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Iran's minority Armenian Christians celebrate New Year with fireworks, prayers

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/01/01/africa/ME-GEN-Iran-New-Year.php Iran s minority Armenian Christians celebrate New Year with fireworks, prayers The
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2008

      Iran's minority Armenian Christians celebrate
      New Year with fireworks, prayers

      The Associated Press
      Tuesday, January 1, 2008

      ISFAHAN, Iran: Iran's minority Christians
      celebrated the New Year on Tuesday by converging
      on churches at midday to light candles and pray
      for a prosperous year, hours after ushering in
      2008 with colorful midnight fireworks.

      In the historic central city of Isfahan, members
      of Iran's Armenian Christian community — which
      numbers 100,000 among Iran's 70 million strong
      population — gathered at Vank Church to attended
      a service led by archbishop Babken Charian.

      Earlier, at midnight Monday, they had also
      gathered outside the same church to set off
      fireworks within the church compound.

      Armenian Christians — who in Iran are
      predominantly Gregorian, a branch of the
      Christian Orthodox — "usually hold church
      meetings on the first day of January in Iran to
      celebrate the New Year and pray for prosperity,
      justice and peace throughout the world," church official Yerevan Hosepian said.

      Families happily snapped group photos next to
      well-decorated Christmas trees and a statute of
      Santa Claus set up in Vank's large compound.

      Many embraced each other and exchanged kisses.
      Women appeared without the traditional
      headscarves, while young men and women mingled freely, holding hands.

      Iran's Islamic laws require women to wear the
      headscarf in public and ban any physical contacts
      between men and women who are not relatives, but
      the country's religious minorities are free to
      take off the veil and mix inside their own clubs and churches.

      Despite their small numbers and the country's
      hard-line Islamic government, Christians are free
      to practice their religion, including celebrating
      Christmas and New Year's. However, Christian
      communities are prohibited from having their
      priests and bishops appear in public in Tehran to preach Christianity.

      Inside the Isfahan church, archbishop Charian
      held Mass and recited from the Bible. He ended
      the service offering every member of his
      community a piece of bread dipped in wine — the
      Armenian Christians' holy communion.

      A crowd of more than 500 showed up at Vank
      Church, fully decorated with oil paintings and
      elaborate engravings in Persian, Armenian and
      European style. The paintings depicted themes
      from both the Old and New Testament.

      "Today's celebration speaks more than words to
      prove that we freely practice our religion," said
      Aspit Simon, one of the worshippers attending the service at Vank.

      In Isfahan alone, there are 13 Armenian Christian churches.

      Apart from Armenians, which comprise most of
      Iran's Christians, there is also a sprinkling of
      Protestants, Assyrians, Catholics and other
      Orthodox denominations. Five seats out of 290 in
      the Majlis, or parliament, go to recognized
      religious minorities, including Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews.

      Over the past week, Christians were out in large
      numbers, buying Christmas trees and decorations
      for the holidays. Iran Armenian Christians
      celebrate Christmas on Jan. 6, which they
      consider the correct date of Jesus' birth.

      Around the world, Christmas Day is predominantly
      celebrated on Dec. 25, with Christmas Eve falling
      on Dec. 24, according to the modern, Gregorian
      calendar implemented by a Catholic Pope. The
      majority of Eastern Orthodox churches, however,
      celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, according to the old, Julian Calendar.
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