"One of thy ministers extended to Me his aid."
Section 1- The Czar-Liberator
No other chapter of the story of the Prisoner and the kings has such elements of classic tragedy as that concerning Russia and its unhappy monarch. Alexander II. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for the Emperor of France, the "vain and vulgar Louis Napoleon."
It is nearly impossible to feel it for the Hohenzollern Kaisers whose arrogance played so great a role in dragging mankind into the horrors of World War I.
It is not difficult to feel sympathy, on the other hand, for a man whose weakness and timidity led him into fatal errors. All of us on occasion feel weak and timid. Unhappily, however, those who accept positions of great trust and power, and who derive the benefits of such position, also must accept its obligations. The only alternative is to surrender the position and retire to a less demanding role in human affairs.
Alexander II was in many respects a remarkable man. He was certainly a most unusual Czar. With few exceptions his predecessors had been hard, brutal autocrats ruling their vast domain with an iron fist. One of the most famous, Czar Peter the Great had killed his own son. Another, the notorious "lvan the Terrible," had literally bricked his enemies up alive in the walls of the Kremlin.
Alexander was repelled by this family history. He was essentially a good-natured and compassionate man who abhorred suffering. Further, unlike other members of the Romanov family, he had been educated by a French tutor. As a result, he had adopted a number of very liberal and progressive ideas. To many, his accession was hailed as the dawn of a new day. Russia's greatest social problem was the serfdom of those who toiled in misery on the estates of the great Lords. The second most urgent problem was the lack of anything like democratic government.
Alexander was known to favor extensive reforms in both these areas. Relatively early in his reign he astonished the world and alarmed the aristocracy by abolishing serfdom throughout Russia. This was four years before the United States abolished the even worse institution of Negro slavery. Alexander followed this progressive act with others designed to begin a gradual and more equitable distribution of land, so that peasants could own their own farms and have a voice in government. The millennium appeared to be on its way in Russia. Alexander was hailed as the "Czar-Liberator."
It was to this remarkable emperor that Baha'u'llah addressed one of His most loving and moving appeals. The Russian government had already shown its potentiality for good some years earlier when its minister was the one major foreign figure in Teheran to intervene directly on behalf of the persecuted Prisoner of Nasiri'd-Din Shah. The consul addressed the court openly, denouncing what he called "the absurd falsity" of the charges against Baha'u'llah.
Subsequently, upon Baha'u'llah's release and exile, a Russian official accompanied the party as far as the Turkish border. Without doubt such intervention was of both comfort and aid to the little band of exiles.
Baha'u'llah foretold a great station for the Czar if he would in like manner try to help mankind.
Baha'u'llah directed these words to Alexander: "Whilst I lay, chained and fettered, in the prison [in Persia], one of thy ministers extended Me his aid. Wherefore hath God ordained for thee a station which the knowledge of none can comprehend..." -Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, page 57
The place of prestige would not be automatically conferred. The Czar would have to labor industriously to attain it. The Czar would have to be of service to his fellow-man, and exert his efforts to bring the hearts of men back to God, and to acquaint the world with the Message of unity and justice which Baha'u'llah had brought.
But God would help him. Baha'u'llah assured Alexander that
"Thy Lord is, in truth, potent over all things. He giveth what He willeth to whomsoever He willeth . . . "
Would the Czar-Liberator listen?
"How great hath been My patience."
Section 2- Hearken Unto the Voice
Baha'u'llah called upon Alexander II to take the leadership in raising the moral and ethical standards of men:
"0 Czar of Russia... Arise thou amongst men in the name of this compelling Cause, and summon then, the nations unto God."
Baha'u'llah told the Czar that there was no refuge for any man in this day save in God.
"He, verily, ordaineth what He pleaseth. Thy Lord truly preserveth whom he willeth, be he in the midst of the seas, or in the maw of the serpent, or beneath the sword of the oppressor . . . "
In that same letter Baha'u'llah said that He had heard the wishes which the Czar had spoken secretly in his heart in prayer. Baha'u'llah promised Alexander that God was willing to grant the king his desire if he in turn would be faithful to his trust as a true king.
"We, verily, have heard the thing for which thou didst supplicate thy Lord, whilst secretly communing with Him. Wherefore, the breeze of My loving-kindness wafted forth, and the sea of My mercy surged, and We answered thee in truth." -Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, page 57
It was as though the Emperor Tiberius received a promise from Christ that if he would accept His Message and proclaim it, he, Caesar would be the envy of the past, present and future. It was a promise similar to that which Baha'u'llah had offered to Napoleon III who had refused it and had fallen from his high place.
Thus, for a moment, Alexander II Nicolaevich, was at the threshold of a greatness unrivaled in the recorded history of royalty. We could have had the support and guidance of a Messenger of God in his actions. Alexander only needed to stretch forth his hand in help to the Promised One Whose coming had glorified the pages of the Czar's own sacred Scriptures. Eager that the king should understand this and not miss his golden opportunity, Baha'u'llah repeated His entreaty:
"Again I say, Hearken unto My Voice that calleth from My prison . . . that thou mayest perceive how great hath been My patience . . . "
Baha'u'llah foresaw an unrivaled position for the Czar. The king needed to take but one step to make it a reality. Baha'u'llah wrote:
"O Czar of Russia... By My Life! Couldst thou but know the things sent down by My Pen, and discover the treasures of My Cause . . . thou woudst, in thy love for My name, and in thy longing for My glorious and sublime Kingdom, lay down thy life in My path... Blessed be the king whose sovereignty hath withheld him not from his Sovereign, and who hath turned unto God with his heart . . . " -Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, page 28
Certainly Alexander needed such reassurances. His reforms had engulfed him in trouble. On the one hand the nobility and clergy were violently opposed to his policies which would cost them land and influence. They undermined the Czar in every way they could.
On the other, a new generation of revolutionaries who believed in nothing but terrorism had arisen. They felt confident that the Czar would fail. They could see no way in which he could ever hope to mobilize the mass of the ignorant and superstitious peasantry behind his throne. The peasants loved the Czar, but they understood nothing. And they were entirely disorganized. The terrorists waited expectantly for the moment they could launch a national revolution.
Alexander became desperate. The one powerful group on whom he had relied were intellectuals in the government and the schools. These men, however, saw in the situation only a chance to make their personal reputations. They quarreled among themselves for position and influence.
The Czar realized that his program was built on shifting sands. Where could he find the moral and spiritual force which would enlist the mass of the Russian people in the cause of social change? The people were intensely religious, and social reform -he thought had no religious content at all. Religion, the only power that could move Russia's millions, seemed irrelevant. Certainly the religion of the Orthodox Church was little more than a mass of crusted superstitions and rituals.
There is no more tragic and ironic story in history. At the very point in time that a spiritual authority for social change was desperately needed, that authority had been given. Christianity and the earlier religious revelations had been addresses to individuals. Now, through Baha'u'llah, God was speaking to nations, economic classes, racial groups and institutions. And he was speaking on the very problems which were convulsing the world.
It is impossible to imagine the effect which would have ensued in Russia had the Czar, "the little father of the people," the deeply trusted head of Russia's vast family and of the Church itself, announced the return of Christ and the inauguration of the Kingdom of unity and justice. Nothing could have stood in his way.
Alexander hesitated, vacillated, and then decided. He ignored the message of the Prisoner of 'Akka, and gave in to the pressures of his nobles. He had waded into the stream and now staggered fearfully back to the familiar shore.
The words of Baha'u'llah to the Czar rang in our ears:
"Couldst thou... discover the treasures of My Cause . . . thou wouldst, in thy love for My Name, and in thy longing for My glorious and sublime Kingdom, lay down thy life in My path."
"A great trembling seized and
rocked the foundations of that country."
Section 3- The Third Kingdom Falls!
The House of Romanov fell, as had the House of Napoleon and Hohenzollern. Its fortunes declined with progressive swiftness until World War I. Bolshevism arose during that fiery upheaval, shook the throne of the Czars, and then abolished it. The last years of the reign of Alexander II were given over to terrorism and unexampled violence. Alexander reversed his liberal policies and inaugurated a program of repression which was taken up and expanded by his two autocratic successors. The Czar lived in fear of his life. Living itself became a daily ordeal. Alexander would not leave the palace except under heavy guard. He preferred not to leave at all. He ordered his quarters to be searched carefully each night before retiring for fear of concealed assassins.
On March 13, 1881, the Czar was riding in his carriage along one of the central streets of St. Petersburg near the Winter Palace. The fatal day had arrived at last. A series of small bombs was exploded in his path. His vehicle was overturned. The blast shredded the king's carriage. Alexander survived, and was questioning the would-be assassin when the latter's accomplice threw another bomb directly in front of the Czar's feet. Alexander died a few hours later in his room at the Royal Palace.
The next Romanov, Czar Alexander III, was cut from a more tyrannical pattern, and his successor Nicholas II, the last of the Czars, was equally rigid but, unhappily for him, far less able.
What had been a general growing discontent among the masses now became an organized revolt. Both intellectuals and peasants arose against the Czar. Their hatred finally erupted in the midst of World War I.
The flame of revolution swept across the land, a revolution unparalleled in modern history. It challenged all age-old principles. It upended ancient and time-honored institutions, and spread havoc, destruction and death on every side. The death-throes of the Romanov dynasty have been described in these words: "A great trembling seized and rocked the foundations of that country." The light of religion was dimmed. Ecclesiastical institutions of every denomination were swept away. The state religion was disendowed, persecuted and abolished. A far-flung empire was dismembered.
"A militant, triumphant proletariat exiled the intellectuals, and plundered and massacred the nobility. Civil war and disease decimated a population, already in the throes of agony and despair. And, finally, the Chief Magistrate of a mighty dominion, together with his consort, and his family, and his dynasty, were swept into the vortex of this great convulsion." -The Promised Day is Come, page 56
This brought to an end the line of kings which had ruled Russia for three hundred years. They, too, had turned a deaf ear to the words of the Messenger of God:
"O ye rulers of the earth! ...Hearken unto the counsel given you by the Pen of the Most High, that haply both ye and the poor may attain unto tranquillity and peace. We beseech God to assist the kings of the earth to establish peace on earth . . . Beware lest ye disregard the counsel of the All-Knowing, the Faithful." -Gleanings, pages 253-254
The House of Romanov collapsed. The dynasty of which Alexander Nicolaevitch II had been so proud came to an end. The Czars had not "stayed the hand of the oppressors" nor had they "safeguarded the rights of the downtrodden." In the wake of this disaster, every prophecy which Baha'u'llah, the Glory of God, had uttered concerning the fate of oppressive monarchs had been fulfilled.
When we look back over this tragic history and the failure of faith which set it in motion, Baha'u'llah's words to Alexander II and through him to the government of Russia, seem among the most poignant which he wrote:
"Beware lest thy desire deter thee from turning toward the face of thy Lord . . . Beware lest thou barter away this sublime station... Beware lest thy sovereignty withhold thee from the Supreme Sovereign."
And how relevant to the Romanov tragedy and its unhappy inaugurator, Alexander, seem the words of the Old Testament prophet Haggai concerning this day:
"I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts . . . I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms . . . and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them..."
The third kingdom had fallen!
Prisoner and the Kings by William Sears