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Iranians seek relief in Christmas celebrations
Iranians shop for Christmas decorations in Tehran.
January 1st, 2013
12:38 PM ET

Iranians seek relief in Christmas celebrations

By Tara Kangarlou, CNN

(CNN)–Gold, red and green gift boxes decorated a large Christmas tree in a popular food court in the Islamic Republic’s bustling capital of Tehran. Nativity scenes of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus added color to the windows of shops across this lively city, a small symbol of the growing number of Iranians embracing the Christian holiday.

Iran has a population that is 98% Muslim, and the government is widely recognized for its repressive rulings, censorship and efforts to cut ties with the United States and the West, but more Iranians are openly celebrating Christmas and expressing their desires to be part of the global celebration.

On Christmas, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad released a statement praising Jesus as "the messenger of humanism and grace" and noted, "I believe that the sole way to save the man from severe moral, social and cultural crises is returning to the exalted teachings of the great messengers of God."

While Jesus is recognized as a prophet in Islam, it is uncommon for Islamic countries to celebrate his birth, particularly with Western trappings.

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“For us, Christmas may not really be about its religious symbolism, but rather, we would take any excuse to celebrate and create happy moments and go against the government’s repressive orders,” said Meshkat, a 29-year-old engineer who asked not to use his last name because of the government’s crackdown on those who openly criticize the regime.

Meshkat and other Muslims said they perceive Christmas and other Western holidays such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day as a way to bypass the confines of the regime and the economic toll taken on Iranians by international sanctions.

The Iranian government is a “repressive theocracy which has an active campaign of vilification and prosecution of any minority religious activities,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She commended Iranian youth’s efforts to blow the “siren on freedom of expression and human rights in Iran.”

Iran is home to approximately 200,000 Christians, 90% of whom are Armenian, according to Minority Rights Group international.

For 50 years, Gorgin Haghverdian has lived and worked in the same neighborhood in Tehran. He has been a successful business owner for more than three decades, selling refrigerators, and is an active member of the small Armenian Christian community in Iran.

“Ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, regardless of the challenges, the Armenian prelacy has created a mutual and respectful relationship with the Islamic regime,” Haghverdian said.

Yet he suggests that despite the community’s freedom in practicing its faith, this minority group still faces some challenges in the post-Islamic Revolution era.

“Even though our kids can go to universities and have the same educational rights, we still can’t be employed by the government or any organization, company or entity that’s operated by the government, such as public banks, corporations and various agencies,” said Haghverdian, who appreciates the community’s freedom in a country oftentimes accused of marginalizing religious minorities.

“People are warm and loving, no matter Muslim or Christian, I know for a fact, if I go down the street to buy a Christmas tree, I’ll see five Armenian-Christians, but I can see eight Muslims who are as excited to buy the tree. They just want to be happy and joyous,” he said.


Shoppers in Tehran look at a Nativity scene in a shop window.

Despite the expressions of Christmas celebrations, the Islamic regime stifles acts of religious convergence or the spread of any other beliefs than Islam, according to watchdog groups like U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Lantos Swett pointed to “thousands” of cases of discrimination against religious minorities like the Baha'is and others who express their own beliefs or any belief besides what she calls the theocratic regime of the Iranian government.

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While people in Iran are freely purchasing Christmas trees and hosting Christmas parties, the Iranian regime has shown zero tolerance for apostasy, or renouncing and leaving Islam. It is subject to capital punishment.

In late September, Saeed Abedini, a young U.S. citizen who is a Christian convert, was arrested during a visit to Iran for openly preaching his Christian beliefs.

Saeed Abedini is seen in a family photo.

In 2010, Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor who coverted from Islam, was detained and sentenced to death, charged with “evangelizing Muslims” and apostasy. Later, the country’s semi-official news agency Fars reported that Nadarkhani faced several charges of rape and extortion. He was released in September.

Haghverdian emphasized that the arrests have nothing to do with the Armenian-Christians and those officially accepted as Christians by the regime. “The regime is against any person who suddenly decides to create a religious following and most importantly renounce Islam,” he said.

Touraj Daryaee, a Persian Iranologist and historian at the University of California-Irvine, thinks many young Iranians are secretly converting to Christianity in recent years as a way to distance themselves from the regime’s harsh Islamic practices.

“Christianity seems to be a peaceful religion with a message of love and peace. That is so different from what they have experienced as militant Islam right now, so it is effective,” Daryaee said.

Despite the volatile relationship between Iran and the West, celebrating Christmas, even in its most basic secular forms, shows a section of Iranians yearning to belong to the international community, Meshkat said.

