322. At Antigonea.

7th November 1945. prev home next

« My son Ptolmai has come to the market. He is going back to Antigonea today at the sixth hour. It is a mild day. Do you still wish to go as you had planned?» asks old Philip while serving hot milk to his guests.

« We shall certainly go. When did you say?»

« At the sixth hour. You can come back tomorrow, if you wish, or the evening before the Sabbath, if you prefer so. All the Hebrew servants and those who have embraced our faith come for the Sabbath service.»

« We will do that. And that place may still be chosen as the residence for these two.»

« I will be pleased even if I lose them. Because it is a wholesome place. And you could do much good among the servants, some of whom are still the ones left by our master. Some are there through the bounty of our blessed mistress who ransomed them from cruel masters. So they are not all Israelites. But by now they are not pagans either. I am referring to the women. All the men have been circumcised. Do not disdain them... But they are still very far from the justice of Israel. The saints of the Temple would be scandalised at them, as they are perfect...»

« Of course! They would indeed! Well! They will now be able to improve by breathing in wisdom and goodness from the messengers of the Lord... Have you heard how much you have to do?» concludes Peter, addressing the two.

« We will do it. We will not disappoint the Master» promises Syntyche. And she goes out to prepare what is necessary to take.

John of Endor asks Philip: « Do you think that at Antigonea I could do some good also to other people, as a teacher?»

« Much good. Old Plautus died three months ago and the children of the Gentiles have no school now. With regard to the Jews, there is no master for them because all our people keep away from that place, which is close to Daphne. It would take one like... like Theophilus... Without rigidity for... for...»

« Yes, without Pharisaism, you mean» concludes Peter promptly.

« That's it... yes... I do not want to criticise... But I think... It's of no use cursing... It would be better if they helped... As our mistress used to do... she brought more people to the Law with her smiles and in a better way than a rabbi.»

« That is why the Master sent me here! I am the man with the right qualifications... Oh! I will do His will. Till I breathe my last. I now believe, I firmly believe that my mission is nothing but a mission of predilection. I am going to tell Syntyche. You will see that we will stay there... I am going to tell her» and he goes out, full of life as he had not been for a long time.

« Most High Lord, I thank You and bless You! He will still suffer, but not so much as previously... Ah! What a relief?» exclaims Peter. He then feels that it is his duty to give Philip some kind of explanation, as best he can, of his joy: « You must realise that John was made the object of the attacks of the... “rigid ones” in Israel... You call them “rigid ones”...»

« Ah! I see! He was persecuted for political reasons like... like...» and he looks at the Zealot.

« Yes, like me and more, and for other reasons as well. Because he provokes them not only because he is of a different caste, but also because he belongs to the Messiah. So - and let this be said once for all - both he and Syntyche are entrusted to your loyalty... Do you understand?»

« Yes, I do. And I know how to behave.»

« What will you say they are?»

« Two teachers recommended by Lazarus of Theophilus, he is a teacher for boys, and she for girls. I see that she embroiders and has a loom... A considerable amount of needle work is done and sold in Antioch by foreigners. But it is rough and coarse stuff. Yesterday I saw that she had a piece of work which reminded me of my good mistress... They will be in great demand...»

« Once again may the Lord be praised» says Peter.

« Yes. That will soothe our grief in parting.»

« Are you going to leave already?»

« We must. We have been delayed by the storm. At the beginning of Shebat we must be with the Master. He is already waiting for us, because we are late» explains Thaddeus.

They part, each attending to his own business, that is, Philip goes where a woman calls him, the apostles to a high ground, in the sunshine.

« We could leave the day after the Sabbath. What do you say?» asks James of Alphaeus. « As far as I am concerned!... I don't mind!... Every morning I get up tormented by the idea that Jesus is alone, without clothes, without anyone looking after Him, and every night I go to bed with the same fixed idea. But we shall decide today.»

« Tell me. But was the Master aware of everything? I have been wondering for days how He knew that we were going to meet the Cretan, how he could foresee John's and Syntyche's work, how... That is... many things» says Andrew.

