Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas 2006

By Rita El Meri
"Click on the image to enlarge"


At 9:43 AM , Anonymous Mary said...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

At 10:49 AM , Anonymous raif said...

Wonderful picture!!!

Joyful Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

At 12:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merry Christ-mas and happy new years to all Copts around the world. May Christ our God bring you peace, love and joy in the comming years.

At 10:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

in this blessed season, let us remember our Brothers and sisters in Iran. May Christ our God blesses them and makes them a witness of His glory to Iranian people......

Bearing the cross

Christian believers in Iran face constant surveillance by the Islamic republic, writes Robert Tait

Tuesday December 27, 2005

At first sight, the house of worship bears all the Persian architectural hallmarks of a classically Iranian mosque. But the religious symbol accompanying the sky-blue dome is a cross, not a minaret, and the holy book sacred to the faithful inside is the Bible rather than the Qur'an.
This is the Church of St Simon the Zealot, an Anglican church built in the late 1930s by an English missionary, Rev Norman Sharp, who went to Iran to spread the Christian faith.

Hidden behind a high wall in a narrow back street, it is now a haven to the tiny beleaguered Christian community in Shiraz, about 500 miles south of Iran's capital, Tehran.
Every Sunday, its 30-member congregation gathers in lamb-shaped pews - designed to symbolise Jesus' flock - to sing traditional hymns such as The Lord Is My Shepherd and hear sermons from a Farsi translation of the New Testament by the church's lay pastor, Stephen Kambiz Jaeintan.

Two days ago, this hardened society of believers met for a special Christmas Day dinner, having prepared and brought their own food. To inject an extra dose of festive cheer otherwise lacking in Iran's staunchly Islamic setting, a fully-dressed Santa Claus handed out presents.

In staging this hearty celebration of the birth of Christ, the congregation was risking the wrath of Iran's Islamic authorities, whose intelligence services keep a watchful eye on the church on such occasions. The entire flock has converted to Christianity from Islam, apostasy in a country whose population is 99% Muslim. Under Islamic law, such conversions are potentially punishable by death.

"We have big problems with the government," said Mr Jaeintan, 33, a once-devout Muslim who converted 14 years ago. "The authorities monitor the church to see who goes into the services. The entry of non-Christians is strictly forbidden.

"We are suffering repression for worshipping a God and the problems are getting worse. I am not allowed to travel abroad to study to be ordained as a priest. The most important thing for the authorities is that Iran remains an Islamic republic, with the Islamic part being more important than the republic.

"I was called into an interrogation with the intelligence service. They told me that the period when people were killed for being Christian is past but that I might find myself with two kilos of heroin in my possession. The punishment for that is life in prison or death. They told me they won't make a hero out of me."

Iran's constitution grants protection to Armenian, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, as well as to Jews and Zoroastrians. After the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa ordering that Christians and Jews be treated with respect as "people of the book".

However, the edict does not sanction the conversion of Muslims to another faith, which is seen as a threat to the Shia Islamic foundations of the state.

At the very least, such conversions can damage work and educational opportunities. Workers in Iran's large public sector are screened for adherence to Islam while university applicants have to state their religion before being admitted. As a result, many converts feel compelled to hide their changed religious convictions.

"I work for the government in a job where you are required to carry out Islamic prayers every day. It's torture for me," said Nathaniel, 42, whose former Islamic beliefs were shaken after reading the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew. "I feel increased pressure every day. There is an ever present threat, but I feel when God is with me, who is against me?"

Despite being legally prohibited from actively seeking new members or publicising his services, Mr Jaeintan says the number asking to join his flock is increasing. Many are formerly observant Muslims like Nathaniel who have begun to question Islam; others are secular Iranians claiming to have experienced a spiritual awakening. Some, whom Mr Jaeintan says he rejects, want to become Christians as a means of seeking political asylum.

The repression of Christians in Iran predates the seventh-century arrival of Islam. Christians were brutally purged by the ardently Zoroastrian Sassanian dynasty during the third and fourth centuries. The Shiraz church is named after Simon the Zealot, a Christian patriarch put to death in 339AD by order of the country's rulers.

The US State Department has published reports on religious freedom lamenting the closure of many Iranian churches and noting the murders of several evangelical Christians in the 1990s. There were once several Anglican churches throughout Iran, most of them designed by the Rev Sharp. Today, the Church of St Simon the Zealot is one of Iran's few remaining centres of active Anglican worship.

