Baha’is worldwide celebrate ‘Twin Holy Days’—Birth of the Bab and Birth of Baha’u’llah

The development of the Bahá’í faith worldwide is today guided by the Universal House of Justice, based in Haifa, Israel. In Bahá’u’lláh’s book of laws, he instructed the Universal House of Justice to exert a positive influence on the welfare of humankind, promote education, peace and global prosperity, and safeguard human honor and the position of religion. The House of Justice decreed that the dates of these annual holidays will vary. (Photo in public domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

OCTOBER 16-17: Million of Baha’is worldwide will celebrate the “Twin Holy Birthdays,” as adherents of the faith rejoice in the birth anniversaries of the two figures most central to their faith: Baha’u’llah and the Bab.

Events commence worldwide, as Baha’is first celebrate the birth of Baha’u’llah—the “Promised One”—and the Bab—the forerunner of their faith, who is known as “the Gate.”

‘TWIN HOLY DAYS’: CELEBRATING TOGETHER

In questions submitted to Baha’u’llah after he wrote the “Kitab-i-Aqdas,” Baha’u’llah described his own birthday and the birthday of the Bab as “twin birthdays” that are “one” in the “sight of God.” Though the birthdays had been celebrated according to the solar calendar each year in most of the world—and Baha’u’llah’s birthday fixed on November 12—that changed in 2015. The Universal House of Justice—the governing body of the Baha’i faith—announced that from March 20, 2015 onward, the “twin birthdays” would be observed on the first and second days following the eighth new moon after Naw-Ruz, and the observation date of the Birth of Baha’u’llah would change annually. These “Twin Birthdays” are now celebrated by Baha’is as one annual festival, wherein the closely interwoven lives of these two figures are commemorated together.

THE BAB AND BAHA’U’LLAH: TWO LIVES, ONE MISSION

Born on October 20, 1819, the Bab would eventually declare his mission as preparing people of the world for the Promised One (Baha’u’llah). The Bab was born Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, in Persia, and at the age of 24, Siyyid announced the coming Messenger of God—the Promised One awaited for by multiple world religions. Siyyid changed his name to “the Bab” (meaning “the Gate”) and made his life a mission for the Promised One.

Six years following his first prophesy, the Bab was executed. The Shrine of the Bab now stands in Haifa, Israel, and attracts throngs of Baha’is on the birth anniversary of the Bab. Baha’u’llah described the Bab this way: “the Herald of His Name and the Harbinger of His Great Revelation, which has caused … the splendor of His light to shine forth above the horizon of the world.”

Mirza Husayn Ali (who would become Baha’u’llah) was born November 12, 1817, in Tehran, Persia (now Iran). The son of a wealthy government minister, Baha’u’llah was born into wealth and prestige. His family’s lineage could be traced to the ruling dynasties of Persia’s past, and at the time of his birth, Mirza Husayn Ali’s family still exercised influence over the court of the Shah.

From a young age, Mirza Husayn Ali was rumored to be “different” than his peers. The child was wise beyond his years, showed immense compassion for the poor and displayed an unusually alert mind. In adulthood, he showed support for the Bab and the emerging Babi religion; in 1863, Mirza Husayn announced himself as the One promised by the Bab, and became known as Baha’u’llah. As the years passed, Baha’u’llah was subject to exile, violence and imprisonment.

Pope Francis reminds the world that St. Thérèse of Liseux’s ‘little way’ can help us reclaim hope

Photo of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2023—On this Catholic “feast day” of St. Teresa of Avila—the 16th-century namesake of the 19th-century St. Thérèse of Lisieux—Pope Francis has published one of his most inspiring apostolic letters. This tribute to the wisdom of St. Thérèse comes two weeks after her own October 1 feast day and more than ten months after the 150th anniversary of her birth—an anniversary that Francis names in the title of his new letter.

This new letter ranks as one of Francis’s most timely and most inspiring messages to the world, so we are recommending that our readers check it out.

The Catholic News Service (as published in America magazine) began its story this way:

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, long one of Pope Francis’ favorite saints, teaches Christians “the little way” of love, self-giving, concern for others and complete trust in the mercy of God, the pope said in a new document. “At a time when human beings are obsessed with grandeur and new forms of power, she points out to us the little way,” he wrote. “In an age that casts aside so many of our brothers and sisters, she teaches us the beauty of concern and responsibility for one another.”

But we all can read the entire letter Francis wrote, translated into many global languages, at the Vatican website.

