As a result of the work of Nichlas Roerich, the International Day of Peace, observed each year on September 21, was established by the UN General Assembly in 1981. This day is for “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and people.”
Nicholas Roerich epitomized this ideal. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia on October 9, 1874, Roerich was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929 and 1935 for his efforts to promote international peace through art and culture and to protect art treasures in time of war.
Roerich believed that by protecting culture the spiritual health of the nations would be preserved. As early as 1904, he proposed a treaty to protect the world's cultural endowment, suggested the idea to Czar Nicholas II in 1914 and formally drafted it into the language of international law in 1929.
International Roerich Peace Banner
The Third International Roerich Peace Banner Convention, November 1933, was a turning point in the campaign to ratify what became popularly known as the Roerich Pact.
In effect, the pact obligated nations to respect museums, universities, cathedrals, and libraries as they did hospitals. Where hospitals flew the Red Cross flag in time of war, cultural institutions would fly Roerich's “Banner of Peace”—a white field with three red spheres enclosed by a red circle.
The Banner of Peace is illustrated in Nicholas Roerich's painting, Madonna Oraflamma.
Efforts to promote the pact were spearheaded by the secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace—at that time an admirer and, some say, spiritual disciple of Roerich. The meeting was no small affair among the Washington elite; Senator Robert F. Wagner served as the honorary chairman and fourteen U.S. senators, two congressmen, sixteen governors, the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, and several college presidents were honorary members of the convention.
One of the goals of Roerich's lifelong pursuit of preserving the world's cultural heritage came to fruition in 1935 with the signing of the Roerich Pact treaty at the White House by representatives of the United States and twenty Latin American nations comprising the Pan-American Union.
Nicholas Roerich was a remarkable man. He was not only a world-renowned artist but an archaeologist, author, scholar, lecturer, costume and set designer, poet, mystic and explorer. In the course of his life, Roerich produced an astonishing number of paintings—about 7,000—and wrote more than 1,200 works of all kinds. He was a, if not the (sometimes unseen), force behind placing the Great Seal of the United States on the dollar bill.
Sina Fosdick, a longtime associate of the Roerichs, said of Nicholas: “His was the wisdom of both the earthly and supermundane planes, ever-compassionate, alleviating heartaches of those who came to him. He never belittled but only magnified, finding in ever-so-small a consciousness a seed of good.” Roerich's life was truly patterned after the Bodhisattva ideal—compassion, courage, constancy of striving and the development of virya, “energy” or “vigor.”
Roerich Pursuing the Path of St. Issa
Nicholas Roerich led an expedition through Central Asia between 1924 and 1928 during which he recorded the living history of Issa's (Jesus) sojourn in the East. He found the stories embodied in traditions cherished by peoples of various nations and religions across the vast expanse of Asia and discovered one or more manuscripts on the subject.
In Tibet Roerich claimed to have discovered an ancient Buddhist chronicle which stated that Christ had spent the ‘hidden years' partly there and partly in India.
This, in fact, was nothing new as there has always been a strong tradition that these were spent in Kashmir where a collection of Our Lord's sayings from this mysterious period of his life is still preserved.
One of them was quoted by Akbar on his Victory Gate at Fatehpur Sikri: ‘Said Jesus, on whom be peace! The world is a bridge, pass over it but build no house there. He who hopeth for an hour, may hope for eternity; the world is but an hour, spend it in devotion; the rest is worth nothing.'
Nicholas Roerich's account of Jesus' journey to the East, published from an unnamed 1,500-year-old document, bears a striking resemblance to Notovitch's Life of Saint Issa. Roerich's writings on Saint Issa are included in chapter 4 of The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet
Roerich was not an adherent of any one established religion or philosophical movement. His own deeply spiritual philosophy incorporated elements of Buddhism, Hinduism, pantheism, theosophy, Russian Orthodoxy, and even the theory of relativity. He also embraced the ancient teachings of Agni Yoga, or the Yoga of Fire. Agni Yoga teaches the path of cooperation with the spiritual evolution of the cosmos.
Through all his paintings and writings runs the continuous thread of a great message, the message of the Teacher calling to the disciples to awaken and strive towards a new life, a better life, a life of Beauty and Fulfillment.
Nicholas Roerich made his ascension at the end of this life. He is now known as the Ascended Master Nicholas Roerich.
Excerpted from Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 33 no. 43, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, November 4, 1990, “A Profile of Nicholas Roerich“