St. Stapanos Monastery, Jolfa, Iran, 2016
The story of this photo and this place—St. Stepanos Monastery, an Armenian Monastery in the Julfa Valley of NW Iran—has a fairly long arc that goes back to when I first became interested in studying Christianity. In my first year at Norther Arizona University, I had actually wanted to take a class on Islam but nothing was offered that semester. So, I decided to take the class on Christianity instead, assuming that I probably didn’t know much about it despite living in a predominately Christian society. I was right. And I was blessed in this class with a fantastic teacher, Dr. Arne Hassing, who taught with as much passion as knowledge about the subject. Eventually through my relationship with Dr. Hassing I became interested in Fundamentalism (including Islamic Fundamentalism, eventually, which is also one reason I became interested in Iran) and Pentecostalism, which became my main interest in graduate school.
One particular lesson that stood out from that class was regarding the 1st century of Christianity after Jesus died, and the excitement of early Christians regarding the imminent return of Christ at literally any moment. The first church at this site was from that time, founded in 62 CE, just 40 years after Christ was crucified. It was founded by Saint Bartholomew the Apostle, who many biblical scholars believe is the same person as Nathanael . (yes, like my name!). The building here was built much later, in the 14th century, by Armenian Christians. When I was trying to choose a tour for Iran, this site was very high on my list, and it didn’t disappoint. However, we arrived in later afternoon so the sun was no longer hitting the monastery directly. So getting a good photo was tricky. I hiked up the hill and captured this shot with Armenia in the background.