Saturday, April 20, 2019

Ridván 2019 - The Universal House of Justice

Originally published on the House of Justice's websitehttp://bit.ly/Ridvan2019. PDF download available from The Baha'i Reference Library: http://bit.ly/Ridvan_2019_UHJ_message)


THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE


Riḍván 2019


To the Bahá’ís of the World


Dearly loved Friends,

As the Most Great Festival has drawn closer, we have been transported by feelings of gratitude and anticipation—gratitude for the wonders that Bahá’u’lláh has enabled His followers to accomplish, anticipation of what the immediate future holds.

The momentum generated by the worldwide celebrations of the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh has only grown since. The accelerated development of the Bahá’í community, its rising capacity, and its ability to draw on the energies of more of its members emerge vividly from a summary of its recent global attainments. Of these, an increase in community-building activities stands out in particular. The current Five Year Plan follows twenty years of effort by the Bahá’í world to systematically refine and multiply these activities—but remarkably, in the Plan’s first two and a half years, the number of core activities alone rose by more than half. The worldwide community has shown the capacity to engage, at any given time, over a million people in such activities, helping them to explore and respond to spiritual realities. In the same short period, the number of gatherings for prayer nearly doubled—a much-needed response to humanity’s growing estrangement from the Source of hope and bounty. This development holds special promise, for devotional meetings infuse a new spirit into the life of a community. Interwoven with educational efforts for all ages, they reinforce the lofty purpose of those efforts: to foster communities distinguished by their worship of God and their service to humankind. Nowhere is this more evident than in those clusters where the participation of large numbers in Bahá’í activities is being sustained and the friends have passed the third milestone in their community’s development. We are delighted to see that the number of clusters where the process of growth has advanced this far has already more than doubled since the beginning of the Plan and now stands at around five hundred.

This brief survey cannot do justice to the scale of the transformation that is under way. The outlook for the remaining two years of the Plan is bright. Much has been achieved this last year by widely disseminating lessons learned from the stronger programmes of growth in clusters that, as we hoped, have become reservoirs of knowledge and resources. The International Teaching Centre, the Counsellors, and their tireless auxiliaries have stopped at nothing to ensure that friends in all parts of the world can benefit from this acceleration in learning and apply the insights being gained to their own realities. We rejoice to see that in a growing number of clusters, and in neighbourhoods and villages within them, a nucleus of friends has emerged who through action and reflection are discovering what is required, at a particular point, for the process of growth to advance in their surroundings. They are drawing on the potent instrument of the institute, through which capacity to contribute to the spiritual and material prosperity of the community is enhanced, and as they act, the number of those joining them is increasing. Naturally, conditions vary greatly from place to place, as do the characteristics of growth. But through systematic striving, everyone can make a more and more effective contribution to the work at hand. In every setting, there is pure joy in engaging other souls in meaningful and uplifting conversations that lead, whether quickly or gradually, to the stirring of spiritual susceptibilities. The brighter the flame kindled within the heart of the believer, the greater will be the force of attraction felt by those exposed to its warmth. And to a heart consumed with love for Bahá’u’lláh, what more fitting occupation can be imagined than to seek out kindred spirits, to encourage them as they enter the path of service, to accompany them as they gain experience and—perhaps the greatest joy of all—to see souls become confirmed in their faith, arise independently, and assist others on the same journey. These are among the most cherished of all the moments that this transitory life affords.

The prospects for advancing this spiritual enterprise are made the more thrilling by the approach of the bicentenary of the Birth of the Báb. Like the bicentenary that preceded it, this anniversary is a moment incalculably precious. It provides all Bahá’ís with marvellous opportunities for awakening those around them to the great Day of God, to the extraordinary effusion of heavenly grace signalled by the appearance of two Manifestations of the Divine Being, successive Luminaries Who brightened the horizon of the world. The measure of what might be possible in the coming two cycles is known to all from the experience of the bicentenary two years ago, and all that was learned on that occasion must be channelled into the plans for the Twin Holy Birthdays this year. As the two-hundred-year anniversary draws near, we will offer frequent supplications on your behalf in the Sacred Shrines, praying that your efforts to befittingly honour the Báb will succeed in advancing the Cause He foretold.

The close of the first century of the Formative Age is but two and a half years away. It will seal one hundred years of consecrated effort to consolidate and expand the foundation so sacrificially laid during the Faith’s Heroic Age. At that time the Bahá’í community will also mark the centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, that moment when the beloved Master was released from the confines of this world to rejoin His Father in the retreats of celestial glory. His funeral, which occurred the following day, was an event “the like of which Palestine had never seen”. At its conclusion, His mortal remains were laid to rest within a vault of the Mausoleum of the Báb. However, it was envisaged by Shoghi Effendi that this would be a temporary arrangement. A Shrine was to be erected, of a character befitting the unique station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, at the appropriate time.

That time has come. The Bahá’í world is being summoned to build the edifice which will forever embosom those sacred remains. It is to be constructed in the vicinity of the Riḍván Garden, on land consecrated by the footsteps of the Blessed Beauty; the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will thus lie on the crescent traced between the Holy Shrines in ‘Akká and Haifa. Work on the architectural plans is advancing, and more information will be shared in the coming months.

Feelings of surpassing joy now surge within us, as we contemplate the year ahead and all that it promises. We look to every one of you—those who are occupied with rendering service to Bahá’u’lláh, labouring in every nation for the cause of peace—to fulfil your high calling.


