H. Tootikian was born in Kessab, Syria in
Lebanon he attended the American University of
Beirut and the Near East
School of Theology. Upon graduation from seminary
in 1959, he served
the Armenian Evangelical Church of Damascus from
1959 to 1960, and the
Armenian Evangelical Congregational Church of
Cairo, Egypt from 1960 to
1965. Rev. Dr. Tootikian did his graduate work at
and Andover Newton Seminaries, earning two masters
and a doctorate
degree. Rev. Dr. Tootikian has served the Armenian
Memorial Church of
Watertown Massachusetts from 1965 to 1975.
Rev. Dr. Tootikian is the Pastor Emeritus of the
Armenian Congregational Church of Greater Detroit.
Rev. Dr. Tootikian has served as the Moderator of
Evangelical Union of North America and the
President of the Armenian
Evangelical World Council. In addition he is a
scholar, and prolific writer. His article
below was published
Summer 2006 edition of the AEUNA Forum ont he
of the 160th anniversary of the Founding of the
The Contributions of The Armenian Evangelical Church
to The Armenian People
Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian
The 160-year history of the Armenian Evangelical Church is a rich one, and her benefits to the Armenian nation have been manifold. These contributions have been objectively documented by Armenian Evangelical historians. Even non-Evangelical writers have attested to the noteworthy services she has rendered to the Armenian people.
What specifically were the benefits and contributions of the Armenian Evangelical Church to the Armenian nation? They were the following:
Revival of Spiritual Values
The Armenian Evangelical Church was primarily spiritual in character. She was responsible for the revival of religious values at a time when religion in the Armenian Church seemed to reflect a preoccupation with outward formality. Measured by her effects, it is safe to say that Armenian Evangelicalism became a potent force in the life of the Armenian people. It restated the answers to some fundamental questions, which belong to the very nature of Christianity. She affirmed that a new life offered through Christ comes through a personal encounter with Him, and through disciplined spiritual life and piety. The necessity for personal religious experience, which had been replaced almost entirely by visible institutions and traditions, became a topic of central significance and emphasis in Evangelical teaching. She also affirmed that nominal membership in the church does not make a person truly Christian; rather, being a Christian means a radical commitment of one’s whole life to Jesus Christ.
The Armenian Evangelical Church has always emphasized the importance and absolute necessity of spiritual regeneration. Bringing people to a vital relationship with Christ has been her highest priority. Become Christ-like is the raison d΄étre and the birthright of any Christian community, including the Armenian Evangelical Church. First things first! The Church must be the Church. She must be in the image, in the likeness of Christ; she must be Christ’s Body.
The Popularization of the Bible
The spread of literacy brought the Bible within the reach of a population that knew it only by rote, in classic, archaic Armenian, and only as a rare and esoteric volume, copies of which were generally restricted to churches. The Armenian Bible in the classical Armenian language was in existence since the first quarter of the fifth century. But it was not an open book to the general public. The Armenian missionaries, with the help of the Armenian Evangelical scholars, changed all that. They translated the Bible into vernacular Armenian (Ashkharapar) from the original Hebrew and Greek languages, and made it available to anyone who could read. “An open Bible in the language of the people,” became the slogan of the Armenian Evangelicals. This Bible became, in turn, an agent in the wider dissemination of literacy, in the spread of the Movement among the Armenian people, and in the enrichment of the spiritual life of the people.
An Enviable Educational System
One of the most important contributions of the Armenian Evangelical Church was the development of a sound educational program.
A tabular view of Evangelical educational institutions will give the reader an idea about the great contributions Armenian Evangelicals made:
Prior to World War I and the Armenian genocide of 1915, in Turkey, the Evangelicals had:
Many of the graduates of these schools served the Armenian people as clergymen, educators, physicians, merchants, scientists and intellectual leaders, etc. Unfortunately, the Armenian genocide destroyed the vast majority of these institutions.
Today, Armenian Evangelicals have 20 educational institutions with approximately four thousand students. They have one seminary in Armenia, the Evangelical Academy, and they are partners of the Near East School of Theology; the own and operate Haigazian University, in Beirut Lebanon, the only institution of higher learning in the Diaspora, outside the Republic of Armenia; they have four high schools, and thirteen elementary schools.
By establishing schools, they provided the Armenian people with the means and the motive for attaining a high degree of education. The Armenian Evangelical Movement created an educational Armenian elite to exploit and extend the intellectual and social renaissance of the nineteenth century. Scores of schools for boys and girls, from kindergarten to college, became sources of hope and blessing to the Armenian people. The Evangelical Movement was instrumental in educating thousands of Armenians who later enjoyed a quality of life that otherwise would have been unavailable to them. World War I heralded, among other unimaginable disaster, the destruction of this highly organized school system; but nothing could eradicate the lasting benefits of the education the system bestowed on future generations of the nation.
