A priest from Pakistan was officially installed as Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Iran on Sunday.
Bishop Azad Marshall – who had previously served as Episcopal vicar for the Diocese of Iran since 2005 – became the Anglican bishop of the Islamic republic after a three-hour service at St. Paul’s Church in Tehran.
More than 200 people attended the service which included Anglicans, members of the Assemblies of God, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims, according to the Anglican Communion News Service.
Among those attending the installation were Jerusalem Bishop Suheil Dawani; president bishop Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East; Church of England Bishops Michael Nazir Ali of Rochester and Paul Butler of Southampton; Retired Jerusalem Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal; and Archbishop John Chew, primate of South East Asia.
A senior official from the office of the Iranian president, who spoke after the ceremony about religious freedom, also attended the service.
“Many countries in the Middle East are places where religions and civilizations came together,” said Anis, the Israel bishop whose jurisdiction includes Iran, according to ACNS. “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,” he said.
Other Anglican leaders also expressed hope that the church in Iran can facilitate greater understand between Muslims and Christians.
"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," said Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams in his greeting to Marshall, according to ACNS. Williams is the spiritual leader of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion.
The relationship between Iran and the Anglican Church has not always been so rosy. The Iranian government had seized Anglican diocese schools, churches and hospitals after the 1979 revolution.
“Iran’s leaders want to open a new chapter with the Anglican Church, nearly 30 years after the Islamic revolution,” noted Marshall, according to the Episcopal News Service.
"The revolution took place 28 years ago and there's a new generation of people, who ..., although they are committed to the revolution, are in some ways objectively looking at what happened in the past and what mustn't happen in the future," the new bishop said, according to BBC.
Iran has been portrayed as a hard-line Islamic state accused of severe human rights violations and secretly building nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly denied that the Holocaust took place. The United States and Iran has not had direct diplomatic relations since the revolution.
In terms of religious freedom, although the Iranian government is said to tolerate ethnic Christians – allowing them to hold services – guards regularly stand in front of church doors to decide if a person entering the sanctuary is an ethnic Christian. New converts to Christianity put their lives at risk and face persecution from families, friends, employers and authorities when they denounce Islam. Both lifelong believers and new converts have reportedly been imprisoned, beaten and even murdered.
At the close of the service, the new Iranian bishop concluded: “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,” he said, according to ACNS.