Christ is born! May my fellow Orthodox Christians continue to enjoy the festive season. Happy birthday, as well, to my young nephew—many years!
The Orthodox commemorate the visit of the Magi with the Nativity and not on the feast of the Theophany. As it is still Christmastide for us, I would like to offer you two short pieces shared by Fr. Z. for Epiphany in the Roman Church. The first is “The Gift of the Magi”—a predictable but sweet short story by William Sydney Porter (O. Henry).
Fr. Z. also showcases an interesting passage in Helena by Evelyn Waugh: “An Epiphany Prayer to the Magi for Self-Absorbed Promethean Neopelagians.” Liber locorum communium provides a longer passage that put the Empress’ thoughts in more context:
But by Twelfth Night she rallied and on the eve set out by litter along the five rough miles to the shrine of the Nativity. There was no throng of pilgrims. Macarius and his people kept Epiphany in their own church. Only the little community of Bethlehem greeted her and led her to the room they had prepared. She rested there dozing until an hour before dawn when they called her and led her out under the stars, then down into the stable-cave, where they made a place for her on the women’s side of the small, packed congregation.
The low vault was full of lamps and the air close and still. Silver bells announced the coming of three vested, bearded monks, who like the kings of old now prostrated themselves before the altar. So the long liturgy began.
Helena knew little Greek and her thoughts were not in the words nor anywhere in the immediate scene. She forgot even her quest and was dead to everything except the swaddled child long ago and those three royal sages who had come from so far to adore him.
‘This is my day,’ she thought, ‘and these are my kind.’
Perhaps she apprehended that her fame, like theirs, would live in one historic act of devotion; that she too had emerged from a kind of οὐτοπία or nameless realm and would vanish like them in the sinking nursery fire-light among the picture-books and the day’s toys.
‘Like me,’ she said to them, ‘you were late in coming. The shepherds were here long before; even the cattle. They had joined the chorus of angels before you were on your way. For you the primordial discipline of the heavens was relaxed and a new defiant light blazed amid the disconcerted stars.
‘How laboriously you came, taking sights and calculating, where the shepherds had run barefoot! How odd you looked on the road, attended by what outlandish liveries, laden with such preposterous gifts!
‘You came at length to the final stage of your pilgrimage and the great star stood still above you. What did you do? You stopped to call on King Herod. Deadly exchange of compliments in which began that unended war of mobs and magistrates against the innocent!
‘Yet you came and were not turned away. You too found room before the manger. Your gifts were not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love. In that new order of charity that had just come to life, there was room for you, too. You were not lower in the eyes of the holy family than the ox or the ass.
‘You are my especial patrons,’ said Helena, ‘and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.
‘Dear cousins, pray for me,’ said Helena, ‘and for my poor overloaded son. May he, too, before the end find kneeling-space in the straw. Pray for the great, lest they perish utterly. And pray for Lactantius and Marcias and the young poets of Trèves and for the souls of my wild, blind ancestors; for their sly foe Odysseus and for the great Longinus.
‘For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.’
—Evelyn Waugh, Helena: a novel, chap.11, Epiphany ((London: Chapman & Hall, 1950), pp. 237-240).
Superb! And a very much needed prayer.