‘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

  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/. [return]
  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 [return]
  3. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 21-22. [return]
  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. [return]