Written by Vladimir Moss



     According to the sentimental, pietistic understanding of the faith, Christianity is not a matter of knowledge, but of feeling. And for those who think and feel in this manner no event in sacred history is so filled with sentimental feeling than the Nativity of Christ. And yet the troparion for the feast in the Orthodox Church places the emphasis precisely on knowledge: 

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,

Hath shone the light of knowledge upon the world.

For thereby they that worshipped the stars

Were taught by a star to worship Thee,

The Sun of Righteousness,

And to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high.

O Lord, glory to Thee.

     Thus the great triumph of the Nativity was that the world through Christ finally broke through the fog of falsehood summoned by the spirits of darkness, and upon men there shone the light of knowledge. What kind of knowledge is this? A joyful knowledge, full of feeling – but neither the knowledge of the bare intellect, nor the fallen feeling of the passions, but the knowledge of faith. A knowledge, first of all, that the Word has taken flesh, God has become man, the Creator has become a creature, He Who is beyond space and time has taken up His abode in space and time, He Who is before all being now begins to be…

     Remarkable, however, is the manner in which this light of true, living knowledge was imparted to the world. Magi from the East, astronomers who studied the stars, in which, as they falsely believed, lay the clues to the destinies of all men, were drawn by a new kind of star to worship Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. In other words, God caught the pseudo-wise men through the objects of their own false wisdom; He used the stars to lead them to the truth that lies beyond all stars and even the sun, to the Creator of the sun and the stars, Jesus Christ.

     In fact, we know that the star that guided them to Bethlehem was not a star at all, but, as St. John Chrysostom tells us, an angel in the guise of a star. For God, the supreme Missionary, does not preach to us from a height far above our everyday concerns, but comes to meet us where we are, in the things we are interested in, and leads us up from there to where He is. The magi believed in the stars; so He will lead them by a star. Or what they think is a star… Of course, they must have realized pretty quickly that this was no ordinary star. It fitted none of the constellations they knew; it moved in front of them; it disappeared when they entered Jerusalem, and reappeared when they left that nest of evil. And then it stopped moving precisely at the place where Christ was born in a manger…

     So the star in front of them did not fit their learned theories of the stars. But to their credit, this did not stop them from theorizing; they did not close their minds to the facts just because they did not fit in with their theories. They realized that there were more things in heaven and earth than were even dreamt of in their philosophy.

     Moreover, they were open-minded enough to apply a scrap of true knowledge that came from outside their pagan mind-set: the prophecy of Jacob in Numbers about the rising of a Star out of Jacob. “Thinking outside the box”, they came to the conclusion that a great king had been born in Israel, and that the star was going to lead them to Him. So not only were they prepared to follow where the truth led them, even if meant destroying all the presuppositions of their pagan mind-set: they also prepared precious gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – that would be fitting tribute to a great king. Thus they confirmed what we can now call their faith by their works, and it was counted to them for righteousness. And they received as their reward that which always accompanies the light of true knowledge - “exceeding great joy”.

     If only our modern star-gazers, the astronomers and physicists and cosmologists, would follow the example of their pagan predecessors in their progress from dry, lifeless knowledge “falsely so-called” (I Timothy 6.20) to the joyful, living knowledge of faith! To an even greater degree than the Magi of old, our modern cosmologists believe that all the clues to the first beginning and final end of the universe lie in the stars, which they believe are completely determined. But unlike the Magi, they do not follow where the truth leads them; they do not believe that their own theories, which end in the great nothingness of the moment before the beginning of space, time and matter, require the hypothesis of a Creator God Who can create the universe out of nothing. They speak about “God-particles”, but refuse to countenance the Living God. They believe in the absolute freedom of their own minds, but refuse to allow a scrap of freedom into the universe as a whole.

     They should take a leaf out of the Magi’s book and start thinking “outside the box”. Just as the Magi found inspiration to solve the mystery of the moving star in the Book of Numbers, so they should take inspiration to solve the mystery of the creation of the world out of nothing in the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. Then they would be filled with the light of knowledge, not the dry, lifeless knowledge of the proud atheist, which is more like darkness than light, but the joyful knowledge of the believing Magi – and bring their own rich gifts of intellect and imagination to the feet of the true Sun of Righteousness…


December 31 / January 13, 2015/2016.

Apodosis of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ.



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