In that text, Francis also explains why he chose this particular date:

St. Thérèse is one of the best known and most beloved saints in our world. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, she is loved by non-Christians and nonbelievers as well. In addition, she has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the most significant figures for contemporary humanity. We would do well to delve more deeply into her message as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of her birth in Alençon (2 January 1873) and the centenary of her beatification in 1923. Yet I have not chosen to issue this Exhortation on either of those dates, or on her liturgical Memorial (her October 1 feast day), so that this message may transcend those celebrations and be taken up as part of the spiritual treasury of the Church. Its publication on the liturgical Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila is a way of presenting St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face as the mature fruit of the reform of the Carmel and of the spirituality of the great Spanish saint.

Our recommendation to our magazine readers, this week, is:

Enjoy this fresh wisdom from Francis because it might bring fresh light into your life as well.

Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers! Americans already are planning ahead.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2023—What a breath of fresh air for Americans to read some of the Thanksgiving columns from Canadian newspapers and magazines!

Here’s how the Toronto Star’s Editorial Board is greeting readers today:

We give thanks in Canada because we know it is a privilege to reside on this particular patch of this astonishing planet. We are grateful because we know it is a gift to live, to learn, to labour, to laugh, to experience the education of setback and challenge, the benefit of forgiveness and second chances, and most of all to love and be loved. We give thanks because conscious gratitude gets us rightsized with the universe. Gratitude requires humility, a becoming trait which helps us to acknowledge that the source of the goodness we enjoy lies, in large measure, outside ourselves. Through that recognition, gratitude reminds us of our connection to and need for others.

That’s the kind of spiritually uplifting language readers might expect in, say, well—in the pages of our weekly ReadTheSpirit magazine!

Canadians also have their own version of “Thanksgiving history,” highlighting their own milestones in thankfulness, summarized this year by writer Mel Simoneau in The Ottawa Citizen. Mel shares not only some centuries-old milestones but also a personal story and encourages readers to reclaim the greatful “awe” that this holiday traditionally celebrated.

Most Canadian families expect turkey, mashed potatoes and other autumn side dishes—just like Americans. One Canadian poll says as many as three-quarters of families plan to have some turkey. But, various Canadian journalists also have been pointing out: A growing number of Canadians are proud to call themselves “foodies”—and some holiday dinners will feature alternative dishes.

Refreshing ideas, aren’t they?

Plan ahead to encourage gratefulness and awe in November

Thank goodness we Americans have nearly two months to plan ahead for a great post-pandemic Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit for an additional American-focused Thanksgiving story, when it’s appropriate but—for now—you might want to check out some of the delicious links we’ve found:

Of course, our Holidays & Festivals column will share more tips and links in November for American families, but for now—let’s all say a word of “Thanks!” in harmony with our neighbors to the North.

We truly do share an “astonishing planet”!

Around St. Francis’ feast day, check with local congregations for pet blessings

Pet blessings have become a popular local custom

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4—This is the annual feast day for St. Francis of Assisi—but the 40-year trend of hosting pet blessings now is scattered throughout the autumn in congregations nationwide.

The most elaborate annual pet blessing, each year, is held at St. John the Divine in New York City. The landmark church hosted its first blessing of the animals in 1985, which is credited with touching off a wave of such blessings nationwide that continues to grow nearly 40 years later. This year, the church held its blessing on October 1 and posted a video of the entire service on its website. (That video is more than 2 hours long—but you can find the blessing near the end.)

Many Catholic and Protestant congregations across the U.S. host versions of a St. Francis blessing service either on the actual feast day or on a convenient autumn weekend. Many churches held services October 1 and many others will offer blessings on October 8.

Dates vary widely. So, if you are interested, check local listings.

Who was St. Francis?

St. Francis of Assisi not only founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of St. Clare, but he also created the first Nativity scene. St. Francis insisted that animals are an integral part of God’s creation.

As with many famous saints, St. Francis’ life began in wealth. Born to a cloth merchant in Assisi in 1181, Francis lived in luxury until war called him away from home, in 1204. It was immediately following the war that Francis received a vision. He soon lost his desire for a worldly life and returned to Assisi as a peasant. Francis’ father disowned him for his choice to follow Christ, and the saint-to-be began both begging and preaching on the streets. Francis created an order that would, in 10 years, number more than 5,000.

St. Francis was canonized less than two years after his death.

