Almost 500 people – many of Iranian descent – packed into Wakefield Cathedral on Saturday (2 March) for a “Persian Celebration Service”. The event marked the launch of an officially authorised translation of the Holy Communion Service. The Bishop of Loughborough, Guli Francis-Dehqani, led the service. Bishop Guli arrived in the UK in 1980 at the age of 14 following the murder of her brother, Bahram, and the attempted murder of her father, the then- Bishop of Iran, Hassan Dehqani-Tafti.
While billed as a celebration, the congregation remembered Bahram and another Anglican martyr, Arastoo Sayyah. The 40th anniversary of his murder was commemorated last month. The congregation also prayed for Christians living in Iran today.
The new translation recognises “the presence of Iranians in churches as a gift, and demonstrates commitment to welcoming them into the life of the Church of England”, the C of E said in a statement. The service is not a new liturgy, but a translation of the existing Order One service of Holy Communion from Common Worship. It is designed to be used alongside English language liturgy, with both languages printed side by side, enabling people to follow and participate in services.
Saturday’s service was the first time that the liturgy had been used. It drew a congregation from across England.
“It has been amazing to see, and hear about, the extensive and rapid growth of Farsi speaking Christians across this nation”, the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, said in a sermon. “In my own diocese we have significant Farsi speaking groups in Stockton, Hartlepool and Sunderland.
“Then in the neighbouring dioceses of Newcastle and York there are further significant groups in various churches. Here we are in our other neighbour of Leeds diocese. Liverpool, Manchester, Stoke on Trent, Leicester and many other centres have seen similar growth. It appears to be a significant work of God amongst Farsi speakers in this land.”
In his sermon, which was translated into Farsi as he delivered it, he added: “Now we are all here, Farsi, English or other first language speakers because someone shared the story of God’s love in Jesus with us. Some of us have been raised and nurtured within the Christian faith. We were prayed for before our birth. We were nurtured in Christ from the day of our birth.
“Others of us, like myself, have come to faith in Christ through the loving witness of others; sometimes just one friend but very often through the loving care of a Christian community too. For some of us this journey has been relatively easy and straightforward. For others it has been costly and painful.
“This has, as we know, included martyrdom for some. The two Anglican Iranian martyrs are Revd Arastoo Sayyah and Bahram Dehqani-Tafti. The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the saints. What every single one of us has discovered is the depth, breadth, height and length of God’s love in Jesus.”
One of the readings was given by Mohsen Chinaveh, who attended Saturday’s launch with his wife Sara and son Mesih (Jesus). Speaking to reporters ahead of the service, he said: “You can speak with God in your own language, that language you completely understand because you grew up with it”, he said as he welcomed the new liturgy.
Also speaking before the service, Bishop Guli said: “This translated service of Holy Communion is hugely significant within the life of the Church of England as we seek to find ways of recognising the diversity which is increasingly the reality of the Church of England.
“We’ve had, over the last few years, over 75 clergy contact us to ask how can we best help to integrate the Iranians who we find are coming to our churches, so in this liturgy what we’re doing is formally recognising a minority community as part of our wider body and crucially enabling Persian, Farsi speaking people and English speaking people to worship alongside one another.”
The Farsi-language liturgy can be downloaded from the Church of England website.
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