“The Iranian people want to do anything to show that we go side by side and step by step with the rest of the world, and we don’t want to be an isolated nation, and we would even celebrate their ceremonies to prove this point,” he said.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Christmas • Faith Now • Iran • Islam • Islamic law

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. call center india

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    November 14, 2013 at 3:59 am |
  2. bribarian

    Iran is quite an inspiration to the world. Not only are they laughing at the zi0nists' illegal sanctions, but they continue to get better.

    January 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
  3. Arash

    Why should Iranian follow the western stuffs like Christmas while others doesn't even want to hear about our Norooz ?

    January 7, 2013 at 2:55 am |
  4. ???????

    But they can't seem to understand this....
    Stephen Hawking: God didn't create universe
    http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-02/world/hawking.god.universe_1_universe-abrahamic-faiths-divine-creator?_s=PM:WORLD

    January 4, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  5. Billy

    January 3, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  6. GB

    Zoroastrian Iran, (Persia) islamized by invading Arabs, in 6-Th Century. There were 2 million Christians, living in the north of Iran at that time!!

    January 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  7. The message

    The central truth in Christmas is Immanuel which means God with us.
    God taking the form of human flesh to reveal himself to humanity through Jesus Christ, the savior.

    January 2, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • The Truth

      Amen.

      January 2, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Fedup Delivery

      I see sockpuppets. Sticky sockpuppets.

      January 2, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  8. Saraswati

    No one owns a holiday. The more we share the better – the more atheists and Muslims celebrating Christmas, and Christians celebrating Diwali, the better.

    January 2, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  9. Reality

    Only for the eyes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi----–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    January 1, 2013 at 11:26 pm |
    • Reality

      From Google Translate, the above in Persian, the official language of Iran.

      من دراسات ارمسترونغ، رشدي، علي هيرسي، والبيهقي ريتشاردسون ----–

      الخطوات الخمس لأبطل تأثير الخرافات من 1400 سنة الإسلامي:

      (-اتخاذ خطوات أقل من دقيقتين إلى دقيقة، والانتهاء ببساطة مذهلة-سنتين إلى إحلال السلام والعقلانية لأكثر من مليار نسمة، فقد لا تقدر بثمن!)

      هل أنت مستعد؟

      استخدام "الفروع الإسلامية 77 من" الإيمان "مجموعة الإمام البيهقي جمعتها كنقطة انطلاق. في ذلك، وهو ما يفسر الفضائل الأساسية التي تعكس صحيح" الإيمان "(إيمان) من خلال الآيات القرآنية وأحاديث نبوية ذات الصلة." أي ملخص لطيفة من المعتقدات الإسلامية والقرآن الكريم.

      والخمسة الأولى من الفروع 77:

      "1، والإيمان بالله"

      كما يعرف أيضا باسم الله، الرب، زيوس، الرب، الطبيعة الأم، الخ. وينبغي أن تضاف إلى الخلايا العصبية الذاتية التطهير الخاص.

      "2. وإذا ما تصورنا أن كل شيء غير الله كان غير موجود. بعد ذلك، خلق الله العلي هذه الأمور لاحقا وجاء إلى حيز الوجود."

      التطور والانفجار الكبير أو "غي ب G-NAB" (عندما يبدأ الكون لإعادة تدوير) هي أكثر قبولا وينبغي إدراج "المندرجة" في سبيل الله إذا كنت لا تزال تشكل "CREA-tionist".

      "3. إلى الاعتقاد في وجود الملائكة".

      A بندا رئيسيا لتطهير الخلايا العصبية. الملائكة / دي vils-الإبداعات الأسطورية هي من الحضارات القديمة، على سبيل المثال Hitt خائبي، لشرح / تحديد الأحداث الطبيعية، والاتصالات مع آلهتهم، والطيور الكبيرة، والرياح المفاجئة، وحماة في ليالي الظلام، الخ. "افسح المجال ل ثينجيس جميلة / المرحلة LY-" لا تحدث أو بزيارة أي وقت مضى إلى محمد، يسوع، مريم أو جوزيف سميث أو جو. اليوم سوف نصنف الملائكة كما airies-F و "كير القصدير يكون LLS-". وتصنف الحديثة دي vils كما دي مونس هيئة اجتثاث mented.

      "4. إذا ما تصورنا أن جميع الكتب السماوية التي تم إرسالها إلى الأنبياء مختلفة صحيحا، ولكن بصرف النظر عن القرآن الكريم، كل الكتب الأخرى غير صالحة بعد الآن."

      آخر بندا رئيسيا في حذفها. لا توجد كتب في ولاية روح السماء (إن وجد) كما لا توجد الملائكة لكتابة / نشر / توزيعها. القرآن، OT، NT الخ. هي ببساطة كتب من قبل البشر للبشر.

