Who are the wise men? Why did the star appear to them? How did they overcome the Jews? Was the star a natural star? What are the symbols which the story of the wise men bear, and what are their relationships with the Gentiles and the Jews?
The wise men came from the East, probably from the countries of Persia . They were from the rank of princes, scientists, or priests. They worshipped the ancient eastern gods, probably the fire; and they may have been among the followers of Zaradesht. They were experts in astronomy and in the stars. Perhaps they had heard from the Jews in the dispersion about a Savior who will come to deliver them and to become the king of the Jews.
Saint John Chrysostom says:
“My brothers, we urgently need long watching and many prayers in order to be able to answer these questions, and to know who are those wise men? and where did they come from?
Because Satan suggested to the enemies of the truth to say: “When Christ was born, His star appeared: Is this not a sign which proves that astrology is a true industry? If He was born in this manner, why did He eradicate astrology, fortune-telling, and magic, and did he render the devils to silence?!
Let us then examine what was that star: was it one of the numerous stars? Or was it an alien to them, from another nature than their nature? Or was it that only the person who looked at it, that thought it was a star? If we know the answer to these questions, we shall know the other matters with greater facility.
That star was not one of the numerous stars; and it is more convenient to say, according to what I think, that it was not a star. But it was one of the invisible powers, and was transformed to that aspect.
The evidence is clear:
Firstly: from the way of its movement: Because there is no star which can possibly move in that manner. If you consider the other stars, you will find that their movement is from West to East. But this star went in its course from the North to the South, because that is the direction from the countries of Persia to Palestine .
Secondly: as regards the time of its appearance: because it did not appear by night, but rather in the daytime when the sun has risen. And this appearance is neither due to the strength of a star, nor to the strength of the moon, nor was it due to all these astral bodies which hide and set down when the sun rays appear. But this star had overcome the sun rays by the abundance of its brilliancy, and was more visible and more glittering than all of them.
Thirdly: this truth becomes obvious from that the star appeared for some time and then disappeared for some other time.
Because it appeared in order to show them the way to Palestine . When they came to Jerusalem , it hided itself. And when they left Herod after he had questioned them, and intended to walk to Bethlehem , the star reappeared to them again. This appearance and disappearance does not happen in the movement of an ordinary star, but it is due to a power which is, above measure, different from others. Because it did not march in a special way. But when it was necessary that they would march, it marched. And when they needed to stop, it stopped, thus controlling all the conditions of their march according to what was convenient for them. It was like the column of clouds in its conduct of the Jewish people.
When they entered Jerusalem , the star was hidden from them, so that having lost their guide, they were compelled to ask the Jews, in order that the matter would become notorious and well-known to everybody……. Thus the appearance and the disappearance brought a determined providence that had a special wisdom.
Fourthly: by its descending downwards:
The meditator must in an obvious manner, necessarily find out another characteristic from the guidance of the wise men by the star. Because it was not possible to show them the way while it was high over them, but it achieved that action by coming downwards. Because while it was high over them, it could not determine precisely a narrow place like a hut where a small baby is lying down. We can know this from the example of the moon, which appears greater than many stars, and how it appears to all the inhabitants of the world in all its vastness, and everyone thinks that the moon is near to him.
Tell me how would the star have shown them a small place like a hut and a manger, if it had not left this high place, and gone downwards till it stopped over the head of the child.
That is what the evangelist indicated saying: “and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” (Matt. 2:9).
When the star recognized the Child, it stopped, and its stopping there, while it was descending downwards, is a great testimony.
It had a great influence upon the wise men and guided them to the worship of the Child. They did not worship Him as an ordinary human being. That is obvious from the gifts which they presented to Him, and which are not convenient for a small child in its swaddling clothes…..
Did you see with what arguments, it has been shown that this star was not one of the ordinary stars?…
Why did the star appear?
The appearance of the star symbolizes the end of the choice of the Jews; destroying all their arguments of self-sufficiency, and calling all the world to His worship.
Thus He opened the door to the Gentiles from the principle of the coming of the Lord, willing to educate His people through the foreigners. Because if He had sent to them many prophets who explained to them His coming, and nevertheless they did not listen to them, therefore He let the foreigners (the Persians) come from a distant land asking for the vision of the way. Let the Jews learn from the words of the inhabitants of Persia , what they refused to learn from their prophets. If they persist and discuss after that also, they will loose every excuse and every argument.
