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Story last updated at 2:17 p.m. on Friday, December 6, 2002

Bahá'ís observe 'Day of the Covenant'

One of the unique features of the Bahá'í faith is the covenant that its founder, Bahá'u'lláh, made with his followers in order to prevent division of the faith into sects and denominations, according to Oak Ridge Bahá'í David Sperry.

Nov. 26 is the day on which Bahá'ís commemorate the establishment of this covenant.

Sperry said that the ancient or eternal covenant between God and man is God's commitment that he will always provide guidance to humanity; humanity's obligation is to follow that guidance.

Bahá'u'lláh teaches that "The source of all learning is the knowledge of God," and this comes about only "through the knowledge of his divine manifestations," Sperry said, adding that Bahá'ís recognize the founders of the world's major religions as divine manifestations sent by the same God, a God, known by various names, who is beyond human capacity to contain or describe.

Sperry said that it was on a visit to Myanmar in 1991 that he realized the extent to which the concept of the covenant is found in religions throughout the world. He had been asked by the national Bahá'í governing body for Myanmar to speak about the covenant with some recently declared Bahá'ís in a predominately Buddhist village.

When the new Bahá'ís were asked what they understood the covenant to be, one elderly man told Sperry: "Buddha gave us the five-fold path, and it is our obligation to follow that path."

Sperry said the thought that immediately came to mind was that God's guidance was implied in that statement when viewed in the context of the Biblical verse John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

The Bahá'í writings (scriptures) further define two components of the covenant as the "greater covenant" in which the founder of the religion promises a "return" or next coming, and the "lesser covenant" which provides for leadership and authority within the religion, Sperry said.

Never before in religious history has this lesser covenant been as clearly defined as in the Bahá'í faith, Sperry said, adding that Bahá'u'lláh, in his "Book of the Covenant," designated his son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as the "center of the covenant" and sole interpreter of his writings. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in his "will and testament," designated Bahá'u'lláh's great-grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as "the guardian" of faith and the sole interpreter of the Bahá'í writings, according to Sperry.

Following Effendi's passing, in 1963 a nine-member, internationally elected council, designated by Bahá'u'lláh as the "Universal House of Justice," was first established. In the Bahá'í faith, authority rests in the institutions of the faith, not in individuals, with the Universal House of Justice as a channel for God's guidance today and the final court of appeal.

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©Copyright 2002, The Oak Ridger (TN, USA)

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