My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ the Logos,
CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
"What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sakes hast
appeared on earth as Man? Every creature made by Thee
offers Thee thanks. The Angels offer Thee a hymn; the heavens,
a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth,
its cave, the wilderness, the Mange; and we offer Thee a virgin
Mother, O Pre-Eternal God, have mercy upon us."
[Vespers Sticheron of Nativity, Mode Two]
On this occasion of the Divine Birth-giving, Saint Johnn of Kronstadt comments upon the unsurpassing affection of the Mother for her Son. "The Theotokos is one flesh and blood, and one spirit with the Savior, as His Mother. So infinitely great was her virtue by the grace of God that she became the Mother of God. She gave Him her most pure and most sacred flesh, nourishing Him with her milk, carrying Him in her arms, clothing Him, caring in every way for Him in His infancy, kissing Him over and over again, and caressing Him. O Lord, who can describe the greatness of the God-bearing Virgin? …She is one with God.
The SHEPHERDS who beheld the Lord
Shepherds, not far from the cave, are spoken of by the Evangelist Luke: "And shepherds were in the same country, living out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an Angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were afraid with a great fear. And the Angel said to them, "Cease being afraid, for behold, I announce to you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord, was born to you today in the city of David. And this shall be a sign to you: Ye shall find the newborn Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. And suddenly there came to be with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD WILL AMONG MEN" (Luke 2:8-14).
The shepherds watched the flocks destined for sacrificial services, in the very place consecrated by tradition as where the Messiah would first be revealed.
Saint Kosmas the Poet writes: "The shepherds abiding in the flesh received a vision of light that filled them with terror. For the glory of the Lord shone around them, and an Angel cried aloud: "Sing praises, for Christ is born." Then, at the announcement of the one Angel, he was joined by myriads of others. "As the word of the Angel, the hosts of heaven suddenly cried aloud: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among men, Christ has shone forth."
The Veneration of the MAGI
Magi, or wise men, referred to a class of priestly scholars, who had great power among the Persians, nor unlike the Levites among the Jews. This group of intellectuals was occupied with the study of medicine, philosophy, the natural sciences, scientific observation of the stars and planets (astrology), and the interpretation of dreams.
The wise men of the Gospel were among the last successors of this group that beheld a dual priestly (a hereditary priesthood) and governmental office. They were familiar with Balaam’s prophecy about the star shining forth from Jacob (Numbers 24:17). Saint John Chrysostom wrote, "The Magi sought the Lord Christ, born King of the Jews, among those from whose race they knew that Balaam, a prophet from the Gentiles, had prophesied that He would come."
The Magi believed that there was a mystical influence of the stars upon earthlings, they would constantly study the heavens, seeking extraordinary signs which might herald the "Expected One." As Blessed Theophylact, Patriarch of Bulgaria, aptly states: "Because the Magi were astrologists, the Lord brought them in an ordinary manner, as Peter, being fisherman, came away from the multitude of the fish." The famous Dismissal hymn for the feast also speaks of them, saying, "Those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star, to do homage to Thee, the Sun of righteousness" (Matthew 4:2), and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high."
In the holy icons of the Feast of the Nativity, we see both shepherds and Magi depicted. On one side of the cave, we see simple unsophisticated men, with whom the incorporeals on high enter into communication directly, amid their everyday occupations. Then we see Magi, men of learning, who have to undergo a long journey from the knowledge of what is relative to the knowledge of what is absolute. In the shepherds, we witness the first sons of Israel to worship the Christ Child. The Church sees the beginning of the Hebrew Church. In the wise men, we see the beginning of nations, the Church of the Gentiles. In the example of the Magi, we understand that the Church accepts ALL HUMAN SCIENCE THAT LEADS TOWARD IT, PROVIDED THAT THE RELATIVE LIGHT OF THE EXTRA-CHRISTIAN REVELATION BRING THEM THAT SERVE IT TO THE WORSHIP OF THE ABSOLUTE Light. Again, we see that the Magi are men of different ages (youth, middle age, and old age) which emphasizes the revelation vouchsafed to men independently of their years of experience.
According to Saint Demetri of Rostove (165-1709), in his investigation of the identities of these three kings, he asserts that they were kings of small regions in Persia, Arabia, and Egypt. They had arrived in Bethlehem very soon after the birth of Christ. MELCHIOR was old and withered, with long white hair and beard. It was he who offered the Lord the gift of GOLD. GASPAR or CASPAR was of ruddy complexation, young and beardless. He offered the Lord the gift of FRANKINCENSE. The third, BALTHAZAR, was dark-complexioned and heavily bearded. He gave the Lord the gift of MYRRH. He further writes that these Three Wise Men that descended from Noah’s THREE SONS: Shem, Japheth, and Ham, through these three Magi, the human race worshipped our incarnate Lord and God.
Patriarch and Saint Theophylact states that what was seen by the Magi was "THE DIVINE POWER AND AN ANGELIC APPEARANCE IN THE FORM OF A STAR. Saint Leo the Great adds that this light was hidden from the Jews, but shone forth to the heathen." Also, in the holy icon of the Nativity of Christ, we see, that the Star points directly to the cave. It is a long ray that connects the Star with a part of the sphere which goes beyond the limits of the icon. Here we have A SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATION OF THE HEAVENLY WORLD. Hence, this Star IS NOT MERELY A COSMIC PHENOMENON, BUT ALSO A MESSENGER FROM THE WORLD ON HIGH, BRINGING TIDINGS OF THE BIRTH OF THE "HEAVENLY One" on earth.
Then they brought forth out of their treasures "And eagerly opening their treasures, they offered to Him precious gifts: REFINED GOLD, as to the King of the Ages, and FRANKINCENSE, as in the GOD OF ALL, and MYRRH they offered to the IMMORTAL, as to ONE THREE DAYS DEAD."
What was the significance of these gifts? Hymns from the Canon of the Forefeast disclose their meaning, "The kings, first-fruits of the nations, bring Thee gifts… In MYRRH they point to Thy DEATH, by GOLD to Thy ROYAL POWER, by FRANKINCENSE to the dignity OF THY DIVINITY. Furthermore, "The error of Persian has ceased: for the stargazers, kings of the east, bring gifts of GOLD, MYRRH, AND FRANKINCENSE TO CHRIST THE KING OF ALL AT HIS BIRTH." (Source: The Great Synxaristes of the Orthodox Church)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Divine Incarnation,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George