Today the former president of Iran, Dr Khatami received the newly installed Bishop in Iran, Azad Marshall along with Bishop Michael Nazir Ali of Rochester and the Presiding Bishop.
We assured Ayatollah Khatami that Bishop Azad had committed himself as a servant of Christ to be a servant to all the people of Iran, regardless of their religion. We had observed that pictures of Muslim Imams showed them with haloes around their heads in common with pictures of Christian saints. This suggests that Iran is a place where civilizations meet together – Christians, Jews and Muslims. It is our duty now to make this happen again.
Bishop Michael Nazir Ali expressed appreciation for Dr Khatami's focus in inter-faith dialogue on Stewardship of the Creation, the Dialogue of Civilisations and the Theology of Dialogue and hoped this could be developed. They also exchanged reflections on Persian poetry.
Dr Khatami noted that Iran was the site of the oldest church building in the world, and it had offered safety to Christians when they were being persecuted in the early centuries. Iran also welcomed Islam and has tried to develop a great Islamic civilization. The role of Christianity was very important in this.
The former president noted that Nietzche had proclaimed that God is dead, by which he meant that the thought of God is dead in the modern world. The new civilization has brought many achievements for humanity, but in it the thought of God has been forgotten. In its place has been put the super-man, the will to power. This has been expressed in the face of Hitler. Hitler is dead, but his spirit exists in war, terrorism and violation of people.
He continued that we dare to say that God is alive. It is our duty to vitalize the thought of God among humanity. We are sure that Christianity and Islam are trying to address the absence of the thought of God among us. The great task for all of us is to fill the gap, a task in which we can all be together though we have differences in detail.
The most important dialogue in the dialogue of civilizations is the dialogue among religions.
Dr Khatami closed by saying ‘Emphatically I wish success to Bishop Azad. Bishop Azad, this is your home’
On behalf of the province of Jerusalem and the Middle East and the diocese of Iran we express our profound gratitude to Dr Khatami for his words and his welcome.
The Most Revd Mouneer Anis
Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East