Bishop Azad Marshall was installed as sixth Bishop in Iran in a multilingual and ceremony of many facets at St Pauls Church Tehran on Sunday August 5.
Over two hundred people attended the three hour service which was marked by outstanding singing in Farsi and English by the House of Worship and Messiah Worship Choir and orchestra. The Messiah choir led by Honiball Yousef is the first Christian professional choir in Iran. www.honiball.com. The congregation included Anglicans, members from the Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Evangelical Churches, the Assemblies of God,.Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims. Representatives from three embassies of Egypt, Pakistan and the United Kingdom were also present. The Christian community in Iran is estimated to be 100,000, including Armenian Christians. The Anglican community has been very dispersed and its numbers hard to quantify.
The service, as other events this week, was also attended by Dr Sadighati, a senior official from the office of the President who spoke afterwards of the respect and freedom given to all religious minorities, including the freedom to change religion since the Government knows many Christians come from the Muslim community.
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali of Rochester, representing the Archbishop of Canterbury, preached to the congregation of Christians and Muslims on the eve of the Feast of Transfiguration of Jesus’ appearance on the Mountain. He preached first in Farsi drawing on Persian poets to explain the divinity of Jesus in familiar cultural terms. Continuing in English he said “The glory of God is seen in the risen Jesus and also in the glory of men and women as they are meant to be but which we have lost through sin and rebellion. Jesus said: ” I when I am lifted up will draw everyone to myself.” As those who live the risen life we must see what we have to put off and what we have to put on. Our task is to seek such glory of Jesus. His risen life is to be found in the Bible. His risen life helps us lose what hinders life. My hope is that Bishop Azad whose name means “free” will free you to be followers of the risen Christ, and help you to know what you have to put off and what to put on to live his risen life. ”
As part of the greetings from religious and civic leaders, Ayatollah Dr Wazirie from the Council of Guidance began with giving respect to the great prophet Jesus Christ and his holy mother St Mary. He spoke warmly of religious tolerance.”When everyone praises God because they are happy they are linked with us. Anyone in suffering who asks God for help in the middle of the night is our brother. We feel great sympathy and closeness for everyone who believes God in his heart Those priests and bishops who are asking God for help in the middle of the night are paving the way for morality in society”. He quoted the verse from the Koran which speaks of Christians being the closest to the Muslims. Those attending hoped that the reality they experienced daily would match the words.
The Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Mouneer Anis said: “Many countries in the Middle East are places where religions and civilizations came together. They speak now of a clash of civilizations. By the grace of God we want to return back to the origin with the civilizations of this region where civilizations came together for a better world and humanity.” The Archbishop of Canterbury also sent greetings, read by Bishop Paul Butler of Southampton: “The task of building relationships with government and religious leaders is an important element in the ministry to which you are called and we look forward to working with you in promoting deeper mutual understanding.”
At the close of the service Bishop Azad said “My Christ did not come for only Christians; my Christ is for the whole world. With your help and co-operation I will seek to serve both Muslims and Christians because Christ came to serve all.”
In an intriguing finale, as Bishop Marshall closed his final blessing on the City, Country and Diocese, the power failed and the modern church was plunged in darkness for a few minutes before lighting was restored and the reception could begin.
On the evening before the installation, all the visiting Bishops and Archbishops visited the mausoleum-shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini and laid a wreath. They were accorded a guard of honour and met with government officials. On the days following his installation Geo TV made a fly-on-the-wall documentary as Bishop Marshall met with Government and religious leaders. The bishops and guests also visited a Jewish synagogue for evening prayers and to meet the MP for the Jewish community of about 25,000 who date their time in Iran since the exile from Jerusalem in 597. Dialogue meetings were also held with clerics from the Council of Guidance and with former president Ayatollah Khatami. In receiving Bishop Marshall, Dr Khatami said “This is your home”.
Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis noted two especial features which characterised the installation events. There is a fig tree at the entrance of St Paul’s Church, which was full of fruit. And one of the songs the choir sung with power and passion was “Jesus put this song into our hearts”.