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Pope Shenouda III

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His Holiness Pope Shenouda III

the  117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark

Born: Aug 3, 1923 | Ordained Pope: Nov 14, 1971 | Departed March 17, 2012

From the land of the great ancient Egyptian civilization, the land visited by our Lord and the Holy Family, and from the line of renowned predecessors such as St. Mark the Apostle, St. Athanasius the Apostolic, and St. Cyril the Great, comes the author of the renaissance of the Coptic Orthodox Church: H.H. Pope Shenouda III.

A distinguished and prominent religious leader, a profound theologian, a gifted preacher, a talented author, a spiritual father, Pope Shenouda was a man of God his entire life.

His Holiness was born Nazeer Gayed on August 3, 1923, to a pious Christian family in Egypt. By the age of 16, H.H. was active in the Sunday school movement, which wrought to enrich Christian Education in the Coptic Orthodox Church.

When H.H. graduated from Cairo University, he joined the Coptic Orthodox Seminary, and upon graduation, joined the faculty of the seminary.

On July 18, 1954, H.H. chose the solitude of the Egyptian desert and the angelic life of monasticism over everything else, taking the example of St. Anthony the Great. As a monk, and later a monk-priest, His Holiness carried the name of the Christian monk and was known as Fr. Antonious El-Syriani.

Wishing to live in complete solitude and devotion to our Lord, he became a hermit and lived in a cave that he had carved out himself for a period of six years. On September 30, 1962, he was called by the late Pope Cyril VI to be consecrated Bishop of Christian Education and President of the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary. He was known as His Grace Bishop Shenouda. Through his leadership of the seminary, the number of students tripled.

On November 14, 1971, His Grace Bishop Shenouda was consecrated as His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark.  The unprecedented revival of the Coptic Church toward the second half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century is one of the great historical events of world Christianity.  This is directly due to the charismatic and dynamic leadership of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, who transformed the entire landscape of the Church.

1.    Dynamic Preacher and Teacher

Of the many great qualities evident in the distinguished personality of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, one is most striking: His Holiness is an erudite teacher who has rightly been referred to as the St. John Chrysostom of the 21st century.  In 1978, His Holiness was awarded the Browning Institute Prize for the Best Preacher in the World.

His Holiness was known for his captivating skill in the use of words, as well as a certain deftness in exposition of the detail and interpretation of Scripture.  His weekly sermons in Cairo (regularly attended by 8,000-10,000 people) and biweekly sermons in Alexandria were attended by thousands of people eager to hear and benefit from his nourishing words.  The weekly Wednesday sermon was one of the most joyful sights of the Christian world at the beginning of the 21st century.  It has no equivalent and no equal either in or outside Egypt.  “I shall give you shepherds according to my heart who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15).  These prophetic words are most evident in the edifying preaching and teaching of Pope Shenouda.

2.   Author and Poet

As a renowned theologian and scriptural scholar, His Holiness was a prolific writer.  His Holiness is the author of 123 books on a variety of scriptural, doctrinal and spiritual topics and 28 poems.  Some of these poems have become popular Christian hymns sung in our churches.  His Holiness was also Editor-in-Chief of the bi-weekly magazine El Keraza.

3.    Ecumenical Relations

His Holiness Pope Shenouda is well known for his deep commitment to Christian unity.  Over the past four decades His Holiness has invested tremendous time and effort to enhance the relationship of the Coptic Orthodox Church with other Churches in three principal areas: theological dialogue, constructing bridges of love, and participation in ecumenical bodies and conferences.

His Holiness initiated dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox Churches (1985), the Roman Catholic Church (1973), the Anglican Church (1985), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (1993) and the Lutheran Church (2005).  In recognition of this work, His Holiness was elected president of the WCC (World Council of Churches) (1991-1998) and for 3 consecutive terms of the MECC (Middle East Council of Churches) (1994-2007).  Pope Shenouda hosted the first meeting of Heads of Oriental Orthodox Churches of the Middle East in 1998 and a standing committee was established to follow up the meetings.  His Holiness always emphasizes that Christian unity must be built on unity of faith not jurisdiction.

