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What is the role of the Institution of the Hands of the Cause of God?

Light and glory, greeting and praise be upon the Hands of His Cause, through whom the light of fortitude hath shone forth and the truth hath been established that the authority to choose rests with God, the Powerful, the Mighty, the Unconstrained, through whom the ocean of bounty hath surged and the fragrance of the gracious favours of God, the Lord of mankind, hath been diffused. We beseech Him — exalted is He — to shield them through the power of His hosts, to protect them through the potency of His dominion and to aid them through His indomitable strength which prevaileth over all created things. Sovereignty is God’s, the Creator of the heavens and the Lord of the Kingdom of Names.
Baha’u'llah, Tablets of Baha’u'llah, p. 83

All praise be to God Who, from every drop of blood shed by His chosen ones, hath brought forth a vast creation whose number none but Himself can reckon. He hath raised them to be the embodiments of His love and the manifestations of His tender affection. It is they who are the hands of His Cause amongst men. It is they who have rendered aid unto God in every age and have arisen to promote that which He hath purposed in such wise that the majesty of the kings and their dreadful might have failed to affright them, nor have they been hindered from following the path of truth by the clash of arms and the furious clamour of battalions. They have raised their triumphal cry amidst all that dwell in the heavens and on the earth, summoning everyone unto the Lord of all mankind, He Who is the Ruler of this world and of the next, the God of the throne on high and of the earth below.
Baha’u'llah, Fire and Light, p. 9

My object is to show that the Hands of the Cause of God must be ever watchful and so soon as they find anyone beginning to oppose and protest against the Guardian of the Cause of God, cast him out from the congregation of the people of Baha and in no wise accept any excuse from him. How often hath grievous error been disguised in the garb of truth, that it might sow the seeds of doubt in the hearts of men!
‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, paragraph 17

The Hands of the Cause of God must elect from their own number nine persons that shall at all times be occupied in the important services in the work of the Guardian of the Cause of God. The election of these nine must be carried either unanimously or by majority from the company of the Hands of the Cause of God and these, whether unanimously or by a majority vote, must give their assent to the choice of the one whom the Guardian of the Cause of God hath chosen as his successor. This assent must be given in such wise as the assenting and dissenting voices may not be distinguished (i.e., secret ballot).

O friends! The Hands of the Cause of God must be nominated and appointed by the Guardian of the Cause of God. All must be under his shadow and obey his command. Should any, within or without the company of the Hands of the Cause of God disobey and seek division, the wrath of God and His vengeance will be upon him, for he will have caused a breach in the true Faith of God.

The obligations of the Hands of the Cause of God are to diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men and to be, at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached from earthly things. They must manifest the fear of God by their conduct, their manners, their deeds and their words.

This body of the Hands of the Cause of God is under the direction of the Guardian of the Cause of God. He must continually urge them to strive and endeavor to the utmost of their ability to diffuse the sweet savors of God, and to guide all the peoples of the world, for it is the light of Divine Guidance that causeth all the universe to be illumined. To disregard, though it be for a moment, this absolute command which is binding upon everyone, is in no wise permitted, that the existent world may become even as the Abha Paradise, that the surface of the earth may become heavenly, that contention and conflict amidst peoples, kindreds, nations and governments may disappear, that all the dwellers on earth may become one people and one race, that the world may become even as one home. Should differences arise, they shall be amicably and conclusively settled by the Supreme Tribunal, that shall include members from all the governments and peoples of the world.
‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, paragraph 19-22

[The Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha]…stresses the importance of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas; establishes the institution of the Guardianship as a hereditary office and outlines its essential functions; provides the measures for the election of the International House of Justice, defines its scope and sets forth its relationship to that Institution; prescribes the obligations, and emphasizes the responsibilities, of the Hands of the Cause of God; and extolls the virtues of the indestructible Covenant established by Bahá’u'lláh.
Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 328

The Hands of the Cause will have executive authority in so far as they carry out the work of the Guardian.
Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 31 March 1949, The Light of Divine Guidance v II, p. 82

