Europe, Eastern, and the Soviet Union
by Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendicompiled by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.
published in Bahá'í Studies Review, 3.1
London: Association for Baha'i Studies of English-Speaking Europe, 1993
From Letters Written by Shoghi Effendi
From Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi
It is such a joy to him that the friends in Vienna are holding the unity
feasts and that will surely help to keep the friends together and encourage
them to greater action. Through your efforts as pioneer workers, Vienna
must become a great Bahá'í centre in Central Europe. This
is what Shoghi Effendi awaits and eagerly hopes.
He is always very glad to hear of the good news of the progress of the
Cause, especially in Vienna. That is a very important centre from which
the Cause could spread to Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Those regions,
being occupied by people of diverse nationality and religious belief, are
always a hotbed of dissension and strife. They need the teachings of the
Cause to pacify them and create among them the spirit of love and comradeship.
I am sure you would be glad to know that Shoghi Effendi hears frequently
from your wife, who is engaged in pioneer work in central Europe -- a work
that is difficult and needs much patience. . . .
Shoghi Effendi was very glad to hear of your trip to Budapest and your
lecture together with Prof. R. Vambery on the Bahá'í outlook
on peace. He sincerely hopes that before long we will have a group of believers
there with a properly constituted Spiritual Assembly. Miss Martha Root
hopes to visit there while travelling through Europe. We hope that her
activities will enhance that work. Central Europe is in great need of the
teachings for it has fully felt the consequences of war and international
hatred. The people are seeking a spiritual light that will lead them to
Central and Eastern Europe are much more receptive than any of the western
countries. They have felt the evils of war and therefore are more receptive
to spiritual matters.
Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe, is a wonderful field for work. The great difficulties they have passed through these last years have made the people there peace-seeking and more ready to listen to a spiritual message proclaiming universal brotherhood. They are far more ready than the Latin countries that still possess the arrogance of victory in the last war.
Shoghi Effendi sincerely hopes that through the activities of you and
the other teachers now in Europe the Cause will make a great move and many
centres will be established in Central Europe. It is very important to
have regular study classes to follow public lectures, so that those who
become interested may not go astray. Mrs. [Louise] Gregory can be of great
service along this line of grounding the few who are deeply attracted,
in the teachings of the Cause.
The Guardian firmly believes that it is preferable for you to stay in
a centre and gradually establish an Assembly rather than cover much ground
and leave no appreciable result once you are gone. What the Cause in Central
Europe needs are well established centres that could take care of themselves
and they in turn become focal points for radiating the light of guidance
to the surrounding regions. And this can be achieved only by personal contact
and meeting small groups as you are doing at present. With a little experience
you will find for yourself how true and efficacious this method is.
Martha [Root] is now in the Balkans and Central Europe attempting to
start some permanent groups. Shoghi Effendi has arranged that Dr. Esslemont's
book be translated into Greek, Rumanian and various other languages spoken
in the Balkans as a preparation for intensive teaching work. When this
work will be completed then Martha will be able to do her best, for with
the present lack of proper literature she is greatly handicapped.
In Eastern Europe the Cause is making wonderful headway. We earnestly
hope Northern Europe will do the same. They are very enlightened and should
appreciate the importance of peace and a spiritual regeneration of man.
In one of your letters you mention Martha [Root]. She is surely doing
wonderful work in Central Europe. She has not only interested many competent
souls, but also has managed to have Dr. Esslemont's book translated and
published in several languages. And this will render her work much more
fruitful and lasting in effect.
Dr. and Mrs. . . . are now here and give a glowing report of what is
being accomplished in Bulgaria and the other countries of Eastern Europe.
Shoghi Effendi hopes that these seeds, which these few American ladies
are sowing so lovingly, will receive showers of divine blessings and gradually
start to germinate. Those countries, more than anywhere else in Europe,
should feel the disastrous and ravaging effects of war and conscientiously
strive to achieve peace by an orientation of their human interests to what
is spiritual and uplifting. . .
He is indeed pleased to learn of the steps you have taken to extend
your stay in Europe, and sincerely hopes that you will be thereby enabled
to lend all the support and assistance you can to the extension of the
teaching work in Austria, Germany and Central Europe. You are working in
a field which is certainly most promising, and in which ardent and competent
workers are most urgently needed. In Austria, in particular, the Guardian
feels the possibilities of teaching are as numerous as they are effective.