4.   The Monastic Life

Within the heart of His Holiness is a deep love for monasticism.  In 1948 he wrote:  “Alone am I in the desert minding my own affairs; I have a cave in the crevasse of the hill that I have hidden and I will leave it one day, dwelling where I know not.”

The depth of the monastic life as evident in the life of the ascetic Pope has been reflected in the monastic revival initiated by His Holiness over the last forty years.

The number of monasteries in Egypt increased from 9 in 1971 to 26 in 2009.  Abroad there are monasteries in America (2), Australia (2), Europe (2), South Africa (1), Kenya (1), Sudan (2) and Jerusalem (1).  Every week His Holiness retired to the Monastery of St. Bishoy for a three-day retreat, reflection and then returned to enlighten and nourish his flock.  A man of prayer and meditation, Pope Shenouda was an authentic monk who radiates joy and peace to all who come into contact with him.

 5.   The Theological College

Upon succeeding to the See of St. Mark, His Holiness became the first Patriarch of Alexandria since the 5th Century to have been Dean of the Theological College.  His Holiness continually lectured at the branches of the College in Cairo and Alexandria, and at the Higher Institute of Coptic Studies.  Owing to His Holiness’ personal attention, the College has expanded and enlarged.  His Holiness established 8 branches of the College in Egypt and 6 in the Diaspora (3 in the USA, 2 in Australia and 2 in Europe).  His Holiness also established the Institute of Pastoral Affairs in 1993.

 6.   The Honorary Degrees

In recognition of his theological and spiritual scholarship Pope Shenouda has been awarded 9 honorary doctoral degrees:

i. The University of Bloomfield, New Jersey (April 1977)

ii. The University of St. Peters, New Jersey (May 1977)

iii. The University of St. Vincent (September 1989)

iv. The University of Bonn (November 1990)

v. The University of North Brook, Chicago (April 2001)

vi. The University of Neshto House (May 2001)

vii. The University of Toledo (August 2002)

viii. The University of Lawrence, Michigan (September 2007)

ix. The Catholic University of Hungry (August 2011)

7.         Pastoral Care

Recognizing that the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few (Luke 10:2), His Holiness placed great emphasis on pastoral care to be rendered to young and old.  His Holiness increased the number of dioceses from 23 in 1971 to 48 in 2011

He ordained 117 Bishops and 2 Eritrean Patriarchs (Abouna Philopos in May 1998 and Abouna Antonious in May 2002).  His Holiness ordained over 1000 priests for Egypt and abroad, as well as over 800 monks and nuns.  His Holiness also ordained over 150 consecrated sisters and deaconesses to assist Bishops and priests in their vast ministry.  To address youth issues and concerns His Holiness ordained His Grace Bishop Moussa as the first Bishop of Youth Affairs in May 1980.

8.         The Sanctification of the Holy Myron

As a result of the unprecedented increase in the geographical expansion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, His Holiness performed the Mystery of the Sanctification of the Holy Myron (Chrism) seven times in the Monastery of St. Bishoy in the years 1981, 1987, 1993, 1995, 2005, 2008 and in September 2004 in Eretria.

9.         The Church Abroad

When His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was enthroned, there were only seven Coptic Churches outside of Egypt: two each in Canada, the USA and Australia and one in England.  Despite his numerous commitments, His Holiness took direct responsibility for the pastoral care of the growing number of Coptic Churches in the Diaspora.  As a result of His Holiness’ tireless efforts, the Churches in the Diaspora grew and flourished in a remarkable way.

From 1990 and onwards, His Holiness sent Christmas and Easter pastoral messages to the flock abroad and in May 1992 His Holiness initiated an English version of El Keraza to serve and reach the second and third generations of Copts abroad.

His Holiness established hundreds of Churches and 15 dioceses outside Egypt and instructed the Bishops and priests to take particular care of children and youth ministry.  His Holiness encouraged the establishment of schools.  Today there are 5 Coptic Schools in Australia, 3 in Canada and 2 in the USA.

10.      The Pastoral Trips

In order to respond adequately to the needs of the Copts abroad, to bring Churches in the Diaspora together and to relate them individually and collectively as a unified whole to the Mother Church, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III made many pastoral visits to Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, Africa and Latin America.

