Artaban's Gifts: A Story


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


Source: "Orthodox America," issue no. October 1991

In the days of Herod the king, when the Savior of the world was born in a poor cave near Bethlehem, an enormous star suddenly lit up the sky over the countries of the East. The star shone with a bright, dazzling light and slowly but steadily moved in one direction, towards the land of the Hebrews. The astronomers, or magi as they were called, took note of this new light. The thought it was a sign from God that somewhere had been born the Great King, Whose Coming had been foretold in the Hebrew books, the King of Righteousness, the Deliverer of people from evil, the Teacher of a new, righteous life. Several of them, who devoted themselves especially diligently to the study of God's Truth on earth, and were grieved by the extent of men's wickedness, decided to go seek for the newborn King, to worship Him and serve Him. Just where they would find Him, they did not know; perhaps they would have to travel a long time. At that time, the route towards the Hebrew land was dangerous. They decided to gather in a caravan, following the star in search of the Great King.

Together with the other magi, the great Persian wise man Artaban prepared for the journey. He sold all his possessions, his elegant home in the capital, and with the money, he bought three precious gems: a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl. These jewels were extremely costly; a whole fortune was paid for them. Indeed, they were each uniquely beautiful. One shone like a piece of blue sky in a starry night; another burned brighter than a brilliant sunrise; the third surpassed in whiteness the snowy mountain peaks. All of this, together with a heart full of the most fervent, unreserved love, Artaban was going to lay at the feet of the newly-born King of Righteousness and Goodness.

In his house, Artaban gathered for the last time with all of his close friends, said his good-byes and departed on his journey. It was several days' ride to the gathering place, but Artaban was confident he would not be late. He had a strong, swift horse; he had precisely calculated the time it would take, and each day he covered the appointed distance. The last twenty-four hours arrived with only a few dozen miles to his destination, and he chose to ride all night in order to arrive by dawn. His faithful horse was still far from worn out; the night breeze was cool; in the infinite sky above shone the New Star, like a bright Lamp burning before the Altar of God.

"There it is, God's Sign!" said Artaban to himself, keeping his eyes fixed on the Star. "The Great King is coming to us from the sky, and soon, Lord, I shall see You."

"Faster, my friend! Increase your pace!" he encouraged his horse, gently slapping the reins.

The horse responded, his hooves pounding louder and faster along the road through the forest of palm trees. The darkness began to dissipate; here and there came the chirping of awakening birds. One could sense the nearness of morning. Suddenly the horse drew up short, snorted and started to move backward. Artaban peered into the half-light and there, almost under the horse's very hooves, he saw a man lying. He quickly dismounted and inspected the prostrate figure. He turned out to be a Jew, exhausted by a raging fever. One could have taken him for dead but for the weak, barely audible groans which broke intermittently from his cracked lips. Artaban deliberated: to pass by, to hasten to the meeting place, leaving the sick man was something his conscience would not allow; but to remain with the Jew in order to revive him would take several hours, and he would be late for the rendezvous; the caravan would leave without him. What shall I do? thought Artaban. I will go on, he decided, and he lifted his foot into the stirrup. But the sick man, sensing that his last hope was about to abandon him, groaned so pitiably that its pain resonated in the magus's heart.

"Great God!" he prayed. "You know my thoughts. You know my efforts to see you. Direct my steps! Is it not your voice of love that is speaking in my heart? I cannot pass by; I must help this unfortunate Jew."

With these words the magi returned to the sick man; he loosened his clothing and brought him some water from a nearby stream. He refreshed the man's face and moistened his dry lips. From a pack attached to his saddle his obtained some medicine, mixed it with some wine and poured it into the Jew's mouth; he rubbed his chest and hands, gave him something to sniff, and so spent many hours with the sick man. Dawn had long ago come and gone, the sun already stood high in the sky; it was approaching noon when the Jew was finally able to get to his feet. He did not know how to thank the kind stranger.

"Who are you?" the Jew asked Artaban. "Tell me for whom I and my family should pray to God until the last of our days? And why are you so sad? What grief afflicts you?"  

 Artaban told him who he was and where he was going. "My friends have certainly left without me," he said sorrowfully, "and I shall not seethe King of my desires."

The Jew's face lit up.

"Do not be sad, my benefactor. I can repay you in a very small way for your kindness. In my sacred scripture, it is said that King of Righteousness promised by God will be born in the city of Bethlehem of Judah. Even if your friends have left, you can make your way to Bethlehem and, if the Messiah has been born, you will find Him there."  (Source: Orthodox Heritage from The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke)

(To be continued)


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


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George