Weeks after the revolution, the church's then pastor, Parviz Sayaphsina Arastu, was beheaded in the churchyard by religious extremists who accused him of carrying out baptisms.

More recent baptisms have been conducted in secret by pastors visiting from Britain and elsewhere. Mr Jaeintan is unqualified to baptise converts because he is not an ordained priest.

His lay status has also denied the church other basic Christian services such as Easter mass. Holy communion has been staged just once in the past year, with the help of a visiting Anglican priest.

Mr Jaeintan, however, remains defiant in his religious beliefs. "I'm proud of being a Muslim-born Christian living in Iran," he said. "My God has given me birth here, so it means I have a mission in Iran.",7792,1674164,00.html

At 10:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Separated by a wall at Christmas

By Firas Aridah
December 23, 2005

As a parish priest in the West Bank village of Aboud, my Christmas preparations include recording the identity card numbers of my parishioners to request permits from the Israeli authorities to allow us travel to Bethlehem. Some may be denied permits and prevented from worshipping there. While decorating our church for the joyous birth of Our Lord, we also prepare banners for the next protest against the wall that Israel began to build on our village's land one month ago.

Aboud is nestled among terraced olive groves in the West Bank west of the city of Ramallah. The village has 2,200 residents. Nine hundred of them are Christian. Within the village are seven ancient churches. The oldest dates to the third century. We believe that Jesus passed through Aboud on the Roman road from the Galilee to Jerusalem.

The wall that Israel is building through Aboud is not for the security of Israel. It is for the security of illegal Israeli settlements.

The Israeli government continues to falsely claim that it is building the wall on Israeli land, but Aboud lies 3.75 miles inside the Green Line, the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank. The wall will cut off 1,100 acres of our land for two illegal Israeli settlements.

Sometimes the Israelis give special treatment to Christians. Sometimes they give Christians permits to go through checkpoints while they stop Muslims. They do this to try to separate us, but in reality we Muslims and Christians are brothers.

Our church organist Yousef told me, "Some foreigners believe that Islam is the greatest danger for Palestinian Christians rather than Israel's occupation. This is Israeli propaganda. Israel wants to tell the world that it protects us from the Muslims, but it is not true. In Aboud, we Muslims and Christians live a normal, peaceful life together.

"Last week our village celebrated the Feast of Saint Barbara for our patron saint whose shrine outside our village was damaged by the Israeli military in 2002. We invited the Muslims to share the traditional feast of Saint Barbara. They also invite us to share their traditional Ramadan evening meal. We have good relations. Muslims are peaceful people."

With signs, songs and prayers, our village has been protesting against Israel's apartheid wall every week. Through peaceful demonstrations and the planting of olive trees, we want to tell the Israelis and the international community that we are against Israel taking our lands. We are working for peace here, but still the Israeli soldiers have attacked our peaceful protests with clubs, sound bombs, tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.

On Dec. 11, we were honored with a visit to Aboud by the highest Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah. Patriarch Sabbah, a Palestinian, planted an olive tree on the planned route of the wall, and told 1,000 peaceful protesters, "The wall doesn't benefit the security of either Israel or anybody else. Our prayers are for the removal of this physical wall currently under construction and the return of our lands."

"Our hearts are filled with love, and no hatred for anybody. With our faith and love, we demand the removal of this wall. We affirm that it is a mistake and an attack against our lands and our properties, and an attack against friendly relationships between the two people."

"In your faith and your love you shall find a guide for your political action and your resistance against every oppression. You may say that love is an unknown language to politics, but love is possible in spite of all the evil we experience. We shall make it possible!"

Just after Patriarch Sabbah left, an Israeli protesting with us was arrested by Israeli soldiers as he planted an olive tree. We have good Israeli friends. We do not say that every Israeli soldier is bad, because they are just soldiers following orders.

Yes, there are Palestinian Christians here in Aboud, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza. We are the Salt of the Earth.

My religion tells me that I have to love everybody and accept everybody without conditions.

We have here good Jewish people, good Muslims and good Christians. We can live together. This is the Holy Land.

If we in Aboud can send a message to the world this Christmas, it is that Jews, Christians and Muslims have to live together in peace.


Aridah is a Jordanian priest serving the Roman Catholic Holy Mary Mother of Sorrows Church in the village of Aboud in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. He can be reached via e-mail at


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