Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem shares his concerns on the gravity of the situation in Gaza

(Excerpts from his statements)

Jerusalem December, 29, 2008  – During recent weeks, the three Abrahamic Faiths have observed their Holy Seasons with a sense of peace and goodwill. Therefore, we are greatly grieved bythe severity of the ongoing military operations in Gaza that are occurring inheavily populated areas and impacting the civilian populations.

As a Diocese with well over a century of an unbroken commitment to the well being and peace of the community in Gaza City through our Al Ahli Arab Hospital, we are both stunned and saddned by the events of unfolding in Gaza.

The heavy Loss of Palestinian lives and the serious wounds and injuriesto many hundreds of innocent bystanders require the immediate cessation of hostilities for the weoll being and safety of both the Palestinian and Isreali communities, and especially for Gaza and the nearby Isreali population centers. The gravity of the situation threatens to engulf this entire region and we ask the Palestinians and Israelis to return to active negotiations for the well being and safety of both communities.

Of immediate concern is the urgent medical services by the victims of this violence. The Immensity of providing care for the injured and wounded is overwhelming a health care system struggling to orovide essential healthcare services for 1.5 million Palestinians, most of who live in refugee camps.
As casualties and human suffering continue to rise we appeal to the Israeli and Palestinian communities to exercise responsible retraint. We urgently call on all parties to immediately cease hostilities, and provide for the humanitarian needs of those who directly affected by the conflict. At the same time, can assure the Gaza communities that the Al Ahli Hospital will continue, as it has for many decades.
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Jerusalem, January 7th 2009- At a time when great tragedy is occurring in the Holy Land in Gaza…Our hospital is one of 11 hospitals serving a population of 1.5 million residents in the Gaza strip. The Al Ahli Arab (Anglican) Hospital has been in operation for over a 100 years and has a very dedicated medical staff of medical doctors, nurses and general services personnel.

…The Conflict has brought new type of medical and surgical conditions. For example patients with burns and acute crippling psychological trauma are being seen more frequently. Because it isnot possible for aid workers to enter Gaza at this time, the hospital’s staff is working around the clock, struggling with the effects of exhaustion andagianst limited resources in a conflicted area of ongoing military operations.
Medical items are needed, especially bandanges and supplied for burns and trauma. The hospital’s windows have all been blown out of shattered from rocket and missile concussions and cold permeates the entire premises…Food supplies are scant throughout the Gaza Strip and maintaining patients’ nutritional needs at the hospital has been difficult, especially for the most vulnerable…Through the ICRC limited amounts of diesel fuel are being delivered to keep the electricalgenerators functional for life saving and other essential equipment…

On a ‘normal’ day approximately 600 life line trucks a day bring supplies to the Gaza strip.Many are under the auspices of the UNRWA and international relief agencies because about two thirds of Gaza’s residents are refugees and living in UNRWA Camps. During this timeof conflict, that number of trucks is not seen in a week or more. Because of the reduced deliveries, medical items, nutritional food, and other basic supplies are now scarce items, if available at all,for our brothers andsisters in Gaza.

I ask you to join with me in prayer… for our hospital and heroic Staff of the AlAhli Hospital and other such humanitarian endeavors. Thankfully the Hospital plant remains intact at this time. While several among our Staff have suffered loss and injuries within their own families, they are representing allof us as a witness of God’s love to all people- ‘Come unto me all you who are heavy laden and I will refresh you’. As we continue to pray for communical Palestinians and Israeli Peace, we especially remember these dedicated individuals who cannot leave, but most importantly do not want to leave, but continue to do all they can to help.

Our Lord’s imperative in St John’s Gospel during this Epiphany season gives each of us the new hope for a new dawn of light, life and communal conciiiation- ‘I have come that you may have Life and have it abundantly’.

(Refer to the Diocese of Jerusalem website (www.j-diocese.org) for previous statements on Gaza.)

Al Azhar, Al Sharif and President Bishop of Jerusalem and Middle East Bishop Mouneer Anis, the Anglican Bishop in Egypt, condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza:

We severely condemn the Israeli attacks on Gaza which have resulted in a real humanitarian disaster. The innocent children,women and elderly people pay a heavy price in this disaster. We call upon the whole international community to put an end to these cruel attacks that have resulted in the loss of many. Such attacks stir the emotions of the whole world. We appeal to conscience of the international community to move swiftly to find a comprehensive and just solution that will guarantee peace in this region. We also warn that failure to find this justifiable solution, which would provide stability for the Palestinians, will threaten the stability and the security of the whole world.

We praise the efforts of governmental and non governmental organizations who are responding to the needs of the Palestinian people of Gaza, especially the Egyptian Red Cross and the El Ahly Hospital in Gaza, which is part of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem. We encourage all organizations to increase their humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.

Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement on Gaza: An urgent appeal on Gaza’s current situation

Wednesday 31 December 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has made the following statement regarding the current situation in Gaza:

The spiralling violence in Gaza tragically illustrates the fact that the cycle of mutual threat and retaliation have no lasting effect except to reinforce the misery and insecurity of everyone in the region. I want to express my grief and sympathy for the innocent lives lost in this latest phase of violence.  People of all faiths in this country will want to join their voices to the statements of the Christian Muslim Forum and the Council of Christians and Jews in urging a return to the ceasefire and efforts to secure a lasting peace.  We must unite in urging all those who have the power to halt this spiral of violence to do so.

Those raising the stakes through the continuation of indiscriminate violence seem to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. It must surely be clear that, whilst peace will not wipe out the memory of all past wrongs, it is the only basis for the future flourishing of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. The recent statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Church in Jerusalem reflects a clear awareness that there can be no winners if the current situation is allowed to persist.  Its continuation can only condemn ordinary Palestinian and Israeli citizens to the prospect of another year of fear and suffering.

Urgent humanitarian needs have arisen through the attacks on Gaza and Israel and they demand a generous response to local appeals for support, such as that issued by the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem for its hospital in Gaza.  But this humanitarian response, both local and international, needs to be matched by redoubled efforts in the political sphere.

The prophet Zechariah declared, “Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of Hosts”.  The New Year is an opportunity for a new initiative that will set the tone for what lies ahead. Religious leaders, most particularly those of the region, have an urgent responsibility in supporting the search for peace and reconciliation.  But it is the political leaders and opinion-formers who hold the key to implementing the necessary changes that can bring hope.  Can they not agree a period of truce as the New Year begins, so that the communities of the Holy Land may once again explore how common security might at last begin to replace the mechanical rhythms of mutual threat?  Might the outgoing and incoming Presidents of the USA combine to make such an appeal and pursue its implementation?

The Anglican Communion worldwide stands alongside other religious communities and humanitarian organisations in its commitment to supporting any such initiative. Without such a sign of hope, the future for the Holy Land and the whole region is one of more fear, innocent suffering and destruction.

The publication of the anti-Islam caricatures and the making of anti-Quran film by a Dutch law maker, Geert Wilders, was condemned by the Advocacy and National Affairs Division of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan in a special meeting presided over by Rt Rev Azad Marshall, Bishop of Iran and the Gulf. The meeting noted with deep concern the mischievous acts maligning the Islamic faith, in the name of modernization, secularism and so-called freedom of expression. Freedom of expression does not provide open license to hurt the religious sentiments of 1.5 billion Muslims world-wide. The 15-minute film released in March sets verses from the Quran against a background of violent images from the Islamic Holy Book has sparked protests in Pakistan and throughout the Muslim world. The Bishop called these acts misconceived, malicious and politically motivated.  These acts, especially in a society which propagates human rights, human dignity and tolerance, were against all decent norms of human behavior and demonstrated a lack of respect for the religious sentiments of others.On one hand the western countries seek to build bridges of understanding and goodwill amongst people of different faiths, to bring harmony and brotherhood; yet on the other hand are creating division among those different faiths by the publication of such blasphemous material. No religion, society or culture should allow such acts of blasphemy, which give rise to violence and undermine the global war on terror. Such acts serve no useful purpose and hinder the efforts of interfaith dialogue. Instead of bringing about understanding between people of different faiths in order to help them live together in peaceful co-existence, they create divisions and animosity. Bishop Marshall said that an internationally accepted code of ethics should evolve through the United Nations to ensure that all religions are treated with respect and dignity. He provided the assurance that the Christian world at large condemns such acts and would make every effort to discourage such acts.He called on Muslim countries to use diplomatic means to discourage future incidents of this nature.As an expression of solidarity with the Muslim world and especially with the people of Pakistan, Iran, Gulf and elsewhere, the Christians they condemned such acts and urge the Dutch government to take appropriate steps.The World Council of Churches, of which the National Council of Churches in Pakistan is a federating Unit, is one of the major international organizations representing more than 400 church bodies from over 120 countries and is an important member of the United Nations. One of the main purposes of the Council is to promote the spirit of Christ’s Love, compassion, understanding, tolerance and goodwill amongst people of different faiths for a better world.

The Diocese of Iran welcomed Rev Stephen Sizer to St Paul’s Anglican Church, Tehran.

Rev Stephen Sizer celebrated the Eucharist at St Paul’s and also preached on the occasion.    After the service he met informally with members of the congregation.

Rev Stephen Sizer is the author of the book “Christian Zionism”, which has been translated into Farsi by Dr Zarah Mostafavi.

Rev Stephen Sizer is the Vicar of Christ Church, Virgina Water in the UK.   In his book he has offered biblical based interpretation of the relationship of the modern state of Israel and the Christian Church.   He examines key biblical texts, particularly on bible prophecies as they relate to the modern nation-state of Israel.