One of the greatest services that the Armenian Evangelical Church rendered to the Armenian nation was in the realm of Christian education
From the beginning, the Armenian Evangelical Church placed great emphasis on Christian education in the life of the family and church. She regarded the Christian nurture of children as one of her most important tasks. Thus, the Sunday School became a very important institution for the Armenian Evangelical Church.
Almost all Armenian Evangelical Churches have church schools or Sunday Schools. Christian education for children has been part and parcel of the Evangelical witness.
One of the greatest missions of the Armenian Evangelical Church is to import Christ-centered education to all its members and lead them to the Superlative Teacher, Jesus Christ. Armenian Evangelicals are also cognizant of the fact that once they learn from the Great Teacher, they are called and commissioned to “Go into the world TEACHING…”
Development of the Modern Armenian Language and Enrichment of Armenian Literature
The translation of the Bible and the production of other religious publications in the Armenian vernacular contributed to the purification of the Armenian language spoken in the middle of the nineteenth century. The emphasis on the Armenian vernacular helped it develop into an accepted literary language.
Since its inception, the Armenian Evangelical Movement has launched more than a score of publications, including weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and quarterly periodicals, many of which have since discontinued. (These do not include church bulletins, newsletters, and other small-scale publications.)
The Armenian Evangelical press has been a messenger of truth and righteousness. It has been a means to enlighten, to guide, to inspire the Armenian people, in general, and Armenian Evangelicalism, in particular. It has aspired to be a torchbearer of Armenian Evangelical principles, and a golden thread to link the Armenian Diaspora with the Armenian Motherland.
Christian Mission and Outreach
The Armenian Evangelical Church became and evangelistic, mission-minded church. She considered evangelism the sublime calling and vocation of the church.
Along with her educational, religious, ecclesiastical, theological, liturgical, and social contributions, the Armenian Evangelical Church rendered a great humanitarian and Christian service to the Armenian people, through her charitable and philanthropic institutions. Armenian Evangelicals felt not only duty-bound, but privileged to lend a helping hand to those in need. They helped their fellow Armenians in the trying days of the oppressive Ottoman rule; they founded and supported the Armenian Sanatorium in Azounieh, Lebanon; they supported the Armenian Old Age Home in Aleppo, Syria; they rescued Armenian orphans form the interior provinces of Turkey.
In the missionary outreach, they made their greatest contribution to the nation through the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), which was founded on June 7, 1918, in Worcester, Massachusetts. In the early years, the AMAA responded generously to recurring calls for help from stricken compatriots in their homeland, and later helped those same compatriots to regain their dignity and trust in rebuilding their lives in their adopted countries. It contributed generously to a myriad of Armenian causes.
It is hardly an exaggeration to state that the AMAA became, in many ways, the historical liaison, the unifying bond, and the catalyst of the Armenian Evangelical Churches scattered all over the world. Without it, the Armenian Evangelicals would have been deprived of good leadership during the most difficult period of their history. It provided them with the sinews of organization and guidance. Their misfortunes would have been even greater and their good fortunes would have been less, had not the AMAA existed to fulfill its destiny as the beneficent ministrant of the Armenian Evangelical Church. Indeed, had not the AMAA given the stricken Armenians of World War I guidance and moral and material support, the calamity of “The First Genocide of the Twentieth Century” would have been even more pronounced.
At present, the AMAA has to its credit over eighty-eight years of tremendous success, both in America and abroad, and an untarnished record of service to Armenians everywhere. The spirit of dedication and service which has been shown by the members and friends of the Association has been recorded with appreciation in the annals of the Armenian Evangelical communities of the Diaspora.
The years since 1918 have become years of growing resources and expanding ministries for the AMAA.
The number of contributing members in year 2006 exceeds 20,000. Assets have grown to more than $100 million and the annual budget of $5.7 million is allocated to more than 100 different mission projects serving thousands of less fortunate Armenians around the world.
Benevolent and Philanthropic Organizations
From its inception, the Armenian Evangelical Church has been cognizant of the mandate to the witnessing and serving characteristics of the Christian Church. The realization of being her “brother’s keeper” has prompted her to stretch a helping hand to all Armenians. The early Armenian Evangelicals, side by side with the American missionaries, tried to meet the physical needs of their compatriots. In the interior provinces of Turkey, where medical facilities were lacking or were nonexistent, the medical and health services that the missionaries provided played a providential role.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, two Armenian Evangelical ministers, the Reverends Krikor Baghdassarian and Hovhannes Halajian, founded orphanages in Turkish Cilicia for Armenian orphans.
