Archpastoral Letter for the Nativity 2004
Prot. N. 163
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house the saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2.10-11)
To the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, the Beloved Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of this God-Saved Diocese:
Christos Razdajetsja! Slavite Jeho!
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
There is a reason why the Church calls our thoughts to the story of the Wise Men, every year at this season. The story is an icon of the journey we must all make - a journey out of the darkness, through the winter, following a mysterious star to the radiance of the New-Born King.
We know little of these great figures, these Magi from the East. Later legends from the West give their names, but they remain anonymous to us in the Great Church. It is just as well. They remain nameless, because they emerge from an age-old pagan tradition - a tradition that was passing even then into the night after the dawning of Christianity.
We know that they studied the stars. They did so not with telescopes or photographs. They studied the night sky with open, unaided eyes. They studied with humility and wonder, with minds bent on glory and hearts searching for beauty. Their honest, scientific inquiry surveyed the nightly expanse of Divine majesty - and without ever having read the Law and the Prophets, they concluded exactly what the Apostle Paul said could be concluded from the witness of Creation alone - that God is immortal, all-powerful and good (Romans 1.20).
This much they knew, this much they treasured and pondered. They achieved the very pinnacle of science - not just the science of their own day, but the science of all days - even our own. The Magi apprehended the heart of natural knowledge, even without benefit of technology. Where honest science is heading, the Magi are already there. When scientists of our own day follow the course of quantum mechanics, astrophysics and pure mathematics, they will find the discovery of God's glory through natural revelation - already received and understood by the Wise Men who were truly wise.
But there came a moment when natural revelation, the harmonious glories of the starry night, was dimmed by the brilliant flare of the supernatural.
That supernatural light was, of course, the brightness of the Bethlehem Star. Truly, natural revelation paled in comparison with the revelation of the Incarnation. This brightness is the brilliance of the Sun of Truth, the Solncu Pravdy, as our Christmas Tropar so gloriously proclaims. The light of this Sun reached down to illuminate the eyes of humility and hope, and set the Magi from the East to embark on a journey of faith.
A cold coming they had of it. The noonday sun scorched the sands by day, and by night the sand froze under the cold gleam of the moon. There were obstacles and adversaries, as there are in every journey of faith. Bandits, necessity, wrath and want, and the vanity fair of the cities - these all conspired to distract them from the desire of their hearts.
But the Star shone brightly, and the Magi followed faithfully. When it stopped over Bethlehem, the Wise Men entered the house of the Righteous Joseph and the All-Holy Theotokos, the Ever-Virgin Mary.
And when they entered, these Wise Men knelt before the Source of all wisdom, the very Restoration of humanity, the Person Who in Himself united without confusion the complete natures of the human and the Divine.
They knelt before the Child Christ and adored Him - as did all the innocent and fractured universe ... as did all who seek the Truth. They knelt with the animals, who in that moment, in the Presence and Authority of the Second Adam, were restored to their original powers of Eden, and they spoke.
There was peace in that stillness, when all the earth and the turning heavens hushed at the wonder of God become Man, of the Creator become Creature, of the Everlasting entering under the Arch of Time.
God the Son gave Himself as Servant to humanity, and thus became the Son of Man. He gave the Gift that became the archetype of all giving. He gave the Grace of nothing less than His very life.
In the deeper wisdom by which the world was made and time began, and in the ineffable mystic poetry of the Triune Uncreated Light, there is a Royal Law that stands throughout both Covenants, Old and New. It is the Law of Exchange, the Mystery of Perichoresis, of "co-inherence," of "My Life for yours."
Simply put, as God gave His Only-Begotten Son, the very greatness of this Gift requires that we give something in return.
And so it came to be. The earth itself gave a cave. Humanity, represented by Israel, gave the Virgin. The Angels gave their song. And the Wise Men gave their gifts.
The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were the very best of the earth and of human artifice. These objects were the finest products of the ancient civilizations out of which the Magi came. They were each an alloy of the most valuable in nature and the most poetic art in man and as such, these Royal gifts were necessarily symbolic. Their value stretched far beyond the worth of dollars and cents. It reached much further than that further and deeper into the profound meanings of the Mystery of the Incarnation, and of the Economy of Salvation. The gold articulates the true kingly glory of this Infant, born in Palestinian obscurity and hidden from celebrity. The frankincense communicates the mystical Lordship of this Child, born in the flesh but Receiver of all true prayer and liturgical praise. The myrrh in its pungency signifies the everlasting nature of this Newborn Babe, lying now in a Manger in the Cave, Who would, at another moment, lie in another Cave this time in a Tomb.
In themselves, these greatest artifacts of man's making, these Gifts of the Magi, embrace the antinomies of Mystery - He is Infant, but He is King - He is Child, but He is Lord - He is born and He will die on the Cross, but He is deathless and will rise to Everlasting power.
We should follow the Magi on their journey of Faith. We should search the expanse of reality for the glory of God, and follow the starlight of Holy Tradition. We should travail over the distances of unbelief and against the antagonisms of our own passions, and of the cultural denial of Christ.
One might travel far indeed on this journey of faith, but unless one finds the Child Christ and apprehends the peace of the Natal Cave, then one hasn't traveled far enough.
The Wise Men traveled far enough ... and like them, we should present our own gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Like them, we should give the very best. Let us present to the Child Christ the precious, most valuable substance of life itself - our life, transmuted from worldly baseness into golden immortality by the Mystery of the Eucharist. Let us present to the Child Christ the gift of our finest, most beautiful art - our life-work of prayer and repentance, and our struggle for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit - so that we might become like frankincense, the aroma of Christ-likeness unto God.
And finally, let us present to the Child Christ our adoration - a prayer and a song rising up from our souls, so that we might become the gift of myrrh to Him, testifying to the world that against all the usual worldly wisdom, the Bethlehem Child is truly deathless, athanatos, bezmertnych.
This Natal Season of the Bethlehem Star and the Child Christ, be assured of my fervent and paternal prayers for you, beloved faithful of our Holy Church. I greet you in the Name of the Lord, Born in the City of David, and Risen Again in Everlasting Splendor:
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!