To date, Pope Shenouda undertook 84 trips to 37 different countries.  During his visits, Pope Shenouda prayed liturgies, consecrated altars, laid foundation stones, ordained priests and deacons, and baptized children.  His Holiness also conducted pastoral meetings with priests, met with religious and civic leaders, held press conferences and delivered homilies and sermons.

11.      Mission and Evangelism

As Head of the oldest Church in Africa, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was very keen to extend the Apostolic Mission of St. Mark across all Africa.  In June, 1976 His Holiness ordained Bishop Antonius Markos to consolidate missionary work among the African tribes of Kenya.

In 1995, His Holiness ordained Bishop Paul to assist in this vast field in Africa.  In 2006 His Holiness ordained Bishop Agathon and Bishop Youssef, the former for Brazil and the later Bolivia, to undertake missionary work in Latin America.

12.      National Unity and Harmony

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III has steadfastly worked to secure peace between all Egyptians, Copts and Muslims.  His Holiness says, “Egypt is not a country in which we live but rather a country which lives in us.”  In recognition of his efforts Pope Shenouda was awarded the UNESCO prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence on 16th November 2000.  UNESCO’s Director General praised his Holiness for promoting exchange and understanding between Christianity and Islam in the Middle East.

As we honor His Holiness, we glorify and praise God who gave His Holiness grace, strength and wisdom to serve the Church.  Nonetheless, we know His Holiness’ “honor is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2:29).  As Daniel the prophet says, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3).

His Holiness continued his relentless efforts to preach and teach the Coptic people and others who were attracted to his simple and powerful approach of teaching the Holy Bible and church dogma, as well as all aspects of Christian living.

We all recognize today that His Holiness Pope Shenouda is a school in himself and a phenomenon that occurs only once in many generations. Many consider him to be a new St. Paul the Apostle in his preaching, St. Athanasius the Apostolic in his defense of Orthodoxy, St. John Chrysostom in his ability to deliver golden words of spirituality, and St. Shenouda the Archimandrite in his monasticism, prayer, and life of solitude.

13.      Departure

His Holiness Pope Shenouda reposed in the Lord on March 17, 2012 after more than forty years as the Pope and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Under his guidance, the Coptic Church flourished and saw an age of spiritual revival. He was laid to rest in the Monastery of St. Pishoy in Wadi-el-Natroun.

We pray that the Lord may repose the soul of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III in the Paradise of Joy, in the bosom of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the choirs of the martyrs, crossbearers, and saints who pleased God from Adam to the end of the ages. May his holy blessings be with us all. Amen.

Questions About the Nativity

Written by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III on . Posted in Feasts

nativity

In the Name of the Fr., the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.

In this booklet we present to you some answers which are related to certain questions about the Nativity, of which there are:

  1. The sequence of the genealogy, and the mention of some sinful women in it;
  2. the difference between the two gospels of Matthew and Luke in regards to the names and the ascending and descending order in that sequence.
  3. Are there 41 or 42 genealogies?
  4. Elizabeth your relative.
  5. The son of David the son of Abraham.
  6. The difference in the celebration of the day of the Nativity.
  7. The wise men (the Magi) and the nature of the star of the wise men.
  8. The difference between the (Magi) wise men and the shepherds.

Pope Shenouda III

PREFACE

Some people ask many questions about the subject of The Nativity of Christ, and they need answers. I undertook to answer from the sayings of the saintly fathers, which I had translated, or which I had taken from some manuscripts.

I relied in that, on many books, the most important of which are:

  1. Saint John Chrysostom’s interpretation of the Gospel of St. Matthew (manuscript, and translation).
  2. The Homilies of Saint Severus of Antioch , which were published in “Patrologia Orientalis: Homilae Cathedrales”
  3. The Sermons of Saint John Chrysostom.

There are other questions about the virginal nativity and the virginity of the Holy Virgin, to which I answered in our book “The Comparative Theology”, to which it can be referred.

But now, I congratulate you for the Nativity of the Lord Christ.

Many happy returns.


QUESTION #1: The Sinful Women in the Genealogy Sequence

Why did the evangelist neglect the names of some saintly women like Sara, Rebecca, and others, in the sequence of genealogies, while he mentioned adulterous women like Tamar, Rahab, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and Ruth who is a woman of a foreign race?