[signed: The Universal House of Justice]

Friday, March 1, 2019

28 February 2019 - The Universal House of Justice, Compilation on prayer and devotional life



(The Compilation is avaliable in PDF-format here:
https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/compilations/prayer-devotional-life/prayer-devotional-life.pdf?06e631e5)


THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT


                                                                    28 February 2019

Transmitted by email
To all National Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Bahá’í Friends,

Compilation on prayer and devotional life

      As the friends intensify their efforts to pursue the last Plan of the series of Plans that end in 2021, a year that marks the centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the inauguration of the Formative Age, signs of the enrichment of the devotional life of the community are manifest. Devotional activities are everywhere multiplying and are increasingly being integrated into the core of community life. To add further stimulus to this signal development and to help the friends take full advantage of the period of special potency during which the bicentennial anniversaries of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh and of the Báb are commemorated, the Universal House of Justice has directed us to enclose a compilation of extracts on prayer and devotional life drawn from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and from the letters of the Guardian and the House of Justice.

      It is the hope of the House of Justice that this compilation, prepared by the Research Department at its request, will be studied widely and will be of assistance to individuals, families, and communities as they strive to evoke the spirit of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in the creation of occasions where any soul may inhale the divine fragrances, experience the elevating power of prayer, and be drawn together with others in fellowship and common cause.

      The compilation is now available in the compilation section [link added - A.B.] of the Bahá’í Reference Library. National Spiritual Assemblies with Publishing Trusts are asked to consider producing printed editions.

                                           With loving Bahá’í greetings,

                                           Department of the Secretariat


Enclosure
cc: 
International Teaching Centre
Boards of Counsellors
Counsellors
Bahá’í Publishing Trusts

Friday, January 18, 2019

18 January 2019 - The Universal House of Justice, centenary of Paris Peace Conference


(Avaliable in PDF-format here: 
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1rNoOW9VQirSvBJF2Wob0OySE49lXJA7z
Official source: https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/20190118_001/1#276724432)



THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE 

18 January 2019 


To the Baha'is of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

     Half a century after Baha'u'llah summoned the kings and rulers to be reconciled among themselves and enjoined on them the establishment of peace on earth, the great powers of that era were plunged into war. It was the first conflict to be regarded as a "World War", and it is remembered as a conflagration of horrific severity; the unprecedented scale and ferocity of the bloodshed has seared it on to the consciousness of every succeeding generation. And yet, from out the ruin and suffering, possibilities blossomed for a new order to bring stability to the world--notably at the Paris Peace Conference, which opened a hundred years ago on this day. In the years that followed, despite the repeated crises into which international affairs were thrown, Shoghi Effendi could discern "the progress, however fitful, of the forces working in harmony with the spirit of the age". These forces have continued to move humanity towards an age of peace--not merely a peace which rules out armed conflict, but a collective state of being, manifesting unity. Notwithstanding, it remains a long journey, and it proceeds in fits and starts. We find it propitious, at this moment, to reflect on the progress made on that journey, the contemporary challenges to peace, and the contribution to its attainment that Baha'is are called to make.

     There have been at least three historical moments in the last one hundred years when it seemed as if the human race was reaching for real, lasting peace, albeit always falling short because of weaknesses it could not overcome. The first moment, as a result of the Paris Conference, was the establishment of the League of Nations, an organization intended by its founders to secure peace at the international level. It was the means by which, for the first time in history, the system of collective security enjoined on the world's rulers by Baha'u'llah was "seriously envisaged, discussed and tested". But ultimately the peace agreement that concluded the war was fatally flawed, and the League was not able to prevent a second World War, judged by historians to be the deadliest conflict in human history. Just as the first significant step towards world peace followed a period of appalling conflict, so did the second, when not only was the United Nations Organization formed from the ashes of the League, but a system of international economic institutions came into being, and historic advances were made relating to human rights and international law. In rapid succession, many territories under colonial rule became independent nations, and arrangements for regional cooperation grew markedly in depth and range. The post-war decades, however, were also characterized by an atmosphere of brooding and often open hostility between the world's two major power blocs. Known familiarly as the Cold War, it spilled over into actual wars in various regions of the world, and brought humanity perilously close to a conflict involving nuclear weapons. Its peaceful termination, towards the end of the twentieth century, was an occasion for relief, giving rise to explicit calls for the establishment of a new global order. This was the third moment when universal peace seemed to be within grasp. Efforts to put in place new systems for international cooperation and to strengthen existing ones received great impetus, as a series of world conferences on themes of importance to humanity's future were convened by the United Nations. New opportunities for consensus emerged, and the spirit of collaboration propelling progress also found expression in the mandates given to certain international institutions charged with administering justice. This purposeful, deliberative process culminated at the turn of the century in the Millennium Forum, a meeting of representatives of over a thousand civil society organizations from more than a hundred countries, followed by the Millennium Summit, an unparalleled gathering of world leaders which led to agreement on a set of objectives representing a shared ambition of humanity. Styled the Millennium Development Goals, they became rallying points for collective action in the ensuing years. These various advances--despite their many limitations and imperfections and the horrifying conflicts that continued to unfold during this time--stand nonetheless as signs of a widespread, gradual but inexorable rise in global consciousness on the part of the earth's peoples and their attraction to universal justice, to solidarity, to collaboration, to compassion, and to equality.

