Three Ancient Men: An Armenian Epiphany legend

The stories of Jesus birth are surrounded by myths and legends, some specific to certain cultures. A little boy brings a lamb, an ox and an ass look over the crib… Many of the stories have developed to convey the beliefs of Christians. 

The well known, and somewhat eccentric 19th Century Vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall, R S Hawker, retold an Armenian myth about the three wise men, and also of what became of the Star of Bethlehem. (An interesting connection here with an earlier post about the night sky in Zimbabwe).

In 1854 Hawker write: 

The Three Wise Men by the American artist J C Leyendecker (1900)

“According to an ancient Armenian legend, the three sons of Noah were raised from the dead to represent all mankind at Bethlehem. According to another, they slept a deep sleep in a cavern on Ararat until the Messiah was born, and then an angel aroused and showed them The Southern Cross, then first created to be the beacon of their way.

When the starry signal had fulfilled its office it went on, journeying towards the south, until it reached its place to bend above The Peaceful Sea in memorial of the Child Jesu.”

(From Notes and Queries 1854)

Hawker went on to put the Armenian legend into verse:

Three ancient men, in Bethlehem’s cave,
With awful wonder stand:
A Voice had call’d them from their grave
In some far Eastern land!

They lived: they trod the former earth,
When the old waters swell’d:—
The ark, that womb of second birth,
Their house and lineage held!

Pale Japhet bows the knee with gold;
Bright Shem sweet incense brings:
And Ham—the myrrh his fingers hold—
Lo! the Three Orient Kings!

Types of the total earth, they hail’d
The signal’s starry frame:—
Shuddering with second life, they quail’d
At the Child Jesu’s name!

Then slow the patriarchs turn’d and trod,
And this their parting sigh—
“Our eyes have seen the living God,
And now, once more to die!”

And the words have been put to the music of Frederick William Herschel, a musician, and also appropriately, an astronomer (he discovered the planet Uranus).

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Bless the Four Corners of this House

I’ve a wonderful collection of old hymn books, many inherited from my dear friend Fr Mark Dalby. I haven’t room on the Rectory book shelves for them so they occupy two selves in the church office at St Chrysostom’s. Looking through them recently I came across ‘a hymn to be sung at the blessing of a home.’ That’s not a subject heading, I think, in many modern hymn books!

Well, for many years we’ve encouraged home and house blessings at St Chrysostom’s so I thought this could be a worthy addition to the toolbox of items to be possibly used at home blessings.

Although ‘Bless the four corners of this home,’ is sometimes described as an Irish house blessing the words are in fact those of the American poet and writer, Arthur Guiterman (1871 – 1943). It had a short life as a hymn, appearing first in 1935 and not being found in hymn books after the 50s. Its limited popularity appears confined to the United States. Here is the hymn with music:

We decided to ‘resurrect’ the hymn and bring it to British shores! So after Benediction on Epiphany Sunday Paul and Kenson organised us in singing, and recording, the hymn. We had great fun doing it. Paul led the singing, accompanied by Kenson, and they did a splendid job. All present joined in with the last phrase.  Thank you to Paul and Kenson and to all who sang. Our recording is now available on YouTube so anyone can hear it. We invite you to Click here to hear it.

So if you are not inclined to do a more elaborate blessing of your home, we wrote of earlier in the blog (see here) here’s a simple suggestion. With a nice cup of tea, or a glass of wine, relax, perhaps light a candle, and listen to the singers offering the prayer as they sing in St Chrysostom’s Church, and make the words a prayer of blessing for your home too.

Fr Ian

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20 + C + M + B + 19 Blessing of Homes

Our homes are special places – they are where we live, eat, play and pray.  That is stating the obvious – yet we often forget the obvious.  What better way to celebrate the visit of the Magi or Three Kings to the earthly home of Jesus than by seeking God’s blessing on our own homes?