He would urge you, therefore, to concentrate at present all your efforts
on that country, and also to closely collaborate with the friends in Vienna,
so that through your united and harmonious co-operation the Cause may rapidly
spread and become firmly established there. . .
He considers the work of the Cause in Germany of primary importance;
the German believers not only have the fertile field of their own people's
minds to cultivate, but must, eventually, do a large part of the teaching
work to be carried out in the future in Central and Eastern Europe. So
he is very anxious to have your affairs running on a smooth administrative
basis, and to also have you receive the necessary literature or means of
From a Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá
From Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi
He feels deeply thankful and gratified for the wonderful work you and
Miss Jack have been doing in Bulgaria. He sincerely hopes that as a result
of your work a centre will be created there which in turn will spread the
Message through the Balkans. Those countries are in great need of the Divine
Message because they have been divided into warring factions that have
endangered the life of Europe. Through constant war those countries have
come to the verge of ruin. They need the Message of Bahá'u'lláh
to bring peace and change the prevailing hatred between the factions into
a mutual understanding based upon the love of God and human brotherhood.
Shortly after His departure from Adrianople where He was exiled for five years, Bahá'u'lláh wrote a Tablet in which He states that under every stone He has laid a seed which will soon germinate.(1) This promise refers to the regions around Adrianople which naturally include Bulgaria. His actual words are very promising and who knows but now is the beginning of the day when those promises are to be fulfilled.
The Balkan people have for long been suffering from war and social and
political strife. It is high time that peace may reign, that differences
may be set aside, that strife may cease. . .
The Balkans, Shoghi Effendi believes, are a very fertile field, their
people very ready. They have so long and severely suffered from wars, and
their aftermath, that they undoubtedly long to enjoy a reign of permanent
peace. But the work is nevertheless not so very easy, and not free from
its own stumbling blocks. There is undoubtedly much prejudice to overcome,
and much religious antagonism to be faced. But these are the thorns that
any new field will have. We should not mind them. We should concentrate
upon the promise given by Bahá'u'lláh that the hosts of the
Kingdom are ever ready to pour down and assist anyone who would rise with
a determined mind and a free heart.
As the Faith is beginning to expand over the Bulgarian
country, it is necessary to bring the people into contact with the Bahá'í
literature; indeed this book(2) will give
them [the opportunity] to obtain extensive knowledge of the teachings and
history of the Faith, and will prepare their minds and hearts to accept
the claim of Bahá'u'lláh.
Miss Jack and Miss Root will surely highly value your assistance and
co-operation and will be only too glad to have you with them. You all three
are the shining stars in the dark and gloomy sky of the Balkans. For through
the Message you have you are able to heal all those who have been for so
long, and under so many different circumstances, victims of the crudest
and most deep-seated prejudices.
The German friends have been greatly suffering as a result [of national
fanaticism], during the last two years, and their activities have been
largely hampered. The countries where the people are relatively more sympathetic
to the Teachings are Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania. You should do your
best, and in case you find it feasible, to extend your stay in the Balkans
and try to establish some new centres there. . .
Her tomb(3) will become
a national shrine, immensely loved and revered, as the Faith rises in stature
in that country.
. . . [Marion Jack] remained at her post, and won for herself imperishable
fame, her resting-place becoming a shrine in Bulgaria, which the people
of that country will increasingly honour and cherish.
The Guardian wishes to assure you and your dear wife of his prayers
on your behalf. He hopes every obstacle will be removed from your path,
so that you can carry on the teaching work actively and diligently. Greece
is a most important country, and should have a virile Assembly, particularly
Your loving letter of August 17th, with the photograph of the first Bahá'í Group in Athens, and showing the first Greek Bahá'í in Greece, was received, and presented to the beloved Guardian.
He was very happy to see the likeness of the Friends serving so diligently
in Greece. He hopes your teaching efforts will be confirmed, and many seeking
souls find eternal life through your sacrificial efforts. Greece is a most
important country, as he has explained to you, and the Faith should be
firmly implanted in that country, in many cities. The first step, of course,
is a Spiritual Assembly in Athens.