     As the present century opened, new challenges began to loom. With time, these intensified, leading to a retreat from the promising steps forward with which the previous century had closed. Today, many of the dominant currents in societies everywhere are pushing people apart, not drawing them together. Even as global poverty of the most extreme form has decreased, political and economic systems have enabled the enrichment of small coteries with grossly exorbitant wealth--a condition that fuels fundamental instability in world affairs. The interactions of the individual citizen, governing institutions, and society as a whole are often fraught, as those arguing for the primacy of one or the other show more and more intransigence in their thinking. Religious fundamentalism is warping the character of communities, even nations. The failings of so many organizations and institutions of society have understandably led to a decline in public trust, but this has been systematically exploited by vested interests seeking to undermine the credibility of all sources of knowledge. Certain shared ethical principles, which seemed to be in the ascendant at the start of this century, are eroded, threatening the prevailing consensus about right and wrong that, in various arenas, had succeeded in holding humanity's basest tendencies in check. And the will to engage in international collective action, which twenty years ago represented a powerful strain of thinking among world leaders, has been cowed, assailed by resurgent forces of racism, nationalism, and factionalism.

     Thus do the forces of disintegration regroup and gain ground. So be it. The unification of humanity is unstoppable by any human force; the promises made by the prophets of old and by the Author of the Cause of God Himself testify to this truth. Yet the course humanity takes to achieve its destiny may very well be tortuous. The tumult raised by the contending peoples of the earth threatens to drown out the voices of those noble-minded souls in every society who call for an end to conflict and struggle. As long as that call goes unheeded, there is no reason to doubt that the world's current state of disorder and confusion will worsen--possibly with catastrophic consequences--
until a chastened humanity sees fit to take another significant step, perhaps this time decisive, towards enduring peace.

*

     Universal peace is the destination towards which humanity has been moving throughout the ages under the influence of the Word of God that has been progressively imparted by the Creator to His creation. Shoghi Effendi described humanity's advance towards a new, global stage in its collective life in terms of social evolution, "an evolution that has had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations." Now, with the coming of Baha'u'llah, the human race stands on the threshold of its maturity. World unity is finally possible. A global order that unifies the nations with the assent of humanity is the only adequate answer to the destabilizing forces that threaten the world.

     However, though world unity is possible--nay, inevitable--it ultimately cannot be achieved without unreserved acceptance of the oneness of humankind, described by the Guardian as "the pivot round which all the teachings of Baha'u'llah revolve". With what insight and eloquence did he expound upon the far-reaching implications of this cardinal principle! Plainly he saw, amidst the turbulence of world affairs, how the reality that humanity is one people must be the starting point for a new order. The vast array of relations among nations--and within them--all need to be re-envisaged in this light.

     The realization of such a vision will require, sooner or later, an historic feat of statesmanship from the leaders of the world. Alas, the will to attempt this feat is still wanting. Humanity is gripped by a crisis of identity, as various peoples and groups struggle to define themselves, their place in the world, and how they should act. Without a vision of shared identity and common purpose, they fall into competing ideologies and power struggles. Seemingly countless permutations of "us" and "them" define group identities ever more narrowly and in contrast to one another. Over time, this splintering into divergent interest groups has weakened the cohesion of society itself. Rival conceptions about the primacy of a particular people are peddled to the exclusion of the truth that humanity is on a common journey in which all are protagonists. Consider how radically different such a fragmented conception of human identity is from the one that follows from a recognition of the oneness of humanity. In this perspective, the diversity that characterizes the human family, far from contradicting its oneness, endows it with richness. Unity, in its Baha'i expression, contains the essential concept of diversity, distinguishing it from uniformity. It is through love for all people, and by subordinating lesser loyalties to the best interests of humankind, that the unity of the world can be realized and the infinite expressions of human diversity find their highest fulfilment.

     Fostering unity, by harmonizing disparate elements and nurturing in every heart a selfless love for humankind, is the task of religion. Great possibilities to cultivate fellowship and concord are open to religious leaders, but these same leaders can also incite violence by using their influence to stoke the fires of fanaticism and prejudice. Writing of religion, Baha'u'llah's words are emphatic: "... make it not", He warns, "the cause of dissension and strife." Peace, for "all who dwell on earth", is one of "the principles and ordinances of God".

     A heart that has embraced love for the whole of humanity will certainly be pained when confronted by the suffering that so many endure because of disunity. But the friends of God cannot shut themselves off from the increasing turmoil of the society that surrounds them; they must guard themselves, too, from becoming enmeshed in its conflicts or falling into its adversarial methods. No matter how bleak conditions may appear at any given time, no matter how dismal the immediate prospects for bringing about unity, there is no cause for despair. The distressing state of the world can only spur us to redouble our commitment to constructive action. "These are not days of prosperity and triumph" cautions Baha'u'llah. "The whole of mankind is in the grip of manifold ills. Strive, therefore, to save its life through the wholesome medicine which the almighty hand of the unerring Physician hath prepared."

