Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men came from the East to Jerusalem, saying “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:1-2
Good morning Prayer Team!
Today we leave the account of the shepherds and shift to the visit of the Magi. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain the narrative of the Nativity. Luke focuses on the angels and shepherds, while Matthew focuses on the Magi.
So, who were the Magi, and what do we know about them?
We know that they were “from the East,” but their exact country is not specified. It is possible that “they” came from different countries, so we cannot conclude that they came together, or that there were even three of them.
Three “gifts” have been identified—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—as having been offered by the Magi. This has led to the tradition that there were THREE Magi, though the number three is not mentioned in the Bible. In fact, the Syriac Orthodox tradition hold that there were twelve Magi.
These men are referred to as “three kings”, “wise men” and “Magi”. In Greek, they are referred to exclusively as “Mayoi” or “Magi” in English. So we cannot conclude conclusively whether they were rulers, or scientists, or scholars. Some historians consider the Magi as members of an eastern religious cult who were converted through a star. Others hold that they were astrologers who had knowledge of a bright star that would appear to announce the birth of the Christ.
The Magi have been given names in some Christian traditions: Melchior, a Persian scholar; Caspar (or Gaspar), an Indian scholar; and Balthazar, a Babylonian scholar. In other traditions, Melchior is depicted as a king of Persia, Gaspar as a king of India and Balthazar as a king of Arabia. The Magi, in art and iconography, are also depicted as being of different ages. Caspar is old, shown with a long, white beard, and he gives the gift of gold. Melchior is shown as middle-aged, with a short brown beard, and brings incense. And Balthazar is depicted as a young man without a beard who brings myrrh. In some portrayals, Balthazar is shown with dark skin, leading to “tradition” that he came from Ethiopia or another part of Africa.
As you can see, there are many “traditions” that have sprung up around the Magi. What the Bible says conclusively is that “Wise men” came from far away and brought gifts to the Christ. They followed a star in order to find Christ. And when they found Him, they worshipped Him.
Whether they left kingdoms, or philosophy positions, or were religious leaders who left their temples, whether there were three of them or many more, and whether they came from one part of the world or several places, what is most important about the Magi is that they “left” and “followed” until they found the Christ. They left their cities, the comforts of home and set out across deserts and mountains, undoubtedly enduring hardships along the way.
We are called to do the same—to “leave” and to “follow.” For the Magi, the “leaving” was a physical leaving from a location, and walking or riding on camel (the traditional animal they are shown to travel on, but the Bible isn’t specific about that either) and going to a faraway land over the course of two years. They didn’t know where they were going or how long it would take to get there but they followed.
For us, following Christ does not necessarily involve uprooting and leaving your house and going to another city. It does, however, involve “leaving” certain tendencies that we all have. We all have a tendency to be angry, greedy, ungrateful, egotistical, jealous, unforgiving, slanderous, prideful and selfish. So, if we are to truly follow Christ, we need to “leave” these things and follow His commandments.
The Magi were also “seekers”. They weren’t sure exactly who or what they were going to find, they just kept following the star. We also must be “seekers”. As with the Magi, the Christianity does have an element of FAITH, trust in the unknown or not fully known. The Bible says “Seek and you shall find.” (Matthew 7:7) But we will not find anything without “seeking.”
Leaving, following and seeking are what lead to finding. It led the Magi to find Christ. May it lead us to do the same.
O Savior, You were secretly born in the cave, but heaven used the star as a mouth and announced You to all. It brought to You the Magi who worshipped You with faith. Together with them have mercy on us. (From the Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Seek after God today!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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