The Right Rev Hassan Barnaba Dehqani-Tafti: born Taft, Persia 14 May 1920; ordained deacon 1949, priest 1950; Pastor, St Luke’s Church, Isfahan 1950-60; Pastor, St Paul’s Church, Tehran 1960-61; Bishop in Iran 1961-90, Vicar-General 1990-91; President-Bishop, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East 1976-86; Episcopal Canon, St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem 1976-90; Commissary to Bishop in Iran 1991-2000; Assistant Bishop of Winchester 1982-90, Honorary Assistant Bishop 1990-2006; married 1952 Margaret Thompson (three daughters, and one son deceased); died Oakham, Rutland 28 April 2008
Hassan Dehqani-Tafti was Bishop in Iran from 1961, in exile from 1979 until 1985. His life, it is fair to say, was an epic Anglican Christian story. His 1959 autobiography (published in both Persian and English) borrowed its title from the central Maidan (the great royal square) in the city of Isfahan; Naqsh-i-jahan. Like the square, his life was a unity with four sides or dimensions.
The first was his early life in what was then Persia, in the rural town of Taft, where Hassan Barnaba Dehqani-Tafti had been born in 1920. There his Muslim nurture came to embrace a Christian discipleship. He was always at pains to believe and express the two as compatible, so long as the significance of either was ardently understood.
His story took on, secondly, a vigorous education, through Stuart Memorial College in Isfahan and the rigours of obligatory service in the Armed Forces where his resources of character were sharply tested. What emerged was a sense of his being meant for Christian ministry – a conviction which was sternly tried and tested by the diocese of Iran, then led by his father-in-law-to-be, the Right Rev William Thompson.
The tale passed, thirdly, into a cherished period of study at Ridley Hall theological college in Cambridge, where the poetry in him quickly responded to the aura of the ancient stones of the university and its scholarly traditions. On his return to Isfahan, he grew deeper into the claims of Christian ministry to become, in 1961, the first Bishop in Iran of Persian vintage.
Initially, there was little to appal in the fourth side of this biographical Maidan, only a ripening leadership to participate, around 1974, in the reorganisation of the Archbishopric in Jerusalem (of which Iran was a part) into the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. In 1976 Dehqani-Tafti became the first Presiding Bishop of this new entity, overseeing the initiation of a Palestinian leadership in Jerusalem and an Egyptian episcopate in Cairo.
Four years later, however, a desperate chapter ensued. The anti-Christian intolerance rooted in Ayatollah Khomeini’s version of Islam was full of malice against a Persian Christian making good a Christian leadership in the hallowed precincts to which, from long exile, Khomeini had triumphantly returned in 1979. Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, his family and those close to him, became subject to harassment and duress.
One of his senior clergy, Arastoo Sayyeh, was murdered in Shiraz by men who came to visit on the pretext of friendship. Hassan and his wife Margaret narrowly escaped the same fate while sleeping in their home in Isfahan; their pillows were riddled with bullet-holes. Hassan found himself in exile, not as a fugitive, but in the course of his duty as presiding bishop of the province. Then, while he was finding a place to pitch an exile’s tent, came the news of the murder in May 1980 of his only son, Bahram, by thugs in Tehran.
Finally came the invitation of Bishop John V. Taylor of Winchester by which in 1982 Hassan Dehqani-Tafti became Assistant Bishop in the diocese, where he served some score of years, latterly as Honorary Assistant Bishop.
Biographies of Dehquani-Tafti’s order exemplify not the mere limitation (as in Judaism and Islam) of the lex talionis but the total abrogation of “right of vengeance”. In hymn-writing and his books, he underlined both the potential unison of cultures and the ecumenical reach of his Christianity. Throughout his travels he was ably sustained by his wife Margaret.
Article written by Kenneth Cragg, The Independent
Bishop Dehqani-Tafti: A Father’s Prayer On The Martyrdom Of His Son
When the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah, the educational and medical assets of the Anglican Church in Iran were seized, and the bishop had to flee the country. His children stayed. His son, Bahram was a teacher. On his way home in 1989, two men in a car overtook him and forced him to stop and they shot him. When his father, who was in Cyprus, was informed he wrote this letter to his wife.
“I feel bewildered but very calm. May God forgive those who have murdered our son. For, plainly, ‘they knew not what they did’. What had Bahram ever done to them? May God use the death of our dear son to free people from hatred and enmity in our country, in whatever way He knows. What an educated and cultured man our country has lost. The seed of this sacrifice somehow, sometime, somewhere in the whole plan of God for his world, will blossom and bear fruit. How and when and where we cannot know but we believe that the sacrifice will not be wasted. We must not have hatred in our hearts –only sorrow, pity, mercy and compassion, for those callous murderers. May God awaken their souls so that they realize the depth of their prejudice and hatred and so be saved from their sin.”
Since he could not attend his son’s burial he wrote in Persian ‘a Father’s Prayer on the Martyrdom of his Son’ and dictated it over the telephone to be read at the service. It became known worldwide, translated into many languages and made available in numerous books. Here is the prayer in English.
“O God, we remember not only Bahram but his murderers, not because they killed him in the prime of his youth and made our hearts bleed and our tears flow, not because with this savage act they have brought further disgrace on the name of our country among the civilized nations of the world: but because through their crime we now follow more closely thy footsteps in the way of sacrifice. The terrible fire of this calamity burns up all selfishness and possessiveness in us: its flame reveals the depth of depravity, meanness and suspicion, the dimension of hatred and the measure of sinfulness in human nature. It makes plain to us as never before our need to trust in thy love as shown in the Cross of Jesus and his Resurrection, love that makes us free from all hatred towards our persecutors: love which brings patience, forbearance, courage, loyalty, humility, generosity and greatness of heart, love which more than ever deepens our trust in God’s final victory and thy eternal designs for the Church and for the world: love which teaches us how to prepare ourselves to face our own day of death.
O God, Bahram’s blood multiplies the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls: so when his murderers stand before thee on the Day of Judgement remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives, and forgive.”