*

     The establishment of peace is a duty to which the entire human race is called. The responsibility that Baha'is bear to aid that process will evolve over time, but they have never been mere spectators--they lend their share of assistance to the operation of those forces leading humanity towards unity. They are summoned to be as leaven to the world. Consider Baha'u'llah's words:
Address yourselves to the promotion of the well-being and tranquillity of the children of men. Bend your minds and wills to the education of the peoples and kindreds of the earth, that haply the dissensions that divide it may, through the power of the Most Great Name, be blotted out from its face, and all mankind become the upholders of one Order, and the inhabitants of one City. 
'Abdu'l-Baha also emphasised the importance of the contribution that Baha'is are called on to make to the establishment of world peace:
... peace must first be established among individuals, until it leadeth in the end to peace among nations. Wherefore, O ye Baha'is, strive ye with all your might to create, through the power of the Word of God, genuine love, spiritual communion and durable bonds among individuals. This is your task. 
     "The Promise of World Peace", the message we addressed to the peoples of the world in 1985, set out the Baha'i perspective on the condition of the world and the prerequisites of universal peace. It also offered the global Baha'i community as a model for study that could reinforce hope in the possibility of uniting the human race. In the years since, the followers of Baha'u'llah have been patiently refining that model and working with others around them to build up and broaden a system of social organization based on His teachings. They are learning how to nurture communities that embody those prerequisites of peace we identified in 1985. They cultivate environments in which children can be raised untainted by any form of racial, national, or religious prejudice. They champion the full equality of women with men in the affairs of the community. Their programmes of education, transformative in their effects and encompassing both the material and spiritual aspects of life, welcome everyone who wishes to contribute to the community's prosperity. In the stirrings of social action can be seen their desire to remedy the numerous ills afflicting humanity and to empower each person to become a protagonist in the building of a new world. Taking inspiration from the concept of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, they invite to their devotional meetings followers of all faiths and none. Youth, distinguished for their commitment to a society founded on peace and justice, are engaging their like-minded peers in the work of building communities on this foundation. In the institution of the Local Spiritual Assembly exists the spiritual authority and the administrative capacity to govern in servitude, to resolve conflicts, and to build unity; the electoral process through which Assemblies are formed is itself an expression of peace, in contrast to the vitriol and even violence that often accompanies elections in the wider society. Implicit in all these dimensions of an open, expanding community is the foundational recognition that all of humanity are the children of one Creator.

     The friends are also developing their capacity for engaging those around them, regardless of creed, culture, class, or ethnicity, in conversations about how to bring about spiritual and material well-being through systematic application of the divine teachings. One gratifying result of this growing capacity is the community's increased ability to make meaningful contributions to various important discourses prevalent in society; in certain countries, leaders and thinkers striving to address the challenges confronting their societies increasingly show appreciation for the perspectives offered by Baha'is. These contributions articulate insights derived from Baha'u'llah's Revelation, draw on the experience being generated by the believers around the world, and aim to elevate the discussion above the acrimony and contention that so often prevent discourses of society from progressing. Further, the ideas and lines of reasoning advanced by Baha'is are reinforced by their practice of consultation. Sensitized as they are to the importance of harmony and the fruitlessness of conflict, the followers of Baha'u'llah seek to cultivate those conditions that are most conducive to the emergence of unity in any setting. We are heartened to see the believers expanding their efforts to participate in the discourses of society--especially those friends who, in their professional capacity, are able to contribute to discourses directly related to peace.

*

     For Baha'is, the attainment of peace is not simply an aspiration to which they are sympathetic or a goal complementary to their other aims--it has always been a central concern. In a second Tablet 'Abdu'l-Baha addressed to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace in the Hague, He asserted that "our desire for peace is not derived merely from the intellect: It is a matter of religious belief and one of the eternal foundations of the Faith of God." He observed that for peace to be realized in the world, it was not adequate that people should be informed about the horrors of war:
Today the benefits of universal peace are recognized amongst the people, and likewise the harmful effects of war are clear and manifest to all. But in this matter, knowledge alone is far from sufficient: A power of implementation is needed to establish it throughout the world. 
"It is our firm belief", He continued, "that the power of implementation in this great endeavour is the penetrating influence of the Word of God and the confirmations of the Holy Spirit."

     Certainly, then, none who are conscious of the condition of the world can refrain from giving their utmost to this endeavour and seeking those confirmations--confirmations for which we too earnestly supplicate at the Sacred Threshold on your behalf. Beloved friends: The devoted efforts that you and your like-minded collaborators are making to build communities founded on spiritual principles, to apply those principles for the betterment of your societies, and to offer the insights arising--these are the surest ways you can hasten the fulfilment of the promise of world peace.


[signed: The Universal House of Justice]

Monday, November 26, 2018

26 November 2018 - The Universal House of Justice, Day of the Covenant and Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Baha



(Avaliable in PDF-format here: 
https://drive.google.com/file/d/161QBwUlwNQo8TaI4u_mroj5ccEpPj8X8/view?usp=sharing)



THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE 

26 November 2018 


To the Baha'is of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

In this season, from the Day of the Covenant to the commemoration of the Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Baha, every Baha'i heart is stirred by remembrance of Him Who is the Mystery of God, the Centre of Baha'u'llah's impregnable Covenant, the Mainspring of the Oneness of Humanity, the embodiment of every Baha'i ideal, the Most Mighty Branch of God whereunder all can find shelter. May His boundless love and tender solicitude give you reassurance and sustenance as you strive to fulfill the trust He bestowed upon you in His Testament and His Divine Plan. At night in that hallowed room in His home where He departed this life for reunion with His beloved Lord, we will testify to your fidelity to His call, evident in your tireless labors to create a refuge for humanity at this moment of increasing injustice and affliction.

Three brief years remain until the centenary of the Master's passing, when Baha'is the world over will gather and take account of the distance traversed over the first century of the Formative Age. May His loved ones, individually and collectively, little by little and day by day, increasingly embody His counsels: to be united in the Cause and firm in the Covenant; to avoid calumny and never speak ill of others; to see no strangers but regard all as members of one family; to set aside divergent theories and conflicting views and pursue a single purpose and common goal; to ensure that the love of Baha'u'llah has so mastered every organ, part, and limb as to leave no effect from the promptings of the human world; to arise with heart and soul and in one accord to teach the Cause; to march in serried lines, pressed together, each supporting the others; to cultivate good character, perseverance, strength, and determination; to know the value of this precious Faith, obey its teachings, walk in this road that is drawn straight, and show this way to the people.

That you may fulfill His highest expectations, we pray for each of you.