Hour now ripe to take long inevitably deferred step in conformity with provisions of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Testament in conjunction with six above-mentioned steps through appointment of first contingent of Hands of Cause of God, twelve in number, equally allocated Holy Land, Asiatic, American, European continents. Initial step now taken regarded as preparatory full development of institution provided in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will, paralleled preliminary measure formation International Council destined to culminate in emergence of Universal House of Justice. Nascent institution forging fresh links binding rising World Center of Faith to consolidating World Community of followers of Most Great Name, paving way to adoption supplementary measures calculated reinforce foundations structure of the Bahá’í Administrative Order.
Shoghi Effendi,  24 December 1951, Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 20

Members august body [ie. Hands of the Cause] invested in conformity with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Testament, twofold sacred function, the propagation and preservation of the unity of the Faith of Bahá’u'lláh, and destined to assume individually in the course of time the direction of institutions paralleling those revolving around the Universal House of Justice, the supreme legislative body of the Bahá’í world, are now recruited from all five continents of the globe and representative of the three principal world religions of mankind.
Shoghi Effendi (Cablegram),  29 February 1952, Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 21

Following upon the missions entrusted to the Hands of the Cause in connection with the establishment of Haziratu’l-Quds in the Dominion of Canada and Central Africa, have instructed Ugo Giachery to take in conjunction with the European Teaching Committee, immediate steps, after the conclusion of his pilgrimage, aiming at the formation, ere the termination of the American Community’s second Seven Year Plan, of the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Italy and Switzerland.
Shoghi Effendi, (Cablegram), 8 March 1952, Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 22

…the magnificent services already rendered by the recently elevated American Hands of the Cause of God, in diversified spheres of Bahá’í activity, at the World Center of the Faith, in the triple function of hastening the construction of the Báb’s Sepulcher, of consolidating the ties binding the International Bahá’í Council to the civil authorities of Israel, and of completing the design of the projected Mashriqu’l-Adhkar on Mt. Carmel, as well as in Latin America; …the marvellous loyalty demonstrated [by the American Baha’is] in connection with the repeated defection of members of the Holy Family and the nefarious activities of Covenant-breakers, both old and new; as well as the share a number of these Hands have had in administering a stunning defeat to the enemies of the Faith who, so boldly and shamelessly sought, through legal action, to challenge the authority of the Guardian of the Faith, and to publicly humiliate, the institution created through the provisions of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Testament; … these stand out as the distinctive, the unforgettable, the infinitely meritorious achievements which posterity will record as the noblest exploits immortalizing the concluding years of the Second Seven Year Plan, and conferring untold benefits on its executors throughout the length and breadth of the Great Republic of the West.
Shoghi Effendi, J 30 June 1952, Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 31-2

Desire to announce the appointment of the Hands of the Cause, honored by direct association with the newly-initiated enterprises at the world center of the Faith, to act, in addition to their individual participation in the deliberations at the forthcoming Conferences, as my special representatives, entrusted with a four-fold mission: to bear, for the edification of the attendants, a precious remembrance of the Co-founder of the Faith, deliver my official message to the assembled believers, elucidate the character and purposes of the impending decade-long spiritual World Crusade and rally the participants to energetic, sustained, enthusiastic prosecution of the colossal tasks ahead.
Shoghi Effendi (Cablegram),  15 December 1952, Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 46