3. Russia and the Soviet Union
To this uplifting movement, various external factors are being added
that are tending to hasten and stimulate this process of internal regeneration
so significant in the life of renascent Persia. The multiplicity and increasing
facilities in the means of transportation and travel; the State visit of
energetic and enlightened reformers to Persia's capital; the forthcoming
and widely-advertised journey of the Sháh himself to the
progressive capitals of Western Europe; the repercussion of Turkey's astounding
reforms among an essentially sensitive and receptive people; the loud and
persistent clamour of a revolting order in Russia against the evil domination
and dark plottings of all forms of religious sectarianism; the relentless
vigour with which Afghánistán's ambitious Ruler, reinforced
by the example of his gracious Consort, is pursuing his campaign of repression
against a similar order of a corrupted clergy at home -- all tend to lend
their force in fostering and fashioning that public opinion which can alone
provide an enduring basis for the reform Movement destined to usher in
that golden Era craved for by the followers of the Faith in Bahá'u'lláh's
Russia will in the future become a delectable paradise, and the teaching
work in that land will be carried out on an unprecedented scale. The House
of Worship established in its very heart will shine forth with dazzling
splendour, and the call of the Most Great Name will reverberate in its
temples, its churches, and its places of worship. We need to show forth
patience and forbearance. In these momentous convulsions there lie concealed
mighty and consummate mysteries, which will be revealed to men's eyes in
the days to come.
The catastrophic fall of mighty monarchies and empires in the European
continent, allusions to some of which may be found in the prophecies of
Bahá'u'lláh; the decline that has set in, and is still continuing,
in the fortunes of the Shí'ih hierarchy in His own native
land; the fall of the Qájár dynasty, the traditional enemy
of His Faith; the overthrow of the Sultanate and the Caliphate, the sustaining
pillars of Sunní Islám, to which the destruction of Jerusalem
in the latter part of the first century of the Christian era offers a striking
parallel; the wave of secularization which is invading the Muhammadan ecclesiastical
institutions in Egypt and sapping the loyalty of its staunchest supporters;
the humiliating blows that have afflicted some of the most powerful Churches
of Christendom in Russia, in Western Europe and Central America; the dissemination
of those subversive doctrines that are undermining the foundations and
overthrowing the structure of seemingly impregnable strongholds in the
political and social spheres of human activity; the signs of an impending
catastrophe, strangely reminiscent of the Fall of the Roman Empire in the
West, which threatens to engulf the whole structure of present-day civilization
-- all witness to the tumult which the birth of this mighty Organ of the
Religion of Bahá'u'lláh has cast into the world -- a tumult
which will grow in scope and in intensity as the implications of this constantly
evolving Scheme are more fully understood and its ramifications more widely
extended over the surface of the globe.
Already a few among the protagonists of the Christian Religion admit the gravity of the situation that confronts them. "A wave of materialism is sweeping round the world"; is the testimony of its missionaries, as witnessed by the text of their official reports, "the drive and pressure of modern industrialism, which are penetrating even the forests of Central Africa and the plains of Central Asia, make men everywhere dependent on, and preoccupied with, material things. At home the Church has talked, perhaps too glibly, in pulpit or on platform of the menace of secularism; though even in England we can catch more than a glimpse of its meaning. But to the Church overseas these things are grim realities, enemies with which it is at grips. . . The Church has a new danger to face in land after land -- determined and hostile attack. From Soviet Russia a definitely anti-religious Communism is pushing west into Europe and America, East into Persia, India, China and Japan. It is an economic theory, definitely harnessed to disbelief in God. It is a religious irreligion. . . It has a passionate sense of mission, and is carrying on its anti-God campaign at the Church's base at home, as well as launching its offensive against its front-line in non-Christian lands. Such a conscious, avowed, organized attack against religion in general and Christianity in particular is something new in history. Equally deliberate in some lands in its determined hostility to Christianity is another form of social and political faith -- nationalism. But the nationalist attack on Christianity, unlike Communism, is often bound up with some form of national religion -- with Islám in Persia and Egypt, with Buddhism in Ceylon, while the struggle for communal rights in India is allied with a revival both of Hinduism and Islám."
