inauguration of the Bahá'í era, of the inception of the Bahá'í Cycle and of the birth of `Abdu'l-Bahá, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Faith in the Western Hemisphere; associated in its celebration with the representatives of American Republics, foregathered in the close vicinity of a city that may well pride itself on being the first Bahá'í center established in the Western world, this community may indeed feel, on this solemn occasion, that it has, in its turn, through the triumphal conclusion of the first stage of the Plan traced for it by `Abdu'l-Bahá, shed a lasting glory upon its sister communities in East and West, and written, in golden letters, the concluding pages in the annals of the first Bahá'í century.
Retrospect and Prospect
Thus drew to a close the first century of the Bahá'í era--an epoch which, in its sublimity and fecundity, is without parallel in the entire field of religious history, and indeed in the annals of mankind. A process, God-impelled, endowed with measureless potentialities, mysterious in its workings, awful in the retribution meted out to every one seeking to resist its operation, infinitely rich in its promise for the regeneration and redemption of human kind, had been set in motion in Shíráz, had gained momentum successively in Tihrán, Baghdád, Adrianople and Akká, had projected itself across the seas, poured its generative influences into the West, and manifested the initial evidences of its marvelous, world-energizing force in the midst of the North American continent.
It had sprung from the heart of Asia, and pressing westward had gathered speed in its resistless course, until it had encircled the earth with a girdle of glory. It had been generated by the son of a mercer in the province of Fárs, had been reshaped by a nobleman of Núr, had been reinforced through the exertions of One Who had spent the fairest years of His youth and manhood in exile and imprisonment, and had achieved its most conspicuous triumphs in a country and amidst a people living half the circumference of the globe distant from the land of its origin. It had repulsed every onslaught directed against it, torn down every barrier opposing its advance, abased every proud antagonist who had sought to sap its strength, and had exalted to heights of incredible courage the weakest and humblest among those who had arisen and become willing instruments of its revolutionizing power. Heroic struggles and matchless victories, interwoven with appalling tragedies and condign punishments, have formed the pattern of its hundred year old history.
A handful of students, belonging to the Shaykhí school, sprung from the Ithná-`Ash'áríyyih sect of Shí'ah Islám, had, in consequence of the operation of this process, been expanded and transformed into a world community, closely knit, clear of vision, alive, consecrated by the sacrifice of no less than twenty thousand martyrs; supranational; non-sectarian; non-political; claiming the status, and assuming the functions, of a world religion; spread over five continents and the islands of the seas; with ramifications extending over sixty sovereign
states and seventeen dependencies; equipped with a literature translated and broadcast in forty languages; exercising control over endowments representing several million dollars; recognized by a number of governments in both the East and the West; integral in aim and outlook; possessing no professional clergy; professing a single belief; following a single law; animated by a single purpose; organically united through an Administrative Order, divinely ordained and unique in its features; including within its orbit representatives of all the leading religions of the world, of various classes and races; faithful to its civil obligations; conscious of its civic responsibilities, as well as of the perils confronting the society of which it forms a part; sharing the sufferings of that society and confident of its own high destiny.
The nucleus of this community had been formed by the Báb, soon after the night of the Declaration of His Mission to Mullá Husayn in Shíráz. A clamor in which the Sháh, his government, his people and the entire ecclesiastical hierarchy of his country unanimously joined had greeted its birth. Captivity, swift and cruel, in the mountains of Ádhirbayján, had been the lot of its youthful Founder, almost immediately after His return from His pilgrimage to Mecca. Amidst the solitude of Máh-Ku and Chihríq, He had instituted His Covenant, formulated His laws, and transmitted to posterity the overwhelming majority of His writings. A conference of His disciples, headed by Bahá'u'lláh, had, in the hamlet of Badasht, abrogated in dramatic circumstances the laws of the Islamic, and ushered in the new, Dispensation. In Tabríz He had, in the presence of the Heir to the Throne and the leading ecclesiastical dignitaries of Ádhirbayján, publicly and unreservedly voiced His claim to be none other than the promised, the long-awaited Qá'im. Tempests of devastating violence in Mazindarán, Nayríz, Zanján and Tihrán had decimated the ranks of His followers and robbed Him of the noblest and most valuable of His supporters. He Himself had to witness the virtual annihilation of His Faith and the loss of most of the Letters of the Living, and, after experiencing, in His own person, a series of bitter humiliations, He had been executed by a firing squad in the barrack-square of Tabríz. A blood bath of unusual ferocity had engulfed the greatest heroine of His Faith, had further denuded it of its adherents, had extinguished the life of His trusted amanuensis and repository of His last wishes, and swept Bahá'u'lláh into the depths of the foulest dungeon of Tihrán.
