Harry Missirlian

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Hardship didn't steal life's joy: Survivor of massacres in Syria served God, others.

Jim Steinberg, The Fresno Bee - California - KRTBN Published: Apr 20, 2007

The Rev. Harry M. Missirlian of Fresno survived Ottoman Turkish massacres of Armenians in Syria, suffered his parents' and siblings' disappearance and began life as an orphan with nothing.

Then he began a new lifetime of learning and prayer.

The Rev. Missirlian, who arrived in Fresno in 1953 to become minister of Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church, died April 11 at 94.

Reflecting on his life, he wrote in his book, "Treasures in Earthen Vessels": "Bitterness takes the glory out of sunset, the joy out of life, the song out of a gurgling brook, the light out of stars. Let bitterness bury itself. There are more important things to do."

The Rev. Missirlian spoke Armenian, Arabic, French, Turkish and English. He read the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek.

He did not dwell on his traumatic childhood but told daughter Dora Crawford about early terror.

"He was in a train car or on a wagon with a bunch of boys in the Syrian desert," she said.

"Dad realized this was not good, that they were being taken to be killed."

Young Missirlian, about 4, managed to free himself, running literally for his life. He heard others screaming.

He lived in doorways, begging for food, Crawford said, but his harrowing memories never drowned the Rev. Missirlian in mourning.

He wrote in the third person in his book that he "carries no hatred in his heart" and "is grateful to God for having miraculously survived the massacres."

He became a ministry student and did field work in the slums of Beirut, elsewhere in Lebanon and in Syria.

He married his first wife, Lydia, and worked toward a doctorate at the University of Chicago.

Before he could write his dissertation, he received a call from the Pilgrim church in Fresno. He had become used to subzero temperatures in Chicago, but arrived in Fresno on July 1, 1953. It was 104 degrees.

He served 27 years, drawing satisfaction from construction of its present campus at First Street and Dakota Avenue, particularly the sanctuary.

Architect Richard Manoogian designed the church in close consultation with the Rev. Missirlian, accentuating Armenian history and the life of Jesus on Earth.

"He was overjoyed about a new sanctuary," Manoogian recalled.

Lydia Missirlian died in 1991. The Rev. Missirlian married his second wife, Arousiag, a lifetime family friend, in 1993.

She recalled her husband's compassion, religion and memory of hardship.

"He gave his heart and soul to that congregation," she said. "He loved the children."

The Rev. Karl Avakian said that the Rev. Missirlian considered the evil he had seen and suffered within his understanding of God: "It is remarkable what he overcame. He did not hold that against humanity and the world."

Arousiag Missirlian said her husband's outstanding qualities were compassion, his Christian faith and understanding of hardship: "He loved the Christian church. He loved visiting people in sickness and bereavement. People said that whenever anything happened, Harry was right there."

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church, 3673 N. First St. The family requests that any remembrance be sent to the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, 609 E. Colorado St., Glendale, CA 91205.

The reporter can be reached at _jsteinberg@fresnobee.com_ or (559) 441-6311.


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