Orthodox Narrative of the Adoration of the Magi

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


"When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the East" (St. Matthew Ch. 2), not just from one eastern country, but (as is probable) from several, as we may conclude from the various statements made by the Holy Fathers about this. Some (including Saints John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theophylact) say that the Magi (Μάγοι) were from Persia, where the study of astrology especially flourished and no one could become a king unless he was learned in star-lore. Others, such as the Holy Martyr Justin, Saint Cyprian, and Saint Epiphanius say that the Wise Men were from Arabia, which abounds in gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Still others hold Ethiopia to have been their homeland. Once the Queen of Sheba (which is the same as Ethiopia) traveled to Jerusalem to test Solomon's wisdom, and this, according to St. Jerome, foreshadowed the coming of the Magi to the spiritual Solomon, Christ, Who is the Wisdom of God; moreover, David assures us, "Ethiopia shall hasten to stretch out her hand unto God" (Psalm 67). In any case, all these lands are located in the East; border one another; and are plentiful in gold, frankincense, spices, and perfumes. Their inhabitants were devotees of soothsaying and stargazing, and the scholars living there knew the prophecy of Balaam concerning the star that would appear. His prediction was passed down from generation to generation, both by word of mouth and in books. It is likely that one of the Wise Men came from Persia, another from Arabia, and the third from Ethiopia, because this opinion agrees with David's prophecy: "The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall bring gifts, kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring presents" (Psalm 11). According to the commentators on Sacred Scripture, this passage refers to the Magi. By "kings of Tharsis" (which means "beyond the sea"), David refers to Persia, which is beyond the Persian Gulf. The allusion to Arabia is plain enough, while "Saba" is another name for Ethiopia, and also the name of that country's capital.

The Wise Men are called Magi (Μάγοι) not because they engaged in demonic divination and sorcery, but because the Arabians, Syrians, Persians, Ethiopians, and other people of the East called their philosophers and astronomers by this name. Although these scholars bore the same title as the augurs and wizards of the Orient, they had nothing else in common with them. The Wise Men were also called kings, though they were not sovereigns of nations, but only princes each charged with the administration of a single city. It is customary for the rulers of cities to be called kings in Scripture, as is evident from the fourteenth chapter of Genesis. No one knows which cities the Wise Men ruled; we can, however, be certain that the Magi were three in number, like their gifts, and that they were from the East. Though they set out from different locations, they were guided by a single star. Providence caused them to meet one another, and after discussing the reason they were traveling, they continued their journey together, still following the celestial light foretold by the renowned stargazer of ancient times, Balaam, who said, "A star shall rise out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel" (Num. Ch, 24). And what sort of star was this?  Saint John Chrysostom and Theophilact affirm that it was not an ordinary star, like those we see every night, but "a divine and angelic power that appeared in the form of a star."

The interpreters of Holy Scripture differ in their opinions as to when the star appeared. Some say that it was on the very night and at the same hour when the Savior was born of the Virgin but this doubtful, because there would have been insufficient time for the Wise Men to reach Jerusalem before Joseph fled to Egypt with the Child and His Mother. The flight to Egypt took place shortly after the fortieth day following the Nativity, when the rites of cleansing were required by the Law (a practice followed by Orthodox Christian women that have given birth to a child) were performed in the Temple. When these were completed, Saint Joseph assembled everything necessary for the journey, and without tarrying at his home in Nazareth, left for Egypt. Others would have the Magi racing on stallions to their destination, arriving in Bethlehem on the thirteenth day after Christ's birth, but his notion is also dubious. The Magi were kings, not post-boys. They brought gifts, were preceded by servants, had a train of many animals carrying much baggage, and traveled in all the splendor befitting their rank. How then could they have reached Bethlehem from Persia, Arabia, and Ethiopia in thirteen days, especially when they were kept in Jerusalem for several days by Herod, while he assembled the high priests and scribes, from whom he learned that Christ would be born in Bethlehem of Judea? Still others, including Saint Epiphanius, believe that the star made its appearance at the moment of Christ's Nativity, but that the adoration of the Magi took place two years later, when the Savior was already a little boy. This notion is based on the fact that Herod ordered that all children in Bethlehem and the surrounding region "from two years old and under be slain, according to the time which he diligently inquired of the wise men" (St. Matthew ch. 2), but Saint Theophylact rejects it as incorrect. It is universally accepted tradition of the Church that the Magi adored the Savior in Bethlehem, while He was still in a cave, but at the age of two Christ was no longer in Bethlehem, nor anywhere in Palestine, but in Egypt. Saint Luke makes it clear that following the cleansing in the Temple on the 40th day, when the elder Symeon met Jesus and all things were accomplished "according to the Law of the Lord" (St. Luke, ch. 2), Saint Joseph, the Most Pure Virgin Mary, and the Child returned at once, not to Bethlehem in Judea, but to their own city, Nazareth in Galilee. Thence they departed to Egypt, in obedience to the Angel's command; so how could the Wise Men have found Christ sill in Bethlehem two years later?

"...So when is it most likely that the star appeared? Saint Theophylact (in agreement with Saint John Chrysostom) says, "the star was revealed to the magi before the Lord was born. Since their journey would take a long time, it became visible well before his birth, enabling them to worship Him while He was still in swaddling clothes." These holy men mention nothing about a period of two years, but say only "a long time," signifying thereby several months. On the basis of what Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Theophylact teach, understand that it was on the very day and at the exact moment when the Archangel brought the glad tidings of the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit descended, and the Logos/Word became flesh in the immaculate womb of the Virgin--nine months before the Nativity--that the Star became visible in the East. This devout conclusion is consistent with the words of the aforementioned teachers of the Church, and more convincing than the notion that the Magi were traveling for two years. As for the slaughter of the infants two years old and under, the matter is addressed in the entry for the twenty-sixth of December, when the Holy Innocents are commemorated.

It was, then, nine months before the Nativity of Christ, on the day of the Annunciation, that the three wise men first saw the star. They were amazed, and wondered in the beginning if it was a meteor shining in the sky, or perhaps a comet warning of some catastrophe. In truth, the star did presage the misfortunes that would befall the soul-destroying enemy: the collapse of the idols, the expulsion of demons, and the shedding abroad of the light of the Holy Faith. Soon the Magi became convinced that its appearance was not accidental, but that it radiated divine power, and they recalled Balaam's ancient prophecy. They also remembered the words once spoken by the Eritrean sibyl about just such a star, but most importantly (according to Saint Leo, Pope of Rome), God Himself mystically revealed to them that the Lord and King of all creation was soon to be born in Israel, fulfilling Balaam's prophecy: "A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a man shall spring out of Israel." Believing without doubt that the ancient prophecies would shortly be proved true, they began preparations for travel. (Source: The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints)

(To be continued)



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Incarnate Logos,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George