Artaban's Gifts: A Story (Part II)

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My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

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ARTABAN' S GIFTS: A STORY (Part II)
From The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke

The Jew thanked the Persian Magi once again and the two men went their separate ways. Artaban turned back; it would be folly to attempt the journey through the desert alone; he needed to hire some men for protection, to buy some camels and load them with provisions and water. A week went by. He was obliged to sell one of the gems in order to equip his caravan, but Artaban did not sorrow too much; he still had two gems. The main thing was not to be late in reaching the King. He hurried the servants, and the caravan moved as quickly as possible. Finally, they reached Bethlehem. Tired, dusty, but happy, he rode up to the first house. He went in and showered the host with questions. "Did some men from the East come here to Bethlehem? Where did they go? Where are they now?

The mistress of the house, a young woman, was nursing a baby and at first shied away from the stranger, but then she calmed down and related that a few days earlier some foreigners had come in search of Mary of Nazareth and had brought her baby some expensive gifts. Where they had gone, she did not know. That very night Mary together with Joseph and the Baby had left Bethlehem to go into hiding.  

"People say that they went to Egypt, that Joseph had a dream and that the Lord ordained that they should flee from here." While the mother spoke, the baby fell asleep and a pure smile played on his pretty, innocent face. Artaban had not had time to think about this news, about what he should do next, when a commotion broke from the street: wild cries, the clanging of weapons, women wailing. Half-dressed women, their heads uncovered, their faces contorted with fear, ran through the settlement carrying thier infants and crying:

"Flee to safety! Herod's soldiers are killing our children!" The face of the young mother paled, her eyes grew large. Pressing the sleeping infant to her breast, she could only say, "Save the child! Save him, and God will save you!"

Without a moment's thought, Artaban rushed to the door; there just beyond the threshold stood the troop's captain, and behind him could be seen the bestial faces of the soldiers, their swords red with the blood of innocent children. Artaban's hand as if automatically reached into his chest; he produced a bag from which he extracted one of the remaining gems and gave it to the captain.

The latter had never seen such a treasure; he clutched it greedily and rushed his soldiers away to continue their dreadful business. The woman fell to her knees before Artaban. "May God bless you for my child! You are seeking for the King of Righteousness, of Love and Kindness. May His face shine before you and may He look upon you with the love with which I am now looking at you."

Artaban carefully raised the woman to her feet; tears of mixed joy and sadness ran down his cheeks. "God of Truth, forgive me! For the sake of this woman and her child, I gave away the precious stone which was meant for You. Will I ever see Your face? Here once again I am late. I shall follow after You into Egypt." The poor Magos walked for a long, a long time, seeking the King of Righteousness. He traveled through many countries, he saw many different peoples, but nowhere did he find the desired object of his wanderings. His heart ached and more than once he wept bitter tears. "Lord", he thought, "how much grief, suffering and unhappiness there is everywhere. How soon will You reveal Yourself and bring consolation to people's lives?" He helped the poor, cared for the sick, consoled the unfortunate, visited prisoners. From the sale of the first gem he had money, and he spent this on helping his neighbor. The last gem, however, he carefully guarded near his heart, thinking that at least this gift he could someday bring to the King, when he found Him.

Thirty-three years had gone by since Artaban had left his homeland. His figure had become stooped, his hair white, but his heart still burned with love for the One Whom he sought so long. One day the elderly Magos heard that the Anointed One of God had appeared in Judea, and that He was performing many wondrous deeds--by a word He healed the sick, raised the dead, made saints of sinners and hopelessly wicked men. Artaban's heart began to race with joy.

"At last", he thought, trembling with emotion, "I shall find you and be able to serve You." Arriving in Judea, he discovered that everyone was going to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. There, too, was the Prophet Jesus Whom the Magos so desired to see. Together with crowds of the faithful Artaban reached the Holy City. He found a great commotion; great multitudes of people were surging along the streets. "Where are they hurrying?" asked Artaban. "To Golgotha. It is a hill on the outskirts of the city where today, together with two thieves, Jesus Christ of Nazareth is to be crucified. He claimed to be the Son of God, the King of the Jews".

Artaban fell to the ground, weeping bitterly. "Again...again I am late. I never had the opportunity to see You, Lord, to serve You". But perhaps it is not too late after all. I'll go to His torturers and offer them my last remaining gem. It may be that I can buy His freedom. Artaban arose and hastened after the crowd to Golgotha. Suddenly, at one of the cross-streets, a contingent of soldiers barred his way. They were dragging a girl to prison. Recognizing Artaban as a fellow-countryman, she seized a corner of his clothing.

"Pity me!" she begged. "Free me. I too am from Persia. My father came here to trade; he brought me and then fell ill and died. For the debts he incurred they want to sell me into slavery, for a life of shame. Save me. Save me from dishonor, save me, I beg you!"

The old Magos shuddered. The former battle again broke out in his heart--to keep the gem for the Great King or give it away for the sake of the unfortunate girl? Pity for the girl won out. Artaban reached into the pouch at his breast and took out his last treasure; he gave the gemstone to the girl. "Here, buy with this your freedom, my daughter. For thirty-three years I have guarded this treasure for my King. Evidently I am unworthy of bringing Him a gift."

While he spoke, the sky grew clouded. It was midday and yet it was dark as night. The earth shook and groaned heavily, as it were. Thunder crashed, lightning ripped the sky from end to end; a great cracking was heard; houses shook, walls rocked and stones showered down. A heavy slate tore off the room and hit the head of the old man. He fell to the ground and lay there, pale and streaming with blood.

The girl bent down to help him. Artaban moved his lips in a barely audible whisper. His face was radiant. The dying man was looking at Someone standing invisibly before him. "Lord", he uttered, "but when did I see You hungry and fed You? When did I see You thirsty and gave You drink? Thirty-three years I looked for You and not once did I see Your face; never was I able to serve You, My King". Like the slight evening breeze which caressed the hair of the dying man, there came from above a tender, unearthly voice: "Truly I say to you, all that you ever did for your needy brothers you did for Me".

Artaban's face became transfigured. His heart at peace, he lifted his eyes thankfully to heaven and fell asleep unto all ages.

The prolonged journeying of the old Magi had come to an end. He had found at last the Great King, the Savior; his gifts had been accepted.  (Source: Orthodox Heritage)

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

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With sincere agape in His Holy Nativity,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George