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.