[signed] The Universal House of Justice

Friday, November 9, 2018

9 November 2018 - The Universal House of Justice, announcement establishment of Baha'i International Development Organization

(Available in PDF-format here: http://bit.ly/House_of_Justice_9-Nov-2018_Est_Bahai_International_Development_Organization)


THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE 

9 November 2018 




To the Baha'is of the World


Dearly loved Friends,

     As the process of the disintegration of a lamentably defective world order gathers momentum in all parts of the planet, engendering hopelessness, confusion, hostility, and insecurity, the hearts of the friends everywhere must be assured, their eyes clear-sighted, their feet firm, as they work patiently and sacrificially to raise a new order in its stead.  The guidance of Baha'u'llah is the foundation upon which you build.  His instruction is clear: "This servant appealeth to every diligent and enterprising soul to exert his utmost endeavor and arise to rehabilitate the conditions in all regions and to quicken the dead with the living waters of wisdom and utterance, by virtue of the love he cherisheth for God, the One, the Peerless, the Almighty, the Beneficent."  His divine remedy has been prescribed:  "God, the True One, beareth Me witness, and every atom in existence is moved to testify that such means as lead to the elevation, the advancement, the education, the protection and the regeneration of the peoples of the earth have been clearly set forth by Us and are revealed in the Holy Books and Tablets by the Pen of Glory."  And His assurance is engraved on every faithful heart:  "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct."

     During the ministries of 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, the first community of sufficient size that could begin to systematically apply Baha'u'llah's teachings to unite material and spiritual progress was that of the believers in the Cradle of the Faith.  The steady flow of guidance from the Holy Land enabled the Baha'is of Iran to make tremendous strides in but one or two generations and to contribute a distinctive share to the progress of their nation.  A network of schools that provided moral and academic education, including for girls, flourished.  Illiteracy was virtually eliminated in the Baha'i community.  Philanthropic enterprises were created.  Prejudices among ethnic and religious groups, aflame in the wider society, were extinguished within the community's loving embrace.  Villages became distinguished for their cleanliness, order, and progress.  And believers from that land were instrumental in raising in another land the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkar with its dependencies designed to "afford relief to the suffering, sustenance to the poor, shelter to the wayfarer, solace to the bereaved, and education to the ignorant."  Over time, such efforts were augmented by scattered initiatives of other Baha'i communities in various parts of the world.  However, as Shoghi Effendi remarked to one community, the number of believers was as yet too small to effect a notable change in the wider society, and for more than the first half century of the Formative Age the believers were encouraged to concentrate their energies on the propagation of the Faith, since this was work that only Baha'is could do--indeed their primary spiritual obligation--and it would prepare them for the time when they could address the problems of humanity more directly.

     Thirty-five years ago, circumstances within and outside the community combined to create new possibilities for greater involvement in the life of society.  The Faith had developed to the stage at which the processes of social and economic development needed to be incorporated into its regular pursuits, and in October 1983 we called upon the Baha'is of the world to enter this new field of endeavor.  The Office of Social and Economic Development was established at the Baha'i World Centre to assist us in promoting and coordinating the activities of the friends worldwide.  Baha'i activities for social and economic development, at whatever level of complexity, were at that time counted in the hundreds.  Today they number in the tens of thousands, including hundreds of sustained projects such as schools and scores of development organizations.  The broad range of current activities spans efforts from villages and neighborhoods to regions and nations, addressing an array of challenges, including education from preschool to university, literacy, health, the environment, support for refugees, advancement of women, empowerment of junior youth, elimination of racial prejudice, agriculture, local economies, and village development.  The society-building power of Baha'u'llah's Cause has begun to be more systematically expressed in the collective life of the friends as a result of the acceleration of the process of expansion and consolidation, especially in advanced clusters. Beyond this, of course, countless believers, through their professional and voluntary efforts, contribute their energies and insights to projects and organizations established for the common good.

     Once again, then, we find that forces inside and outside the Faith have made possible a new stage in the work of social and economic development in the Baha'i world.  Therefore, on this sacred occasion of the Festivals of the Twin Birthdays, we are pleased to announce that the Office of Social and Economic Development now effloresces into a new world-embracing institution established at the World Centre, the Baha'i International Development Organization.  In addition, a Baha'i Development Fund will be inaugurated, from which the new organization will draw to assist both long-standing and emerging development efforts worldwide; it will be supported by the House of Justice, and individuals and institutions may contribute to it.

     A five-member board of directors will be appointed which will function as a consultative body to promote and coordinate the efforts of the worldwide community in social and economic development.  The directors will serve for a term of five years beginning on the Day of the Covenant.  Operating at the spiritual and administrative centre of the Faith, the board will consult with the Universal House of Justice and the International Teaching Centre to ensure that the development work is coherent with the many endeavors of the Baha'i world.  The new institution will begin by assuming the functions and mandate previously carried out by the Office of Social and Economic Development and then gradually grow in capacity to discharge them on an expanding scale and at higher levels of complexity.  It will reinforce the efforts of Baha'i individuals, communities, and institutions worldwide to extend and consolidate the range of their activities.  It will help to strengthen institutional capacity for social and economic development in national communities, including through the creation of new agencies and the emergence of advanced development organizations.  It will promote, on an international scale, approaches to development and methodologies that have proven effective.  It will keep abreast of findings in the development field and explore their application in consonance with spiritual principles with assistance from Baha'is with relevant training.  It will form networks of resource persons and such institutional arrangements across continents as are necessary for carrying out its various lines of action.  Above all, like the Office of Social and Economic Development before it, its primary purpose will be to facilitate learning about development by fostering and supporting action, reflection on action, study, consultation, the gathering and systematization of experience, conceptualization, and training--all carried out in the light of the Teachings of the Faith.