St. Francis wasn’t the first to raise the question of animals in heaven—and he wasn’t the first to affirm his belief, either! (It’s a common theme in Psalms that all creatures of God, whether human or beast, have a duty to praise God.) Nor was St. Francis the last to preach this message. Although some evangelical Christians believe that our pets are barred from heaven, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was famous as an early advocate for humane treatment of animals. Wesley preached that we will see our pets in heaven.

Most importantly today for the millions who are concerned about global warming, St. Francis challenged everyone to protect nature, preaching that we are, after all, God’s stewards on earth.

Legends about St. Francis paint a portrait of a man whose donkey wept upon his death; who blessed a wolf and commanded him to stop harming townspeople and their flocks; and who garnered rapt attention from birds when he told his companions that he would “preach to” his “sisters the birds.” It’s said that during his sermon, not one bird flew away.

St. Francis believed that nature was the mirror of God. In his Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis refers to “Brother Sun,” “Sister Moon” and even “Sister Death.” The saint called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters.” This time of year, many congregations sing the hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King, which was based on Francis’ Canticle.

AT HOME: ST. FRANCIS FOR FAMILIES

Whether you’re honoring St. Francis or your own pet today, there are plenty of activities to choose from! Those wishing to remember the saint can pray the Canticle of the Sun; learn more about the fantastic festival in Assisi today; or cook up an Italian feast. (Catholic Culture has additional ideas.)

Aside from taking your pet for a walk or to a pet-blessing service, animal lovers can raise money for a local animal shelter; make Fido an herbal flea collar; or even take a lesson in pet communication. (TLC has more.)

 

Michaelmas, Michael and all Angels: Christians honor archangel with fairs, more

“Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day, Want not for money all the year.”
Popular wisdom associated with Michaelmas

St. Michael archangel

Statue of St. Michael defeating Satan. Photo by
Michel Hébert, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29: Try roasting a goose today, to honor one of the most popular Christian feasts: Michaelmas. Beyond honoring St. Michael the Archangel, Michaelmas has taken on a seasonal association through the centuries, signaling the beginning of autumn. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, “Michaelmas” is the name of the first term of the academic year, while in Wales and England, “Michaelmas” is associated with one of four terms of the year in the courts. Michaelmas fairs have been conducted for hundreds of years.

For the faithful, autumn ushers in the darker half of the year, and St. Michael is an angelic warrior, prayerfully invoked by the faithful for extra protection.

MICHAEL HONORED IN ABRAHAMIC FAITHS

Christianity is split on how to regard “Archangels,” but generally seven are recognized in Christian tradition—and three of them are honored liturgically. Among these, St. Michael is the seen as the greatest of all the Archangels. Hebrew for “Who is like God,” Michael carried the victory over Lucifer in the war of heaven. Michael appears several times in the Hebrew scriptures and generally is seen as an advocate of Israel. Michael also is honored in Islam for his role in carrying out God’s plans.

Often depicted as a white-robed angel with his foot on a demon, St. Michael is the warrior of God. Not surprisingly, the Archangel has become the patron of soldiers, mariners and anyone going into battle. Several divine appearances are credited to St. Michael, including one reported by St. Joan of Arc.

The Golden Legend describes in great detail the battles of St. Michael, but none are to be as great as his final victory over the Antichrist. According to the Golden Legend, the Archangel Michael will slay the Antichrist on the Mount of Olivet.

MICHAELMAS CUSTOMS: A DAISY, A GOOSE AND A BANNOCK

As the Aster blooms around this time each year, it has slowly gained a new name: the Michaelmas Daisy. In every color from white to pink to purple, the Michaelmas Daisy is the original flower from which lovers pick petals and alternately chant, “S/he loves me, S/he loves me not.” Gardens in England and the United Kingdom still attract throngs of visitors around Michaelmas for their glorious displays of Michaelmas daisies.

Geese were once plentiful on Michaelmas—as were autumn apples—and the most popular dish of Michaelmas has always been roast goose and apples. Side dishes and desserts vary by country, with the Irish making Michaelmas Pie and Scots baking St. Michael’s Bannock, a type of scone. (Get recipes and more from Catholic Culture and FishEaters.) Legend known across the UK tells that blackberries should not be picked after this feast day, and therefore, dishes containing blackberries are also popular on the Michaelmas table.

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Meskel: Ethiopian, Eritrean Christians recall discovery of ‘true cross’ with ancient festival

Meskel festival

Celebrating the Meskel festival. Photo by Peter Chou Kee Liu, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28: Across Ethiopian Orthodox Christian and Eritrean Orthodox Christian communities, bonfires on the eve of Meskel remind families of an ancient story: the vivid dreams and forthcoming discovery of the true Cross by Queen Helena, in the fourth century. On Meskel, the faithful attend religious services, gather with family and feast together.

