Theodore Anthony was a Greek shoemaker, born in Asia Minor and of Turkish speech. He attended the Greek Orthodox church for most of his life, and only accepted the Adventist message at the age of 50. Anthony is credited with laying the foundation of Seventh-day Adventism among his people in the Ottoman Empire, and was also instrumental in mission work among the Armenians.1 He taught the gospel in the face of fierce opposition and persecution for six years before his death at the age of 57.
Nothing is known about Anthony’s family or early childhood. He is first mentioned as a poor cobbler who lived in a small village at the foot of Mt. Ararat, in the northern part of Turkey bordering Russia. In 1859, at the age of 21, he journeyed to Constantinople (now Istanbul) to apply for immigration to America, where he had heard that Christians could openly worship in freedom. However, he did not receive approval for another 28 years.2
In 1887, at age 49, Anthony packed his cobbler tools in a small trunk and sailed to America, choosing to settle in a Greek community in San Jose, California. He set up his cobbler shop and for the first year enjoyed all the freedoms of his new country.
At the end of his first year he noticed a tent set in an empty field near his home. Thinking it was a circus, and unable to read the sign in English, all he could discern was the starting time of 7:00 pm. The following evening Anthony went to the tent, only to be greeted warmly by two well-dressed men. He was puzzled, at first, by the empty benches and a pipe organ. However, the tent soon filled with people, and as the singing began, he was “thrilled to hear songs about Jesus” in his native language. Another distinguished man in a suit presented spiritual quotations directly from the Bible. The man clearly spoke in Turkish, so he decided to attend every meeting. Anthony became captivated by Daniel and Revelation and other Bible prophecies.
When one evening the pastor gave an altar call, Anthony was the first to make his way up front. As the pastor examined the baptismal candidates, he was perplexed. “Why don’t you use the Turkish language to question us?” he asked. No one understood what he was saying. A Greek man from the audience who spoke Turkish translated for Anthony. It was only then that he understood that not a word had been sung or spoken in Turkish for the entire meetings. Tears streamed down his face as he believed that the Holy Spirit had given him the gift to hear the message in his native tongue.3
Anthony was baptized in 1888. A year later he felt impressed to take the gospel to Turkey. He sold his business, and on his way to Istanbul passed through Battle Creek, Michigan to present to Adventist church leaders the idea of becoming a self-supporting missionary. He did not require financial assistance and had no ambitions other than to share his faith with people from his native country. The church administration received Anthony favorably, especially L.R. Conradi, who would soon become director of the European Mission in Basel, Switzerland.4
Equipped with Greek and Armenian Bibles and any other literature he could find in English, French, or German, Anthony returned to Turkey as the first Seventh-day Adventist missionary there, just two years after he had immigrated to America.5
First Permanent Work in the Middle East
Anthony’s arrival marked the beginning of the first permanent Adventist work in the Middle East. Since it was forbidden to evangelize Muslims in the Ottoman empire, he began to visit among the Christian groups of Constantinople, hoping to find some common ground among them. However, he was soon met with fierce opposition from both Orthodox and Protestant groups, especially the Quaker Mission Society.6
Anthony was accused of causing dissension and confusion among the people. The Avedaper, a weekly paper published by American missionaries, wrote against the Sabbath. Eventually Anthony was handed over to the authorities and imprisoned for two weeks. As a result, his resources to fight the case were depleted, and he could not continue as before. Obliged to earn his support, Anthony rented a room from a former acquaintance, a Mr. Baharian, and found work for five days a week with a shoemaker, earning two dollars per week. He devoted the remaining two days to the gospel.7
When Mr. Baharian’s son, Zadour Baharian, returned home from his school in Aintab, Turkey, for summer holidays, Anthony gave him the books Daniel and Revelation and History of the Sabbath. Even though he was not a seasoned missionary and had read very little of the denominational literature (as most of it was written in English), Anthony’s keen understanding of Adventist beliefs helped to convince Zadour of the message, and he became Anthony’s first convert and a committed Seventh-day Adventist.
Word reached Elder H.P. Holser, president of the SDA Central European Mission. In 1890 church leaders called Baharian to the Chauxde-Fonds Adventist school in Basel, Switzerland, in order to learn more about the message and to prepare him for work among the people of the Ottoman empire. During the two years he studied there, Baharian translated numerous Bible readings. In a period of six months, more than 10,000 pages were sent to 300 people in twelve cities of Asia Minor, and over 59 letters were received from various persons, asking questions about different points of truth.8
Upon returning to Turkey in 1892, Baharian and Anthony secured a permit for printing, and immediately submitted translated material to a press for publications. The two workers mailed out much literature all over the country. It was not long before false accusations sent both Baharian and Anthony to prison for four days. However, Turkish government officials recognized that they had permits, and released them.
The literature scattered the message all over Asia Minor, and the two received more calls for further studies than they could fulfill. In 1893 Baharian and Anthony held evangelistic meetings in the cities of Ovajik, Bardizag, Aleppo, and Alexandretta, where the literature had aroused the most intense interests. Church groups were formed, and the work in Asia Minor advanced rapidly. By the time H.P. Holser visited Turkey in 1894, just five years after Anthony’s arrival, he found the work to be well established.9
In 1895, after six years of hard work, travel, and stiff opposition, Anthony became ill, and died at the age of 57. He was remembered with respect by the many converts, and was known as Todor Baba (Father Theodore). Anthony left a remarkable legacy of sacrifice and dedication for Baharian and the growing number of believers throughout the country as the message made its way across Asia Minor.10
Ashod, E.A. “A Plea from Istanbul.” Missions Quarterly, January 1, 1945.
Baharian, Z.G. “The Third Angel’s Message in Constantinople.” ARH, June 21, 1892.
Olsen, W.E. “Mrs. Olsen Relates History of Literature Work in Turkey.” Middle East Messenger, January-February 1964.
Pfeiffer, Baldur E. The European Seventh-day Adventist Mission in the Middle East 1879-1939. European University Studies, Series XXII 161. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1996.
Baldur E. Pfeiffer, The European Seventh-day Adventist Mission in the Middle East 1879-1939, European University Studies, Series XXII 161 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1996), 28-30.↩
Lamia Brown, email message to Melanie Wixwat, October 21, 2019. Information gleaned from Mildred Olsen, who was her 9th grade teacher and had spent many years as a missionary in Lebanon. Olson obtained much of her information from the diaries of Diamondola Keanides Ashod, a Greek from Turkey who worked as an interpreter in the Constantinople mission for many years. She spoke eight languages and was closely associated with Z.G. Baharian. She and her husband fled from Turkey to Lebanon during the Armenian massacre of 1914-1915.↩
W.E. Olsen, “Mrs. Olsen Relates History of Literature Work in Turkey,” Middle East Messenger, January-February 1964, 2.↩
Z. G. Baharian, “The Third Angel’s Message in Constantinople,” ARH, June 21, 1892, 390.↩
E. A. Ashod, “A Plea from Istanbul,” Missions Quarterly, January 1, 1945, 7-8.↩