Feb 13 2016
Last Word: Christian Iran
Ancient History, Ever New
by Christopher Thornton
On a dimly lit side street in central Tehran, a bright yellow light
shines above a wooden door. Step inside and you might imagine you had
left the Islamic Republic. An unveiled woman greets guests and leads
them to a spacious dining room, where other women have hung their
veils and monteaux at the door. It is early summer, so sleeveless tops
reveal bare arms and shoulders. When one patron produces a bottle of
Scotch, a waiter brings him a tumbler with ice.
This is one of Tehran's three Armenian clubs'informal `Islamic-free
zones' where Armenian Christians can socialize without the constraints
of Islamic law. There are other kinds of Christians in Iran'Assyrians
and Chaldeans, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox'but Armenians are
the most numerous. It is estimated that there are three hundred
thousand of them in Iran. They are allocated five seats in the
religious-minorities section of parliament, freely attend services in
the six hundred Armenian churches throughout the country, hold
observer status on the powerful Guardian Council, and operate their
own schools so that their children can be taught in the Armenian
Christianity has a long history in Iran. The Acts of the Apostles tell
us that Parthians, Persians, and Medes converted to Christianity at
Pentecost, and the Parthian kings allowed the new religion to spread
throughout the empire. Christians fleeing Roman persecution found a
safe haven there. But for the next fifteen hundred years the fortunes
of Persian Christians were subject to the political conflicts that
swept across Asia. The fourth-century Zoroastrian ruler Shapour II
initially allowed religious freedom but then cracked down on both
Christians and Jews. In the early centuries of Islamic rule,
Christians enjoyed the status of a protected minority, but the
Crusades revived old religious tensions. The early Mongol rulers
converted to Christianity after they invaded in the thirteenth
century, but when later rulers opted for Islam, Christians were again
The Armenian community of Iran was formed in 1603, when Shah Abbas
allowed five-hundred thousand Armenian Christians who were persecuted
by the Ottoman Turks to resettle in Esfahan. Three centuries later,
the Armenian genocide of 1915 led fifty thousand more Armenians to
seek refuge in Iran, primarily in Tabriz, Tehran, and the enclave of
Esfahan that had come to be known as New Julfa, after the city in
Azerbaijan where the Armenians originated. As Reza Shah and his son
Mohammed Reza Shah sought to modernize Iran in the twentieth century,
Armenians rose to high positions in the government, as well as in the
arts and sciences.
Since its construction in 1606, Vank Cathedral has served as the
spiritual heart of the Julfa district. It is also one of Esfahan's
major tourist attractions. Christian pilgrims, foreign tourists, and
visiting Iranians all pass through its gates. In one corner of the
cathedral's grounds stands a memorial of the 1915 genocide'a slender
spire encircled by an apron of grass. Inside the Armenian Museum,
photographs and documents offer a moving record of the genocide.
Visitors, both Christian and Muslim, also gaze at handwritten Bibles,
distinctive crosses, vestments, and chalices.
The main attraction is the cathedral itself, where the beauty of the
Armenian religious tradition is revealed in all its glory. At the top
of the central dome the creation story is painted in patterns of blue
and gold. Winged cherubs, a traditional Armenian motif, decorate the
stone columns, and traditional Persian imagery appears in the floral
patterns that adorn the entrance ceiling.
The cathedral isn't the only church in Julfa. Knock on the wooden door
of the Church of St. Mary and a caretaker will open it to admit
visitors to the inner courtyard. Built by a wealthy silk merchant in
the seventeenth century, St. Mary's was later expanded to accommodate
overflow crowds. Then there is the Church of Bethlehem, where the life
of Jesus is portrayed in seventy-two wall paintings. The crosses of
both churches rise above their central domes to share the skyline with
the local minarets.
Many Westerners think of Iran as a theocratic monolith. They would no
doubt be surprised to discover Christians of various kinds living
there comfortably. Some of these Christian communities are ancient;
some arrived more recently, seeking asylum. But even the newcomers now
regard Iran as their home. They think of the Shiite majority not as
their hosts, but as neighbors with whom they have much in common. For
example, Muslim and Christian Iranians are united in their enthusiasm
for the recent nuclear deal, which will release their country from
stifling economic sanctions. In an interview with the Fides News
Agency, Hormoz Aslani Babroudi, director of the Pontifical Missionary
Society of Iran, offered his endorsement of the agreement:
`Christians, along with all the Iranian people, are rejoicing because
their prayers were answered. From now on it will be easier for the
world to have a positive view of Iran.' He added, `We do not consider
ourselves foreigners but Iranians, and we are proud of it.'
Last Word: Christian Iran Ancient History, Ever New
Posted 14 February 2016 - 10:26 AM
- MosJan likes this
Posted 29 November 2016 - 11:03 AM
PanARMENIAN.Net - Despite the Iran's best efforts to stop the spread of Christianity, a large underground church movement is growing, FOX News said in an article.
Hundreds of Iranian citizens have been converting to Christianity, and many are being baptized in large ceremonies in underground churches held in private homes across the country. This month, Christian ministry ELAM estimated that more than 200 Iranian and Afghans were secretly baptized in a service just across the Iranian border.
“It’s an astronomical increase,” Mani Erfan, CEO and founder of CCM Ministries, which has been involved in Iran’s underground church movement for more than two decades, told FoxNews.com. “And it’s been predominately young people. We call it an awakening.”
Erfan says much of Iran’s young population has grown tired of the regime’s oppressive religious rule, which often distorts Islamic teachings.
Iran reserves parliament seats for Jewish and Christian lawmakers and permits churches, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox and others, as well as synagogues and Zoroastrian temples that are under sporadic watch by authorities. Religious celebrations are allowed, but no political messages or overtones are tolerated. In past years, authorities have staged arrests on Christians and other religious minorities.
“The youth have become restless and have looked toward an alternative to the regime and Islam,” he said. “The youth find Western culture and the Christian church very appealing.
"It’s become a counter-culture," he added. "A counter-revolution to the [1979 Iranian] Revolution.”
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