In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” Matthew 2:1-2
The visit of Balthasar, king of Arabia, Melchior, king of Persia, and Gaspar, king of India is now celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany (manifestation, striking appearance) on January 6th. Magi, priests of the Persian Zoroastrianism faith, were renowned for their mastery of astrology. The word later morphed into the English word magic, with all its connotations.
In the Eastern church this festival is known as Theophany (vision of God) and is celebrated on January 19th because they use a different calender. In any event the post Vatican II Catholic church only uses January 6th in countries that consider this a Holy Day of Obligation. Otherwise it falls on the first Sunday after January 1. The Church of England considers any Sunday between January 2 and 8. As we know, American Protestants hardly remember the magi and consider Veronica a character in Archie comics.
Knowledge of Christianity, or even Jesus, has never been an impediment to those who loudly claim to spring from his spiritual lineage. Witness the charming discussions among certain “Christian” spokes persons over their divine right to carry concealed pistols or assault rifles. Anyone for a game of huckabee?
Christians, from Day One, the first Christmas, have recognized the transcendental nature of Jesus, known as Christ. There seems to be no other point of reference. Western Christianity has reveled in a fascination with persecution and violence. Jews are not alone in this experience. Fellow Christians have been favorite targets of which ever denomination has the latest bloodbath technology. The NRA didn’t invent carnage, they come from a long and proud tradition. The Catholic faith was banned in England for almost three hundred years beginning in the 1500’s. One penalty was to be drawn and quartered. Hung by your neck until almost dead, cut down, your midsection sliced open till your innards spill out. Then ropes are attached to your four limbs and horses pull you apart. Much like what an modern assault rifle does in less time.
It’s easy to see why being a Catholic in England required some clandestine practice. Hence The Twelve Days of Christmas, from December 25 to January 6. This popular song was taught to children to help them learn the catechism (to sound down), doctrinal manuals of the faith. 1- the partridge in the pear tree – Jesus. “How ofter I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it.” Luke 13:34 2- two turtle doves- the Old and New Testament. 3- three French hens – faith, hope, love “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three: but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 4- four calling birds, the Gospels 5- five golden rings – Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament 6- six geese a-laying – the six days of creation 7- seven swans a-swimming – seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge, to another faith, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, the effecting of miracles, prophecy, and the interpretation of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12: 8-11 8- eight maids a-milking – the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5: 3-10 9- nine ladies dancing – nine fruit of the Holy Spirit. ” The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5: 22-23 10- ten lords a-leaping – Ten Commandments 11- eleven pipers piping – the Disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Jude son of James 12- twelve drummers drumming – The Apostles Creed – I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead: I believe in the Holy Ghost: I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints: The forgiveness of sins: The resurrection of the body: And the life everlasting. Amen.
Christians have not even learned to temper their anger, greed and jealousy in the administration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Christendoms holiest site. The Rock of Golgotha and the Tomb, lay within the churches interior, yet the placement of ladders or a chair have led to centuries long feuds. For more on this read HOLY FIRE by Victoria Clark. The title refers to a mystical fire that lights a taper for the Greek patriarch on Holy Saturday during Easter, the longest running miracle in the world. It has been documented yearly since 1106 AD. The Holy Fire ceremony draws the faithful from around the world and profoundly affects all those who attend.”Holy Fire invades the church, a fast-breeding light transfiguring faces, transforming the dark stone space. I hear gasps and cheers and sobs and tears. The emotion is overwhelming, the heat suffocating. Every Easter the ‘miracle’ of the Holy Fire is enacted in front of hundreds of the faithful in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.” Victoria Clark
Paul Badde, whom I greatly admire, has a moving account of the Holy Fire ceremony in his classic book THE TRUE ICON: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manopelo. This photo from the book shows a Greek monk during the flame lighting ceremony. The Greek patriarch is led by the Muslim guards of the church into the Edicule, the stone building within the church which houses the tomb of Jesus. The patriarch enters alone to cries of Kyrie eleison: Lord have mercy on us. The packed church rocks with the cry of Christos anesti. Christos anesti ek nekron! Alithos anesti. Christ is risen! Risen from the dead! Truly he is risen.
