Meaning of Life
There a God?
The Silver Star of Nathanael
by Siro Dal Degan, O.S.J.
During the reign of Claudius Nero, many false prophets and evil men arose in the land of Palestine, stirring up people and inciting them against the Romans. Soon the whole nation was in open rebellion, and the land was torn apart by evil and violent deeds.
So the Romans came, and put to the sword every man, woman and child who stood in their way. They laid siege to Jerusalem, and after many months they took it by storm. They laid waste the Holy of Holies, and on the ruins of the whole city they scattered salt. The general of the Romans, Titus, had an edict proclaimed throughout the land saying, “No Jew, man or woman, may enter the land of his forefathers, under pain of death.” Then, having left many garrisons in the land, he returned to Rome in triumph, escorted by his victorious legions and followed by the children of Israel in chains, carrying the treasure of the Temple and any worthwhile thing his soldiers had taken from the land.
Thus the word of the Lord was fulfilled: “’God will bring to a ruinous end this impious nation, and His vineyard He will turn over to others.” All this things came to pass exactly as the Lord Jesus had predicted, saying “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Days will come upon you when your enemies encircle you with a rampart, hem you in, and press you hard from every side. They will wipe you out, you and your children within your walls, and leave not a stone on a stone within you, because you failed to recognize the time of your visitation.”
The town of Bethlehem, too, was in ruin. Its inhabitants, sold as slaves, had been scattered throughout the whole world. The angel of the Lord appeared to Nathanael in a dream, as he was resting in his old age. He had taken refuge from the heat of the day into the innermost room of his house in Aredam. The angel said to him “Get up and go to Bethlehem in the land of Judah, and, on the exact site where my beloved Son was born, you shall place a silver star for all nations to know that this is the spot where the ‘Light of the World’ first dispelled the darkness. A time will come when people from every nation on the face of the earth will come to this holy place to worship me, and to give honor and glory to my name.” But Nathanael said to the angel, “I am exceedingly old. My body is weak, and my soul longs in waiting for the blessed coming of my Lord Jesus. Please let me die and let my children bury me under the cottonwood tree on the top of the hill, facing the morning star! However, not my will but the will of my God be done.” Then the angel said to him, “As the Lord lives, amen I say to you: You shall not taste death until all things prescribed by the Lord God have been fulfilled. Know also that the Lord Jesus, your everlasting friend, is exceedingly anxious to take you and your soul to Himself, having prepared for you a throne beside His own and that of Mary and Joseph, your brother and sister. But your being must be perfected still and your love must be made whole.”
As the angel departed, Nathanael woke from his sleep and was deeply troubled by the thought of leaving his beloved wife Miriam. She was busy with the household chores and, as Nathanael walked up to her, she knew immediately that something was troubling him. He took her into his arms, and among many sobs and tears, he recounted to her what the Angel had commanded him. Finally, he said to her, ”Miriam, my beloved, I must go and leave you because, as the Angel said to me in the dream, my being must be perfected still, and my love must be made whole.” At these words, Miriam was shaken to her soul and, freeing herself from his embrace, looked up to him and said, ”My love, I know that the Lord has spoken to you and that His words will not go back to Him without being fulfilled first. I know that you must go to Bethlehem and do everything that the Lord God has commanded you. But why should you go alone?” Nathanael replied to her saying, “My whole being trembles at the thought of leaving you. At the words of the angel, my heart has sunk into the abyss of darkness. But how can my being be perfected still and my love be made whole unless they be tried like gold in the furnace? Yes, I must go and leave everything I love and cherish.” But Miriam said, “Not so, not so. Thus says the Lord, ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’ Therefore, you shall not go anywhere without me. But far be it from me to contradict you. You may leave and do as you wish. But I will follow you. If you climb to the heavens or descend into the Valley of Darkness, I will be beside you. Because I am your wife forever.
As Nathanael listened to the words of his beloved wife, his heart leapt for joy. His whole being was strengthened by the warmth of her love, and he yielded to her wish. Then he said to her, “Miriam, my best and only friend, my loving wife! We shall walk together, side by side, even in our old age. Let us bless our children, and then let us hasten to do the will of the Lord.”
And so they did. Nathanael and Miriam left that day for the town of Bethlehem. Their children stood for a long time on top of the hill under the cottonwood tree and, with tears in their eyes, watched their parents leave. They watched them disappear in the distance and then, with heads downcast and hearts full of sadness, they returned to their home.