I need not attempt in this connection an exposition of the origin and character of those economic theories and political philosophies of the post-war period, that have directly and indirectly exerted, and are still exerting, their pernicious influence on the institutions and beliefs connected with one of the most widely-spread and best organized religious systems of the world. It is with their influence rather than with their origin that I am chiefly concerned. The excessive growth of industrialism and its attendant evils -- as the aforementioned quotation bears witness -- the aggressive policies initiated and the persistent efforts exerted by the inspirers and organizers of the Communist movement; the intensification of a militant nationalism, associated in certain countries with a systematized work of defamation against all forms of ecclesiastical influence, have no doubt contributed to the de-Christianization of the masses, and been responsible for a notable decline in the authority, the prestige and power of the Church. "The whole conception of God," the persecutors of the Christian Religion have insistently proclaimed, "is a conception derived from the ancient oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men." "Religion," one of their leaders has asserted, "is an opiate of the people." "Religion," declares the text of their official publications, "is a brutalization of the people. Education must be so directed as to efface from the people's minds this humiliation and this idiocy."
The Hegelian philosophy which, in other countries, has, in the form of an intolerant and militant nationalism, insisted on deifying the state, has inculcated the war-spirit, and incited to racial animosity, has, likewise, led to a marked weakening of the Church and to a grave diminution of its spiritual influence. Unlike the bold offensive which an avowedly atheistic movement had chosen to launch against it, both within the Soviet union and beyond its confines, this nationalistic philosophy, which Christian rulers and governments have upheld, is an attack directed against the Church by those who were previously its professed adherents, a betrayal of its cause by its own kith and kin. It was being stabbed by an alien and militant atheism from without, and by the preachers of a heretical doctrine from within. Both of these forces, each operating in its own sphere and using its own weapons and methods, have moreover been greatly assisted and encouraged by the prevailing spirit of modernism, with its emphasis on a purely materialistic philosophy, which, as it diffuses itself, tends increasingly to divorce religion from man's daily life.
The combined effect of these strange and corrupt doctrines, these dangerous
and treacherous philosophies, has, as was natural, been severely felt by
those whose tenets inculcated an opposite and wholly irreconcilable spirit
and principle. The consequences of the clash that inevitably ensued between
these contending interests, were, in some cases, disastrous, and the damage
that has been wrought irreparable. The disestablishment and dismemberment
of the Greek Orthodox Church in Russia, following upon the blow which the
Church of Rome had sustained as a result of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian
Monarchy; the commotion that subsequently seized the Catholic Church and
culminated in its separation from the State in Spain; the persecution of
the same Church in Mexico; the perquisitions, arrests, intimidation and
terrorization to which Catholics and Lutherans alike are being subjected
in the heart of Europe; the turmoil into which another branch of the Church
has been thrown as a result of the military campaign in Africa; the decline
that has set in the fortunes of Christian Missions, both Anglican and Presbyterian,
in Persia, Turkey, and the Far East; the ominous signs that foreshadow
serious complications in the equivocal and precarious relationships now
existing between the Holy See and certain nations in the continent of Europe
-- these stand out as the most striking features of the reverses which,
in almost every part of the world, the members and leaders of Christian
ecclesiastical institutions have suffered.
We have only to look around us, as we survey the fortunes of Christian ecclesiastical orders, to appreciate the steady deterioration of their influence, the decline of their power, the damage to their prestige, the flouting of their authority, the dwindling of their congregations, the relaxation of their discipline, the restriction of their press, the timidity of their leaders, the confusion in their ranks, the progressive confiscation of their properties, the surrender of some of their most powerful strongholds, and the extinction of other ancient and cherished institutions. Indeed, ever since the Divine summons was issued, and the invitation extended, and the warning sounded, and the condemnation pronounced, this process, that may be said to have been initiated with the collapse of the temporal sovereignty of the Roman Pontiff, soon after the Tablet to the Pope had been revealed, has been operating with increasing momentum, menacing the very basis on which the entire order is resting. Aided by the forces which the Communist movement has unloosed, reinforced by the political consequences of the last war, accelerated by the excessive, the blind, the intolerant, and militant nationalism which is now convulsing the nations, and stimulated by the rising tide of materialism, irreligion, and paganism, this process is not only tending to subvert ecclesiastical institutions, but appears to be leading to the rapid dechristianization of the masses in many Christian countries.
