Diran Chrakian lit an expensive cigar, picked up the volume on the table, and reclined in his favorite chair. As the soft smoke wafted through the air of the study, the sounds of neighborhood children returning from school hummed in the distance.
After an hour, his housekeeper tapped on the door to announce a visitor. Diran made his way to the outer room where a man stood with a briefcase. After introductions Diran learned that his visitor, Nicolos Tefronides, was some kind of religious book salesman. Once Nicolos started into his spiel, he didn’t stop, handing volume after volume to Diran. For his part, Diran was having trouble balancing the books in one hand and the cigar in the other.
Diran invited Nicolos to his study, where, to Nicolos’s surprise, his host pulled every book he had in his briefcase from his shelf, handing them to him with a grin. Diran then explained that one of his colleagues at the Armenian University of Constantinople had given them to him. An avowed atheist, Diran had no interest in religion, but a friend of his convinced him that there was a God. Shortly after, Diran joined a Christian church.
Listening quietly, Nicolos suddenly broke in, “My friend, if you have all these books, I am surprised you still smoke cigars!”
Embarrassed, Diran immediately extinguished the cigar and never touched tobacco again after that autumn day in 1914.
That Saturday the 44-year-old Diran Chrakian, famous philosopher and author, entered the 12 x 20 foot Seventh-day Adventist meeting room in the bustling capital of Turkey, quietly sliding into the front pew. After Nicolos’s visit, Diran read the Adventist books on the shelf and had to learn more about this religion.
The minister was a Swiss man named Emil Frauchiger who spoke in English while a tiny Turkish teenager named Diamondola (“Little Diamond”) Keanides translated. As Diran looked around the congregation, he felt a sense of awe. Here were Armenians, Greeks, Germans, Jews, and Turks, naturally bitter enemies, worshiping together like a loving family. But what impressed Diran most was the beauty and symmetry of the truth presented that morning. Week after week he attended the services until he embraced the Seventh-day Adventist message.
When Diran became an Adventist, his family disowned him and he was divested of his tenured position at the university. To make matters worse, his baptism was delayed due to military conscription. Turkey was entering World War I and demanded that all able-bodied men report for duty. Yet Diran had never been happier, for he had found Jesus. He witnessed to fellow draftees and soldiers, winning converts to Adventism. But his outspokenness for Christ put him on the government’s radar, and he was targeted for Sabbath keeping and his refusal to bear arms. Providentially, he was able to pay a tax that relieved him of military service.
Back in Constantinople, the homeless and jobless Diran stayed with fellow believers. Finally baptized by Elder Frauchiger, he entered the ministry. Diran’s spiritual progress astounded the Adventists in the city. His zeal for Christ was infectious and his faith in God unfaltering. He spent entire nights in prayer on behalf of those he labored for, and a holy atmosphere was said to surround him. He preached with unbelievable power and members were added to the church daily under his ministry.
On August 1, 1916, Diran was imprisoned on the trumped-up charge of plotting against the government by spreading subversive teachings. Jailed in a large ward, all Diran saw were men for whom Christ died. After a month, influential friends orchestrated Diran’s release, but when guards came to free him, he begged them to allow him to finish his sermon.
As World War I dragged on, Diran was drafted into the army and severely tried for his beliefs again. Appearing before the highest military tribunals, he eloquently bore witness to the truth. When the war ended in November 1918, Diran rallied the Adventists in Constantinople and established new groups of believers.
When Diamondola, the teenage translator, fell ill and died, Diran hurried to her home. Met by her two weeping nurses, he was led to the bed where the dead girl lay. Grasping the nurses’ hands, Diran asked if they believed in the power of God to raise the dead. Both women nodded. As Diran prayed, the room seemed to be filled with the very presence of God. Upon finishing, he rose, strode over to the bed, took Diamondola’s lifeless hand in his, and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ I say unto you, arise.” The nurses, still kneeling with eyes closed, ventured a peek toward the bed. To their amazement, they saw Diamondola stir, then sit up. Diran directed them to bring her some milk, and they complied, beside themselves with excitement.
For the next two years, Diran blazed across Asia Minor in the same cities where the apostle Paul had labored. In April 1921, he wrote to Adventists in Constantinople that he had been imprisoned and asked them to pray for him as he witnessed to prisoners and guards. The letter, radiating love and faith in Jesus, was the last they heard from him.
The final days of Diran’s life were related by one of his converts. He reported that Diran was found guilty of preaching a new religion and forming a new church. He was sentenced to exile in what became known as a death march or the Armenian Genocide. Forced to walk in chains for days with little food or water, Diran was taunted by fellow prisoners crying, “Where is Jesus whom you trust?” Undaunted, Diran preached to his tormentors of the love of Christ until a brutal fever crippled him. Some of the exiles whom he had converted carried Diran as far as they could. When they could bear him no longer, they constructed a crude sedan for his inert body. When this grew too burdensome, they bargained with a soldier to let the dying man ride on horseback.
After days in the harsh desert, his friends rejoiced as the cavalcade came upon a meadow. There they gently lowered the dying Diran onto a bed of grass. His last words to his converts were to love each other and have faith in God. Diran Chrakian died on July 8, 1921.
Benjamin Baker is the assistant archivist at the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters.
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