In the aftermath of World War I, another Armenian Evangelical minister, the Rev. Aharon Shirajian, founded a large orphanage in Aleppo, Syria, for the surviving Armenian orphans of the Armenian genocide.
At the present time, the Armenian Evangelical Church continues her humanitarian services through her benevolent and philanthropic organizations. In fact, there are more than a half a dozen benevolent, philanthropic, and humanitarian organizations through which the Armenian Evangelical Church reaches out to many needy Armenians. Some of these organizations belong to the Evangelical Church and some were inspired and organized by Armenian Evangelicals. Most of these, however, are jointly owned and supported by the Armenian Evangelical Church, and other church bodies and organizations. A short description of the most important of these organizations follows:
The Stephen Philibosian Foundation is named after the late Stephen Philibosian. The foundation and its counterpart, the Stephen Philibosian Endowment Fund, held in trust with the AMAA, has dispersed hundreds of thousands of dollars among global Armenian projects.
The Jinishian Memorial Foundation is in memory of an Armenian Evangelical rug merchant, Vartan Jinishian, son of the late Rev. Haroutune Jinishian. The Foundation initially amounted to $10 million, and seventy-five percent of its annual interest is being used for the Armenian needy in the Middle East and Armenia.
The Armenian National Sanatorium of Lebanon is the brainchild of the late Rev. Yenovk Hadidian and was founded in June 1923. It is jointly owned and managed by the Armenian Apostolic and Evangelical churches in Lebanon.
CAHL (Center for Armenian Handicapped in Lebanon), formerly known as the Institute for the Blind, Deaf, and Dumb and the Widow’s Home.
The Old Age Home In Aleppo is an interdenominational home for the Armenian aged. It is owned and operated by the UAEC-NE, the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Northern Syria, and the Armenian Catholic Church in Aleppo, Syria.
The Armenian Evangelical Social Service Center (AESSC) was organized in 1977 pursuant to the AMAA’s encouragement by a one-year initial grant, but its embryonic beginnings go back to 1974.
The Role of the Laity in the Mission of the Church
The Armenian Evangelical Church laid the foundation for the proper understanding of the role of lay people in the mission of the Church. She stressed the truth that the Church is the people, the community of committed Christians, engaged in their mission in the world, in the name of Christ. Thus, the Armenian Evangelical Church cherished the concept of “the priesthood of all believers.”
The Armenian Evangelical Church is governed, her service ordered, and her work organized on a constitutional and democratic base in which lay persons play a decisive role. Her power and effectiveness, form the human point of view, lies in the dedication, leadership, and involvement of her people.
Emphasis on Individual Responsibility and the Inviolability of Freedom of Conscience
The Armenian Evangelical Church asserted vigorously the principle of moral responsibility of each individual. One of her most important contributions was the emphasis upon religion as a relationship, not only between God and the community of believers, but also between God and the individual. The Evangelical spirit is paramount to a life of individual responsibility.
The Armenian Evangelical Church also cherished the principle of freedom of conscience. This principle encouraged tolerance of diverse viewpoints, an open mind and a quest for fuller freedom. The Armenian Evangelical Church, from the very beginning, became an advocate of freedom of thought and expression and exercised that freedom through her pulpit, press and educational media.
The democratic form of the Armenian Evangelical Church calls for obedience to the church, but it also leaves room for dissent on the part of her membership. Behind the right of dissent is an awareness that the church is not the final authority.
This emphasis on the inviolability of the freedom of conscience rooted among the Armenian Evangelicals the sense of social justice. As a result of this, Armenian Evangelicals, through their active involvement , made their proud contributions to the national liberation movement.
An Example To Emulate
The Armenian Evangelical Movement stung conventional wisdom where it sat and galvanized it to action. It fulfilled the role gadfly by promoting an examination of traditional mores and manners, and by provoking the development of machinery to meet needs that had never been successfully addressed in the past. Like most gadflies, its effect far surpassed its size and influence.
Even the Armenian Apostolic Church could not remain entirely indifferent. She was, to a degree, prompted to justify and reaffirm herself in a counter-reformation that represented a response to the stimulus introduced by the gadfly of the Evangelical Reformation. The Armenian Evangelical Church, despite its small representation of the total population, proved a good enabler and an excellent model to emulate.
The Armenian Evangelical Movement, along with other important contributing factors, created a reform-oriented atmosphere in the nineteenth-century Armenian community in Turkey, with any advantageous results.
The Armenian Evangelical Reformation also created a healthy competition in the Apostolic Church. For instance, in the realm of education, this healthy competition led to the establishment of a large number of parochial schools by the Apostolic Church. Another area was the introduction and popularization of the Sunday School system.