      اخترعت من قبل الأنبياء الكتبة القديمة عادة للحفاظ على الجماهير من الامم المتحدة والمتعلمين في الصف. اليوم ونحن ندعو لهم مقابل لحن فرز الأصوات.

      كما نبوءات invali مؤرخة من قبل الهدايا الطبيعية / الله / الله من الإرادة الحرة والمستقبل.

      "5. لنعتقد أن جميع الأنبياء صحيحة، ولكن ونحن أمرنا اتباع النبي محمد (عليه الصلاة والسلام
      صلى الله عليه وسلم) وحده. "

      قضى محمد ثلاثين يوما "الصيام" (أسطورة رمضان) في كهف الساخن قبل لقاءه الأول مع الله ويعرف أيضا باسم الله الخ. عبر "افسح المجال ل ثينغي جميلة". الحس السليم يتطلب حذف الخلايا العصبية من رقم 5. # 5 هو أيضا المصدر الرئيسي للأي VI-olence الإسلامية تحول محمد "سريع والجوع يحركها" hallu-cinations إلى واقع فظيع لغير المؤمنين.

      المشي هذه الخطوات الخمس ونحن نضمن انتعاش الكامل من طرقك الإسلامية!!

      للأسف، لا توجد العديد من المعلقين مسلم / القراء على هذا بلوق لذلك "لمدة دقيقتين" هو عدم الحصول على علاج لأولئك الذين في حاجة إليها. إذا كان لديك صديق مسلم، وإرسال نسخة منه وتساعد في إنقاذ العالم.

      خطوات مماثلة متوفرة في طلبك للحصول على deprogramming الأساطير المسيحية واليهودية والبوذية والهندوسية والوثنية ..

      January 1, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
    • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

      Blow me.

      January 2, 2013 at 12:03 am |
  10. Geek Goddess

    Lean, the Persian Jews had been in the country for about 3000 years. They have nothing to do with Palestine. They are culturally Persian.

    January 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  11. Mr Everyman

    Islam as a description of faith includes all Abrahamic faiths. Judaism and Christianity are among them. In cases of a switch to Christianity, the person is simply practicing an older form of Islam. I don't think Iranian Christians would agree with that but, that is the definition Muhammad used. Therefore, going to another Abrahamic faith is not a conversion from Islam. I'm sure Islamic scholars could mess up what I have said.

    January 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      Not quite right. Religious revolutions tend to move backward to find its roots rather than forward. So it was with the rise of Islam. The exception was Christianity, which grew out of the progressive arm of Judaism, while mainline Judaism was attempting to return to its roots. Islam too is a movement to the same roots as Judaism but by a different route. Conversion to Christianity is therefore not a step backward. Note how closely Shari'ah law resembles the laws of Moses.

      January 1, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • the AnViL

      Chick-a-dee – dingbat... you're a fine example of the dunning-kruger effect. aside from the obvious...

      those who copy and paste generally lack the ability to collect their thoughts and present them in simple terms.

      i've bruised your ego and hurt your feelings... too bad.

      suck it up, princess.

      January 2, 2013 at 5:03 am |
  12. Bootyfunk

    funniest part of the whole article:
    "Christianity seems to be a peaceful religion with a message of love and peace"
    LOL! this guy obviously hasn't read the bible.

    January 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
    • Lena

      I doubt that you have read the Bible either – especially the New Testament. If you did you'd see that Jesus did indeed profess Love and Forgiving.

      January 1, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      that's an excuse christians use when their book is criticized. studies show most atheists know more about the bible than most evangelicals - shows atheists make a more informed decision? sorry, i've read the bible from cover to cover. i grew up in the cult of christianity. perhaps you missed a few things in the bible...

      a woman approaches jesus and tells him her daughter is possessed. jesus says he doesn't like hearing her cry and to go away. she begs him to help and he asks why he should help a race of dogs. see, jesus says he has come only to help the people of isreal - the woman is caananite, a race hated by the jews. the woman agrees that she comes from a race of dogs and jesus rewards here by healing her daughter:

      Mathew 15:21-28
      21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
      22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
      23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
      24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
      25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
      26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
      27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
      28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

      that sound like love and compassion to you? or racism and ego?

      January 1, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • booty-debunked

      =) Bootyfunk

      Most people overlook that Luke 2:52 tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom. The significant learning from this passage should not be that Jesus had prejudice. Of course he did. He was a man of his times. What is significant is that he didn't let his ego prevent him from seeing that he was wrong and the woman was right. He wasn't so insecure as a male that he had to put the woman down for challenging him. Instead he changed his mind. And that affected how he dealt with a Roman centurion and many others. Jesus started off telling his disciples to preach only to the Jews. He ended up telling the Jews that there were many examples of non-Jews who showed more faith than they did. If we follow Jesus we will also have to follow his example of learning to see goodness and faith in places we never expected to find it.