Christ is risen. The resurrected Christ is alive and among us today. Witness the Veil of Manopello. “The Veil of Manoppello is the sudarium of Christ. This is the mysterious second cloth from the tomb of the crucified Christ that John the Evangelist discovered about 40 hours after the death of Jesus-together with another linen sheet, which is today preserved in Turin,” Paul Badde.
For all those who aspire to the words of Jesus, calling themselves Christians or not, the fate of his followers in the world today is precarious. Peril lurks where fools with microphones equate Christianity with the right to carry assault rifles. Danger wears the Devil’s apron in corporate halls where the pay is high and the lives of the working class is devalued. Grave danger extends from Africa’s northern shores to the Sea of Japan. THE BODY AND THE BLOOD is a frank appraisal of the problems facing the Christian communities in the Holy Land by Charles Sennott, former Middle East bureau chief for the Boston Globe.
John Moschos was a Christian monk who journeyed throughout the areas we now call Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt in the middle of the sixth century. With his companion Sophronius, who later became Patriarch of Jerusalem, and presumably himself lit the Holy Fire, Moschos lived with monks, hermits and ascetics. His travels were recorded in his epic tale THE SPIRITUAL MEADOW written before his death in Rome in 619 AD. This period was classic, the spiritual fervor of the era abounded in mysticism and miracles, Islam would soon sweep through and Christianity would begin its long slow spiral into near extinction in the land of its own becoming. William Dalrymple, a Scots Catholic, became intrigued with the journey after reading about Moschos in Sir Steven Runciman’s HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES. He decides to trace Moschos’ footsteps, FROM THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is the result. Today his journey would surely not be possible, so we must be content to accept his witness to the few remaining remnants of a once vibrant Christian presence.
Yet, we must be careful in drawing harsh conclusions from history’s unfolding spiritual web. We must resist the temptation to fault Islam for Christianity’s difficulties in the Levant. Under Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski the National Security Advisor, admits to supplying the mujahideen in Afghanistan with weapons to lure the Soviet Union into an invasion and thereby crippling that country’s economy and political power. The Soviets invaded in 1979 and Carter used that as a pretext to boycott the 1980 Olympics. A trap well set sir, George W. Bush, stepped into the same snare you left twenty years later and now America’s economy is in peril and our political system tettering on the absurd.
The faith and teachings Jesus brought to mankind are unrivaled in their poetic simplicity. Now we must live up to the shining light he held out for us and follow him to the Christ center within ourselves. And we don’t have to kill anyone to do it. With a pure heart and compassion any huckabee can do it.
Merry Christmas – – – 12/24/12
A semi-transparent slide-picture with the face from the Shroud of Turin in front of the image on the veil at Manopello: so called “superimposition” by the Trappist nun Blandina Paschala Schlomer. From THE FACE OF GOD by Paul Badde. This discovery is the single most important development on the planet today. The veil explains the explosive spread of Christianity and why the early followers of Jesus were absolutely convinced he had risen from the dead. So must we today and live accordingly.
His entire life had prepared him for this morning, this trial. For this Jesus had traveled halfway around the world to receive his teaching transmissions in the Himalayas. For this morning he had returned to Jerusalem, preached the Beatitudes, and confronted the money changers (read here Chase/Citi Bank . . . ). Now he lay wrapped in linen with a byssus-cloth veil across his face. Now, he would link Heaven and Earth, his Spirit one with God/Dharmakaya, his body bridging the Holy Spirit and Man. Never again would men lack proof of the Eternal Nature of Life.
The question is not: Is Jesus unique? The question is rather: How may we follow the teachings of a man who taught the Kingdom of God is within us all? In that scenario the seed syllable of enlightenment resounds within each of us. Remain silent, listen, the hum of prayer will open your heart.