Did you know? Ethiopia is the only country in the world that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level. (Watch a one-minute video of Meskel celebrations on YouTube. Or, try the video from Absolute Ethiopia.)

Ethiopia petitioned—and succeeded, in December of 2013—in requesting UNESCO to register the Meskel events in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience, for its “ancient nature … color and significance … and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists as well as the immense participation of the society.”

The traditional story tells that St. Helena instructed the people of Jerusalem to bring wood for a bonfire. After adding incense, smoke rose high into the sky then returned to the ground to touch the precise spot where the true Cross was located. Then, a part of the true Cross was brought to Ethiopia, where it lies at the mountain of Amba Geshen.

MESKEL: A UNIQUE CELEBRATION

The Meskel festival traces its roots back 1,600 years. Although it hasn’t been celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm in every century, Ethiopians certainly enjoy the festival today. Colorful processions begin in the early evening of Meskel eve; firewood is gathered by community members, and the bonfire site is sprinkled with fresh yellow daisies. Bonfires burn the night through, and when the flames at last begin to smolder, leftover ash is used to mark the foreheads of the faithful, in an act similar to that of Ash Wednesday.

Ethiopian honey wine, exotic spices and spicy hot peppers complement plates mounded with food, as family-honored recipes fill the table. In community settings, dozens of women gather to prepare food for hungry churchgoers, humming and singing traditional songs while they work. Homemade cheese, tomatoes and lentils are served with injera flatbread. (Make injera with this recipe, from the Cook’s Hideout.) Following food, the time-honored Ethiopian coffee ceremony commences.

Yom Kippur: Jews repent and observe ‘holiest day’—the Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur shofar

Blowing a shofar is traditional at the end of services on Yom Kippur

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24: From the sweet wishes of Rosh Hashanah and through the High Holidays, Jews arrive tonight at what is often referred to as the holiest day of the year: Yom Kippur.

 

A solemn observance, Yom Kippur (also called the Day of Atonement) is believed to be the final opportunity to make amends before one’s fate is sealed for the coming year.

News 2023: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, which lasted 18 days and began with a surprise attack on Israel during Judaism’s holiest day (read the story in the Jewish Chronicle.)

According to a 2021 study by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, approximately half of the residents who identified as Jewish planned to attend synagogue services on Yom Kippur, reports the Los Angeles Times. With more Jews seeking an alternative to traditional services, communities are offering alternatives such as documentary screenings, service projects, retreats and music “experiences.” (Read more here.)

What should most Jews know about Yom Kippur? Chabad.org offers a list of 19 facts “every Jew should know.” Read the article here.

Looking for break-the-fast recipes? Try a Yom Kippur recipe suggestion from the New York Times, or from Parade.

YOM KIPPUR: FASTING AND FORGIVENESS

For 25 hours–this year, from sunset on September 24, the official start of Yom Kippur–Jews uphold a strict fast. Intense prayer accompanies the fasting, and many Jews spend hours repenting. Having asked forgiveness from others and made amends in the days preceding Yom Kippur, Jews ask forgiveness from God on Yom Kippur. Kol Nidre, or “All Vows,” gathers the larger Jewish community and begins Yom Kippur evening services; Ne’ilah, a service during which the Torah ark remains open and the congregation stands, is the final plea to God for forgiveness. A blast from the shofar follows the final prayers.

Why is Kol Nidre so significant? Kol Nidre is a deeply emotional experience for many Jews. At the start of Yom Kippur, amends are made and the community symbolically opens itself to regular members as well as others who rarely attend services. There is a long and complex history to the traditions of Kol Nidre—and there are many examples in Jewish fiction of moving scenes set at Kol Nidre. Overall, Kol Nidre represents a fresh resetting of commitments and promises within the community.

SOLEMNITY AND CELEBRATION

Although Yom Kippur is a solemn day, it is also one of celebration: Celebration of the anniversary of God forgiving the Jewish people for worshipping the golden calf. According to Jewish scholar and ReadTheSpirit contributing writer, Joe Lewis:

By traditional calculation, Moses brought the second tablets to the people on Yom Kippur. God’s nature is revealed to Moses as a God of mercy and compassion, patience and kindness (Ex. 34:6), and this idea is central to the liturgy of the day. We end the day with a blast on the shofar, eat our fill, and make plans for the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is only five days away.