      January 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
    • tonny2

      christanity is a fake religion

      January 1, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
    • Chick-a-dee

      @ Bootyfunk: Here's what you should have learned about the book of Matthew. It seems that you've got the words in front of you but missed the meaning.

      THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW

      The position of the Gospel according to Matthew as the first of the four gospels in the New Testament reflects both the view that it was the first to be written, a view that goes back to the late second century A.D., and the esteem in which it was held by the church; no other was so frequently quoted in the noncanonical literature of earliest Christianity. Although the majority of scholars now reject the opinion about the time of its composition, the high estimation of this work remains. The reason for that becomes clear upon study of the way in which Matthew presents his story of Jesus, the demands of Christian discipleship, and the breaking-in of the new and final age through the ministry but particularly through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

      The gospel begins with a narrative prologue (Mt 1:1–2:23), the first part of which is a genealogy of Jesus starting with Abraham, the father of Israel (Mt 1:1–17). Yet at the beginning of that genealogy Jesus is designated as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1). The kingly ancestor who lived about a thousand years after Abraham is named first, for this is the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the royal anointed one (Mt 1:16). In the first of the epi.sodes of the infancy narrative that follow the genealogy, the mystery of Jesus’ person is declared. He is conceived of a virgin by the power of the Spirit of God (Mt 1:18–25). The first of the gospel’s fulfillment citations, whose purpose it is to show that he was the one to whom the prophecies of Israel were pointing, occurs here (Mt 1:23): he shall be named Emmanuel, for in him God is with us.

      The announcement of the birth of this newborn king of the Jews greatly troubles not only King Herod but all Jerusalem (Mt 2:1–3), yet the Gentile magi are overjoyed to find him and offer him their homage and their gifts (Mt 2:10–11). Thus his ultimate rejection by the mas.s of his own people and his acceptance by the Gentile nations is foreshadowed. He must be taken to Egypt to escape the murderous plan of Herod. By his sojourn there and his subsequent return after the king’s death he relives the Exodus experience of Israel. The words of the Lord spoken through the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” are fulfilled in him (Mt 2:15); if Israel was God’s son, Jesus is so in a way far surpas.sing the dignity of that nation, as his marvelous birth and the unfolding of his story show (see Mt 3:17; 4:1–11; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16; 27:54). Back in the land of Israel, he must be taken to Nazareth in Galilee because of the danger to his life in Judea, where Herod’s son Archelaus is now ruling (Mt 2:22–23). The sufferings of Jesus in the infancy narrative anticipate those of his pas.sion, and if his life is spared in spite of the dangers, it is because his destiny is finally to give it on the cross as “a ransom for many” (20:28). Thus the word of the angel will be fulfilled, “…he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21; cf. Mt 26:28).

      In Mt 4:12 Matthew begins his account of the ministry of Jesus, introducing it by the preparatory preaching of John the Baptist (Mt 3:1–12), the baptism of Jesus that culminates in God’s proclaiming him his “beloved Son” (Mt 3:13–17), and the temptation in which he proves his true sonship by his victory over the devil’s attempt to deflect him from the way of obedience to the Father (Mt 4:1–11). The central message of Jesus’ preaching is the coming of the kingdom of heaven and the need for repentance, a complete change of heart and conduct, on the part of those who are to receive this great gift of God (Mt 4:17). Galilee is the setting for most of his ministry; he leaves there for Judea only in Mt 19:1, and his ministry in Jerusalem, the goal of his journey, is limited to a few days (Mt 21:1–25:46).

      In this extensive material there are five great discourses of Jesus, each concluding with the formula “When Jesus finished these words” or one closely similar (Mt 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1). These are an important structure of the gospel. In every case the discourse is preceded by a narrative section, each narrative and discourse together consti.tuting a “book” of the gospel. The discourses are, respectively, the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5:3–7:27), the missionary discourse (Mt 10:5–42), the parable discourse (Mt 13:3–52), the “church order” discourse (Mt 18:3–35), and the eschatological discourse (Mt 24:4–25:46). In large measure the material of these discourses came to Matthew from his tradition, but his work in modifying and adding to what he had received is abundantly evident. No other evangelist gives the teaching of Jesus with such elegance and order as he.