We hope that that his invaluable contribution will bring clarification where theological thought has been manipulated in order to mislead western Christians and demonstrate that expression of God’s redemptive love is not through Israel but through His Church.   His book should go a long way in bringing healing among people of all faiths, especially between Islam and Christianity. 

Below we  quote just a few of the many reviews on Rev Stephen Sizer’s book by leading theologians:

“There is admirable depth and careful perspective in Stephen Sizer’s comprehensive survey of the political, exegetical and moral implication of Christian Zionism.  If the apocalyptic ones, darkly suggested by the cover design, remain the hidden future, the logic is them is well clarified ….   Readers who can match the author’s capacity for incisive documentation and his rigorous way with complexity are rewarded with a masterly presentation with which to wrestle ….  His commendable labours will well equip his readers to address them.  Meanwhile, perhaps we have to say that Armageddon also is sub judice.”  The Right Reverend Kenneth Cragg 

“I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer’s ground-breaking critique of Christian Zionism.   His comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis and its political consequences is very time.   I myself believe that Zionism, both political and Christian, is incompatible with biblical faith.   Stephen’s book has helped to reinforce this conviction.”  Revd Dr John Stott   

Stephen Sizer’s work on Christian Zionism is the most important and comprehensive on the subject to date, and should be read by all students of the Middle East and by Christians concerned about a just resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.   Christian Zionism raises vital theological and political challenges that must be addressed head-on by Christians in the West, particularly evangelicals.   The impact of this terribly misguided movement is increasingly putting Christians in the Middle East at risk, and it seems a far cry from the witness and message of Jesus Christ.”  Professor Don Wagner

The Tehran Times (October 7) reports that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has criticised the neo-Conservatives of the Bush Administration and accused them of ‘potentially murderous folly’ for suggesting military action against Syria and Iran.

“We do hear talk from some quarters of action against Syria and Iran. I can’t understand what planet such persons are living on, when you see the conditions that are already there”, the Archbishop told the BBC after returning from a visit to Syria and Lebanon.

“When people talk about further destabilisation of the region and you read some American political advisers speaking of action against Syria and Iran, I can only say that I regard that as criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly,” he warned.

Williams, who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, spoke of the human cost of the US-led war, which he said was far worse than is commonly acknowledged. “The events of the past few years have done terrible damage in the whole of this region, and many people, I know, do not see the cost in human terms of the war which was unleashed,” he said after meeting some of the millions of refugees who had fled.

The spiritual leader of the Church of England described the plight of the Iraqi refugees as “heartbreaking and harrowing” and said the suffering shows “Iraq conflict has done much more damage”.

“Every child deserves to grow up in a home that is safe, every child deserves to grow up in a home where there are people around who can be trusted; every child deserves to grow up in a place where they can see there is a future that is peaceful for them,” he said.

Read here

The Reverend Nusratullah Sharfian, who has been priest of the Church of Iran in Isfahan since the 1960s, was installed as a Canon of the Diocese of Iran on August 10. The ceremony took place in Saint Luke’s Church, Isfahan where Canon Sharfian has resumed duties after a break of some years.

Reverend Nusratullah Sharfian (on l.)
Reverend Nusratullah Sharfian (on l.)

The Bishop of Iran, the Rt Rev Azad Marshall, said “This was a great occasion to honour a priest who has given faithful service over many decades. This is the first time that a parish priest has been made a canon in our diocese.”

Services are held at St Luke’s Isfahan every Sunday evening at 5 p.m.

Interview with Bishop Azad Marshall of Iran

The Church of England Newspaper. August 10

In an exclusive interview after his installation Bishop Azad Marshall spoke of his journey to faith and early years of ministry that had brought him to the situation of now being Bishop in Iran.

“My family background in Pakistan is Christian. I was a member of St Andrew’s Church in Lahore which had an evangelical ministry under Sidney Iggulden. He focused on young people. He led us to the Lord and discipled us. Members of our youth fellowship from that time are now giving leadership as General Secretary of the Pakistan Bible Society and former heads of Scripture Union and of the Pakistan Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Everyone in that group the Lord has called into ministry.

“The fellowship started a sending ministry but we were determined not to be dependent on outside help. We raised money and were the first sending organization from a Moslem country recorded in Operation World. I was the first to be sent by the group and came with a student minisrtryto Iran in 1976. Iran was the first country I ever visited outside Pakistan. I used to sell Christian books here in Tehran.

“I then went to do theological training at Romsey House Theological Training College in Cambridge and returned to St Andrew’s Lahore since they had been supporting me and I had covenanted to come back. With their blessing I started teaching and training sessions for the clergy. This led to ordination in the Church of Pakistan and appointment as the Priest of St Andrews for 6 years. It is still our family church as our daughter was married there at the beginning of this year.