Our homes are places where the day to day things happen, and they are, as such, places where we need God’s blessing most.  A “blessing” is to ask for God’s approval, for God to be in and around us, for God to be quietly present – and that is a wonderful thing to ask for our homes.

It is traditional to pray a blessing on homes at Epiphany time – the feast of the visit of the Magi.  It was in his earthly home that Jesus was found by them, and it is in our homes and everyday life that God is with us.

It is usual to mark our homes, perhaps with blessed chalk, available from Church, using the initials of the Three Kings, and the date of the year as we pray the blessing.

So, the marking near, or above, the main door, could be:

20+C+M+B+19   (or a simple Cross)


This prayer might be used

O God of Light, bless our house and our family. May our home be a place of peace and health. May each member of this family cultivate the gifts and graces you give, using our talents and works for the good of all.

Make this house a shelter in the storm and a haven of rest for all in need of your warmth and care.  When we go out, may we never lose sight of your guiding star. As we go about our work, our study, our play, keep us in its light and in your love. Amen.

This year at Epiphany at St Chrysostom’s this prayer for blessing (adapted) was offered to worshippers:

Bless the four corners of this home, and be the lintel blest, and bless the hearth, and bless the board, and bless each place of rest, and bless the door that opens wide to friend as to kin, and bless each crystal window pane that lets the starlight in, and bless the roof-tree overhead and every sturdy wall. The peace of all, the peace of God, The Peace of Love on all.

Fr Ian discovered this prayer set to music. Click here to see it – and indeed to hear it sung by singers at St Chrysostom’s!

Fr Chris

If you would like a priest to bless your home simply ask, they are happy to do so!

(At St Chrysostom’s we love to encourage this tradition each year. Read more about it – click here. Do feel free to share this too.)

 

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#FollowTheStar A former prisoner shares thoughts

John served a prison sentence of eight years. While he was in prison he met Fr Ian who was working as a Chaplain at the maximum security prison in which John was held. Recently Fr Ian contacted John and asked him what #FollowTheStar meant to him in prison. Here Fr Ian summarises John’s comments:

I tried to take short cuts to get money and sort myself out. I ended up with 8yrs inside. I ruined my life. I damaged my family. People didn’t want to know me. I can understand that.

I was really really down in prison. No one seemed to care. The first thing inside seemed to be to look after myself and take care. I was known by my surname. No one even shook my hand.

As a lad I’d been to church a few times. I’d sung in the choir in the church on our estate. I thought I’d give the chapel a go in the prison. I was put off. Some of the other cons were too religious for me with their big Bibles on their knees and using Bible talk, like being saved, and knowing Jesus. I felt out of all that.

Then a chaplain said I might like going to the Quaker group. She said it could suit me. It did. It was great. Kind people from outside just came in and talked with us. We had tea and buns. We could chat about anything. We were all treated the same, visitors, staff and prisoners. It was normal and just first names were used.

It gave me hope, and it sparked something in me. It was only an hour or so a week but I really looked forward to it. I thought there are people who care and people who are kind out there, and I could try to be one of them. It raised my spirit. I thought maybe church can do that outside.

That simple kindness, giving of time to others, listening… gave me new hope, and I could look up.

A common saying in prison is ‘Two men look out of the same prison bars, one sees mud, the other sees stars.’ I was helped to see stars, to #FollowTheStar of hope and friendship.

Those three kings needed each other to help. Outside of prison now I look out for kind, good people. I need them to help me #FollowTheStar. I try to be one myself. I’ve even started going to a church!

And I still try to look up and #FollowTheStar. It helps me, it can help you.

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#FollowTheStar Encouragement to a teenager

The village in which I spent much of my childhood is in a remote part of County Durham in the north of England, Fr Ian writes. It stands about 1,000ft above sea level and in winter it can be very bleak, and often snow bound. The clear, fresh air attracted some who had breathing difficulties to retire there. I remember a retired priest and a retired colonel moving into the village for health reasons.