      In the “Sermon on the Mount” the theme of righteousness is prominent, and even at this early stage of the ministry the note of opposition is struck between Jesus and the Pharisees, who are designated as “the hypocrites” (Mt 6:2, 5, 16). The righteousness of his disciples must surpas.s that of the scribes and Pharisees; otherwise, in spite of their alleged following of Jesus, they will not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20). Righteousness means doing the will of the heavenly Father (Mt 7:21), and his will is proclaimed in a manner that is startling to all who have identified it with the law of Moses. The anti.theses of the Sermon (Mt 5:21–48) both accept (Mt 5:21–30, 43–48) and reject (Mt 5:31–42) elements of that law, and in the former case the understanding of the law’s demands is deepened and extended. The anti.theses are the best commentary on the meaning of Jesus’ claim that he has come not to abolish but to fulfill the law (Mt 5:17). What is meant by fulfillment of the law is not the demand to keep it exactly as it stood before the coming of Jesus, but rather his bringing the law to be a lasting expression of the will of God, and in that fulfillment there is much that will pas.s away. Should this appear contradictory to his saying that “until heaven and earth pas.s away” not even the smallest part of the law will pas.s (Mt 5:18), that time of fulfillment is not the dissolution of the universe but the coming of the new age, which will occur with Jesus’ death and resurrection. While righteousness in the new age will continue to mean conduct that is in accordance with the law, it will be conduct in accordance with the law as expounded and interpreted by Jesus (cf. Mt 28:20, “…all that I have commanded you”).

      Though Jesus speaks harshly about the Pharisees in the Sermon, his judgment is not solely a condemnation of them. The Pharisees are portrayed as a negative example for his disciples, and his condemnation of those who claim to belong to him while disobeying his word is no less severe (Mt 7:21–23, 26–27).

      In Mt 4:23 a summary statement of Jesus’ activity speaks not only of his teaching and proclaiming the gospel but of his “curing every disease and illness among the people”; this is repeated almost verbatim in Mt 9:35. The narrative section that follows the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 8:1–9:38) is composed principally of accounts of those merciful deeds of Jesus, but it is far from being simply a collection of stories about miraculous cures. The nature of the community that Jesus will establish is shown; it will always be under the protection of him whose power can deal with all dangers (Mt 8:23–27), but it is only for those who are prepared to follow him at whatever cost (Mt 8:16–22), not only believing Israelites but Gentiles who have come to faith in him (Mt 8:10–12). The disciples begin to have some insight, however imperfect, into the mystery of Jesus’ person. They wonder about him whom “the winds and the sea obey” (Mt 8:27), and they witness his bold declaration of the forgiveness of the paralytic’s sins (Mt 9:2). That epi.sode of the narrative moves on two levels. When the crowd sees the cure that testifies to the authority of Jesus, the Son of Man, to forgive sins (Mt 9:6), they glorify God “who had given such authority to human beings” (Mt 9:8). The forgiveness of sins is now not the prerogative of Jesus alone but of “human beings,” that is, of the disciples who consti.tute the community of Jesus, the church. The ecclesial character of this narrative section could hardly be more plainly indicated.

      The end of the section prepares for the discourse on the church’s mission (Mt 10:5–42). Jesus is moved to pity at the sight of the crowds who are like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36), and he sends out the twelve disciples to make the proclamation with which his own ministry began, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 10:7; cf. Mt 4:17), and to drive out demons and cure the sick as he has done (Mt 10:1). Their mission is limited to Israel (Mt 10:5–6) as Jesus’ own was (Mt 15:24), yet in Mt 15:16 that perspective broadens and the discourse begins to speak of the mission that the disciples will have after the resurrection and of the severe persecution that will attend it (Mt 10:18). Again, the discourse moves on two levels: that of the time of Jesus and that of the time of the church.

      The narrative section of the third book (Mt 11:2–12:50) deals with the growing opposition to Jesus. Hostility toward him has already been manifested (Mt 8:10; 9:3, 10–13, 34), but here it becomes more intense. The rejection of Jesus comes, as before, from Pharisees, who take “counsel against him to put him to death” (Mt 12:14) and repeat their earlier accusation that he drives out demons because he is in league with demonic power (Mt 12:22–24). But they are not alone in their rejection. Jesus complains of the lack of faith of “this generation” of Israelites (Mt 11:16–19) and reproaches the towns “where most of his mighty deeds had been done” for not heeding his call to repentance (Mt 11:20–24). This dark picture is relieved by Jesus’ praise of the Father who has enabled “the childlike” to accept him (Mt 11:25–27), but on the whole the story is one of opposition to his word and blindness to the meaning of his deeds. The whole section ends with his declaring that not even the most intimate blood relationship with him counts for anything; his only true relatives are those who do the will of his heavenly Father (Mt 12:48–50).

      The narrative of rejection leads up to the parable discourse (Mt 13:3–52). The reason given for Jesus’ speaking to the crowds in parables is that they have hardened themselves against his clear teaching, unlike the disciples to whom knowledge of “the mysteries of the kingdom has been granted” (Mt 13:10–16). In Mt 13:36 he dismisses the crowds and continues the discourse to his disciples alone, who claim, at the end, to have understood all that he has said (Mt 13:51). But, lest the impression be given that the church of Jesus is made up only of true disciples, the explanation of the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:37–43), as well as the parable of the net thrown into the sea “which collects fish of every kind” (Mt 13:47–49), shows that it is composed of both the righteous and the wicked, and that separation between the two will be made only at the time of the final judgment.