I shall content myself with the enumeration of certain outstanding manifestations
of this force which is increasingly invading the domain, and assailing
the firmest ramparts, of one of the leading religious systems of mankind.
The virtual extinction of the temporal power of the most preeminent ruler
in Christendom immediately after the creation of the Kingdom of Italy;
the wave of anticlericalism that swept over France after the collapse of
the Napoleonic empire, and which culminated in the complete separation
of the Catholic Church from the state, in the laicization of the Third
Republic, in the secularization of education, and in the suppression and
dispersal of religious orders; the swift and sudden rise of that "religious
irreligion," that bold, conscious, and organized assault launched in Soviet
Russia against the Greek Orthodox Church, that precipitated the disestablishment
of the state religion, that massacred a vast number of its members originally
numbering above a hundred million souls, that pulled down, closed, or converted
into museums, theatres and warehouses, thousands upon thousands of churches,
monasteries, synagogues and mosques, that stripped the church of its six
and a half million acres of property, and sought, through its League of
Militant Atheists and the promulgation of a "five-year plan of godlessness,"
to loosen from its foundations the religious life of the masses; the dismemberment
of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy that dissolved, by one stroke, the most
powerful unit which owed its allegiance to, and supported through its resources
the administration of, the Church of Rome; the divorce of the Spanish state
from that same Church, and the overthrow of the monarchy, the champion
of Catholic Christendom; the nationalistic philosophy, the parent of an
unbridled and obsolete nationalism, which, having dethroned Islám,
has indirectly assaulted the front line of the Christian church in non-Christian
lands, and is dealing such heavy blows to Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian
Missions in Persia, Turkey, and the Far East; the revolutionary movement
that brought in its wake the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico;
and finally the gospel of modern paganism, unconcealed, aggressive, and
unrelenting, which, in the years preceding the present turmoil, and increasingly
since its outbreak, has swept over the continent of Europe, invading the
citadels, and sowing confusion in the hearts of the supporters, of the
Catholic, the Greek Orthodox, and the Lutheran churches, in Austria, Poland,
the Baltic and Scandinavian states, and more recently in Western Europe,
the home and center of the most powerful hierarchies of Christendom.
In one of the most remarkable Tablets revealed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, passages of which have already been quoted on previous occasions, written in the evening of His life, soon after the termination of the first World War, He anticipates, in succinct and ominous sentences, the successive ebullitions which must afflict humanity, and whose full force the American nation must, if her destiny is to be accomplished, inevitably experience. "The ills from which the world now suffers," He wrote, "will multiply; the gloom which envelops it will deepen. The Balkans will remain discontented. Its restlessness will increase. The vanquished powers will continue to agitate. They will resort to every measure that may rekindle the flame of war. Movements, newly born and world-wide in their range, will exert their utmost effort for the advancement of their designs. The Movement of the Left will acquire great importance. Its influence will spread."
The agitation in the Balkan Peninsula; the feverish activity in which
Germany and Italy played a disastrous role, culminating in the outbreak
of the Second World War; the rise of the Fascist and Nazi movements, which
spread their ramifications to distant parts of the globe; the spread of
communism which, as a result of the victory of Soviet Russia in that same
war, has been greatly accelerated -- all these happenings, some unequivocally,
others in veiled language, have been forecast in this Tablet, the full
force of whose implications are as yet undisclosed, and which, we may well
anticipate, the American nation, as yet insufficiently schooled by adversity,
must sooner or later experience.
He does not endorse, however, the circulation of the statement on communism,
and considers that if such a document fell into the hands of the wrong
people it could cause a great deal of harm, especially in those countries
where the believers are living under Soviet rule or in states strongly
influenced by communism. The issues touched upon are too vital and too
interwoven with present-day politics for us to make any written comment
upon them. However he feels that orally pioneers could be apprised of these
things and warned to be extremely discreet in communicating our viewpoints
to those they teach in Europe, and elsewhere. The word communism cannot
be dissociated from the Soviet Political Regime, and great wisdom is required
to make our viewpoint clear without giving the impression we are for or
against any existing government.
