The largest church that gives open, public services in Iran will no longer hold Friday worship services due to government pressure, local sources reported this past week.
According to reports, authorities had threatened the Rev. Sourik, the bishop and overseer of the Assemblies of God Churches in Iran, to completely shut down the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran unless it stopped holding Friday services by the deadline, Oct. 31.
Sourik, who had resisted the demands of authorities, finally relented and announced at the end of a Friday afternoon worship on Oct. 30 that there would no longer be Friday gatherings but only Sunday services.
"The announcement of the termination of the Friday services was received with shock and utter surprise and resulted in many openly weeping in the church service," reported the Farsi Christian News Network.
According to reports, Sourik had complied with the demand in order to protect the security and well-being of the members and visitors attending the church services. Sourik, who has heart problems, had been under pressure from officials of the Ministry of Information to close down the church on Fridays, which is the official weekly holiday in Iran.
More recently, the pastor also received threats from the Pasdaran Militia (The Revolutionary Guards), which gave the ultimatum that if Friday services did not end by Oct. 31 then the militia would forcibly close the church down for good.
Some hearing the news of the Friday service ban say they fear that the crackdown is the beginning of a new campaign against public Christian worship gatherings. Most of the Christians in Iran worship in underground churches, but the Assemblies of God Church of Tehran is one of the few that holds public services.
"I believe the main reason they closed those services is to send a strong signal to all Christians inside and outside Iran that they will not tolerate Christianity in Iran," commented one informant to International Christian Concern. "Its purpose is mostly to intimidate."
Thus far, government officials have failed to provide an explanation for the closing of Friday services at the Central Assemblies of God Church.
Regardless, persecution watchdog groups say they oppose Iran's resolution to bar Christians from freely having fellowship on Fridays, or any other day of the week.
"We urge Iran to respect the rights of its Christians to practice their faith freely without government interference, or authoritarian rule," said Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East.
The Assemblies of God Church of Tehran is an independent church that was founded by several pastors and Christian lay leaders years before the Islamic revolution. The church continued its ministry after the revolution and several pastors were martyred by extremists, including some reportedly with ties to the regime.