December 25, 2010

The Three Gifts of the Magi On Mount Athos

Among the various treasures and very precious relics which are preserved with much piety in the Holy Monastery of St. Paul on the Holy Mountain, without a doubt among the foremost are the Precious Gifts which the Three Magi from the East offered to the incarnate Lord as an infant. These gifts, as is known, were gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold is in the form of 28 pieces of carefully engraved coins, with various shapes (rectangular, trapezoidal, polygonal, etc.) and measuring about 5 X 7 centimeters. Each coin has a different design of different and complex artistry. The frankincense and myrrh take the form of mixtures in the form of 62 roughly spherical beads the size of a small olive.

Because the spiritual (foremost) and physical, historical and archaeological worth of the Precious Gifts is incalculable, they are preserved with extreme care in the treasury of the Holy Monastery of St. Paul. For security reasons they are distributed in various reliquaries; only a part of them are presented for veneration in the Holy Monastery and are brought outside of the Holy Mountain as a blessing to various Metropolises.

The Evangelist Like writes of the Panagia that she “kept all these words in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). It is believed from theological studies that a large part of these “words”, the words and happenings in other words of the life of the Lord, the Theotokos revealed to the Holy Apostle Luke, who included them in his Gospel. It’s without any doubt that among the holy “words” of the Lord, the Most-Holy Theotokos “kept” everything dealing with the earthly life of the Lord, but also naturally the Precious Gifts.

Along with our historical-religious tradition, before the Dormition of the All-Holy Mother of the Lord, she delivered them together with the Holy Swaddling Clothes of Christ and her PHonorable Robe and Holy Belt to the Church of Jerusalem, where they remained until 400 AD. In that year the emperor Arkadios brought them to Constantinople for sanctification of the faithful and protection and promotion of the Queen City. There they remained until the sack of the city by the Latins in 1204 AD. Then they were brought because of safety along with the other holy relics to Nicaea in Bithynia, the temporary capital of Byzantium, where they remained for about 60 years. With the departure of the Crusaders under Emperor Michael Paleologos they were returned to Constantinople until the enslavement by the Turks in 1453 AD.

After the Sack of Constantinople the most-pious Empress Maro [Kyra-Maro or Mara], the Christian wife of Sultan Murat II (1421-1451) and stepmother of Muhammad II of Porthetou, brought them in person to the Holy Monastery of St. Paul of the Holy Mountain. This Monastery was known to her father George Brankovic, prince of Serbia, who built the Katholikon of the Monastery in honor of the Holy Great Martyr George the Trophy-bearer.

According to Athonite tradition, as Empress Maro approached from the port of the Monastery, the Lady Theotokos prevented her in a supernatural way from reaching the Monastery and thus preserving the non-entrance of females on the Holy Mountain.1 This she obeyed and humbly delivered the Precious Gifts to the pious monks and fathers, who erected in that place where the Theotokos appeared a cross that remains to this day and is called the “Cross of the Queen”. The document from the Sultan with the relevant information surrounding the delivery of the Precious Gifts is preserved in the library of the Monastery of St. Paul.

The authenticity of the Precious Gifts is based in part on oral tradition and the rest on history. But what strongly confirms the authenticity of the Precious gifts is the indescribable aroma which is given off sometimes continuously and sometimes occasionally, and the rich healing and miraculous grace which pours forth even to our days.


1. When she was halfway up the path, the Mother of God intervened. Straightway, there was an earthquake, and a feminine voice from heaven was heard, saying, "Do not proceed any further, for another Queen rules this place." In other words, the "other Queen" was the Theotokos herself. To this day a chapel may be seen that was built where this took place to commemorate the place. (Read more here)

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thrice-boasted Gifts the Magi, the rulers from Persia gave to You - gold, frankincense, and myrrh - upon seeing You as a babe O Christ, and they faithfully worshipped You and were sanctified. Venerating Your holy treasures, we all receive grace, and offer a hymn to Your Nativity, O Lord.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined the light of knowledge upon the world; for thereby they that worshipped the stars were instructed by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee.