Impressions on ‘Abdu’l-Baha
Source:”Russia’s Cultural Contribution to the Baha’i Faith” by Martha Root.
The proximity of Russia to Persia, during the early years of the Babi and Baha’i Faith resulted in the collaboration of officials and heightened awareness of observers from those countries.
Russian poet Isabella Grinevskaya (the pen name of Beyle (Berta) Friedberg), born in Grodno, Belarus on May 3, 1864, wrote the play “Bab ed Din” which was performed in St. Petersburg in 1904. In 1910-11 she spent two weeks in Ramleh as a guest of `Abdu’l-Baha and after she returned to Russia she had several letters and Tablets from Him. The play was again performed in 1914 and once again in 1917. It was translated into French and Tatar (and later into German by Friedrich Fiedler).
The play was lauded by Leo Tolstoy and other reviewers at the time. It is reported to have been Tolstoy’s first knowledge of the Faith. Mr. Tolstoy read the play and wrote to Ms. Grinevskaya to praise her and share his sympathy with the Baha’i teachings.
A questioner asked ‘Abdu’l-Baha: “I have read much of Tolstoy and I see a parallel between his teachings and yours. In one of his books he speaks of the Enigma of Life, and describes how life is wasted in our endeavour to find the Key. But Tolstoy goes on to say: `There is a man in Persia who holds the secret.'”
“Yes,” said ‘Abdu’l-Baha, “I received a letter from Tolstoy, and in it he said that he wished to write a book upon Baha’u’llah.”
Ultimately Tolstoy stated that he was attracted to the teachings of the Faith but struggled with the concept of Manifestations or Prophets of God.
Immediately upon Isabella Grinevskaya return from Egypt in January of 1911 she also began work on the book “A Journey in the Countries of the Sun”, an account of her visit with ‘Abdu’l-Baha. This work was not completed until 1914 because in the summer of 1912 she made a trip to Paris to work with the French translator of “Bab”, Madame Halperin, and when she returned to Leningrad she began work on the drama entitled Baha’u’llah. It was published in Leningrad in 1912 but was never performed. “Journey”, a book of some 550 pages did not get published because of the disruption caused by the advent of the war.
Isabella Grinevskaya, died in Istanbul in 1944. In His message to Isabella Grinevskaya, ‘Abdu’l-Baha praised her efforts to stage theatrical performances about the Bab and Baha’u’llah but cautioned her that people’s attention at that moment was focused on “war and revolution.” However, He added, “the time for staging it will come” and it will “have a considerable impact” in Europe.