239 Days in America, Day 4: April 14, 1912 | New York, NY

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Delivers First Public Address in America 1

“Since my arrival in this country,” he [‘Abdu’l-Bahá] said, “I find that material civilization has progressed greatly, that commerce has attained the utmost degree of expansion; arts, agriculture and all details of material civilization have reached the highest stage of perfection, but spiritual civilization has been left behind. Material civilization is like unto the lamp, while spiritual civilization is the light in that lamp.”

Talk at Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street, New York

If the material and spiritual civilization become united, then we will have the light and the lamp together, and the outcome will be perfect. For material civilization is like unto a beautiful body, and spiritual civilization is like unto the spirit of life. If that wondrous spirit of life enters this beautiful body, the body will become a channel for the distribution and development of the perfections of humanity.2

First Days in America: New York City 3

On His first Sunday in America ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at the Church of the Ascension, located at Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street. Dr. Percy Stickney Grant, the minister, had, just a few months before, warned his congregation about the “Baha’i sect,” and made “thundering denunciations of…the slumbering and superstitious Orient—the Orient that brought to the West ‘nothing but disease and death’…” But in March 1912 he wrote Juliet Thompson, a long-time acquaintance, saying, “…I shall be more than happy to invite him to the Ascension pulpit in my place. I should like to show so important and splendid a person, and those who love him, whatever hospitality and goodwill can be expressed…” 4

Sunday, April 14, 1912 [Monday, April 15, 1912]

That afternoon the Master spoke at the Advanced Thought Center. 5 His talk was on the unity of God, the unity of the world of humanity and the need for greater capacity to receive the divine blessings. As He left the meeting hall, many people surrounded Him and asked what they could do to become united. The Master showered them with His love and kindness. They asked to see Him again and left Him with great courtesy and humility. 6

The Master was shown several newspapers that had published His picture and articles about His talks and yesterday’s meetings. So great is the influence of the Cause of God that a zealous clergyman has made objections to Dr Percy Stickney Grant, the minister of the Church of the Ascension who had invited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to sit in the chair reserved for the Viceroy of Christ. He asked why the minister had permitted ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to sit on the chair. Although he objected to the Master’s talk, he could find no justification for his complaint. Other clergymen replied to his objections in a newspaper article, referring to his discourteous attitude. Thus he was obliged to write an article himself in which he stated that he had no doubt about the knowledge and importance of the teachings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and that his intention had been only to point out that the church’s rules and regulations had been broken. 7

  1. Menon, Jonathan. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá Delivers First Public Address in America.” 239 Days in America, April 14, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/04/14/abdul-baha-delivers-first-public-address-in-america/.
  2. ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 11. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/2#812419404
  3. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 21-22.
  4. Diary of Juliet Thompson, National Bahá’í Archives, Wilmette, Ill., entries for Apr. 15 and Mar. 25, from a letter dated Mar. 23, 1912.
  5. Union Meeting of Advanced Thought Centers, Carnegie Lyceum, West Fifty-Seventh Street, New York. For a transcript of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk see Promulgation, pp. 14-16.
  6. Mahmud-i-Zarqani, Mirza. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=2#section21
  7. Mahmud-i-Zarqani, Mirza. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=2#section22

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