      In the narrative that consti.tutes the first part of the fourth book of the gospel (Mt 13:54–17:27), Jesus is shown preparing for the establishment of his church with its teaching authority that will supplant the blind guidance of the Pharisees (Mt 15:13–14), whose teaching, curiously said to be that of the Sadducees also, is repudiated by Jesus as the norm for his disciples (Mt 16:6, 11–12). The church of Jesus will be built on Peter (Mt 16:18), who will be given authority to bind and loose on earth, an authority whose exercise will be confirmed in heaven (Mt 16:19). The metaphor of binding and loosing has a variety of meanings, among them that of giving authoritative teaching. This promise is made to Peter directly after he has confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16), a confession that he has made as the result of revelation given to him by the heavenly Father (Mt 16:17); Matthew’s ecclesiology is based on his high christology.

      Directly after that confession Jesus begins to instruct his disciples about how he must go the way of suffering and death (Mt 16:21). Peter, who has been praised for his confession, protests against this and receives from Jesus the sharpest of rebukes for attempting to deflect Jesus from his God-appointed destiny. The future rock upon whom the church will be built is still a man of “little faith” (see Mt 14:31). Both he and the other disciples must know not only that Jesus will have to suffer and die but that they too will have to follow him on the way of the cross if they are truly to be his disciples (Mt 16:24–25).

      The discourse following this narrative (Mt 18:1–35) is often called the “church order” discourse, although that ti.tle is perhaps misleading since the emphasis is not on the structure of the church but on the care that the disciples must have for one another in respect to guarding each other’s faith in Jesus (Mt 18:6–7), to seeking out those who have wandered from the fold (Mt 18:10–14), and to repeated forgiving of their fellow disciples who have offended them (Mt 18:21–35). But there is also the obligation to correct the sinful fellow Christian and, should one refuse to be corrected, separation from the community is demanded (Mt 18:15–18).

      The narrative of the fifth book (Mt 19:1–23:39) begins with the departure of Jesus and his disciples from Galilee for Jerusalem. In the course of their journey Jesus for the third time predicts the pas.sion that awaits him at Jerusalem and also his resurrection (Mt 20:17–19). At his entrance into the city he is hailed as the Son of David by the crowds accompanying him (Mt 21:9). He cleanses the temple (Mt 21:12–17), and in the few days of his Jerusalem ministry he engages in a series of controversies with the Jewish religious leaders (Mt 21:23–27; 22:15–22, 23–33, 34–40, 41–46), meanwhile speaking parables against them (Mt 21:28–32, 33–46), against all those Israelites who have rejected God’s invitation to the messianic banquet (Mt 22:1–10), and against all, Jew and Gentile, who have accepted but have shown themselves unworthy of it (Mt 22:11–14). Once again, the perspective of the evangelist includes not only the time of Jesus’ ministry but that of the preaching of the gospel after his resurrection. The narrative culminates in Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, reflecting not only his own opposition to them but that of Matthew’s church (Mt 23:1–36), and in Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem (Mt 23:37–39).

      In the discourse of the fifth book (Mt 24:1–25:46), the last of the great structural discourses of the gospel, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple and his own final coming. The time of the latter is unknown (Mt 24:36, 44), and the disciples are exhorted in various parables to live in readiness for it, a readiness that entails faithful attention to the duties of the interim period (Mt 24:45–25:30). The coming of Jesus will bring with it the great judgment by which the everlasting destiny of all will be determined (Mt 25:31–46).

      The story of Jesus’ pas.sion and resurrection (Mt 26:1–28:20), the climax of the gospel, throws light on all that has preceded. In Matthew “righteousness” means both the faithful response to the will of God demanded of all to whom that will is announced and also the saving activity of God for his people (see Mt 3:15; 5:6; 6:33). The pas.sion supremely exemplifies both meanings of that central Matthean word. In Jesus’ absolute faithfulness to the Father’s will that he drink the cup of suffering (Mt 26:39), the incomparable model for Christian obedience is given; in his death “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28), the saving power of God is manifested as never before.

      Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus in his pas.sion combines both the majestic serenity of the obedient Son who goes his destined way in fulfillment of the scriptures (Mt 26:52–54), confident of his ultimate vindication by God, and the depths of fear and abandonment that he feels in face of death (Mt 26:38–39; 27:46). These two aspects are expressed by an Old Testament theme that occurs often in the narrative, i.e., the portrait of the suffering Righteous One who complains to God in his misery, but is certain of eventual deliverance from his terrible ordeal.