The former post office

One day in early January, as a boy in his early teens, I went to the village post office to buy some stamps. In fact the village post office was a room in Mr and Mrs Rutter’s house converted to serve as a post office. Mrs Rutter was ever a reliable source of information on village life. That day as I entered I saw Colonel Nattrass seated at the counter, he was resting, catching his breath before walking home.

He began a conversation with me, ‘What would you like to do?’ he asked. I replied ‘I’d like to be a priest, Colonel,’ I replied. He gave an encouraging smile and reminded me of the coming Feast of Epiphany and talked of the star in the skies which guided the wise men to Bethlehem. ‘They kept their eyes fixed on the star, through all the ups and downs of their lives’ he remarked, ‘You have a star to follow. Fix your eyes on it and travel safely.’ I have never forgotten that moment, it was a significant event for me, and the image remains with me.

Follow the Star!

‘Christ,’ the Venerable Bede says, ‘is the morning star ..who brings the promise of life and opens everlasting day.’ Star of wonder, star of light, indeed!

Christ is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of God’s nature, sustaining the universe… (Hebrews 1.3)

As we begin a New Year we look forward in hope, we look out for wonder and light, we follow the radiant light of God’s glory.

#FollowTheStar!

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2019 Veni Creator Spiritus: God Knows!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

In 1939 the then Princess Elizabeth gave to her father, King George VI, a copy of a poem. It became famous when the King quoted it in his 1939 Christmas Broadcast. The poem,  God Knows is by, Minnie Louise Haskins. It encourages hope and trust in God at a difficult time. The section the King quoted was:

opened-gate 1And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Hope and trust in God, leading us into the future, are appropriate things to ponder and pray for at the beginning of a New Year. They are qualities to encourage in ourselves and others.

At Mass on New Years Day at St Chrysostom’s we join with Christians all over the world in following the Christian tradition of singing together, Veni Creator Spiritus, asking for the Spirit of God, to inspire and guide us as we begin a new year. We pray for hope and trust in God.

VENI, Creator SpiritusWhy not, as part of your personal prayer, join your voice with other Christians and pray this ancient hymn perhaps in the traditional form of John Cosin, (Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire). You can listen to it sung at St Paul’s Cathedral, here,  from time to time at Mass at St Chrysostom’s we use the less well known but also poetic version of John Dryden, (Creator Spirit by whose aid).

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#FollowTheStar A Mancunian from Zimbabwe reflects

Zimbabwean Night Sky

Growing up in Zimbabwe, one of the enduring memories of the rural environment is the night sky on a cloudless day.

Unpolluted by any lights from electricity, the thick darkness and the eerie sounds of the night that surrounds you instil a sense of fear of what else lurks in it. This is soon assuaged by the beauty of nature’s own lights that surround you. At eye level it’s the twinkle of the multitudes of fireflies going about their business.

Evening Star at Mutare, Zimbabwe

Look skywards on a clear day and the beauty of the heavens and the wonders of the universe unfold before your eyes. The billions of stars appear to be having a conversation with each other but among these three instantly recognisable are the ones that my grandfather would always point to- as indicators of direction and time.

The five stars of the Southern Cross appear as a giant crucifix just above the Msasa tree, I not only associated these with the mystery of my Christian faith but found them a source of comfort- I could always know where I was going. It was always a constant reminder each evening of who our saviour is. The vhenekera tsvimborume (evening star) provided early relief from evening darkness before the fireflies set about their business while the hweva (morning star) brought promise of a new dawn devouring the darkness.

The Southern Cross and pointer stars

During this time of Christmas when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and we reflect on following the star, the focus is not just on the wise men who followed the star to find Jesus. The bigger significance is being able as a Christian family to recognise the signs and direction that Christ wants us to follow. It is all about following the direction given by the star of salvation, leading us from darkness to light, from fear and sin to salvation. We (in the words of my favourite carol) ‘follow the star of wonder and star of light’!

Admos Chimhowu

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