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Access over 100,000+ Sermons from Ancient to Modern : Christian Books : CHAPTER LXIV PHILIP AND THE DESPOSYNI

Gathering Clouds A Tale Of The Days Of St Chrysostom by Frederic William Farrar


Those holy fields,

Over whose acres walked those blessed feet

Which...were nail'd

For our advantage on the bitter cross.

Shakespeare, Henry IV., Part I., I.1.

Thus far the journey of Philip had been a very happy one; and it became even happier. God, who had caused all His waves and storms to roll over the young man's head, was now leading him through sunshine in '

green pastures and beside still waters.'

Leaving the kindly hospitality of the Bishop of Jerusalem, he rode northwards, stopping with an interest which can be imagined at Bethel and Shiloh, and resting for an hour by Jacob's well to read from his manuscript of St. John's Gospel the discourse of Christ to the woman of Samaria. Thence he made his way to En Gannin, the turbulent Samaritan village on which the Sons of Thunder had desired to call down fire from heaven; and so into the great plain of Jezreel. At Jezreel he rested for a night, wandering all the evening over the hills of Gilboa, and visiting the fountains which were the traditional scene of Gideon's test of his followers, and of David's encounter with the giant. Thence, with Tabor in sight, and snowy Hermon, be crossed one of the streams of that ancient river, the river Kishon, and approached the hills of Galilee. Here, at the entrance of the narrow ascent in the limestone rocks which leads to Nazareth, he had the immense delight of seeing his friend David, who had come to meet him with mules and refreshments. They spread a carpet on the abundant green grass among the vernal flowers under the pomegranates, and in then happy talk, which blossomed with a thousand memories, David noticed with delight that though a shadow sometimes seemed to brood over the horizon of his friend's mind, he was again the bright and genial Philip of former days. In answer to eager questions, he told Philip that they could reach Lubiyeh, which was the ancient home of the Desposyni, in two days, and that there he would find Miriam well and happy, and looking forward to his visit with an anticipation which was too intense for her expression.

The sweet, green valley, with its palms and white houses opened beneath them as they rode up the mountain-path; and here and there -- for it happened to be a day of festival -- they met little laughing groups of the bright children of Nazareth in their many-coloured tunics and kaftans. Then they passed the fountain by the side of which the maidens of Nazareth, so famed for the heritage of beauty with which the Virgin is said to have endowed them, were already assembled, carrying their earthen pitchers gracefully on their heads or on their shoulders. One of these, the loveliest of the band, glanced up shyly at David with laughter in her eyes. The radiant smile with which he met her glance seemed to transfigure his whole face. Philip looked inquiringly at him. 'We will follow that maiden at a little distance,' said David, demurely; we are to rest at her father's house to-night.'

Is that all, David?' said Philip. Why did you not tell me before? It would have added so much to my happiness.'

You have guessed my secret,' said David, blushing like a boy. Yes, Philip, I am engaged to Ruth, daughter of Andrew of Nazareth. He is a merchant. As we are to be his guests, you will see my betrothed, who is more beautiful even than your Miriam.'

That I deny,' said Philip.

And as good.'

That is impossible. But I congratulate you, David, with all my heart.'

They found a delightful meal outspread for them in the cool court, beside a plashing fountain, and Philip was delighted at the tameness of the white doves, which would nestle on their shoulders, waiting to be fed. Everything about the house was beautiful, yet simple, and when David went out with him to see Nazareth, Philip was gracious enough to acknowledge that, though the young Ruth could not, indeed, be compared with Miriam, she was full of grace; and he grasped his friend's hand with hearty congratulation.

They went to the shop where He had toiled whom men called the carpenter of Nazareth.' They saw the scenes of that sinless childhood which had grown up '

in wisdom, and stature, and favour, with God and man.' David showed the green mound where, as legend said, the boys of Nazareth had chosen the boy Jesus for their King, and crowned Him with a wreath of flowers, and made every passer-by come and kneel to Him with homage. Then they climbed the hill of Nazareth, where He must have stood so often with the wind in His bright hair and on His cheek, as He gazed towards the blue Mediterranean, beyond the purple heights of Carmel, or northwards to snowy Hermon, or to the plain below the hills on which His village stood, which has ever been the battlefield of Palestine.

Enchanted with all that he had seen, Philip was still eager to press on, and early the next morning, when they had breakfasted in the open courtyard, under its sheltering vine, the mules stood ready for them, and they made their way past Cana of Galilee -- where were still shown the six water-pots of stone -- to Lubiyeh. On its low hills stood the humble farm and hamlet which for four centuries had been handed on from father to son in the family of Jude, the Lord's brother. Michael stood at the door to meet them, and half-hidden behind him stood Miriam. It would require greater skill than mine to describe the rapture with which the long-parted lovers met; but as they were betrothed, and betrothal was little less sacred than marriage, Philip was allowed to raise the girl's veil, kiss her cheek, and fold her in his arms in one long embrace. Then he gently pushed her back to gaze on her face, to which the dawn of womanhood had added a more perfect loveliness. Not less earnest was her gaze on him. Seas of bitter anguish had flowed between them, and though the laughter of youth still lingered on the lips and in the eyes of Philip, an indefinable shadow, as of death, had passed over them; and it saddened her.