What have they to say, they who have refused to accept the Christ in spite of His having sent to them the prophets, while the wise men accepted the Lord and worshipped Him, merely because they had seen a single star?
Just as He convicted them with His acceptance by the wise men, He also convicted them with the faith of the pagan inhabitants of Nineveh . Therefore He said to them that “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Matt. 12:41). Likewise He convicted them with the Samaritan woman, and the woman of Canaan , and the queen of the South; because all these have at least believed; but the others, not even at most, did not believe.
Why did He attract the wise men in this manner?
Perhaps someone would ask: “Why did He attract the wise men by means of a star? We answer that it was not possible for such people to listen to a prophet if He had sent to them one of the prophets. And it was not convenient for them that He would have talked to them from above or by sending an angel. Therefore He called them by the means to which they were used, condescending to their great weakness; and He showed them a great and strange star, in order to amaze them by its beautiful aspect, and to lead them by its way of marching.
The apostle saint Paul followed this method, when he mentioned a testimony from the poets (Acts 17:28). He argued with everyone with the style to which he was used (1 Cor. 9:19-22). With the Jews, God firstly utilized the statutes of sacrifices and purification and the rest of the ordinances and prescriptions by which He began, in view of the dullness of their minds. Then He replaced them, attracting them little by little, until reaching the high philosophy.
He did this with the wise men. He permitted to call them with a star which they saw, in order to render them more discerning and more perceptive than they were. When He led them to the manger, and when they saw the new-born, and became in their spiritualities, better than they were, then He did not let them go back to their countries by means of a star, but He “divinely warned” them “ in a dream” (Matt. 2:12).
Why did He manifest Himself to those wise men, and not to others?
Perhaps someone would ask: “How did they reach such a great zeal? Who had incited them to such a long journey from their country?” According to my opinion, what they did was not merely to be guided by a star, but it was God who had awakened their souls; just as He had done with the king Cyrus, when He incited him to build the house of God. (Ezra 1:2).
Why did He not unveil this manifestation to all the wise men? Because He was not expecting that all of them would believe Him. But He unveiled the matter to those who were more ready to accept Him. Many nations had perished, but the prophet Jonah was not sent but to the people of Nineveh alone. There were two thieves hanging on crosses, but only one of them was saved.
It is astonishing that these wise men come from distant countries to see the Christ! What good things did they expect?…..Did they come to a king? Nevertheless they did not see a king, but a child in swaddling clothes. Did they treat Him as a king, considering what would be happening? No, because afterwards He did not surround Himself with any kingly appearance, He did not possess neither horses nor slaves, and He was accompanied only by twelve unknown poor men.
They did not expect Him to be a king over them, but a king over an opposing country, which was very distant from their country. Undoubtedly they realized the dangers which surrounded them in meeting Him.
They had seen how king Herod trembled, and how the whole congregation was troubled, when they heard the words of the wise men. So they were heading for a king over a country over which there reigned another king…What kinds of deaths were then awaiting for them?! And what did they expect from that king to whom they were directed?
What good thing did they hope to take, when they saw before them a hut, and a manger, and a child in his swaddling clothes, and a poor mother. What then was their aim in worshipping Him and in giving Him presents?
Did they expect good things from Him, when he would become a king in the future? And how could they know that this child would, when he would be grown up, remember what they did, so long as he was in His swaddling clothes?!
How marvelous is the virtue of those who had thrown themselves into many dangers, leaving their country and their people, without any apparent aim but that they obeyed what the Lord had placed in their hearts; then they believed, came, worshipped, and gave presents.
We see the virtue of these wise men, not only in their mere coming, but also in their publicly saying: “we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2). They did not fear neither the anger nor the exasperation of the king.
Hence, I believe that these wise men became the teachers of their countrymen in their lands…especially that they had known from the Jews, that this one whose star they had seen, is the one whom the prophets had announced long ages ago.