Other areas in which Evangelicalism influenced the Armenian Church were Christian education for adults through mid-week Bible study classes, which are currently very popular in the Apostolic Church in America, the adoption of a weekly stewardship pledge system for the support of the church, and the formation of youth organizations similar to the Protestant Christian Endeavor Societies.
The Armenian Evangelical Church gave the Armenian nation many great individuals, clergy and laity, who not only distinguished themselves in their own fields of endeavor, but also provided good leadership.
Armenian Evangelical leaders also played an important role in the lives of Armenian organizations, among which are the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Knights of Vartan, and the Armenian Athletic Union, to name a few. Some of them left not only their distinctive mark on the organizational life of the Armenian community, but also inspired others by their own example, albeit their fame outside the Armenian Evangelical constituency has sometimes been far less than deserved.
From her inception, the Armenian Evangelical Church laid strong emphasis on Christian Stewardship.
Through her pulpits, platform and media, the Armenian Evangelical Church, has always advocated the Biblical concept of stewardship; that one’s giving ought not b a burden, but an opportunity to grow spiritually; that giving should not be careless and impulsive, but a systematic way, laying aside as an offering to God a definite portion of one’s income.
Through regular pledging of their members, the churches met their financial obligation with Christian concern and dignity. The stewardship program was based upon annual pledges of financial support made prior to the beginning of each year, and it served to establish the operating budget for the coming year.
This pledge system, adopted by the Armenian Evangelical churches since the middle of the nineteenth century, was the first in its kind among all Armenian churches and organizations.
Thanks to this Christian stewardship policy the Armenian Evangelical Church could maintain hundreds of her churches, schools and organizations and render her services to the nation and humanity.
Elevation of the Armenian Women’s Status
The Armenian Evangelical Church, with the support of the American missionaries, became a conductive factor and a driving force in the elevation of the nineteenth century Armenian women in their own right. Through their educational institutions, many Armenian women received formal education. Education became not only an attainable goal for many Armenian women, but higher education became a viable option for the Armenian female who, until the advent of the Armenian Evangelical Movement, had been excluded.
The Armenian Evangelical schools produced a large number of educated women who tool their rightful place in society. Female graduates, in turn, became educators of the younger generations of Armenians throughout the Armenian community. In fact, toward the end of the nineteenth century, the vast majority of teachers in Armenian elementary schools were female graduates and undergraduates from the American missionary and Armenian Evangelical colleges, seminaries and teacher training institutions. The status of women was definitely elevated in a male-dominated society as a result of higher education. That trend continued and today over seventy percent of the faculties of the Armenian Evangelical schools consists of females. Moreover, even some of these institutions of learning are headed by Armenian women.
Soon educated Armenian women demonstrated their abilities of leadership in the life of the church and Armenian organizations. Women began to serve on boards of trustees and deacons, some of whom served as moderators and chairpersons.
As in the past, the Armenian Evangelical Church continues to recognize the important role Armenian women play as one of the stabilizing forces in our national life. Armenian women still symbolize the qualities of life that we all admire.
Last, but not lease, one of the greatest contributions and lasting services of the Armenian Evangelical Church was the distinctive Christian life-style. The early Evangelicals had a ministry of presence. There was no gap between their utterance and their performance. Their Bible-and-Christ-centered life-style was their most convincing witness and testimony. They were indistinguishable, not only in their conduct, but in their faith and service to the Armenian people.
The Evangelical Christians’ piety and conduct, their rejection of secular modes of life, their strict observance of the Christian Sabbath, their abstinence from alcoholic beverages, their principle of absolute integrity and honesty in business dealings and the marketplace, in short, their example, provided a living testimony to character and values to which society as a whole might aspire. It is common knowledge now that, generally speaking, Armenian Evangelicals in the Ottoman Empire had a reputation as a people of complete integrity, with a character beyond reproach. So much so that in the Turkish courts, Evangelicals were exempted from taking an oath on the Bible; their word was accepted as their bond. Not even a Muslim judge would question that.
Alas, this lifestyle is gradually diminishing everywhere in our modern society!
The benefits derived from the Armenian Evangelical Church and the contributions she made to the Armenian nation do not imply that all that was said and done in its name bore, like some divine imprimatur, an indelible stamp of perfection.
Like all organizations, the Armenian Evangelical Church has her faults and foibles, her shortcomings and sins.In spite of these, however, the Armenian Evangelical Church has made major contributions to the Armenian nation - contributions sufficient to ensure her an important place in the religious, educational, social, and cultural life of the Armenian nation.