4. Germany's Role in Eastern Europe
Its successful termination will be but a signal for a series of enterprises, each more glorious than the one preceding it, which will carry the fame of this community, already tested in the crucible of afflictive trials, and richly endowed by the tender favours of its Founder, Who blessed with His Presence its leading centre, to regions far beyond the confines of its homeland and as far as the Eastern fringes of the Asiatic continent.
In such a glorious venture, and in the course of so vast, so momentous and sacred an enterprise, it will, if it discharges manfully its present task, be seconded in its noble exertions by the concerted efforts of all the budding communities in the European continent, and will play a notable role, in collaboration with the trustees of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Divine Plan labouring throughout the American continents, and with its sister communities toiling in Africa, South-East Asia, and Australasia, in achieving the spiritual conquest of the entire planet.
Much depends, however, on the manner in which it discharges the responsibilities
of the present hour. The administrative base from which it must spread
out into Eastern and Southern Europe, and beyond these spheres into the
heart of Northern Asia, as far as the China Sea, must first be thoroughly
consolidated. The valiant battalions that are to carry the banner of the
Faith of Bahá'u'lláh to distant climes, amidst alien races,
and throughout the length and breadth of immense territories and in inhospitable
surroundings, must, to begin with, increase in number, acquire added experience,
and deepen in their faith and understanding. The literature with which
the bearers of God's redeeming Message must be equipped when launching
out beyond the frontiers of their native land must, preparatory to their
arduous crusade, be multiplied and adapted to the mentality of those diversified
peoples and races inhabiting so vast a section of the globe.
The total success of the Plan, now demanding the concentrated attention of the entire German Bahá'í community, is indeed indispensable for the adequate discharge of the still greater tasks that lie ahead of its members, and which, in themselves, will constitute the prelude to the unfoldment of the glorious Mission awaiting them, as soon as the present obstacles are removed, in both Eastern Europe and the heart of the Asiatic continent. The extent of their future undertakings in both continents; their contribution to the Global Crusade to be launched throughout the whole planet; their particular and, in many ways, unique reinforcement of the work, connected with future Bahá'í research and scholarship, in view of the characteristic qualities of painstaking thoroughness, scientific exactitude and dispassionate criticism distinguishing the race to which they belong -- these are too vast and complex to be assessed at the present time.
. . .
The participation of the Bahá'í community, in both Germany
and Austria, individually as well as officially, in the forthcoming Stockholm
intercontinental Conference -- to which I trust its members will contribute
a notable share, in view of the part they are destined to play in the future
awakening of the European continent -- will, no doubt, launch them upon
the initial stage of their glorious Mission beyond the confines of their
respective countries. Theirs will be the twofold and highly challenging
task of consolidating, steadily and rapidly, the administrative foundations
of the Structure which is being painstakingly established by them in the
heart of the European continent, and of implanting the banner of the rising
Order of their Faith in the neighbouring sovereign states and dependencies
of that continent and even beyond its borders as far as the heart of Asia.
The German and Austrian Bahá'í Communities, on whom 'Abdu'l-Bahá lavished His favours, for whose future He cherished such high hopes, occupying such a central position in a continent endowed with such great potentialities, must, by reason of their unique and predominant position, their past history, their virility, tenacity and splendid accomplishments, assume a preponderating role in the conduct of a Crusade in which all Bahá'í communities dwelling on the European mainland, both young and old, are called upon to participate to the utmost of their capacity with all the resources at their disposal.
To their [German Bahá'ís] brethren in the Eastern Zone, so gravely handicapped by the unfortunate disabilities which they have so long and so patiently suffered, consistent support, in whatever way possible, should be extended, and every avenue should be explored to ensure that the flame burning in those valiant hearts, so heavily burdened by cares and anxieties, will not be extinguished. The no less vital obligation to introduce, however tentatively, the Faith in the territories lying beyond the eastern confines of their homeland, and particularly in the Baltic States, must be promptly and seriously considered, for upon it will, to a very great measure, depend the success of the Mission envisaged for them by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and now confirmed through the provisions of the Ten Year Plan. . .
(14 August 1957 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Germany and Austria)