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Epiphany, 3 Wisemen, and 3 Demons by Fr. George W. Rutler



From the Pastor
January 3, 2016
by Fr. George W. Rutler.

The Visit of the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus are “epiphanies,” or public showings of his divinity. The Baptism is easier to conceive, at least until the voice of God cracks the sky. The Magi can seem too fantastic, and their bejeweled turbans and camels fit better as props in the Radio City Christmas pageant. But there are real things more fabulous than fiction. There was a time when most Westerners knew of Arabia only through stories of Ali Baba and flying carpets, and the musical Kismet. I had a dear aunt whose one contact with the romantic Middle East was her devotion to Rudolph Valentino. In our “global village” the real Arabia is no longer for story books.

It is likely that those “wise men from the east” were Zoroastrians from Persia, priests of a monotheistic belief system called Mazdayasna, whose god Ahura Mazda had a prophet to the Greeks named Zarathustra, or Zoroaster. There are fewer than 200,000 of them today, dwindling in number since their persecution by the first Muslim caliphs. The Zoroastrians had a developed science of astronomy and a knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures. It was a dreadful loss when the caliphs in the seventh century destroyed their vast library in the capital city of Ctesiphon.

Iran and Syria are strategic allies now, and Christians there and in Iraq have a history no less complicated than the Magi. The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop of Syria’s largest city have issued Christmas letters. Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako writes: “This year Iraqi Christians will celebrate Christmas in deplorable circumstances . . . victims of segregation and exclusion.” Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, describes “celebrating the Feast of the Nativity as bombs are raining down.”

Our own nation’s captious leaders and diplomats shrink from calling genocide what it is. Pope Francis said: “There is no Christianity without persecution. . . . Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it.” For those who think, as Rudyard Kipling versed, that “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Amel Shimoun Nona, has a warning: “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. You also are in danger. . . . If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”

Kipling’s ballad, however, was hopeful about the solidarity of virtue against the complicity of silence:

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed nor Birth.

When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.

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