On Tuesday, 19 Alaskans joined some 4,500 people from more than 200 countries and territories at the foot of Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. The representation includes a wide ethnic and indigenous selection, including a number of youths.
Curt and Debra Shuey of Kenai and George Holly Jr. of Soldotna are three of the chosen from among the 3,000 Baha'is in Alaska. These Alaskans, among the others, were there to witness the opening of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Bab.
Debbie Shuey said she was overwhelmed with emotion when she thought about joining the selected people from the different countries for this historic event. The ceremony was expected to have a worldwide spiritual impact.
"I am honored to be able to participate in this event and look forward to sharing stories, pictures and my experience with my friends here in Alaska when I return," she said before departing.
George Holly Jr. of Soldotna was among 3,000 Alaskans to visit Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, this week.
Curt Shuey said of the opening of the terraces that it is a long-awaited step in the growth of a new religion.
"It is a beautiful island of peace in a war torn land," he said. "It will be a very special lifetime experience to join my wife and 17 other friends representing Alaska at a momentous event."
"Being asked to attend this event, representing Alaska and my Deg Hit'an people, is for me like being invited to witness the first and ancient dawn as spoken of in our stories of long ago when Raven reached the sun. It is a world potlatch and the greatest gift."
The week-long ceremonies will be shown by satellite feed around the world.
The shrine and terraces began construction 10 years ago. Today the ancient barren face of historic Mount Carmel has been transformed into 19 majestic terraced gardens cascading down the length of its slope.
After the opening ceremonies this week, the golden doomed shrine and the gardens will be open daily to the public, free of charge.
If Carmel's stones could speak, they would tell tales of miracles, victories and defeats, describe the tread of prophets and pagans, princes and paupers and whisper in quiet reverence of God's destiny for this majestic mountain.
Mount Carmel, held sacred by Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha'is alike, has been at the crossroads of human history for as long as humankind has records.
Cro-Magnon skeletons were found in caves hollowed out of the limestone walls. Pythagorus stayed in these hills on his way to Egypt; the prophet Elijah made his home in two of Carmel's caves; Jesus' family is said to have paused here on its way back from Egypt. The Crusaders made pilgrimage to this holy mountain in 1150 A.D.
In 1868, the German Templers built a colony of sturdy brick homes at the base, and in 1891 Baha'u'llah pitched a tent at the base of the mountain making it a holy place for the Baha'is of the world.
Over the centuries military campaigns have revered the mountain by sweeping past it on either side on the way to and from battle. It was described by philosophers in the fourth century B.C. as sacred above all mountains and forbidden access to the vulgar.
The shrine and gardens were built with donations from people from almost every nation, some at great sacrifice.
The 18 gardens of eucalyptus and gnarled olive trees, ivy and flowers designate the completion of a century-old vision of the prophet Bahaullah. Followers of the Baha'i faith believe he was sent to lead humanity into an age of universal peace.
The terraces cover a kilometer up Mount Carmel reaching a height of 738 feet; the landscape spans the mountain for 197 feet to 1,312 feet. Water flows in runnels down the sides of staircases and through a series of fountains.
Each terrace has three garden zones. The central area is formal in layout, featuring lawns of Zoysia grass, annual flower beds, santonlina and duranta hedges, bushes and carefully pruned trees. Side zones are more informal, with flowering trees and perennial bushes. Wildflowers and bulbs blossom in profusion from December to April, while flowering trees and shrubs assume prominence during the spring and summer.
Founded in 1844, today there are 5 million Baha'is in the world scattered throughout the globe. An estimated 130,000 live in the United States.
Paul Gray is a Soldotna resident and a member of the Baha'i Center of Ridgeway.
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