     Upon the Arc on Mount Carmel that surrounds the resting places of members of the Holy Family, Shoghi Effendi anticipated both the raising of edifices and the establishment of international institutions--administrative, scientific, and social--that would flourish under the auspices of the Faith of Baha'u'llah. This new institution for social and economic development will grow and evolve over the decades and centuries ahead according to the needs of humanity and under the direction of the House of Justice until the material and spiritual civilization anticipated by Baha'u'llah is realized in this contingent world.

     Ultimately, of course, the work of Baha'i social and economic development rests in the hands of the friends everywhere.  To take full advantage of the opportunities emerging, one need look no further for encouragement and insight than to the perfect Exemplar of the Baha'i teachings.  Consider His words:  "We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating  and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end.  How excellent, how honorable is man if he arises to fulfill his responsibilities; how wretched and contemptible, if he shuts his eyes to the welfare of society and wastes his precious life in pursuing his own selfish interests and personal advantages.  Supreme happiness is man's, and he beholds the signs of God in the world and in the human soul, if he urges on the steed of high endeavor in the arena of civilization and justice."

[signed]  The Universal House of Justice  


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

1 June 2018 - The Universal House of Justice, preparing for the Second Bicentenary - the Birth of the Bab





THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT 


1 June 2018

To all National Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Bahá’í Friends,

     The tremendous stimulus given to the work of the Five Year Plan by the celebration of the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh is apparent in all parts of the world. Thoughts are naturally turning to the two hundredth anniversary of the Birth of the Báb and what must be accomplished before this second bicentenary, so that “every seed so lovingly sown at the first” may be “nurtured patiently towards fruition”. The Universal House of Justice has requested that we convey to you a number of points to assist your deliberations on this theme. You are welcome to share the contents of this letter with the friends in your communities in any manner you deem appropriate.

     The broad framework for understanding the Bahá’í world’s approach to both bicentenaries has already been set out in the letter to you dated 18 May 2016, written on behalf of the House of Justice. This letter indicated, in particular, that the locus of activity was to be at the local level. It also described the eight cycles between the two anniversaries as the period during which the greatest share of the effort needed to fulfil the objectives of the Five Year Plan would be required. This, therefore, must be the main focus of the believers in their clusters. It is a season of intensive activity that is well under way, and less than a year and a half remains. Included in this precious period are the Twin Holy Days this year, due to be observed in only a few months’ time. On these occasions, the friends will have a valuable opportunity to draw on the rich experience they gained last year by bringing people together in local celebrations that uplift hearts and kindle spirits.

     Preparations for the bicentenary of the Birth of the Báb should be undertaken with a recognition that the festivities marking this anniversary have a special context. They will occur just two years after the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, and the Báb was of course the Herald of Bahá’u’lláh. Before and after the first bicentenary, the believers engaged family, friends, and acquaintances of all kinds in conversations about the life and teachings of the Blessed Beauty, and the conversations which occur in connection with the upcoming anniversary will in many ways be an extension of these, centring on both of the Faith’s Twin Founders. For the greatness of this Day, this “matchless Day” extolled by Bahá’u’lláh, is evident from the fact that its advent was announced by two divine Manifestations, Whose Birthdays are “accounted as one in the sight of God”. In Himself, and in the break from the prevailing order which His Revelation brought about, the sacred figure of the Báb was an answer to the prayers and entreaties of the generations that awaited the One foretold by all the Holy Scriptures. With His coming, the eternal Faith of God was renewed and revitalized with extraordinary swiftness. Yet, in the very title He chose for Himself, He signalled that He was the portal to a superior Revelation of which, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, “He considered Himself to be the humble Precursor.” The endeavours of the Bahá’ís throughout the world to labour for the promotion of the Cause call to mind the exhortation of the Báb explicitly set down in the Bayan: “Well is it with him who fixeth his gaze upon the Order of Bahá’u’lláh, and rendereth thanks unto his Lord.”

     As plans for the next bicentenary take shape, there will doubtless begin to emerge many examples of artistic expression arising from a profound reflection on the appearance above the horizon of the world, in quick succession, of two Manifestations of God, and the implications for the life of humanity. You will find it helpful to know that the House of Justice intends once again to commission both a film and a dedicated website for the occasion. It also anticipates preparing a special letter to mark the two-hundred-year anniversary. More details about these will become available in due course.

     A notable feature of the last bicentenary was the number of tributes to Bahá’u’lláh and messages of congratulation issued by dignitaries and prominent members of society, often in response to invitations they had received to offer thoughtful sentiments. However, the character of this occasion does not lend itself to attempts to seek public statements of this kind. Nevertheless, efforts to help such persons become more familiar with the teachings and fundamentals of the Faith, as well as the endeavours of the community, would, of course, continue in a natural manner.

     In this year’s Riḍván message, the House of Justice referred to the heroism of the Báb and His followers, the stirring accounts of whose lives are sure to be revisited and retold in the coming months. In keeping with the overall approach to this bicentenary, it will be important to reflect on the purpose of calling to mind these remarkable narratives, which possess a merit far beyond an exploration of history. They enable the friends, who are occupied with responding to the needs of the Cause in this day, to draw inspiration and courage from the sacrifices of the dawn-breakers. They assist the company of believers to realize that, by consecrating themselves to the acts of service required in this age, they are emulating the noble qualities of their spiritual forebears.

