10. And look forthwith at the symbols of this ineffable union and the resulting benefit poured out even upon those far away. A star accompanies the magi (Matt. 2:2-10): coming to a halt when they do, and travelling with them when they move on, or rather, drawing them and inviting them to the road, as their leader escorting them on their journey. It offers itself as their guide when they are on the move, and when they rest awhile it permits them to do so, and itself stays in its place, lest deserting them it should grieve them by its absence, seeming to abandon its role as guide before journey’s end. For it caused them considerable distress by concealing itself from them when they approached Jerusalem. — St. Gregory Palamas, Homily Fifty-Eight on the Saving Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior.
As modern human beings, we are both blessed and cursed. We are blessed because, unlike those generation before us, we reap the benefit of scientific achievement. Our lives as we live them today were unthinkable even ten or fifteen years ago because of technology (take, for example, the fact that you are reading this blog right now).
We are cursed, because, with such a heavy reliance upon the fruits of science, we tend to narrow our understanding of creation to the scientific world-view. Thus, when St. Gregory starts to personify the star from the story of the Nativity — as something that stops and starts as it guides the three magi — our scientific world-view balks at the idea and is tempted to not only dismiss the idea, but to dismiss Palamas as someone who is inferior and unsophisticated for saying such a thing.
Not only is such a dismissal unfairly anachronistic (St. Gregory’s body of scientific knowledge is radically different from ours), but it fails to appreciate how poetic and Scriptural such a view actually is. Please note how Psalm 148 sees creation:
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!
Note how the Psalmist personifies all of creation. This is something a purely scientific world-view would dismiss. Also note how the Church follows the pattern of Psalm 148 and personifies creation in its hymns:
What shall we offer You, O Christ? for You appeared on earth as a man for our sakes. Of all the creatures made by You, each offers You thanksgiving. The Angels offer You the hymn; the Heavens, the star, the Magi their gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, her cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer You a Virgin Mother. O God, Who was before the ages, have mercy on us. — Stichera from the Great Vespers of Christmas
This understanding of the participation of nature in the story of salvation allows us to see that God had chosen to use the star, not only to guide the three magi to the Christ child, but us as well:
A star shall rise out of Jacob — Numbers 24:17
“I have begotten you from the womb before the morning star” — Psalm 109:3