As Nathanael was crossing the land of Goshen, his wife ran ahead of him one day and, making her way among the harvesters in the field, started to work with them binding sheaves and gleaning ears of grain left behind by the reapers. At this sight, Nathanael’s heart was set afire by the memory of many years past. Entering the field, he straightened his body and raised his head as in the days of his youth. Walking up to Miriam, he addressed her exactly as he had done the first time he saw her among the harvesters in the field of Cushan, the Egyptian, saying “Who are you, oh most beautiful among women? Your eyes are doves behind your veil; your lips are like a scarlet strand. Your mouth is lovely as a rose bud.” The harvesters, who had diverted their attention to observe the scene, looked on in amazement, saying to one another, “See how much these two love each other, even in their old age!”
A bride is like a pearl. When a man finds a pearl beyond price, he goes and sells everything he has and buys that pearl. He then loves and cherishes his priceless possession all the days of his life, caring for it even more than his own body. If he does not, people will laugh at him and call him a fool saying, “He has given up all his possessions to buy this pearl. But a day will come when a thief will take away his priceless pearl, because this man does not care for it the way he should.”
A groom is like a garden. When a woman acquires a beautiful garden, she works at it every day and never gives herself a rest. If she does not do so, no matter how much she loves her garden, weeds will grow; plants will wither away for lack of moisture, and all kinds of useless seeds will be blown into it by the winds. She will wake up one morning and, going out to work in her garden, she will find it in a shamble. Her spirit will fail her, and because she does not have the heart to work hard to bring it back to its former beauty, she will call a hireling, saying, “Pull up both the weeds and the flowers. Then plow the land and I will plant a new garden.”
Nathanael and Miriam traveled many days through the land of Goshen, and early in the morning one day they crossed the Sea of Reeds. They came upon a caravan of Syrian merchants returning from the land of Ethiopia. They joined them, because many bands of thieves and rebels were roaming the land day and night. When they arrived at Beer-Sheba, the Romans came inquiring of everyone in the caravan if any of them belonged to the children of Israel. They arrested Miriam, put chains on her hands and feet, and took her to the praetorian, where she was thrown into jail to await trial and certain death.
Nathanael was not with Miriam when the Romans came, having tarried a little along the way to gather some wood for their evening fire. Not finding her at the place where they had agreed to meet, by the pool where women wash their linens, he dropped to the ground the dry wood he was carrying and started to inquire among the women there if they had seen his wife Miriam. But the women said to him “If she was your wife, we do not know. But there was an old woman standing here by the pool for a little while. The soldiers came and took her away in chains to the praetorian, because she was a daughter of Israel.
Nathanael gathered all his strength, and ran to the centurion who was guarding the gates. He knelt before him and entreated him to let his wife go. “Take me in her stead,” he said, “and let me die according to the law of the Romans!” But the centurion replied, “I cannot break the law of Rome for anyone.” He gave orders for the guards to remove Nathanael from the premises and to throw him into the street. But Nathanael cried out to them, saying “I am a son of Israel too. I too deserve death. Let me live or die with my beloved wife!”
At these words, the soldiers took hem back to the centurion and said to him, “He is also an Israelite. But we do not know if this is indeed so, because this man certainly loves his wife more than his own life.” Then the centurion handed him over to the guards, and gave strict orders that Nathanael too be thrown into jail. “However,” he said, “not with the other prisoners, but with his wife.”
During the night, a riot broke out among some people in a tavern, and when the centurion came with his soldiers to restore order, a man fell upon him from behind and drove his sharp knife through him. At this, the Roman soldiers rushed as one man upon the
murderer and, thrusting their swords into him, they left him dead in his own blood.
carried the centurion back to the praetorium and laid him on his bed. But none of them left the
room because they all knew he was dying and they were greatly saddened by his misfortune for he
was throughout his life a just and virtuous man. However, having doubled the guards at the gates,
they dispatched immediately a messenger to the Procurator in Caesarea by the Sea with detailed
news of all the things that had taken place that night in the tavern, saying, "The centurion by now
When the Procurator heard the news reported to him by the messenger, he set out in
haste with a great number of foot soldiers and cavalry and, in a few days, arrived at Beer-sheba
fearing that the whole city would be in open rebellion. But, entering the city, he found its
inhabitants completely at peace and, to his extreme amazement, even the centurion was alive and
That very night, while Procurator and his officers were at supper, the centurion recounted everything that had occurred from the moment he fell under the knife of the zealot and
how Nathanael and Miriam his wife had come from their jail cell through locked doors and had
healed him in the name of a certain Jesus of Nazareth.