      The pas.sion-resurrection of God’s Son means nothing less than the turn of the ages, a new stage of history, the coming of the Son of Man in his kingdom (Mt 28:18; cf. Mt 16:28). That is the sense of the apocalyptic signs that accompany Jesus’ death (Mt 27:51–53) and resurrection (Mt 28:2). Although the old age continues, as it will until the manifestation of Jesus’ triumph at his parousia, the final age has now begun. This is known only to those who have seen the Risen One and to those, both Jews and Gentiles, who have believed in their announcement of Jesus’ triumph and have themselves become his disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). To them he is constantly, though invisibly, present (Mt 28:20), verifying the name Emmanuel, “God is with us” (cf. Mt 1:23).

      The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following.

      The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an as.sociation rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.

      The unknown author, whom we shall continue to call Matthew for the sake of convenience, drew not only upon the Gospel according to Mark but upon a large body of material (principally, sayings of Jesus) not found in Mark that corresponds, sometimes exactly, to material found also in the Gospel according to Luke. This material, called “Q” (probably from the first letter of the German word Quelle, meaning “source”), represents traditions, written and oral, used by both Matthew and Luke. Mark and Q are sources common to the two other synoptic gospels; hence the name the “Two-Source Theory” given to this explanation of the relation among the synoptics.

      In addition to what Matthew drew from Mark and Q, his gospel contains material that is found only there. This is often designated “M,” written or oral tradition that was available to the author. Since Mark was written shortly before or shortly after A.D. 70 (see Introduction to Mark), Matthew was composed certainly after that date, which marks the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans at the time of the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66–70), and probably at least a decade later since Matthew’s use of Mark presupposes a wide diffusion of that gospel. The post-A.D. 70 date is confirmed within the text by Mt 22:7, which refers to the destruction of Jerusalem.

      As for the place where the gospel was composed, a plausible suggestion is that it was Antioch, the capital of the Roman province of Syria. That large and important city had a mixed population of Greek-speaking Gentiles and Jews. The tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians there in the time of Paul (see Gal 2:1–14) in respect to Christian obligation to observe Mosaic law are partially similar to tensions that can be seen between the two groups in Matthew’s gospel. The church of Matthew, originally strongly Jewish Christian, had become one in which Gentile Christians were predominant. His gospel answers the question how obedience to the will of God is to be expressed by those who live after the “turn of the ages,” the death and resurrection of Jesus.

      January 2, 2013 at 3:47 am |
    • the AnViL

      Chick-a-dee – copying and pasting huge chunks of text doesn't make you look smart... just desperate...

      and you should cite your sources...

      next time – just post the url... doubtful people will click it... but it's more likely that they will – as opposed to reading all that CRAP.

      grow up, evolve.... dummy.

      January 2, 2013 at 3:52 am |
    • the AnViL

      all monotheistic religions are predicate on ignorance and division.

      peace?? lolz – yeah – after everyone who doesn't "believe" is destroyed and cast into a pit of fire for eternity.

      get real

      January 2, 2013 at 3:59 am |
    • Chick-a-dee

      On second though Booty, rather than as.sume you'll read the longer explanation, I'll just spell it out for you. Jesus began His ministry with the Jews just as He instructed His apostles to do. That ministry was to be expanded to all peoples, or at least the ones that were willing to accept His teaching. By showing His apostles, who had a cultural bias against the Gentiles, that He himself was extending His teaching based on the willingness of the Gentile to believe was the way the apostles were taught to overcome their biases and to prepare them for His later instruction to spread the good news to the ends of the earth.

      The only "racism" in this parable is the cultural bias of the Jews which the apostles would have to overcome. The point of this teaching is to put an end to it. There is no "ego" involved. Waiting for the Gentiles to accept Him was not for Jesus' benefit, it was to teach the apostles that they also must extend His teaching to Gentiles who are willing to follow Him, that they are not to limit their teaching to just the Jews.

      I think that you actually know this but have rejected it and made your post out of some sort of personal animosity.

      January 2, 2013 at 4:01 am |
    • Chick-a-dee

      @ the AnViL:
      “you should cite your sources...”
      The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)
      Released on March 9, 2011
      It is the same version I've used in my posts here for the past year.

      “next time – just post the url..”
      http://www.usccb.org/bible/scripture.cfm?bk=Matthew&ch=

      “everyone who doesn't "believe" is destroyed and cast into a pit of fire for eternity.”
      Actually, damnation is something that an individual must choose by refusing to love and refusing to accept God's love. Hell isn't a place it is rather the definitive loss of God.
      http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2heavn.htm#Rather
      IV. HELL
      1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."
      http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm

      “grow up, evolve.... dummy.”
      There is a character name Joy Turner on the old television show “My name is Earl” She is described as immature, mean-spirited, selfish and abusive. She also uses the term “dummy” frequently in dialog. Is that really who you wish to emmulate or are you just the same sort of ignorant low-life she portrays?