     The heights to which the Bahá’í community so recently soared, in its longing to befittingly honour “a Being peerless in creation”, are still vivid in the memory. The possibilities created by the celebration of this second bicentenary, following so closely upon the first and building upon what was learned then, appear boundless. Be assured of the prayers of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines for all the friends of God, supplicating that heavenly bestowals may surround them at every stage of their deliberations and in every action they take for His sake.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

cc: International Teaching Centre
     Boards of Counsellors
     Counsellors

Monday, April 30, 2018

Ridván 2018 - The Universal House of Justice

(Find audio renderings bit.ly/ridvan2018 and here. And a direct link to the message bit.ly/Ridvan2018)


THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

Ridvan 2018


To the Baha'is of the World


Dearly loved Friends,

     We greet you in the enduring afterglow of those memorable events that marked the bicentenary of the Birth of the Blessed Beauty. As we consider what transpired then and since, we find that the global Bahá’í community now in view is not the same as when it embarked on the first six cycles of the current Plan. It is more conscious than ever before of its mission. It has experienced an unprecedented surge in its capacity to bring friends and acquaintances into contact with its community life; to inspire neighbourhoods and villages into unified endeavour; to articulate how spiritual truths can be translated into sustained practical action; and, above all, to converse not only about the teachings that will build the world anew, but about the One Who taught them: Bahá’u’lláh. Accounts of His life and of His suffering told in myriad tongues by adults, youth, and children touched countless hearts. Some showed themselves ready to explore His Cause further. Others pledged collaboration. And many a receptive soul was moved to an avowal of faith.

     One telling indicator of progress was the numerous places where it became clear that the Faith had emerged from obscurity at the national level. There were government leaders and leaders of thought who stated publicly—and sometimes emphasized privately—that the world stands in need of Bahá’u’lláh’s vision and that the Bahá’ís’ endeavours are admired and should be expanded. It delighted us to see that it was not only Bahá’ís who wished to honour Bahá’u’lláh and celebrate His life—special gatherings were hosted by some from beyond the Bahá’í community. In areas where hostility to the Faith exists, the friends were undismayed; showing marvellous resilience, they encouraged their compatriots to examine the truth for themselves, and many joyfully participated in the festivities. The bicentenary also gave rise to a seemingly limitless efflorescence of artistic expression, magnificent testimony to the wellspring of love from which it stemmed. The character of the Bahá’í community’s entire approach to this occasion was confirmation of how much has been learned over more than two decades now, since the current series of global Plans began. The individual believer took initiative, the community arose in collective effort, and the friends channelled their creative energy into the plans prepared by the institutions. A significant anniversary, marking the passage of two centuries, offered a powerful stimulus to the work of building communities for the century to come. In the period leading up to the second bicentenary, let every seed so lovingly sown at the first be nurtured patiently towards fruition.

     Two years into the present Plan, although naturally progress is not uniform from country to country, the number of intensive programmes of growth in the world is approaching half the five thousand contemplated in the current global endeavour, and the rate at which this number is rising has been steadily increasing. Looking more closely, there are promising signs of how the powers and potentialities of individuals, communities, and institutions are being manifested. For the believers everywhere, the experience of the bicentenary celebration demonstrated that many of their day-to-day interactions with the people around them can be infused with the spirit of teaching. And as the work in thousands of villages and neighbourhoods gathers momentum, a vibrant community life is taking root in each. The number of clusters where the system for extending this pattern of activity to more and more locations is becoming well established— enabling, thereby, the friends to pass the third milestone along a continuum of development— has grown markedly. And it is here, at the frontiers of the Bahá’í world’s learning, particularly in the movement of populations towards the vision of Bahá’u’lláh, where not only are large numbers coming into the widening embrace of Bahá’í activities but the friends are now learning how sizeable groups come to identify themselves with the community of the Most Great Name. We are seeing the Faith’s educational efforts take on a more formal character in such places, as children move seamlessly through the grades year after year and one level of the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme reliably succeeds another. In these places, the training institute is learning to ensure that sufficient human resources are being raised up to provide for the spiritual and moral edification of children and junior youth in ever-increasing numbers. Participation in these foundational activities is becoming so embedded in the culture of the population that it is viewed as an indispensable aspect of the life of a community. A new vitality emerges within a people taking charge of their own development, and they build immunity to those societal forces that breed passivity. Possibilities for material and spiritual progress take shape. Social reality begins to transform.

     Cherished friends, this is truly a moment to give thanks to the Best-Beloved. There are a great many reasons to be encouraged. Yet we are only too aware of the scale of the task that remains. Fundamentally, as we have previously indicated, there must emerge in many hundreds of clusters a growing band of believers who can maintain, with those around them, a sustained focus on nurturing growth and building capacity, and who are distinguished by their ability and their discipline to reflect on action and learn from experience. Raising up and accompanying an expanding nucleus of individuals in each place—not just at the level of the cluster but within neighbourhoods and villages—is at once a formidable challenge and a critical need. But where this is occurring, the results speak for themselves.

     We are reassured to see that the institutions of the Faith are keeping this supreme need at the forefront of their thinking, devising effective mechanisms to enable the insights arising from progress to be widely applied. At the same time, greater experience is endowing national, regional, and local bodies alike with broader vision. They are becoming involved in all aspects of the community’s development and are concerned with the well-being of people beyond its formal membership. Conscious of the profound implications the institute process holds for the advancement of peoples, they are paying particular attention to how the training institute can be strengthened. They remain mindful of the need to maintain the community’s focus on the requirements of the Plan and call the ever-widening circle of friends to higher and higher levels of unity. They faithfully uphold their responsibility to refine their administrative and financial systems so that the work of expansion and consolidation can be properly supported. In all this, they are ultimately occupied with cultivating in the community those conditions that conduce to the release of powerful spiritual forces.

