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ՄՈԳԵՐ , The Three Magi

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#1 Arpa



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Posted 09 January 2012 - 10:46 AM


The Three Magi
Երեք Մոգերը
:oops: According to the below there actually were four magi.
Is not the word “մոգ/magus” a swear word in the Armenian?
Some may deem my choice of posting the following article here as an affront and sacrilege.

A Story about the Magi in Armenia
by Rev. Dr. George A. Leylegian on

January 6, 2012

As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity and Revelation of
Jesus Christ on Jan. 6, I thought you might be interested in an
important part of history that involves the Magi who followed the Star
to Bethlehem, and then traveled to Armenia.

As Matthew 2:12 confirms, the Magi decided to return to their homeland
via a different way. According to the Gontag, the Magi struck
northward from Bethlehem and arrived on a plain outside the ancient
city of Moush.
In Matthew 2:1-12, we read that when Jesus Christ was born during the
days of Herod, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem. They told
Herod that they had seen the Star, and had followed it with the hope
of finding the one who was to be born as the new King. The Jewish
scribes confirmed that the Prophet Micah foresaw that the new King
would be born in Bethlehem, and so the Magi set out from Jerusalem,
following the Star. The Star led them to the place where the newborn
Child was, and the Magi entered into the place, and found the Child
with His mother, Mary. The Magi bowed down to the earth in adoration,

and then, opening their gifts, presented gold, frankincense, and
myrrh. And then, having been warned in a dream not to travel back
through Jerusalem and encountering Herod there, the Magi returned to
their homeland using a different way.

The Gospel account contains many beautiful facts, but alas, does not
provide certain crucial information. We do not know how many Magi
there were. Supposition indicates that each Magus presented one of the
three gifts, and therefore, there may have been three, but we do not
know for certain. Nor do we know the exact location of their ancestral
homeland `in the East.' Because the word `magus' may be interpreted as
`astronomer' or `astrologer' (from the root `M-G' meaning `star'),
many suppose that they originated in either Babylon or Persia, which
were famous centers of astronomy and astrology. Again, we do not know
for certain. Lastly, the Gospel does not supply the names of the Magi.
Later traditions assigned to them the names of Gaspar, Melchior, and
Balthasar, and further traditions claimed that Gaspar was the eldest
in age and Balthasar the youngest.

In Western Armenian, the names are pronounced Kaspar, Melkon, and Baghdasar.

In the course of one of my arcane research ventures, I stumbled across
a rare book that included a history of the Armenian Monastery of Saint
John the Baptist (`Sourp Garabed Vank'), outside the ancient city of
Moush. I discovered a fascinating document: It was the text of a
`Gontag' (an official encyclical from a church functionary, from the
Greek word Kontakion), asking for donations for repairs needed for a
dilapidated sanctuary outside one of the villages of Moush.

The Gontag, sadly, does not include a date or the name of the official
who issued it. Nevertheless, the text, written in Classical Armenian,
provides a piece of information that is both beautiful for Armenians
and critical for Christianity.

As Matthew 2:12 confirms, the Magi decided to return to their homeland
via a different way. According to the Gontag, the Magi struck
northward from Bethlehem and arrived on a plain outside the ancient
city of Moush. There they set up camp to rest from their weary
travels. In the middle of the night, Gaspar, who was apparently the
eldest of the Magi, passed away peacefully. Melchior and Balthasar
were naturally grieved by the passing of their older friend, and set
upon the solemn task of arranging his proper burial.

Local people were commissioned, and Gaspar was buried at the brow of a
hill overlooking the plain where they had encamped. The local people
then constructed a sepulcher over the burial place. After a respectful
period of mourning, Melchior and Balthasar resumed their journey home.

For 300 years, the local people continued to maintain the sepulcher,
and passed on the oral tradition that a wise man had seen a great
star, traveled to Bethlehem, witnessed the birth of a great king, and
had passed away on his return journey.

The tradition of the Magi in Armenia may also have been known to King
Abgar (Apkar) of Edessa (Urfa) who, according to church history,
wanted to know more about Christianity, and wrote a letter to Jesus
Christ, inviting Him to come to Edessa to heal the king and remain in
that city (see Eusebius, History of the Church). After the
Resurrection, the Apostle Thaddeus journeyed to Edessa, preached about
Christianity, healed Abgar, and baptized him, making Abgar the first
known Christian king of Armenia.

Before Gregory the Illuminator returned to Armenia after being
consecrated a bishop in Caesarea in Cappadocia, he was entrusted by
Bishop Leontius with several venerated relics. As Gregory traveled
back to Armenia, he stopped outside of Moush. He ordered that a
monastery be constructed there to house the great relic of Saint John
the Baptist. Until May, 1915, the famous Sourp Garabed Vank stood as a
sentinel of Armenian Christianity.

While Gregory was sojourning in the area, the local people told him
about the burial place of the wise man. At that time, the vast
majority of people living around Moush were still pagan. They
understood that the sepulcher contained the relics of an important
person, but they were unaware of the specific connection of Gaspar and
the Magi to the theology of Christianity. Gregory immediately
journeyed to the place, and recognized the sanctity of the sepulcher.
He ordered that a monastery be built around the sepulcher in order to
preserve and protect the relics of Gaspar. The monastery was
henceforth known as `Sourp Kaspari Vank' or `Kasparavank.'

Every year, on Theophany, when the Christmas Star appeared in the
night sky, the priests, monks, and pilgrims would gather at Sourp
Kaspari Vank would offer the first Holy Eucharist of the feast-day on
the altar-table that was constructed over the sepulcher of Gaspar the

In the West, many believe the relics of the Magi were discovered in
the fourth century in Milan, Italy, and were later transferred to
Cologne/Koln, Germany. To this day, visitors to Cologne may see the
beautiful golden shrine inside the cathedral that, according to
Western tradition, preserves the remains of the Magi. For centuries,
pilgrims from all over the world have flocked to Cologne at both
Christmas and Epiphany to venerate these relics.

But what about Armenia? If the Gontag account is accurate, then it
would indicate that the more important relic-the entire body of
Gaspar-has been preserved and venerated in Armenia since at least the
time of Gregory the Illuminator. How a fragment of this relic arrived
in Europe requires serious research, and why Armenia is not accorded a
superior place in the Christmas narrative remains inexplicable.

Sourp Kaspari Vank appears to have functioned both as a monastery and
a place of pilgrimage for Christians from the 3rd century until the
early 19th century. The monastery was still visited up through 1915,
although the building was apparently pillaged and ruined in the early
1800's during a series of raids by Kurdish tribes. Nevertheless, the
traditional resting place of Gaspar continued to be venerated by
Armenians from all around Moush and the surrounding areas.

As we gather to celebrate Theophany and Armenian Christmas, I hope
that you will take a moment to offer a prayer for the Magi. I also
hope that you will remember the many pilgrims who traveled to Sourp
Kaspari Vank year after year to celebrate Armenian Christmas Eve upon
the altar-table that was constructed over the sepulcher of Gaspar. I
also hope that when we discuss the issue of genocide, we take into
account not only the people who perished, but the precious relics that
have been lost or stolen, and the centuries of cherished traditions
that have vanished.

To you and for us all come these glad tidings of great joy:

Christ is born and revealed to the Magi!

Blessed is the Revelation of Christ's Nativity brought to the
Armenians by the Magi!

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