At hearing that the centurion had been healed in the name of Jesus, the Procurator sent secretly a servant to inquire if Nathanael and
Miriam were followers of the Way. Upon receiving an affirmative answer, he gave orders that a
scroll of safe-conduct be written out for Nathanael and his wife Miriam and that they be released at
the break of dawn to go wherever they pleased saying, "let it never be said that Rome has no mercy
in the enforcement of her justice. Thus the lives of this man and his wife shall be spared because
they saved that of a Roman!"
The Roman Procurator made a secret visit during the night to Nathanael and Miriam
in their cell. He embraced them as brother and sister, because he too was a follower of the Way,
although secretly, having been convened to the Good News by his sister Domidlla who had been a
follower of Peter the Fisherman. He inquired about their journey and, having learned that the Lord
had commanded Nathanael to go to Bethlehem, he blessed them warmly and solemnly swore to
them saying, "As long as it is in my power to do so, no harm shall come to you wherever you go!"
At dawn the guards came, and opening the door of the cell where Nathanael and Miriam were
held, they removed their chains and they let them go according to the command given to them by
the Procurator. However, before they let Nathanael go, the soldiers gave back to him all is
possessions and the purse full of silver coins he had brought from the land of Egypt.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Nathanael and Miriam hurried to the field where the Angel of the Lord had appeared
to them saying, "Today in the town of Bethlehem a Savior has been born to you, Christ the Lord."
They hastened to the place where they had found the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes. To their
astonishment, however, the cave was now covered with all kinds of shrubs and bushes, since it
had not been used as a stable for a long time. Thus the entrance to the cave was completely hidden
and impossible to approach.
Nathanael therefore, said to Miriam, "Let us rest for the night, and
tomorrow we will make our way to the place where the Child was born." And so they did.
While Miriam was cooking the evening meal, a young shepherd came up to her
attracted by the light of the fire. "The Lord be with you," he said to Miriam. She looked up at
him, startled by the sudden and unexpected appearance of the young man. But, having recognized
him as a shepherd from the way he dressed, she replied to him joyfully saying "And also with you,
my child!" Then she said to him, "May I offer you a share of the evening meal that my husband
and I were about to eat? We have very little, just some bitter herbs and a loaf of unleaven bread.
But please do stay and share with us what we have. Rest a little and then, if you wish, you may
go your way." "Very well," he replied. "I will do as you say."
Nathanael was a short distance away gathering some dry grass, which he intended to use as a bed
for the night. Miriam came up to him and said, "Quick, come to the fire, for the evening meal is
ready and a young Samaritan shepherd has come to us as a guest tonight!" At this, Nathanael
hurried back to the fire, leaving behind the sheaf of dry grass he had been gathering in the field.
Miriam then set before him and the young shepherd the bitter herbs and the unleaven bread, and
she waited on them. At the end of the meal, before he set out to return to his flock, the young man said to Nathanael and Miriam, "May your God bless you for the kindness you have shown to me tonight. I can readily see that your God is a loving God and has indeed blessed you abundantly with Hisfavors. For even a blind man could see the love and devotion you have for each other.
Farewell now, and may your God be with you because, after my departure tomorrow for the land
of my Fathers, no living soul will be left in the whole region, except an old man, a servant of
Yahweh, although a follower of the new Way of the Christians. He lives on the mountain of the
Lord and devotes his days and nights to prayer and fasting. After having preached Jesus as Lord
far and wide all the days of his life, he has retired to the mountain and there he waits for this
Master's return in glory. Many people have come and have begged him to come down and live
with them; but he has steadfastly refused saying, "The Lord is my God. He alone is my strength
and the rock of my salvation. My days have come to an end and my Lord shall come soon to take
me to Himself." His name is Ephraem, a Syrian by birth, but a Roman by right."
At these words, the heart of Miriam leapt inside her with great joy because her friend was close.
And so she said to the young shepherd, "If my husband and I have found favor in your eyes,
before you leave for the land of your fathers, please go up to the mountain of the Lord and say to
the old man Ephraem, 'Miriam, your friend, needs you!' He will come without delay." The
young shepherd looked at her doubtfully and said to her, "The old man will not leave the
mountain, nor his prayer and fasting. However, I will do exactly as you wish." With this, he
departed from them and disappeared in the night.
Early in the morning, at the break of dawn, Nathanael and Miriam got up from their
bed and immediately started to clear the entrance of the cave where the Child was born. By
noontime, they had made their way to the cave and, entering it together, they both hurried to the
exact spot where they had found the Son of God lying in the manger. Nathanael and Miriam knelt
and prostrated themselves before the sacred place and for a long time they gave thanks to God with
joyful words and inspired songs. Then, as they arose, Nathanael took the silver coins he had
brought from the land of Egypt and, having melted them together, shaped the whole mass into a
Nathanael placed the silver star in the exact site where Jesus was born. Only then he and his wife rested.
spoken to me through the message of the Angel has now been fulfilled. What He had commanded
me to do has now been done and everything is finished. Let us go back to Egypt and to our
children, so that we may die and be buried on the top of the hill under the cottonwood tree. There
is no reason to delay our departure any longer. Our friend Ephraem will not come, as the shepherd
has indeed foretold us, and we are too old to climb the mountain of the Lord." But Miriam said to
him "He shall come."
She had not finished speaking these words, when Ephraem appeared at the entrance of
the cave. At the sight of him, Nathanael and Miriam ran up to him, embraced him, and kissed him
with the kiss of peace.
That very afternoon, three young men happened to be passing by on their way to the
Roman garrison in Jerusalem. One had three kids tied to a rope; another two loaves of bread, and
the third a skin of wine. Miriam, seeing them passing by and going their way, ran up to them and
said, "My children, how much can I give you for the three kids, the loaves of bread and the skin
full of wine?" And they answered, "It was our intention to sell everything we have tot he Romans
in the Holy City for five copper coins. But we have come a long way and we are tired of the
journey and the heat of the day. Moreover, we greatly long to return in haste to our parents and to
our brothers and sisters. Give us three copper coins and everything we have will be yours." And
so she did. She gave them the three copper coins and took the three kids, the loaves of bread and
the skin of wine.
As Miriam entered the cave with her purchase, Nathanael was astonished by the sight of
her and her burden, and, opening his mouth in amazement, said to her, "Many are the women of
proven worth; but you have excelled them all!"
The news that Nathanael, his wife Miriam, and Ephraem the Syrian had found the exact place
where the Lord Jesus was born and that they had made the Holy Cave their home, soon spread
throughout the whole world. At these glad tidings, people who were followers of the Way, came
out of the mountains and out of the desert where they were hiding for fear of the Romans and,
raising their heads, said to one another, "Let us go to Bethlehem! Let us go and give honor and
glory to the Name of the Most High in the stable where the love of the Father has given us His
only Son for the remission of sin." They all came, people from every nation on the face of the
earth, praising God and saying, "Jesus Christ is Lord!"
every nation that came to Bethlehem praising God and the Lord Jesus. From their military posts
on the high places and at the crossroads, they kept careful watch over these pilgrims; but did not
hinder them in any way, saying to one another, "Let us not provoke these people, unless we are
provoked first." And so it came to pass that the word of the Lord, spoken by the Angel to
Nathanael, was fulfilled exactly as he had said, "A time will come when people from every nation
on the face of the earth will journey to this holy place to worship me and to give honor and glory to
my Holy Name."
One night, while Nathanael and Miriam were in their bed unable to sleep, Nathanael said to
his wife, "Miriam, my beloved. My heart aches at the thought that evil times may fall again upon
this land and upon this holy place. Let us build here a temple of the Lord to house and protect this
cave, like Solomon of old built the temple to house and protect the Ark of the Covenant. Let us
also inscribe a saying on the silver star so that all generations to come may know that this is indeed
the place where Jesus the Savior was born of the Virgin Mary." Miriam said to him in reply, "0
Nathanael, my love! You have just spoken the longings of my heart and the thoughts of my soul!
And so the following morning Nathanael, Miriam and Ephraem started to build a house that would serve as a shelter for the holy place of the
Nativity. The Lord God was with them and gave them strength to the very end of their task.
Ephraem, with his own hands, wrote on the silver star of Nathanael these words: "Hie de Virgine
Maria, Jesus Christus natus est." He wrote this inscription in Latin, around the star, for all
generations to know that this is indeed the place where Jesus, the son of Mary, was born.
The church that Nathanael built was the very first that the followers of Jesus erected in His
honor. Although many have undertaken the task of adding to it, Nathanael's church and the star
that the Lord God had commanded him to place on the exact spot where the Child was born, can
still be seen up to our present day because the Lord has protected them from the ravages of time
Soon afterwards, however, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Ephraem in his sleep and
said to him, "Ephraem, get up and go to the room where Nathanael and Miriam, your friends, lie in
their sleep. This very night the Lord Jesus has come to them and has taken them to the House of
His Father. Having lived in holy marriage as one, Nathanael and Miriam, his soul, have been
taken up as one." Ephraem awoke from his sleep and in haste went to Nathanael and Miriam. He
found them lying on their bed, dressed in the robes of their wedding day, hand in hand, their eyes
heavenwards, and with signs of great happiness on their faces.
[Finding the meaning of life was easy for saints like these. -editor]
Go on to the second story, A Christmas Gift
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