Am I so changed, Miriam?' he asked, reading every thought which expressed itself on her guileless features; and as she was silent for a moment, he cried, 'Oh, Miriam! am I not the Philip whom you knew in those happy days? Have illness and grief and torture made me different from him whom once you loved?'

Her only answer was to hide her face on his shoulder. 'You are changed, my Philip,' she murmured; but the change has left you no less beautiful, no less dear. Anguish has passed over that happy face, but has not left it less full of love. Perhaps, Philip,' she added, looking up -- 'perhaps, if God grant it, I may help to bring the old sunlight into it again in years to come.'

He could not speak. He could only fold her to his heart.

The rigid etiquette of Eastern life was a little relaxed in the simple home at Lubiyeh. The Gospel had elevated women. From being the slaves and playthings of men, thrust into dull and unintellectual seclusion, they had been uplifted into equals and helpmeets. They could move about far more freely than of old; and Miriam had never been a mere silent, soulless, muffled shadow in her father's house, but the light of her home, and the constant sharer in her father's and her brother's thoughts. Hence, in these days she had many opportunities to talk long and earnestly with Philip over the future and the past, and they found more and more that, not only were their hearts knit together in the bonds of perfect love, but also that they thought alike on many subjects of the deepest import. For the thoughts of Miriam about the most sacred and solemn things were of that large and simple character which, since the days of Christ, had remained unaltered in the family of His earthly kin.

Those were delightful days! David showed Philip how their shepherds knew the sheep, and called them by name, and walked in front of them, followed by the flocks, and sought the lost lambs among the hills. It was spring-time. The branches of the palms were green; the vines gave a sweet smell; the voice of the turtle was heard in the land. Seated with Miriam and David by some fountainside, and often outstretched on the soft green turf, Philip was never tired of watching the eagles soaring overhead in the deep blue, and the white pelicans winging their way to the lake beneath, and the playful, crested hoopoes, and the bright flash of the roller-bird, which looked like a living sapphire. He would pluck the lilies-of-the-field, the scarlet tulips, the purple arum, the golden amaryllis, and bid Miriam weave a garland from them for her dark hair. He would watch the doves settle upon some dusty heap of the village potsherds, and then reflect the sunshine from every varying plume' as they soared upwards; and he thought of his own present happiness, and of the verse, '

Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove, which is covered with silver wings and her feathers like gold.'

But are you not afraid of the Isaurians?' he once asked suddenly, as though it was impossible that such peaceful happiness should continue on this earth.

Not to any terrible, extent,' said David. They have made one great raid, but their object is not to devastate hamlets. They have a notion that vast treasures are hidden in Jerusalem, and specially in the tombs of the kings; so they sweep downwards like a torrent, and though they do mischief and cause anxiety, we have not suffered much from them. Lubiyeh lies out of their main routes, of which one leads to Tyre and down the coast, and the other the way of Genesareth, by Galilee of the Gentiles.'

But we have been attacked by chance bands of the marauders,' said Miriam.

Don't look so alarmed, Philip,' said David, laughing. 'We have scouts as far away as Lebanon, and whenever the Isaurians are on the march fires flash from the top of Hermon; and from hill to hill, in a moment, so that we have the amplest notice of danger.'

Besides which we have a secret way of escape,' said Miriam; show it him, David, for he looks as frightened as if he saw the Isaurians now.'

What! show our secret to this worst of Isaurian marauders, who is going to take you from us, Miriam?'

Yes, do,' said Philip, and then you will not be tempted to hide Miriam when I come with an army to demand her, as I shall do if you don't take care. You forget,' he said, laughing, that his Eternity of Constantinople is now my warm friend, and I am his ambassador; so look out!'

We can't escape this terrible personage and tremendous courtier, Miriam,' said David. Come along, then.'

He led him a little way down the hill on which they were sitting, and showed him more than one unsuspected cavern of large dimensions, of which the entrances were so much hidden by tangled masses of creepers and foliage as to be only observable when you came close to them.

These are our fortresses,' he said. Into one of these caverns we drive some of our choicest cattle. It winds under the hill, and has an opening out of sight on the farther side. We leave out some of our sheep, and some of our corn and wine and oil, for the brigands to seize if they like. Then we carry all that we possess which is of any real value into other caverns more hidden than this, in which also our women and children are sheltered under an armed guard. They could defend its entrance against hundreds of men, and it also has a secret exit if the worst came to the worst. But the robbers have never found their way to the cavern, and have been content merely to take toll as they passed -- like you, you worse Isaurian!'

And who is going to act the Isaurian in a certain home of Nazareth?' said Philip.

Oh! that is quite different. Nazareth is near. For instance, Andrew and his household are coming to visit us to-day, for Ruth is a dear friend of Miriam's. But you are going to take off your booty to the ends of the earth.'

Only to Antioch,' said Philip. If you are very good, you shall come and visit us there.'

