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Iran: Christians face a dangerous Christmas season

We remain in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters in Iran, who face Christmas in a time of accelerating danger. Most of the roughly 300,000 Christians in Iran are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, an ancient Church that broke off communion with Holy Orthodoxy after the fourth ecumenical council, the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Other Christians in Iran are members of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church; there is also a growing number of Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and other Protestants.

All of these Christian communities are under increasing threat as the Iranian government is placing more and more pressure upon all Christians. Iranian officials appear to be indifferent to the fact that the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran guarantees Christians various rights, including the right to representation in the Iranian Parliament, the right to produce non-halal food, and more. Despite this, Christians in Iran not infrequently suffer expropriation of their property, the forced closure of churches, and other forms of persecution.

The Order urgently hopes that the Iranian government will have a change of heart. Please pray for God’s mercy and protection upon all the Christians of Iran.

“A dangerous Christmas for Iran’s Christians,” by Lela Gilbert, Jerusalem Post, December 22, 2018:

‘Over 100 Christians have been arrested in Iran in the past week and nearly 150 in the past month, as part of the government’s attempt to ‘warn’ Christians against proselytizing over Christmas…”

Earlier this month that stunning news report appeared on World Watch Monitor, a trustworthy Christian website. An Iranian-born writer described the number of arrests – 114 in one week alone – as nothing short of “staggering.”

Of course, arrests are nothing new in Iran. Foreign journalists and lost hikers are apprehended as “spies.” International businessmen are pulled off planes and detained. Christians, and particularly converts, are accused of acting as subversive “Christian Zionists.” Iran’s arrests are often based on fabricated threats to national security, followed by beatings, lock-ups with violent cellmates and torturous interrogations.

And sometimes the consequences are far worse.

An Iranian Christian acquaintance of mine, while imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Raja’i Shahr prison, befriended an alleged Israeli spy. The Christian described being unexpectedly awakened and forced outside early one morning, just in time to watch in horror as his new Israeli friend was hanged. Yet another Iranian “national security” threat had been neutralized by the noose.

In 2017, there were at least 517 executions in Iran.

Meanwhile, the story about the “staggering” number of Christian arrests tells us all we need to know about Iran’s intolerance for religious minorities.

And disturbing as the number of arrests may be, they come as no surprise to those who keep an eye on Iran’s abusive regime, particularly in regard to religious freedom.

First of all, when it comes to the persecution of Christians, Iran ranks as the 10th worst country in the world, according to World Watch List. And the US government explains why. According to the United States International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Report for 2018.

“In the past year, religious freedom in Iran continued to deteriorate for both recognized and unrecognized religious groups, with the government targeting Baha’is and Christian converts in particular…

Christian converts and house church leaders faced increasing harsh sentencing: many were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities…”

Iran permits historic Christian churches, such as Assyrian/Chaldean and Armenian Orthodox, to perform their ancient liturgies and other rites. But the same respect is not provided for Christian converts. Why? Because more than a few aren’t simply Christians.

And therein lies a grave danger: conversion from Islam to another faith is a capital offense according to Islamic law. That edict is either on the legal books in Islamic countries or is implicit because of Sharia law – always the highest authority.

Yet despite the risks involved, many Iranians have abandoned what one woman described to me as the “sad and depressing Shi’ite religion.”

America’s National Public Broadcasting recently reported on a gathering of Iranians in Turkey who had converted to Christianity. “‘It feels good. Our relationship to God becomes closer,’ Farzana says.

She doesn’t want to give her last name because she says her family in Iran might face persecution for her conversion. Her family knows she is a convert and they’re scared for their own safety inside Iran…”

Another convert explained, “The system of authority in Iran has put Iranians under a lot of pressure, and they don’t see any hope. They are in search of God, but they want to find another path because they’re discontent with the options they’ve been given.” He also didn’t feel safe sharing his name….

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