How far and wide are scattered all conceivable catacombs, caves, subterranean passages and all kinds of shelters, in which people have attempted to safeguard that which was most sacred and precious to them! If one were to analyze the whole psychology of catacombs of different times and various kinds, there could be composed one, common to all, touching page of devotion and self-sacrifice.
Somewhere there are also some robbers' caves, but such haunts are in lesser numbers by far than the shelters in the name of preservation of the good, in the name of bringing better and peaceful principles to Earth. Those who have visited the catacombs and different subterranean passages become convinced that the hieroglyphs on the walls remain in one's memory as touching symbols.
Amidst odd, human trials, for some reason either catacombs or imprisonments or persecutions are absolutely necessary. Actions for the good most assuredly call forth the fury of opposition. When you are in Rome, by all means visit the catacombs. Go through different ones, do not be averse to have pointed out to you the very long side passages, which, as you will be told, are dangerous to walk through. Examine in detail the signs and inscriptions on the walls. Feel upon your own body the penetrating dampness. Glance behind you at the darkness which arises from the mysterious, endless passages. Recall how the people, scantily garbed, almost naked, barefoot, fled into this dampness, to the stone beds, amidst the epitaphs on tombs.
In such a safe refuge all conventional class distinctions were erased. Matrons of the nobility were crowded together with yesterday's slaves in order to preserve the kindled torch of the heart. Each sign of devotion and self-sacrifice pours new courage into the heart. Self-sacrifice has been manifested in all ages. These persecutions were definitely essential as the highest spiritual test. Heroic novels could be written in all languages about them.
Truly, treasures have been searched for in caves and underground. These treasures must be understood to have many meanings. It is also necessary to be reminded about these treasures, because catacombs existed in the past and exist at present. Someone may think that all catacombs have now receded into the legendary realm. Not so, by far. Honorable catacombs, honorable imprisonments, honorable persecutions exist in full measure; they only become more subtle in their many varieties.
It would be an unforgivable abstraction to state that honorable persecutions have come to an end. As before, they exist in the front ranks of the battle for good. And they must lie accepted with all firmness and decisiveness as the stigmata of bliss. He who was not persecuted for the good did not manifest it. It is anomalous to assume that real achievements come without battling for them.
Only recently we read tlie following description of the character of a certain public figure: "Whether yon liked him or not, agreed or disagreed will him, you never remained indifferent to him. There was near him that something which could not be ignored — a definite heroism, unlimited daring, joy of battle, and fire of conviction. No half-tones, no sugariness, no timid concession were in him. All was as light as day, indisputable as the multiplication table, convincing as the thunder of Sinai."
Yes, thunder, for certain ears, is unacceptable and terrifying; but in others — self-sacrificing souls — precisely this thunder and lightning inspire a new unconquerable courage. When kindled with such courage, people lose the sensation of pain and the longest journeys are shortened for them, as if on fiery wings.
My dears, I know how difficult it is for you, what wise caution is needed, so as not to allow that which is most precious to you to be subjected to ridicule and defamation. What has one to do? One may have to live in catacombs, on whose walls will be many beautiful symbols. You will not feel confined under these vaults, but on the contrary, as if having wings. Your very cautiousness will be no more than that cautiousness with which a man tries to carry a small sacred fire through a bazaar without having it extinguished. True, the bearer of this blessed fire must walk very cautiously, so that he may not be shoved, the precious oil not be spilled, and the fire not be extinguished.
There will be neither fear nor selfishness in this caution. If a man knows that he should carry something in the name of the highest good, he will intensify his whole resourcefulness, his entire containment and tolerance, in order not to spill his chalice in vain. After all, he is not carrying it for himself. He is carrying it, having received a mission from somewhere, and he is entrusted to bring it there. To shorten the journey he will go through catacombs, he will pass the night in a cave, maybe without sleep, forgetting about food, for he is not going just for himself. Service to humanity is not some sort of presumptuous phraseology. On the contrary, this is a lofty and difficult task which everyone should set before himself as an earthly goal.
In creativeness, in help, in encouragement, in enlightenment, in all quests for attainments, the very same Service lies before a man. In it he only fulfills his duty. Again, he gives, not being forced, but quite naturally, because it should not be otherwise. And now, when I speak to you about special caution, I have in mind that your lighted lamp can be shoved with ill intent. There may be destructive attempts to cast you into darkness without any light. But you must cover this sacred flame with your entire garment and safeguard it with all your thoughts; you yourself see how vast is obduracy at present. If barbarism creeps in everywhere it can, do not allow it to overturn the salutary chalice.
Do not think that these times are usual. It is quite a special period. During such responsible hours one should apply all one's accumulations, all one's attentiveness. On the towers and in the catacombs, on heights and in caves, wherever you are on watch, be valiant and unconquerable. In the most ordinary daily life find a lofty word to encourage your friends. They will come to you for this encouragement. And you will not only tell them that the hardships encountered for the sake of the good already will be parts of this Good, you will tell friends that difficulties do not pertain to yesterday, but to the bright tomorrow for which you live.
The deepest catacombs will become the heights beyond the clouds. The most malicious slander will become for you a hearth of creativeness. The malicious laughter will become for you encouragement. If you have to descend into the caves and catacombs, you will do so for the sake of ascent, with all care and inspiration. You come together for inspirational talks. Let these hours of communion be a memory about the most sacred, the most joyous, the most creative.
How will you know when the messenger will knock? Will he find you on the tower or in the catacombs — you do not know this; and this should not be known, for then the full readiness would be infringed upon.
July 1, 1935