New York.- By Vicki Jame Yiannias
What was the significance of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ child? Rev. Fr Chrysostomos Gilbert of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in New York answered, “The Magi brought three gifts to the manger of Christ. Not without reason, there were three–no more, no less. One could say that the Magi stood before the manger of Christ for all mankind, that their gifts symbolize all that we, followers of the Savior, bring to Him.”
GN: What do the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh symbolize?
FCG: The gold signifies material gifts; the frankincense is for immaterial gifts, gifts of the spirit; and the myrrh represents those gifts that are at once both spiritual and material. There are, accordingly, persons who bring the Lord gold; there are those who bring frankincense; still others bring myrrh; lastly, some bring several gifts together.
GN: What defines the individuals who bring gold?
FCG: Who brings the Lord gold? In examining this question, we shall see how we too, like the Magi, can serve our Lord and Savior. Gold is brought by those who, for the Glory of God and the benefit of their neighbor, offer anything of their labors and possessions. For example, you bring gold to the Lord if you build, renew or adorn God’s temple. Your gift pleases Him, for even though He sits now on the Throne of Glory for the sake of our salvation, He continues at the same time to appear in the manger as well.
GN: How does He appear in the manger?
FCG: This manger is present in church on the table of oblation, where at every Liturgy He is, as it were, born again so as to offer Himself anew as a sacrifice for our sins. How often He suffers want in this manger. Here He needs clothing and shelter, light and warmth. Therefore, if you do anything for the benefit of the church, your offering delights the Lord—as much as did the gift of the magi who brought Him gold.
How much of this gold is brought to the Lord? If we were to compare what is brought with that which is spent to answer the demands of the passions, for the satisfaction not only of our needs, but of our very whims—or even with that which is patently surrendered for the flesh and the world to consume—then it shall turn out to be the very smallest part. Before us a poor man shakes from bitter cold, hunger, and disease; we either rebuff him harshly or give him a measly pittance, and that same day we are ready to exhaust half our fortune in a senseless game, or to display our squandering at some gaudy spectacle.
Q: Who are the individuals who bring frankincense?
A: These are they who apply their abilities, knowledge, and talents to the Glory of God and the benefit of their neighbors, because these are immaterial gifts of greater value than gold or silver. These are gifts that God gives to men but they also are—and should be made—men’s gifts to God.
This costly frankincense is offered to the Lord by each one who, sparing not himself, serves his neighbor. Frankincense is offered to the Lord by that shepherd of the Church, who faithfully stands alert guarding souls and hearts against the confusions and temptations of the age, who ardently proclaims the ways of the Lord, who guides those who have lost their way, comforts those in despair, instructs all. Frankincense is brought to the Lord by that mother who does not rely upon servants, who does not spend time in idleness and vain amusements, but rather devotes her time and abilities to the rearing of her children in the fear of God, to nurturing in them the habit of self-denial, the spirit of meekness, of prayer, and of love for mankind.
Permeating the home, the fragrance of this frankincense is thereafter diffused everywhere by those who received in that home a pious upbringing. Frankincense is brought to the Lord by that artist who does not utilize his talents to pander to human lust in keeping with the spirit of the time, but rather, strives to turn all his creative powers into means of disseminating—with the refined and beautiful—what is true and good. This frankincense envelops many with its heavenly fragrance. And just as there is no one who does not possess abilities or talents of some kind, neither is there anyone who is unable to bring the Lord frankincense by using his abilities to the Glory of God and the true profit of his neighbors.
Q: And who are the individuals who bring myrrh?
A: This was the last gift and therefore more exalted than gold or even frankincense. Like frankincense, myrrh exudes a heavenly fragrance, but its distinguishing quality lies in its great bitterness; for this reason it represents our trials and sorrows, our tears and sufferings.
Now it is clear who brings to the Lord the gift of myrrh. They who bring it patiently bear trials in life and suffer blamelessly without giving in to bleak despair, or fainthearted complaining, or useless sighing. Those who, in enduring their trials, are moved neither to prideful scorn towards others, nor to the desperate stifling in themselves of all human feeling, but to a lively hope in the living God—to the thought that through suffering he or she is cleansed from sins, made perfect in virtue, and, what is even more gladdening, made like unto their Savior Who died for them on the Cross. Such endurance, in the spirit of faith and love, of the tribulations and sorrows of the age is also a gift to the Lord, a gift more precious than gold and of a sweeter savor even than frankincense.