December 2010 - The Three Holy Magi

The Three Holy Magi - Sts. Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar

December 25th        

The establishment of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord belongs to the very earliest period of the Church. In the 4th century the commemoration of the feast was set on December 25th to counteract the Pagan feast which celebrated the end of darkness and the renewal of the sun. This day was better suited than any other for the commemoration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, Who is often called in the New Testament the Sun of justice, the Light of the world, the Salvation of all, the Vanquisher of death and Giver of life. The Troparion hymn of the Nativity emphasizes the witness of the Pagan astrologers, the Magi:

"Thy Nativity, O Christ, our God, Has shown to the world the light of wisdom. For by it those who worshipped the stars, Were taught by a star to adore Thee, The Sun of Righteousness; And to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee."

The first deemed worthy to hear the Good News of the Birth of the Savior were the simple shepherds and wise Persian Magi; and thus at the manger of the Savior we see two kinds of people: pastors and Magi, i.e., the simplest people and the most cultivated.

By this is suggested that the Lord receives all and everyone: He is pleased by our simplicity, when it is united to faithful fulfillment of one's calling and He does not reject our wisdom, when we know how to acknowledge illumination from above and make use of our learning for the glory of God and the benefit of the human race.

On Christmas Day we also celebrate the memory of the three Magi from the East, who learned of the Birth of the Savior by a miraculous star and brought gifts and adored Him as the newborn King. We ascribe to them the names Casper, Balthazar and Melchior and tradition tells us that they later received baptism from the Apostle Thomas in Parthia and that they themselves preached Christ as the first evangelists to the Persians and are known as Saints and Equals to the Apostles.  Archbishop Innocent of Kherson has written that the Three Sainted Magi, "represent the whole of mankind; and their gifts -- gold, frankincense, and myrrh -- symbolically represent all that we can offer to our Savior. Gold represents material gifts and is offered by those who sacrifice something from their labor or acquisitions for the glory of God...Frankincense is offered by those who use, for the glory of God and the benefit of their neighbor, their talents, knowledge, and skill, which are something that cannot be bought with gold. These are God's gift to man, but they can and should also be man's gift to God...Myrrh, like frankincense, gives a fragrance, but its distinguishing characteristic lies in its extreme bitterness; therefore it represents our misfortunes, sorrows, tears, and suffering. They offer myrrh as a gift to the Lord who bear misfortunes in life and suffer innocently, without falling into despondency or complaining...This is the most precious of all the gifts that we can offer the Lord..."

“Let Heaven and earth" exclaims the Holy Church, "this day prophetically rejoice; every creature delights for the sake of the Lord our Savior born in Bethlehem: for every idolatrous delusion has passed, and Christ reigns forever."

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