Michael was rich, and pitying from his heart the heavy trials which his young future son-in-law had suffered, he did his utmost to make him happy. He planned a delightful excursion of a week to the Sea of Galilee, with mules and tents and attendants, in which not only Miriam was to accompany them, but also the merchant Andrew and his daughter.

They stopped first at Kurn Hattîn, the Mountain of Beatitudes, and on its summit read aloud the sermon on the Mount. Then they made their way past the little hamlet of Hattîn, where Christ had healed the leper; down the Vale of Doves, with the aromatic herbs scenting the air beneath their feet; under the caverns of the robbers whom Herod had driven out. Then they passed the village of Magdala, of which the ruins and the mud huts were covered with masses of purple convolvulus; and so down to the shining level of the silver inland sea. It was an intense joy to Philip to wander over the rich and sunny plains of Genesareth, to ride under the pink bowers of flowering oleander, which reminded him of the banks of the Orontes; to watch the black-and-white kingfishers seated patiently on the plumed reeds, and every now and then darting down on a fish which passed through the crystal waves with a gleam of silver or of gold. He and David bathed on the lovely strip of silver sand beside Bethsaida, where the fishermen Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee had so often mended their nets. They listened to the twittering of the numberless little brown birds in the watercourses, of which, as Philip recalled, not one falleth to the ground unmarked of God. They visited the ruined marble synagogue, with the pot of manna carved over its lintel, in which Christ had preached at Capernaum. They stood astonished amid the maze of confused débris which were once the 'Chorazin' on which Christ had pronounced His 'woe.' They took boats, and rowed and sailed across to the Wady Kerza, the scene of the healing of the Gergesene demoniac, and to the grassy, flowery little plain at the north of the Lake where Christ had fed the five thousand; and they climbed the hill to the summit of which He had fled to find calm and solitude for prayer.

As he moved among these scenes an indescribable peace and brightness flowed over the soul of Philip. He seemed to recover the simplicity and sincerity which were in Christ Jesus, the exultation and unrippled surface of that pure, sweet faith which was the heritage of the early Christians. The corrupted Christianity of Constantinople with its sanctimonious hypocrisies and deeply seated worldliness, seemed to slip off from him, like some cope whose heavy golden broideries were stiff with pomp, but stained through and through with defacing stains. He saw the Church of Christ in her white robe and bridal flower, clad in her maiden purity, with the words of simple faith and simple hope upon her lips, and Christ's banner over her of love. He found it infinitely less difficult to realise the true teaching of Christ on the shores of Galilee than in the churches of Severian and Arsacius.

To Philip these scenes and memories had been as a fountain in the wilderness, but now they were coming to an end. He shrank from another year of separation from Miriam amid the trials and tumults of the world. They were all sitting together outside their tents one lovely evening, while before them the Lake gleamed in the sunset:

Clear silver water in a cup of gold

Under the sunlit steeps of Gadara.

It gleamed -- His lake -- the Sea of Chinnereth --

The waves He loved, the waves that kissed His feet

So many blessed days. Oh, happy waves!

O little silver, happy sea, far-famed,

Under the sunlit steeps of Gadara!

He was holding Miriam's hand, and David was sitting on the grass at the feet of Ruth. With a sudden burst of feeling he turned to Michael and said, Oh, sir! Oh, father! why should you postpone our marriage for another year? Life is short and uncertain; the times are troubled. If I am to go wandering about for twelve long months, who can tell what may happen? The cup of innocent happiness has been at our lips; why should we put it down?'

Michael mused a little. 'Philip,' he said at last, it may be that it would be an error to postpone your union with Miriam, and David's with Ruth. But ought you not at least to visit Antioch first, and to see that you really have a home ready for your wedded life, which, in God's will, may last for years to come?'

I will fly to Antioch on wings, and make all things ready.'

Will not Bishop Porphyry have something to say to you? Will Antioch be horrible Constantinople over again?'

Philip smiled. Loyally respecting the Emperor's confidence, he had only told them in general terms of his visit to Arcadius, and of the pension bestowed upon him. Now he mysteriously opened a little embroidered bag which hung round his neck, and which Miriam had given him. It contained the carcanet of coins which was so precious a relic, and the pledge of their betrothal, and a strip of folded vellum. Unspreading this on the palm of his hand, he displayed before their astonished eyes the protective autograph which Arcadius had given him.

Why, Philip,' said David, we shall yet see you Count of the East! Who ever heard of such condescension on the part of |his Eternity| as to give his edict in autograph to -- -- ?'

To a mere clerk, you meant to say, David,' said Philip with a hearty laugh. But though the poor clerk is now comparatively a rich man, he won't quite be Count of the East. Yet, though he is not the rose, he is near it; for Anthemius, the new Count of the East, loves our father, John, and will be kind to Miriam and me for his sake.'

Philip,' said Michael, it shall be as you say. You know that though we live here so simply, I still have some interest in commerce -- -- '

Nearly all his gains are given to the poor,' whispered David.

-- and one of my vessels will sail in a day or two for Asia. It can stop at Seleucia, and you can land there for Antioch. If you find your home in readiness, come back at once. You shall be wedded to Miriam, and David to Ruth, on the same day, God willing, in the Church at Nazareth.'

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