In the pestilential atmosphere of the Síyáh-Chál, nine years after that historic Declaration, the Message proclaimed by the Báb had
yielded its fruit, His promise had been redeemed, and the most glorious, the most momentous period of the Heroic Age of the Bahá'í era had dawned. A momentary eclipse of the newly risen Sun of Truth, the world's greatest Luminary, had ensued, as a result of Bahá'u'lláh's precipitate banishment to Iraq by order of Násiri'd-Dín Sháh, of His sudden withdrawal to the mountains of Kurdistán, and of the degradation and confusion that afflicted the remnant of the persecuted community of His fellow-disciples in Baghdád. A reversal in the fortunes of a fast declining community, following His return from His two-year retirement, had set in, bringing in its wake the recreation of that community, the reformation of its morals, the enhancement of its prestige, the enrichment of its doctrine, and culminating in the Declaration of His Mission in the garden of Najíbíyyih to His immediate companions on the eve of His banishment to Constantinople. Another crisis--the severest a struggling Faith was destined to experience in the course of its history--precipitated by the rebellion of the Báb's nominee and the iniquities perpetrated by him and by the evil genius that had seduced him, had, in Adrianople, well nigh disrupted the newly consolidated forces of the Faith and all but destroyed in a baptism of fire the community of the Most Great Name which Bahá'u'lláh had called into being. Cleansed of the pollution of this "Most Great Idol," undeterred by the convulsion that had seized it, an indestructible Faith had, in the strength of the Covenant instituted by the Báb, now surmounted the most formidable obstacles it was ever to meet; and in this very hour it reached its meridian glory through the proclamation of the Mission of Bahá'u'lláh to the kings, the rulers and ecclesiastical leaders of the world in both the East and the West. Close on the heels of this unprecedented victory had followed the climax of His sufferings, a banishment to the penal colony of Akká, decreed by Sultán `Abdu'l-`Azíz. This had been hailed by vigilant enemies as the signal for the final extermination of a much feared and hated adversary, and it had heaped upon that Faith in this fortress-town, designated by Bahá'u'lláh as His "Most Great Prison," calamities from both within and without, such as it had never before experienced. The formulation of the laws and ordinances of a new-born Dispensation and the enunciation and reaffirmation of its fundamental principles--the warp and woof of a future Administrative Order--had, however, enabled a slowly maturing Revelation, in spite of this tide of tribulations, to advance a stage further and yield its fairest fruit.
The ascension of Bahá'u'lláh had plunged into grief and bewilderment
His loyal supporters, quickened the hopes of the betrayers of His Cause, who had rebelled against His God-given authority, and rejoiced and encouraged His political as well as ecclesiastical adversaries. The Instrument He had forged, the Covenant He had Himself instituted, had canalized, after His passing, the forces released by Him in the course of a forty-year ministry, had preserved the unity of His Faith and provided the impulse required to propel it forward to achieve its destiny. The proclamation of this new Covenant had been followed by yet another crisis, precipitated by one of His own sons on whom, according to the provisions of that Instrument, had been conferred a rank second to none except the Center of that Covenant Himself. Impelled by the forces engendered by the revelation of that immortal and unique Document, an unbreachable Faith (having registered its initial victory over the Covenant-breakers), had, under the leadership of `Abdu'l-Bahá, irradiated the West, illuminated the Western fringes of Europe, hoisted its banner in the heart of the North American continent, and set in motion the processes that were to culminate in the transfer of the mortal remains of its Herald to the Holy Land and their entombment in a mausoleum on Mt. Carmel, as well as in the erection of its first House of Worship in Russian Turkistán. A major crisis, following swiftly upon the signal victories achieved in East and West, attributable to the monstrous intrigues of the Arch-breaker of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant and to the orders issued by the tyrannical `Abdu'l-Hamíd, had exposed, during more than seven years, the Heart and Center of the Faith to imminent peril, filled with anxiety and anguish its followers and postponed the execution of the enterprises conceived for its spread and consolidation. `Abdu'l-Bahá's historic journeys in Europe and America, soon after the fall of that tyrant and the collapse of his regime, had dealt a staggering blow to the Covenant-breakers, had consolidated the colossal enterprise He had undertaken in the opening years of His ministry, had raised the prestige of His Father's Faith to heights it had never before attained, had been instrumental in proclaiming its verities far and wide, and had paved the way for the diffusion of its light over the Far East and as far as the Antipodes. Another major crisis--the last the Faith was to undergo at its world center--provoked by the cruel Jamál Páshá, and accentuated by the anxieties of a devastating world war, by the privations it entailed and the rupture of communications it brought about, had threatened with still graver peril the Head of the Faith Himself, as well as the holiest sanctuaries enshrining the remains of its twin Founders. The revelation of the Tablets of the
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