ANSWER

He wanted to annihilate the haughtiness of the Jews who boast about their grandfathers. He showed them how their grandfathers had sinned. Judah committed adultery with Tamar, his son’s widow, and engendered Perez and Zerah from her. David fell into adultery with the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Boaz, the great grandfather of David, was engendered by Salmon from the adulteress Rahab.

Even if their grandfathers were virtuous men, the virtue of their grandfathers would not have been profitable to them; because the deeds of a person, not the deeds of his sons, are those which determine his destiny at the last day.

Saint John Chrysostom said about this:
“The Lord Christ did not come to run away form our disgraceful actions, but to obliterate them. He is not ashamed of any of our defects. And just as those grandfathers had taken adulterous women, in the same way our Lord and God has betrothed for Himself our nature that had committed adultery.

The Church is like Tamar.
She was at once delivered from her wicked actions, and then she followed Him.

The condition of Ruth resembles our condition.
Her tribe was a foreigner to Israel ; and it went down to exceeding poverty. Nevertheless, when Boaz saw her, he did not despise her poverty, neither did he reject the vileness of her race. In the same way, the Lord Christ did not reject His Church that was an alien, and poor as regards good deeds. And just as Ruth, if she had not left her people and her house, she would not have tasted that glory, in the same way, the Church about which the prophet said: “Forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty” (Psalm 45: 10-11)…

Our Lord mortified them with these matters, and made them realize how not to be haughty.
When the evangelist registered the genealogy of Christ, he mentioned those sinful women; because it is impossible for any of us to be virtuous by the virtue of his grandfathers, or to be wicked by the vice of his grandfathers. I rather say that the person whose grandfathers were not virtuous and became virtuous himself, then the honor of that person’s virtue would have been great.

Let no one boast about his grandfathers, and be puffed because of them, when he thinks about the grandfathers of our Lord; and let him look at his own deeds, and even let him not boast about his virtues; because it is through such boasting that the Pharisee became less the Publican. (Luke 18).

Do not then falsify your pains by vain talk. Do not loose all your effort after having covered a long distance; because your Lord knows the virtues which you have attained, better than you, because if you give a glass of cold water, God will not neglect that, and will not forget it. (Matt. 10:43).


QUESTION #2: Ascent and Descent in the Genealogical Sequence

There are three differences in the sequence of genealogy, between what was registered by St. Matthew the Evangelist and St. Luke the Evangelist. These are:

  • There is a difference between the names in the two gospels.
  • Saint Matthew begins the biography of the Lord Christ with the genealogical sequence. As for Saint Luke, he does not speak of it before telling the story of the Epiphany.
  • Saint Matthew mentions the genealogy descending from the first fathers to the sons, while saint Luke mentions the genealogy ascending from the Lord Christ to Adam to God.

Is there an explanation for all of these differences?

ANSWER

A. The Difference in Names.
As a matter of fact, Saint Matthew mentions the natural genealogy of the Lord Christ, while Saint Luke mentions the legal or official genealogy. To explain this, we say:

The law of Moses specifies that if a man dies without posterity, the brother of the dead man must take the widow of his brother, and marry her, and engender a posterity for his brother from her. (Deut. 25: 5-6), or that the son whom he engenders becomes from the legal point of view, an official son to his brother, although he is considered a natural son to that brother who has engendered him.

Hence such a son would have two fathers: a natural father who has engendered him, and a legal father who is his uncle who died without posterity. If this dead man without posterity has no brother, the nearest relative to him will take his wife and engender a posterity to him; because the son who is born is counted a son to this dead man, according to the law. If the nearest relative does not want to take the wife of the dead man according to what he has been charged of, the next relative must necessarily accept this marriage, because the law is eager to raise a posterity to that dead man who has not engendered a son.

That kind of marriage is called “redemption.” A clear example of this is mentioned in the story of Ruth with Boaz.

