Can you imagine writing a letter to a living messenger of God—and getting a reply? That’s what happened when the Syrian physican Faris Effendi wrote his declaration of belief to Baha’u’llah.
The significance of Faris’s historic role as the first Christian Baha’i is underscored by Baha’u’llah himself, at the very end of Baha’u’llah’s resulting tablet:
By God, the creation of that man is greater in the sight of God than the creation of the heavens and earth. When thou dost read his missive, exclaim: “Exalted be God, Who quickeneth whom He will in His might; He is verily the Quickener of the Worlds!” – Baha’u’llah, Tablet to Raḍ’ar-Ruḥ, provisional translation by Joshua Hall.
Evidence that this tablet was Baha’u’llah’s reply to Faris’s original letter is indicated at the very end of the tablet, where Baha’u’llah, in a personal touch, speaks in the first-person:
I recollect when thy missive was received the first time, when the Most Great Ocean ascended over the Ark in view of that which the hands of the polytheists had committed. And [I am mindful of] this latter time when it [thy letter] was presented before [Baha’u’llah] … We recited it and We replied to thee by means of this irrevocable, all-embracing Message. – Baha’u’llah, “Tablet for Faris Effendi the Christian,” provisional translation by Stephen Lambden.
The Breath hath been wafted, and the Breeze hath blown, and from Zion hath appeared that which was hidden, and from Jerusalem is heard the Voice of God, the One, the Incomparable, the Omniscient. – Baha’u’llah, quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The Promised Day is Come, p. 77.
… O concourse of [Christian] patriarchs! He Whom ye were promised in the Tablets is come. Fear God, and follow not the vain imaginings of the superstitious. Lay aside the things ye possess, and take fast hold of the Tablet of God by His sovereign power. Better is this for you than all your possessions. Unto this testifieth every understanding heart, and every man of insight. Pride ye yourselves on My Name, and yet shut yourselves out as by a veil from Me? This indeed is a strange thing!
… O concourse of archbishops! He Who is the Lord of all men hath appeared. In the plain of guidance He calleth mankind, whilst ye are numbered with the dead! Great is the blessedness of him who is stirred by the Breeze of God, and hath arisen from amongst the dead in this perspicuous Name.
… O concourse of bishops! Trembling hath seized all the kindreds of the earth, and He Who is the Everlasting Father calleth aloud between earth and heaven. Blessed the ear that hath heard, and the eye that hath seen, and the heart that hath turned unto Him Who is the Point of Adoration of all who are in the heavens and all who are on earth.
… O concourse of priests! The Day of Reckoning hath appeared, the Day whereon He Who was in heaven hath come. He, verily, is the One Whom ye were promised in the Books of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the All-Praised. How long will ye wander in the wilderness of heedlessness and superstition? Turn with your hearts in the direction of your Lord, the Forgiving, the Generous. – Ibid., pp. 100-102.
You may wonder: If Baha’u’llah is writing to Faris the Physician, then why are the above passages, translated by Shoghi Effendi, addressed to the world’s Christian leaders? Although this tablet replied to Faris’s letter, at the same time Baha’u’llah’s wrote an “open letter” and a public proclamation—to the world’s religious and political leaders collectively—about his divine station and mission, meant to unify the world through the power of his teachings.
Baha’u’llah characterizes this letter to Faris as “this Mighty Tablet.” In a poetic, symbolic word-play, Baha’u’llah alludes to the meaning of Faris’s name (“horseman” or “cavalier”):
It is incumbent upon you that you render thanks unto He Who enabled you to hear the cooing of the Dove and caused you to comprehend this Straight Path. Rise up for the victory of the Cause of thy Lord, with wisdom and perspicuity. He, verily, aids whomsoever He desires through a sovereignty which cometh from Him. He assuredly is the All-Powerful, the Omnipotent. We ask God that He make thee the horseman of realities in this battlefield [racecourse] and make thee of such as are not withheld by idle fancies from God, thy Lord, and Lord of all the worlds. – Baha’u’llah, Tablet for Faris Effendi the Christian, provisional translation by Stephen Lambden.
Faris the Physician, in an ideal sense, represents all Baha’is from a Christian background (myself included) who arise to bring the “Gospel” of Baha’u’llah to the rest of the world.