The shepherds and the wise men are symbols of the Jews and the Gentiles:
Saint Augustine explains this point saying:
The wise men from the Gentiles, were the first to believe in the Lord Christ. It is evident that the first fruit of the belief in Christ, was the belief of the shepherds. The shepherds came to Him from a near place, and they saw Him on the same day, because the news had come to them by means of angels. But the wise men came to Him from a distant place, and by means of a star. Nevertheless both of them met at the corner stone, “who has made both one…” those “who were afar off and …those who were near” (Eph. 2: 14-17). It was said to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14), and the expression: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1), was realized with the wise men.
The shepherds came from a near place to see, and the wise men came from a distant place to worship.
Grace reached the shepherds before the wise men, but these last were more humble. This is the humility that rendered the wild olive tree deserving to be grafted into a cultivated olive tree (Rom. 11:17). The Holy Bible glorifies this humility more in the Gentiles, than in the Jews. Examples of this are what has been said about the centurion (Matt. 8: 5-10), and about the woman of Canaan (Matt. 15:28).
The Jews manifested to the Gentiles the Christ whom they did not themselves want to worship. We note in regards to the wise men, that in not returning through the same way, they symbolize the change in life; since those who arrive at Christ, do not return again to their first way.
Saint John Chrysostom says again:
“Let the Jews be ashamed, because they had seen wise men and ignorant people preceding them, while they did not come to Him, not even after these. That which had happened at that time was a token of what happened later: that the Gentiles preceded the Jews… Thus those who were from the land of Persia preceded those who were from Jerusalem . The apostle saint Paul mentioned this meaning when he said to them: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
The Jews should have worshipped with the wise men, and should have glorified their God, but they trembled and were troubled.
“Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared”, desiring to kill the new-born.
Between Herod and the wise men:
Herod did not care for all that had happened. He was not persuaded, neither by the prophecies of the prophets which he had heard, nor by the story of the extraordinary star, nor by the coming of the wise men from distant countries to worship the new-born.
It is clear that he was in a strange position. Whether he had believed the prophecy which had been said, it is evident that he acted contrarily. And whether he had denied it and had not expected that what was said in it would be realized, why then was he afraid and terrified?
Among the matters which demonstrate his lack of understanding, is his delusion that the wise men would prefer him to the new-born whose star they had seen, and for whom they suffered the pains of that long journey!
The astonishing thing is that “he had secretly called the wise men”, and said to them: “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also” (Matt. 2:8).
And we ask him: “If you truthfully say that, why then do you ask the people secretly? And if you want to kill Him, do you think that the wise men had no doubts about you, because or your trouble and your calling them secretly? ……. But when the malignity of a person traps him, he becomes less intelligent than everybody……
Beware of becoming like Herod who said: “that I may come and worship Him also”, while his heart was not sincere to Him, but he wanted to kill Him. Because those who worthlessly take part in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist , resemble Herod.
The wise men, before their sight of the Child, were hammered by tribulations and fears from every part. But after their worship, He filled them with peace, and they became His priests through their worship, because they presented gifts and offerings to Him…..
“Why did the wise men run away from Herod’s face? And why did the Child Jesus run away too?
It was not convenient to show His miracles in that early age, lest people would not have felt that He was a human being…There is another meaning, which is that we must expect difficulties and pains since the beginning of the way.
Here is Jesus who, while He was still in His swaddling clothes, was chased by Herod, and ran away. And His mother who had not committed any evil, who had not gone away from her house for a long distance at any time, she was alienated and suffered the pains of a long journey…..and Joseph likewise, and also those Persians who secretly departed running away.
That happened so that, when you hear these events, and you become prepared to serve a spiritual service, and then you meet calamities and hardships, you do not tremble a little and do not say: “I should have been crowned because I have accomplished the service of my Lord.”
When the wise men had been divinely warned not to return to Herod, they “departed for their own country another way” They did not doubt, but they promptly obeyed, and they did not think in themselves: “If this Child is greatly powerful, and possesses such wonders, what need have we to run away and to depart secretly!”
Likewise the just Joseph did not argue with the angel, while doubting…
And he did not say to him: “You said before, that He will save His people, and behold, He did not save Himself, but we are in need of journeying and running away. What happened to us is the contrary of what He had promised us…”
He did not pronounce any of these expressions, because he was believing. And he did not ask about the time of his return from there, although the angel did not specify it, not even by saying “until I bring you word” …