      January 2, 2013 at 4:24 am |
    • the AnViL

      chick-a-dee – look dingbat – i'm not the one copying and pasting entire freaking books to prove some entirely stupid point.

      try watching less television – and wise up.

      cha cha cha

      January 2, 2013 at 4:43 am |
    • Chick-a-dee

      No, Anvil, you're the one making statements on something about which you know nothing. Apparently, you have neither the motivation to look for information on the topic nor to read information presented to you, before making nonsensical statements. I'll stop posting information if you stop posting asinine comments.

      January 2, 2013 at 5:00 am |
    • the AnViL

      i accidentally posted this above – not to worry – it's no problem posting it here...

      Chick-a-dee – dingbat... you're a fine example of the dunning-kruger effect. aside from the obvious...

      those who copy and paste generally lack the ability to collect their thoughts and present them in simple terms.

      i've bruised your ego and hurt your feelings... too bad.

      suck it up, princess.

      January 2, 2013 at 5:05 am |
    • christ_child1991

      a woman approaches jesus and tells him her daughter is possessed. jesus says he doesn't like hearing her cry and to go away.
      apparently you have not read the bible or you would understand that his disciples said that not Jesus

      January 3, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • christ_child1991

      and 2 if he didnt say a word then how could he say that sounds like you took it at face value for hat it reads

      January 3, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  13. Geek Goddess

    A friend of mine had to escape Iran in 1980, along with her husband. Their families had been in Persia for a couple thousand years, pre dating Islam. They aren't quite so "tolerant" of Jews, it seems.

    January 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Lena

      Not hard to guess why (Palestine).

      January 1, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Shahin

      Iranians generally have no problems with jews. Just because you met 1 who does, does not mean all of them do.

      January 2, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  14. threetowersresidential

    i read somewhere that the date of christmas was set on pagan holidays.
    there was no scripture indicating god's date of birth, however it coincided after his death to be during pagan festivals (possibly to take those buggers down a bit)!

    January 1, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • Lena

      It was done on purpose since 25 th December in the Roman calendar was the festival of the Invincible Sun! Jesus is that Invincible Sun

      January 1, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      This is because Jesus had no actual birthday. He is an amalgamation of several legends. Paul's original tale of Jesus was drab and ambiguous. The time, place, and miracle details were all added a century later.

      January 2, 2013 at 9:10 am |
  15. Sam Yaza

    that's because Ahmadinejad is one of the worlds most progressive leaders her gave women the right to vote, not have an escort and go to school. hes a good guy and America villainizes him for it. all because he doesn't want Israel killing Palestinian children. tis is his last year in office after hes gone your going to see a vary bad Iran, and say i miss Ahmadinejad

    January 1, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • truth be told

      Take your qu.eer unamerican butt over to Iran then and be with your beloved leader. Your life expectancy will be less than a week.

      January 1, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      and how does his regime treat h.omos.exuals?

      January 1, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      that's been an uphill battle for him he wants equal rights 98% of the county does not

      January 2, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
  16. Seyedibar

    Quite silly, considering that people have been lighting trees and placing gifts under them in the Iranian region for over 4000 years on Dec 25th.

    January 1, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Eli

      Oh , fascinating, were the Persians tree-worshiping pagans THAT far back?

      January 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Yes, they revered the cedar during winter ceremonies, and the ash tree during summer. Their winter ceremony involved a dead god impregnating the queen with the son(sun) who will be the savior of the land.

      January 2, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  17. E 101

    What We Learned About Humanity in 2012
    http://www.livescience.com/25818-human-ancestors-evolution-2012.html

    January 1, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Lena

      Evolutionary theory does not contradict God's creation. The Bible says that humans were all created (hence, creatures) along with other forms of life and the universe itself. God surpasses this created world and the time itself! Time does not affcet God for He is Immortal! Time was created together with the world...

      January 1, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Lena

      Everything was created except for Jesus – he is a God's manifestation.

      January 1, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
  18. Auroville

    The message of Christmas is the incarnation of God .God chose the most humble form to reveal himself to humanity and save all of mankind from eternal damnation and sins.

    January 1, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Christian Jacket Giveaway - Act Now!!

      We have a free complimentary jacket for you to wear with lots of neat straps and buckles!
      Simply go to your nearest hospital (where we've set up a distribution center) and tell them you would like to wear your complimentary jacket and tell them about your ideas about God.
      If you're one of the lucky ones, they'll have you wait in a nice upholstered room and even get free health care!

      January 1, 2013 at 8:11 pm |

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.