Written by H.H. Pope Shenouda III. (117th Pope of Alexandria & Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of St. Mark the Evangelist of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. He was consecrated as Pope on 14 November 1971. During his papacy, the Coptic Church grew significantly. He appointed the first ever bishops for North American dioceses, which now contain over two hundred parishes, up from four in 1971. He also appointed the first Coptic bishops in Europe, Australia and South America. Within Egypt, he struggled for the welfare of his people and the Church. Pope Shenouda III passed away on 17 March 2012).
The wise men came from the East, probably from the countries of Persia. They were from the rank of princes, or scientists, or priests. They worshipped the ancient eastern gods, probably the fire; and they may have been among the followers of Zaradesht. They were experts in astronomy and in the stars. Perhaps they had heard from the Jews in the dispersion about a Saviour who will come to deliver them and to become the king of the Jews.
Saint John Chrysostom says of them:
“My brothers, we urgently need long watching and many prayers in order to be able to answer these questions, and to know who those wise men are. And where did they come from?”
Satan encourages the enemies of the truth to think: “When Christ was born, His star appeared: Is this not a sign which proves that astrology is a true science? If He was born in this manner, why did He eradicate astrology, fortune-telling, and magic, and why did He render the devils to silence?“
Let us then examine what was that star: was it one of the numerous stars? Or was it an alien to them, from a nature other than their nature? Or was it that only the person who looked at it thought it was a star? If we know the answer to these questions, we shall know the other matters with greater facility.
That star was not one of the numerous stars; and it is more convenient to say, according to what I think, that it was not a star. But it was one of the invisible powers, and was transformed to that aspect.
The evidence is clear:
First, from the way of its movement: there is no star that can possibly move in that manner. If you consider the other stars, you will find that their movement is from West to East. But this star went in its course from the North to the South, because that is the direction from the countries of Persia to Palestine.
Second, with regard to the time of its appearance: it did not appear by night, but rather in the daytime when the sun had risen. This appearance is neither due to the strength of a star, nor to the strength of the moon, nor was it due to all these astral bodies which hide when the sun’s rays appear. Rather, this star had overcome the sun rays by the abundance of its brilliancy, and was more visible and glittering than all the other astral bodies.
Third, this truth becomes obvious from the fact that the star appeared for some time and then disappeared. It appeared in order to show them the way to Palestine. When they came to Jerusalem, it hid itself. And when they left Herod after he had questioned them, and intended to walk to Bethlehem, the star reappeared to them again. This appearance and disappearance does not happen in the movement of an ordinary star, but it is due to a power that is, above measure, different from others. When it was necessary that they would march, it marched. And when they needed to stop, it stopped, thus controlling all the conditions of their march according to what was convenient for them. It was like the column of clouds in its conduct of the Jewish people during the time of Moses.
When the magi entered Jerusalem, the star was hidden from them, so that having lost their guide, they were compelled to ask the Jews, in order that the matter would become well-known to everybody. Thus the appearance and the disappearance of the star brought a determined providence that had a special wisdom.
Fourth, by its descending downwards: Because it was not possible to show them the way while it was high over them, the star directed them by coming downwards. While it was high over them, it could not direct them precisely to a narrow place like an inn where a small baby is lying down. We can know this from the example of the moon, which appears greater than many stars, and how it appears to all the inhabitants of the world in all its vastness, and everyone thinks that the moon is near to him, but it is actually far away.
Tell me how would the star have shown them a small place like an inn and a manger, if it had not left this high place, and come closer to the earth until it stopped over the head of the child?
That is what the evangelist indicated saying: “and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” (Matt. 2:9).
When the star recognized the Child, it stopped, and its stopping there, while it was descending downwards, is a great testimony.
It had a great influence upon the wise men and guided them to the worship of the Child. They did not worship Him as an ordinary human being. That is obvious from the gifts which they presented to Him, and which are not convenient for a small child in its swaddling clothes.