In his interpretation of this, Saint Severus of Antioch said:
In this manner, Joseph the betrothed to the Holy Virgin is related, as a matter of fact, to two fathers: Because since Heli took a wife and died without posterity, Jacob, who was the nearest relative to him, married his wife in order to engender a posterity to him from her according to the commandment of the law. When he engendered Joseph, that Joseph became a legal son to the dead Heli, and at the same time a natural son to Jacob. Therefore saint Matthew, from his part, said that Joseph is the son of Jacob, and saint Luke, from the other part, said that he is the son of Heli. One mentioned the natural genealogy, and the other mentioned the legal genealogy.

On one hand, Saint Matthew mentioned the natural fathers of Joseph; while Saint Luke mentioned the legal fathers.
Saint Luke went on with the genealogical legal sequence until Nathan son of David. Saint Matthew went on until Solomon son of David. The two met in David…Then the course was sometimes similar, and some other times, it was variously divided, then it was united again, and then separated. Hence the genealogy of Christ is confirmed, from the natural and from the legal point of view…that He is the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam.

B. The Difference in Ascending and Descending, and the relation between this and the baptism.
Saint Matthew began his gospel by saying: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham…” Then he explained the genealogy saying: “Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob”. And after having mentioned those who were engendered through faulty relations, he came at last to the census of the generations. Then he said directly: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows…”

Thus after having explained the corruption and the death through which all these generations had passed, he arrived at the pure birth of the Lord Christ from the Holy Spirit and from the Virgin saint Mary.

As for saint Luke, he narrated the Annunciation, the birth of the Baptist, the Nativity of Christ, and gradually reached the baptism of Christ at the age of thirty; and then he mentioned the legal genealogy.

Saint Severus of Antioch explains this matter saying:
“Luke explained the legal genealogy, that reminds us of Him who died without posterity, then his name was raised after his death, by a son who is attributed to him, in a way that has some similarity to the adoption and to the resurrection.

He mentioned this genealogy after having narrated the story of the Nativity; because baptism gives the true heavenly adoption, in manifesting us as sons of God. Therefore he mentioned the legal genealogy which gives the adoption; in order to show that this representation has been truly confirmed, and that the sickly condition of the people has been returned to health by means of grace.

It is for this reason that he ascended with the genealogy from down upwards, till it arrived to God, in order to show that grace which comes from baptism raises us up and elevates us to the divine relationship, making us sons to God.

Exactly just as the union of marriage which happened after the disobedience of the commandment by Adam and Eve, and the engendering of sons, which resulted from that, made us descend downwards. And to complete this image he descended with the natural genealogy downwards…

Saint Augustine says:
Matthew goes down with the genealogy, pointing to our Lord Jesus Christ who descended to bear our sins. Because in the posterity of Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Thus he did not begin with Adam.


QUESTION #3: The Number of Generations

Saint Matthew says: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations” (Matt. 1:17). But when we count them, we find them to be 41 only. What then is the secret?

ANSWER

The reason is that Jeconiah was counted twice, because he is like the angle stone, an intermediate between two generations, and so he was counted with each of the two. From David who had sinned, they went down to the captivity to the age of Jeconiah, And from Jecohiah, they went up to the generation of Christ who has emancipated them. Jeconiah was in that matter, a symbol of Christ, who was described as “the stone which was rejected by the builders, which has become the chief cornerstone”.


QUESTION #4: The son of David, the son of Abraham

Why did the Apostle Matthew say in the genealogy sequence: “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1); and mentioned David firstly, although Abraham precedes David as regards time?

ANSWER

Saint John Chrysostom said about that:

“He mentioned David firstly, because he was prominent in the mouths of all the people at that time, in view of his dignity, and his majesty, and also because he was more recent in time.

Thus they said: “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem , where David was?” (John 7:42).

Nobody called Him the son of Abraham, but they called Him the son of David…because of his kingdom, and because they honored the kings who reigned after him.

And God said to Solomon: “Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son.” (1 Kings 11:12).”

We note also what the angel said in his annunciation to the Holy Virgin of the birth of Christ:

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1: 32:33).


QUESTION #5: Elizabeth Your Relative

The angel of the Annunciation said to the Holy Virgin : “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived in her old age” (Luke 1:36). How can this be, since the Holy Virgin St. Mary is from the tribe of Judah from the posterity of David, while Elizabeth is from the daughters of Aaron from the tribe of Levi; and the mixing among tribes was forbidden, in order to safeguard the inheritance, lest it would be transferred form one tribe to another?!

ANSWER

It is true that it was said in the book of Numbers:
“So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father’s tribe, so that the children of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers. Thus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance” (Num. 36: 7-9).

Nevertheless there are some who interpret the word “your relative” in a general meaning, or that she is like one from the daughters of Israel , according to the word of the apostle saint Paul :
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants…” ( Rom. 9: 3-4).

But Saint Severus, Patriarch of Antioch , presents another interpretation. He says:
“As a matter of fact, the book of Exodus was written before the commandment that forbids taking a wife from another tribe. Aaron, the first chief priest according to the law, took a wife from the daughters of Judah, “Aaron took to himself Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Nahshon, as wife” (Ex. 6:23), and Amminadab is from the posterity of the tribe of Judah…Consider the very wise arrangement of the Holy Spirit, who ordained that the wife of Zacharias, the mother of the Baptist and the relative of St. Mary the Mother of God, was called Elizabeth. We recollect the past until Elizabeth whom Aaron married, and the union of the two tribes which happened through her medium. The Holy Spirit obviously declares to us that it is through the medium of Elizabeth , that the relationship with the Holy Virgin was established.”

QUESTION #6: Genealogy From Joseph

Why the Registration by Genealogy From Joseph?

ANSWER

This question was asked and answered by Saint John Chrysostom: “How is it declared that Christ is from the posterity of David? since he was not born of a man but from a woman only; and the posterity of the Virgin was not counted?…… and what is the objective in that the evangelist mentioned Joseph who was not a cause for the Nativity of Christ?”

It was mentioned in the gospel that “the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth , to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1: 26-27). According to the law, it was not permitted that one could marry from a tribe which is not his own tribe (Num. 36: 7-9).

Since Joseph is from the house of David and from his relatives, it was not possible for him to take Mary as a wife from another tribe than his tribe, and from another ethnic group than his.

What would happen if he had disobeyed the law in that matter?
The gospel testified to him that he was “a just man” (Matt. 1:19).

Why is it according to the genealogy from Joseph and not from the Virgin?
It was not a custom among the Jews, to count the genealogy from women. Therefore he was silent about the mention of her grandfathers, and he counted the genealogy of Joseph. If he had counted the genealogy from a virgin, he would have invented an innovation. And if he had been silent about the genealogy of Joseph, we would not have known the grandfathers of the Holy Virgin……..

Also it was because he did not want to manifest before the time, to the Jews, that Christ was born of a Virgin…since in that, there is a deliverance of the Virgin from a malignant accusation…lest the Jews would have lapidated the Virgin with stones.

Since after numerous miracles, they called Him the son of Joseph (Matt. 13:55), how would they have believed before His miracles, that He is the son of a virgin?!


QUESTION #7: THE “WISE MEN” (THE MAGI)

Who are the wise men? Why did the star appear to them? How did they overcome the Jews? Was the star a natural star? Or was it a heavenly power in the form of a star? What are the symbols which the story of the wise men bear, and what are their relationships with the Gentiles and the Jews?

ANSWER

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” 


QUESTION #8: THE DIFFERENCE IN THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY

Why do we celebrate the feast of the Nativity on the 7th of January, while some other churches celebrate it on the 25th of December. What is the reason for this difference?

ANSWER

It is not a doctrinal or a theological difference, but it is a scientific difference.

It is known that the year is 365 days and a quarter of a day. Therefore a day is added once every four years; and the year is called a leap year. But in the Gregorian western calendar, it has been said that the year is 365 days and a quarter of a day and approximately 11 minutes. This calendar was established about fifteen centuries AD.

If this difference of eleven minutes every year, is multiplied during those centuries since the birth of Christ until now, it will result into a difference of approximately thirteen days which is the difference between the 25th of December and the 7th of January.

We have confidence in our Coptic calendar, because of the great excellence of the Pharaohs in the science of astronomy, and we celebrate the Nativity on the 29 th of Kiahk which corresponds to the 7 th of January. There are some other churches who share with us this date.

But the question in not a question of faith and doctrine, nevertheless it can be exploited to impress the simple, when the date is changed.

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