In 1994, Bishop John Brown of Cyprus and the Gulf and the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan agreed that I be consecrated as Bishop in the Gulf for the Pakistan Urdu-speaking parishes.. I worked as associate bishop of the Province who then appointed me in 2004 as Episcopal Vicar-General of the Church of Iran.”

How do you see Inter-Faith Relations?

The Church needs to show that Christ is for the whole world, and therefore we serve people of all faiths. We cannot restrict Jesus to ourselves. We are there to serve. Out of our service comes relationships. There is no conflict between the desire to have inter-faith dialogue and to retain the integrity of the scripture and the Christian faith. The Christ we follow came for all as I said at the end of the service. Whatever relationships we have flow from that given.

What is the role of the Church in the Middle-East Peace Process?

The Church is often caught in the cross fire. The Church cannot be for one or for the other side. It is for Jesus, the prince of peace. So the church is to be a bridge, bringing the communities together.

Iran has often been demonized. The media often give negative representations of Iran. But Iran is no different from many other Islamic countries where human rights violations are much more blatant. There are for instance Muslim countries where women are not even allowed to drive, whereas you can see many women drivers in Tehran. Women are very visible in all walks of life and seventy per cent of the university students are female.

The media tend to pick and choose. Western vested interests play a great role. When people demonise Iran, they do not look at the wider picture. They compare Iran with countries where vested interests want to maintain good relations. So they fail to raise the very proper questions which should be asked. My hope is that the Church will play a role in balancing this picture.

We cannot always be harping on what happened almost thirty years ago. We must concentrate on the opportunity to build relationships with a population of 76 million, half of whom were born after the Revolution. We must demonstrate our great commitment and desire to build a relationship in dialogue and peace

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”.

The final day of the events in connection with the installation of the Bishop of Iran were marked by high-level meetings with leaders of Iran in state, culture and religion.

Tuesday August 7 began with a meeting of Bishop Azad Marshall, accompanied by the Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East Mouneer Anis and Bishop Michael Nazir Ali with the former President of Iran, Dr Khatami. Earlier in the year Dr Nazir Ali and Bishop Marshall had been at Lambeth Palace when the Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a visit from Dr Khatami and the latter visited the House of Lords.

The bishops assured Dr Khatami that Bishop Azad had committed himself as a servant of Christ to be a servant to all the people of Iran, regardless of their religion.

Bishop Michael Nazir Ali expressed appreciation for Dr Khatami’s focus in inter-faith dialogue on Stewardship of the Creation, the Dialogue of Civilisations and the Theology of Dialogue and hoped this could be developed. They also exchanged reflections on Persian poetry.

Dr Khatami noted that Iran was the site of the oldest church building in the world, and it had offered safety to Christians when they were being persecuted in the early centuries. Iran also welcomed Islam and has tried to develop a great Islamic civilization. The role of Christianity was very important in this.

The former president noted that Nietzche had proclaimed that God is dead, by which he meant that the thought of God is dead in the modern world. The new civilization has brought many achievements for humanity, but in it the thought of God has been forgotten. In its place has been put the super-man, the will to power. This has been expressed in the face of Hitler. Hitler is dead, but his spirit exists in war, terrorism and violation of people.

He continued that we dare to say that God is alive. It is our duty to vitalize the thought of God among humanity. We are sure that Christianity and Islam are trying to address the absence of the thought of God among us. The great task for all of us is to enable the people to be conscious of God’s presence again, a task in which we can all be together though we have differences in detail.

The most important dialogue in the dialogue of civilizations is the dialogue among religions.

Dr Khatami closed by saying “Emphatically I wish success to Bishop Azad. Bishop Azad, this is your home”

In the afternoon, Bishop Marshall and Bishop Nazir Ali were received by the Ministry of Guidance. The Minister explained how they saw the role of the Episcopal Church in Iran as being regulated by the laws of the land. The Minister explained that the Church was free as long as it lived according to these laws. It was not specified in detail what those laws covered. The minister also encouraged Bishop Marshall to think of Iran as his second home.

In the evening the Bishops took part in a bi-lateral dialogue at the Culture and Islamic Relations Organisation. Ayatollah Iraqi and Dr Wazirie, who had brought greetings at the installation, addressed the dialogue on the Vice-regency of Humanity in Creation., a topic suggested to them by Bishop Nazir-Ali. Bishop Marshall, Bishop Nazir Ali, Dr van Bijl and Canon Dr Chris Sugden contributed to a discussion which focused on the scriptures of Islam and Christianity in describing the human person as the representative (khalifa) or image (Genesis) of God. A fruitful discussion showed that the two terms were quite close and that when humanity was truly God’s steward they would be representing God as the divine attributes would be seen.

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