Yusuf, a Guebre priest, a man of intensely religious temperament, and one of those whose duty it is to keep alive the sacred fire of the Persian temple, has long sought for a more heart-satisfying religion than that afforded to him by the doctrines of his country. Though a man of kindliest disposition, yet so benighted he is that, led on by a deep study of the mysteries of Magian and Sabaean rites, he has been induced to offer, in human sacrifice, Imri, the little granddaughter of Ama, an aged Persian woman, and daughter of an Arab, Uzza, who, though married to a Persian, lives at Oman with his wife, and knows nothing of the sacrifice until it is over.
The death of the child, though beneath his own hand, immediately strikes horror to the heart of the priest. His whole soul revolts against the inhumanity of the act, which has not brought to him or Ama the blessing he had hoped for, and he rebels against the religion which has, though ever so rarely, permitted the exercise of such an atrocious rite. He becomes more than ever dissatisfied with the vagueness of his belief. He cannot find the rest which he desires; the Zendavesta of Zoroaster can no longer satisfy his heart’s longing; his country-people are sunk in idolatry, and, instead of worshiping the God of whom the priests have a vague conception, persist in bowing down before the symbols themselves, discerning naught but the objects—the sun, moon, stars, fire—light, all in all.
Yusuf, indeed, has a clearer idea of God; but he worships him from afar off, and looks upon him as a God of wrath and judgment rather than as the Father of love and mercy. In his new spiritual agitation he conceives the idea of a closer relation with the Lord of the universe; his whole soul calls out for a vivid realization of God, and he casts about for light in his trouble.
From a passing stranger, traveling in Persia—a descendant of those Sabaean Persians who at an early age obtained a footing in Arabia, and whose influence was, for a time, so strongly marked through the whole district known as the Nejd, and even down into Yemen, Arabia-Felix,—Yusuf has learned of a new and strange religion held by the people of the great peninsula. His whole being calls for relief from the doubts which harass him. He is rich and he decides to proceed at once towards the west and to search the world, if necessary,—not, as did Sir Galahad and the knights of King Arthur’s Table, in quest of the Holy Grail, but in search of the scarcely less effulgent radiance of the beams of Truth and Love.
Yusuf begins his search for truth.
“O when shall all my
And all my steps to Thee-ward tend!”