The Road to Gorgon
Gorgon lies in northern Iran, forgotten by most people I know. But I canot forget and I must never forget. Gorgon for me, will always be a holy place. I knew Haik Hovsepian. I was very young but I knew him and his family. On the road to Gorgon in 1964, his first son was killed in an accident, along with three other children from the Bliss family. also good friends of ours. This was before my time, and I came to know them much later, before the Shah fell, and before the true Persia was wiped off the maps forever.
But still, his wife Takoosh and Haik pursued Christ. They became missionaries for a Protestant church inside Iran, at a time when Christ’s name was reviled among Iranians. If you were to ask Haik and Takoosh, they would tell you that they were “Persian”, not Iranian. The distinction is important although I doubt that many westerners know this.
For Takoosh, to be Persian meant to be a free woman. For Haik, it meant to be free of the Savaak, the Iranian political police. For both of them, to be Persian, meant to be Christian. Haik was martyred for Christ in 1994. He was stabbed to death in a forgotten alley in Tehran by Muslims faithful to Ayatollah Khomeini. His death was a severre blow to my family. I will always remember the courtyard of their home.
They lived in a poor suburb of Tehran, and yet, their house had the only penny wishing well within maybe 15,000 square miles. Because only a Christian household would tolerate such a fanciful thing. And they were the only Persian Christians who dared to speak Christ’s name within the same radius. Haik gave me pennies of every kind to throw in his fountain: American, British, and Canadian. Haik saved his pennies from western nations so that he could give them to children of every colour, every ethnic background. Our family carries his little tradition by keeping our coins from all over the world in our Persian alabaster bowl. But we are too poor of spirit to build a wishing well.
Takoosh made baklava, from scratch. Patiently, she laid each parchment thin sheet of handrolled pastry onto the baking pan. I wanted to scream for instant satisfaction, but I said nothing. As she spread the fresh almond marzipan onto the sheets, I thought I would die from Pavlov’s disease. Then she would go and ruin it by pouring boiled saffron onto my rice and say “Eat up. No baklava until you eat the kabab.” Tender, spiced lamb that falls off the stick. Then she would take me shopping and tell me to go and see if I can find the rials stuck in the ice on the streets. Every time I brought back rials, that were not really “found treasures” but more like stray bullets for the beggars, she would put it in a special jar for the poor.
In the Shah’s time, there were ice skating rinks, and roller skating rinks in Tehran, which meant for me, the only real reason to go there. We would stay in an apartment, paid for by the Americans, and Ali, a “superintendent” of the building, would always have a gift for me. He was a convert to Christianity from Islam, but nobody ever talked of this. To do that was to invite disaster on him, but not because of the Savaak or the Shah. Because of the Islamic extremests who were gaining power even in 1976.
That was the year we got a special invitation from the Shah’s wife to come and see the Crown Jewels on a private tour. I got to hold the golden globe, made by the best jewelers in the souk. It had sapphires for the oceans, and emeralds for land masses. Diamonds were for the polar caps and rubies were for anything south of the equator. I held it in my hands. Princessa Farahnaz, older than me by a few years, took it from my hands and said, “You are a good friend to us. Would you like to see my Nancy Drew books?” She wore a jasmine perfume I have never been able to create. We played on a terrace overlooking Safi Abad and she wondered out loud if my hair was really “that” black, because I wasn’t Persian. I wondered if her eyeliner was tattooed on. Later in my life, I discovered that this was the very latest thing: to tattoo your “eyeliner”.
“See? See the flaw???” Haik taught me to study the kilim, the traditional Persian carpets. The best come from Nain or Bukhaara, and are made of silk. Each one is made from hand looms, and flaws are intentionally placed in the design. Because only Allah is perfect. “See it????” He would point to it, to make sure I saw what he saw. “Yes I see it!” I would jump up off my chair and haik would pat my head. “Good girl. You are a good girl.” I still have the small silk Bukhaara bedside carpet that he gave me for my very own, grownup girl room. I used to sit on it and pretend to be flying across the world. It still smells like almonds, baklava, and saffron to me.
Anyone who says that Christ cannot work outside of Orthodoxy never met Takoosh or Haik. And people who don’t say that, but who are just a bit too strong in their defensiveness against Protestants, have never been outside their comfortable, free, and indulgent western country. And they also deny the whole of the Old Testament.
The road to Gorgon is lonely. They say it is the loneliest place God ever built. The scents of Gorgon rise up to meet my memory as saffron, mixed with dust and shoes that have been worn for too long and don’t quite fit rightly. But it is the place that Christ will walk someday, to call up the bones of his tiny martyr, Haik’s son. And then our Lord will walk all the way back to Tehran, and call up the bones of Haik, his beloved friend, and martyr for the Truth, a Person! And our Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”