Let there be no mistake. The avowed, the primary aim of this Spiritual Crusade is none other than the conquest of the citadels of men’s hearts. The theater of its operations is the entire planet. Its  duration a whole decade. Its commencement synchronizes with the centenary of the birth of Bahá’u'lláh’s Mission. Its culmination will coincide with the centenary of the declaration of that same Mission. The agencies assisting in its conduct are the nascent administrative institutions of a steadily evolving divinely appointed order. Its driving force is the energizing influence generated by the Revelation heralded by the Báb and proclaimed by Bahá’u'lláh. Its Marshal is none other than the Author of the Divine Plan. Its standard-bearers are the Hands of the Cause of God appointed in every continent of the globe. Its generals are the twelve national spiritual assemblies participating in the execution of its design. Its vanguard is the chief executors of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s master plan, their allies and associates. Its legions are the rank and file of believers standing behind these same twelve national assemblies and sharing in the global task embracing the American, the European, the African, the Asiatic and Australian fronts. The charter directing its course is the immortal Tablets that have flowed from the pen of the Center of the Covenant Himself. The armor with which its onrushing hosts have been invested is the glad tidings of God’s own message in this day, the principles underlying the order proclaimed by His Messenger, and the laws and ordinances governing His Dispensation. The battle cry animating its heroes and heroines is the cry of Ya-Baha’u'l-Abha, Ya Aliyyu’l-A’la.
Shoghi Effendi,  4 May 1953, Messages to the Baha’i World , p. 152-3

Hail emergence of the unfoldment in the opening years of the second epoch of the formative age of the Bahá’í Dispensation of the august Institution foreshadowed by the Founder of the Faith and formally established in the Testament of the Center of His Covenant, closely associated in provisions of the same Will with Institution of the Guardianship, destined to assume in the fullness of time, under the aegis of the Guardian, the dual sacred responsibility for protection and propagation of the Cause of Bahá’u'lláh.

Desire to pay warm tribute to the services rendered severally and collectively by appointed hands at the World Center of the Faith and in territories beyond its confines.

Greatly value their support in the erection of the Báb’s Sepulcher on Mt. Carmel; in reinforcing ties with the newly emerged State of Israel; in the extension of the International Endowments in the Holy Land; in the initiation of the preliminary measures for the establishment of the Bahá’í World Administrative Center, as well as in their participation in four successive intercontinental Teaching Conferences; in their extensive travels in African territories, in North, Central and South America, in the European, Asiatic and Australian Continents.

This newly constituted body, embarked on its mission with such auspicious circumstances, is now entering the second phase of its evolution signalized by forging of ties with the National Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá’í world for the purpose of lending them assistance in attaining the objectives of the Ten Year Plan.

The hour is ripe for the fifteen Hands residing outside the Holy Land to proceed during Ridvan with the appointment, in each continent separately, from among the resident Bahá’ís of that Continent, of Auxiliary Boards, whose members, acting as deputies, assistants and advisers of the Hands, must increasingly lend their assistance for the promotion of the interests of the Ten Year Crusade.

…Fervently supplicating at the Holy Threshold for an unprecedented measure of blessings on this vital and indispensable organ of the embryonic and steadily unfolding Bahá’í Administrative Order, presaging the emergence of the World Order of Bahá’u'lláh which must pave the way for the establishment of the World Civilization destined to attain maturity in the course of successive Dispensations in the Five Thousand Century Bahá’í Cycle.
Shoghi Effendi (Cablegram), April 6, 1954, Messages to the Baha’i World , p. 58-60

He appreciates very much the sentiments you expressed to him in connection with the loss of our dear Hands of the Cause, Mr. Schopflocher and Mrs. Baker. The friends everywhere must try and make up for the work these devoted and consecrated souls would have done, had they not passed to the Abha Kingdom. In this way they can best express their admiration and gratitude.
Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 25 June 1954, The Light of Divine Guidance v I, p. 218

The raising of this Edifice [International Bahá’í Archives] will in turn herald the construction, in the course of successive epochs of the Formative Age of the Faith, of several other structures, which will serve as the administrative seats of such divinely appointed institutions as the Guardianship, the Hands of the Cause, and the Universal House of Justice.
Shoghi Effendi, 27 November 1954, Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 74

Supplementing this noble record of service have been the constant and fruitful efforts exerted by the Hands of the Cause, nominated from among the members of that community, in both the United States and the Holy Land, efforts that have lent a considerable impetus to the expansion and consolidation of the far-reaching enterprises initiated at the World Center of the Faith, and which have, particularly through the instrumentality of the recently appointed American Auxiliary Board, stimulated, to a noticeable extent the progress of the teaching work and the advancement of the Plan itself.
Shoghi Effendi, 19 July 1956, Citadel of Faith, p. 146

