and started a school for children. In the evenings and on Sundays he held meetings in his home. Thus began the evangelization process. There were no foreign missionaries involved at this time. Sarkis continued to hold prayer meetings and soon a religious revival took place. Many received the gospel of salvation into their hearts, which affected their lives by transforming them. Sarkis kept his ties with the Mother church and with Catholicos Ashdaragetzi, who was his friend. The Catholicos was a reform-minded person, so no persecution was carried out against the reformists in his time. When Matteos Tchookhajian, the former Patriarch of Istanbul, became the Catholicos of All Armenians, persecutions followed in his wake.

    Besides Sarkis Hampartzoumiantz, Armenia and the Caucasus enjoyed the services of the following dedicated evangelists: Rev. Apraham Amirkhaniantz (already mentioned), Markar Tzerdararian, Krikor Kevorkian, and Badvagan Tarayantz of Baku. Despite persecution, imprisonment, exile, and degradation, evangelicals continued to preach the gospel and to hold services in many towns and villages. They even organized the Union of the Evangelical Churches in Armenia and the Caucasus. However, they were not able to acquire recognition from the Russian Government until some of them merged with the Russian Lutheran Union, while others merged with the Baptist Union following the Communist Revolution.

  • On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Movement and the founding of the Evangelical Church of Armenia, let us thank God for all foreign missionaries who shared their evangelistic vision, faith, and means to further the kingdom of God among our people. May God continue to bless us in our evangelistic ventures through the Armenian Missionary Association of America, the missionary arm of the Armenian Evangelical Churches all over the world. May His spirit prepare us to re-dedicate our lives to the commission that Jesus Christ entrusted to us, to go and preach, teach, and baptize people for his glory. Amen.