     As the work of community building intensifies, the friends are using the new capacities they have developed to improve conditions in the society around them, their enthusiasm kindled by their study of the divine teachings. Short-term projects have soared in number, formal programmes have expanded their reach, and there are now more Bahá’í-inspired development organizations engaged in education, health, agriculture, and other areas. From the resulting transformation visible in the individual and collective lives of peoples may be discerned the unmistakable stirrings of the society-building power of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. No wonder, then, that it is from such instances of social action—whether simple or complex, of fixed duration or long sustained—that the Offices of the Bahá’í International Community are increasingly taking inspiration in their efforts to participate in the prevalent discourses of society. This is another important field of endeavour for the Faith that has advanced well. At the national level, contributions to discourses that are meaningful to that society—the equality of men and women, migration and integration, the role of youth in social transformation, and religious coexistence, among others—are being made with growing confidence, proficiency, and insight. And wherever they live, work, or study, believers of all ages and backgrounds are making valued contributions to particular discourses, bringing to the attention of those around them a principled perspective shaped by Bahá’u’lláh’s vast Revelation.

     The Faith’s standing in various spaces in which discourses unfold has been much enhanced by its official presence on the World Wide Web, a presence which has expanded considerably through the launch of numerous national Bahá’í websites and the further development of the family of sites associated with Bahai.org. This has immense value for both the propagation and protection of the Cause. Over the span of just a few days a large global audience was attracted to carefully conceived content about the Faith that was presented on the bicentenary website and updated in nine languages simultaneously, and which has now been augmented by individual country pages illustrating the diversity of the celebrations that occurred. Plans are already far advanced for introducing to the Bahá’í Reference Library site a feature that will allow previously untranslated and unpublished passages or Tablets from the Holy Writings to be released online over time. As well as this, new volumes of Bahá’u’lláh’s and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Writings rendered into English are set to appear in the coming years.

     In Santiago, Chile, and Battambang, Cambodia, the world’s most recently dedicated Houses of Worship are becoming established centres of attraction, beacons to their societies of all that the Faith stands for. And their number is about to grow. We are delighted to announce that the dedication ceremony for the Temple in Norte del Cauca, Colombia, is to take place in July. Further, the construction of more Houses of Worship lies just over the horizon. In Vanuatu, permission is being obtained to start building. In India and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a highly complex and exacting process has at last led to the successful acquisition of land. The joy at seeing the design of the first national Mashriqu’l-Adhkár unveiled in Papua New Guinea at Naw-Rúz had hardly subsided when the design of the local House of Worship in Kenya was also revealed. Meanwhile, we have every expectation that the recently released statement and compilation about the institution of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, prepared by our Research Department, will further stimulate the friends’ appreciation of the significance of worship in community life. For in their acts of service, especially in their regular devotional gatherings, Bahá’ís everywhere are laying the spiritual foundations of future Houses of Worship.

     Only three years remain of a quarter-century effort that began in 1996 focused on a single goal: a significant advance in the process of entry by troops. At Riḍván 2021, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh will embark on a Plan lasting a single year. Brief, but pregnant with portent, this one-year endeavour will begin a new wave of Plans bearing the ark of the Cause into the third century of the Bahá’í Era. During the course of this auspicious twelvemonth, the Bahá’í world’s commemoration of the centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will include a special gathering at the Bahá’í World Centre to which representatives of every National Spiritual Assembly and every Regional Bahá’í Council will be invited. This, however, is to be but the first in a sequence of events that will prepare the believers for the demands of the decades to come. The following January, the elapse of one hundred years since the first public reading of the Master’s Will and Testament will be the occasion for a conference in the Holy Land bringing together the Continental Boards of Counsellors and all members of the Auxiliary Boards for Protection and Propagation. The spiritual energy released at these two historic gatherings must then be carried to all the friends of God in every land in which they reside. For this purpose, a series of conferences will be convened worldwide in the months that follow, a catalyst to the multi-year endeavour that shall succeed the coming One Year Plan.

     Thus, a new phase in the unfoldment of the Master’s Divine Plan is approaching. But a thrilling and more immediate prospect lies directly ahead. The bicentenary of the Birth of the Báb is now just a year and a half away. This is a period in which to recall the extraordinary heroism of the Martyr-Herald of our Faith, Whose dramatic ministry thrust humanity into a new era of history. Though separated from our own time by two centuries, the society in which the Báb appeared resembles the present-day world for the sense of oppression and for the longing of so many to find answers to slake the soul’s thirst to know. In considering how this twohundred-year anniversary might befittingly be marked, we recognize that these festivities will have a special character of their own. Nevertheless, we anticipate a flourishing of activity no less rich and no less inclusive than that which accompanied the bicentenary just passed. It is an occasion to which every community, every household, every heart will undoubtedly look forward with eager expectation.

     The months ahead will also be a time for calling to mind the lives of the Báb’s intrepid followers—heroines and heroes whose faith was expressed in matchless, sacrificial acts that will forever adorn the annals of the Cause. Their qualities of fearlessness, consecration, and detachment from all save God impress themselves upon everyone who learns of their ventures. How striking, too, is the young age at which so many of those lionhearts made their indelible mark on history. During the coming period, may their example give courage to the entire company of the faithful—not least to the youth, who are once more summoned to the vanguard of a movement aimed at nothing less than the transformation of the world. This, then, is our bright, bright hope. In the six cycles that lie between this Riḍván and the next bicentenary—indeed, throughout the remaining three years of the current Plan—let the same all-consuming, all-surpassing love that spurred the Báb’s disciples to the diffusion of the divine light inspire you to great deeds. That you may be the recipients of heavenly aid is our supplication at the Sacred Threshold.

The Universal House of Justice


Source: http://universalhouseofjustice.bahai.org/ridvan-messages/20180421_001