He appreciates very deeply the sentiments you expressed to him on the occasion of the thirty-fifth anniversary of his Guardianship. The love of the friends and the services they render the Faith have in a great part sustained him in his arduous and exhausting work; and he feels that the Hands of the Cause will be called upon ever-increasingly to display a loyalty and devotion which will stimulate the rank and file of the friends to arise and fulfil their tasks, in spite of every obstacle…
Written on behalf ofShoghi Effendi, 30 November 1956,  The Light of Divine Guidance v II, p. 123

The rank and position of the Hands of the Cause are superior to the position of the National Assemblies. In writing concerning the Hands, therefore, when there is reference to the Institutions of the Faith, after the Guardian should be mentioned the Hands, and then the National Bodies..
Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 30 April 1957, Lights of Guidance, p. 323

Divinely appointed Institution of the Hands of the Cause, invested by virtue of the authority conferred by the Testament of the Center of the Covenant with the twin functions of protecting and propagating the Faith of Bahá’u'lláh, now entering new phase in the process of the unfoldment of its sacred mission. To its newly assured responsibility to assist National Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá’í world in the specific purpose of effectively prosecuting the World Spiritual Crusade, the primary obligation to watch over and insure protection to the Bahá’í world community, in close collaboration with these same National Assemblies, is now added.

…Evidences of increasing hostility without, persistent machinations within, foreshadowing dire contests destined to range the Army of Light against the forces of darkness, both secular and religious, predicted in unequivocal language by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, necessitate in this crucial hour closer association of the Hands of the five continents and the bodies of the elected representatives of the national Bahá’í communities the world over for joint investigation of the nefarious activities of internal enemies and the adoption of wise, effective measures to counteract their treacherous schemes, protect the mass of the believers, and arrest the spread of their evil influence.

Call upon Hands and National Assemblies, each continent separately, to establish henceforth direct contact and deliberate, whenever feasible, as frequently as possible, to exchange reports to be submitted by their respective Auxiliary Boards and national committees, to exercise unrelaxing vigilance and carry out unflinchingly their sacred, inescapable duties. The security of our precious Faith, the preservation of the spiritual health of the Bahá’í communities, the vitality of the faith of its individual members, the proper functioning of its laboriously erected institutions, the fruition of its worldwide enterprises, the fulfilment of its ultimate destiny, all are directly dependent upon the befitting discharge of the weighty responsibilities now resting upon the members of these two institutions, occupying, with the Universal House of Justice, next to the Institution of the Guardianship, foremost rank in the divinely ordained administrative hierarchy of the World Order of Bahá’u'lláh.
Shoghi Effendi (Cablegram), 4 June 1957, Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 122-3

So marvelous a progress, embracing so vast a field, achieved in so short a time, by so small a band of heroic souls, well deserves, at this juncture in the evolution of a decade-long Crusade, to be signalized by, and indeed necessitates, the announcement of yet another step in the progressive unfoldment of one of the cardinal and pivotal institutions ordained by Bahá’u'lláh, and confirmed in the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, involving the designation of yet another contingent of the Hands of the Cause of God, raising thereby to thrice nine the total number of the Chief Stewards of Bahá’u'lláh’s embryonic World Commonwealth, who have been invested by the unerring Pen of the Center of His Covenant with the dual unction of guarding over the security, and of insuring the propagation, of His Father’s Faith.

… This latest addition to the band of the high-ranking officers of a fast evolving World Administrative Order, involving a further expansion of the august institution of the Hands of the Cause of God, calls for, in view of the recent assumption by them of their 128 sacred responsibility as protectors of the Faith, the appointment by these same Hands, in each continent separately, of an additional Auxiliary Board, equal in membership to the existing one, and charged with the specific duty of watching over the security of the Faith, thereby complementing the function of the original Board, whose duty will henceforth be exclusively concerned with assisting the prosecution of the Ten-Year Plan.
Shoghi Effendi,  October 1957,  Messages to the Baha’i World, p. 127-8