The Magi and the Wise Men from the East Lead to Bethlehem

7 December 2022

Once again we’re being given the opportunity to devote a little time to studying the Nativity of Christ in our life, as we approach Christmas, the great feast of the Lord. It’s a chance to see how we experience the personal advent of Christ in our houses, our monasteries and anywhere else we may happen to be, but particularly in our soul.

There are a great many themes to be studied and commented upon as regards Christ’s incarnation. For example, if we look carefully at the icon of the Nativity, we’ll see a good number of people in a variety of attitudes. Just as we might ask a child to take part in the icon, to imitate one of the people, in order to help it experience its own birth, so we can do the same.

In our Skete we’ve decided this year to imitate the magi, the wise men of the East.

We started the fast on 15 November. In the small, profound book, Christ is Born, by Fr. Lev Gillet, the author invites us to say a beautiful prayer as preparation: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’. Saying this prayer and regarding the magi in the icon, we can think about what a journey they made in order to meet the divine infant, to bow down before him and to offer him their gifts.

The decision to make the journey was personal for each of them, but was also taken in common. It began with knowledge and was reinforced by the courage of empirical faith that there was a personal message behind the miraculous event involving the wondrous star. They weren’t content with mere observation because their faith urged them to make a search.

During these days, let’s read as much as we can, let’s make the fast the leaven for the whole of the coming period up to Christmas day so that it’ll be our own church bread, kneaded with personal and spiritual experiences, together with our flour. Knowledge will bring us closer to self-awareness and that, in turn, will lead us to knowledge of God. This encounter will provide us with an outlook and a way of life through which we can have empirical faith and can understand the personal message from the Nativity of Christ as it affects our life. The tidings of salvation from the incarnation aren’t offered by God unless we decide, with the same wisdom as the wise men from the East, to depart from our own place and move to the place of the divine infant. With the knowledge they’d acquired from study, the magi were touched in their inner world and were unable to remain in a state of indifference after the revelation they’d had. They discussed among themselves what was happening with the star, and, taking courage from each other, decided all together to make this journey.

At home or wherever else we live, let’s ask ourselves what kind of knowledge touches us. How determined is the faith we experience? What courage do we give to those around us? The journey we’re talking about requires unity, belief, will and heart or, in other words, a heart and spirit where genuine knowledge and real, empirical faith invite the Holy Spirit, who unifies. Of what value is knowledge or faith without unity and without common decisions? How can a family exist without common decisions? Would it even be a family?

These days in particular we’re living in a time full of discord. How can we all travel together to Bethlehem to give our presents? We don’t even know whether the divisions would allow us to discover the star in the first place.

What do we have of these three features? ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ and give us knowledge, empirical faith and courage. So that we can all see the star together and so that each one of us can become a star for the others, a real star which will guide our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, to the manger in Bethlehem. To give them comfort in their loneliness by reminding them that today the Savior has been born and that we’re by no means alone; the  Savior who embraces and saves, warms and welcomes every stranger, everyone’s who’s sad and all who are distressed. To show one another the light of the manger, with love, so that we can all take strength, and warm company from the divine infant. To learn to look out for each others’ problems, so that we won’t be blind to them, as if we didn’t see their pain or weren’t aware that they were suffering. To show each other understanding and simple, gentle, human acceptance, given that we’re on the same journey of life. Let’s not forget: we’re all here on a temporary basis.

Those who  travel alone in solitude and sadness, the two characteristics of our own day and age, should be able to say they have a parent, a sibling, another person who will go with them to bow down before the divine infant. Perhaps, in this way, God will allow us to reach the manger and experience the image of the Nativity not theoretically, with theological lessons, but through the experience of the Church.

We might perhaps pause over another aspect of the journey of the wise men of the East, and over another wise spirit which is the same as that of the ascetics of the East: the spirit of self-reliance and of a specific mission. According to Saint John Chrysostom, the magi devoted time to their preparations to meet Christ and their journey took about two and a half years. A sense of mission and meaning filled and strengthened their hearts throughout the journey. A mission, a task is accomplished successfully provided it’s performed in a spirit of love, true faith and genuine fraternal support. What is it that scatters and divides us? Is it perhaps the void which exists and which we don’t know how to fill? Have we perhaps missed our true orientation in the quest for the meaning of our existence? Do we, maybe, reduce everything to the various necessities of life? On the journey of the Christmas fast, where have we turned our heart and mind? Are we filled and guided by the search for the divine infant, or do we, consciously or unconsciously, have other priorities? Are we in a position to wash the dishes in the kitchen and say the prayer ‘Come Lord Jesus’ at home, in our relationships, in our discussions? What’s the priority? Washing the dishes or calling on Christ? Everything depends on the meaning and purpose I have in my life and for my life.

The magi started out on their journey together, arrived together, bowed down together and offered what they had. Because of the star, their knowledge and their faith, they’d realized where they were to go and whom they were to venerate. They reverenced the person of Christ, and it was no temporary and emotional veneration. It was a movement of their heart. Their heart had a particular attitude to Christ, and their veneration was a confession: ‘Yes, I believe you and follow you; I’ll love what you love; and I’ll think what you think’. Their veneration was a commitment to a personal relationship with the Savior. Their heart had room to receive as much as possible of the grace from the veneration that would fit. After venerating, they were filled with the true light of the star. They’d seen the light and it had led them to the light. After their veneration and the inclination of their heart, the light entered them and they became illumined, wise stars for us.

From the skete of Saint Mary Magdalene, we wish all of you a good continuation of the rest of our journey towards Bethlehem, with unity, knowledge, empirical faith and courage in common, so that, after we’ve venerated the divine infant, our heart may be enlightened. Amen.

*The pyrograph icons are from the workshop of the Skete of Saint Mary Magdalene, in Liti, Langadas, Thessaloniki.