« Actually I think that the Cretan stops at Seleucia on fixed dates. And perhaps Lazarus told Jesus, and so He decided to leave without waiting until Passover...» explains the Zealot.

« Indeed! That's right. And how will John manage at Passover?» asks James of Alphaeus.

« Like every other Israelite...» says Matthew.

« No. That would mean falling into the wolf's mouth!»

« Not at all! Who is going to find him out among so many people?»

« The Iscar... Oh! What have I said! Forget about it. It's only a trick of my mind...» Peter is flushed and sad, because he has spoken.

Judas of Alphaeus lays a hand on his shoulder and smiling with his severe smile, he says: « Never mind! We are all thinking of the same thing. But we won't tell anybody. And let us bless the Eternal Father for diverting John's mind from this thought.»

They are all silent, engrossed in thought. But as they are true Israelites, the thought of how the exiled disciple will be able to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem worries them... and they begin to speak about it again.

« I think that Jesus will see to it. Perhaps John already knows. We have only got to ask him» says Matthew.

« No, don't. Don't put desires and thorns where peace is just springing up» begs the apostle John.

« Yes. It is better to ask the Master Himself» confirms James of Alphaeus.

« When shall we see Him? What do you think?» asks Andrew.

« Oh! If we leave the day after the Sabbath, by the end of the moon we shall certainly be at Ptolemais...» says James of Zebedee.

« If we find a ship...» remarks Judas Thaddeus. And his brother adds: « And if there is no storm.»

« There are always ships leaving for Palestine. And if we pay, we will call at Ptolemais, even if the ship is heading for Joppa. Have you any money left, Simon?» the Zealot asks Peter.

« Yes, I have, although that thief, the Cretan, fleeced me in no uncertain manner, notwithstanding his protestations that he wanted to do a favour to Lazarus. But I have to pay for the custody of the boat and the keeping of Antonius... I do not want to touch the money given to me for John and Syntyche. It is sacred. At the cost of starving, I will leave it as it is.»

« That is the right thing. That man is very ill. He thinks that he will be able to teach. I think he will be ill all the time, and soon...» states the Zealot.

« I am of the same opinion. Syntyche will be busier preparing ointments than working» confirms James of Zebedee.

« What do you think of that ointment? What a wonderful thing! Syntyche told me that she wants to make it here and use it to become familiar with local families» says John.

« A very good idea! A sick person who is cured always becomes a disciple and relatives follow suit» states Matthew.

« Oh! no! Certainly not» exclaims Peter.

« What? Do you mean that miracles do not attract people to the Lord?» Andrew asks him together with two or three companions.

« Oh! little babies! One might say that you have just come down from Heaven! But don't you see what they do to Jesus? Did Eli of Capernaum turn? Or Doras? Or Oshea of Korazim? Or Melkia of Bethsaida? And - excuse me you from Nazareth - the whole of Nazareth, after the five, six, ten miracles worked there, up to the last one for your nephew?» asks Peter.

Nobody replies, because it is the bitter truth.

« We have not found the Roman soldier yet. Jesus had given to understand...» says John after a little while.

« We will tell those who are staying. It will be another opportunity for them» replies the Zealot.

Philip comes back: « My son is ready. He finished early. He is with his mother who is preparing gifts for her grandchildren.»

« Your daughter-in-law is good, isn't she?»

« She is. She consoled me for the loss of my Joseph. She is like a daughter to me. She was Eucheria's maid, and was brought up by her. Come and have something to eat before leaving. The others are already taking something.»...

... And they trot towards Antigonea, preceded by the cart of Ptolmai, Philip's grandson... They soon reach the little town. Situated as it is among fertile gardens, shielded from winds by chains of mountains around it, far enough not to oppress it, but sufficiently close to protect it and pour on to it the scents of their woods of resinous and essential plants, full of sunshine, it cheers up one's sight and heart only by going through it.

Lazarus' gardens are in the southern part of the town and are preceded by an avenue, which is now bare, along which are the houses of the gardeners. Low but well kept houses, from the doors of which children and women appear watching curiously and greeting smiling. The different races can be told by the different faces.

As soon as he enters the gate, where the estate begins, Ptolmai cracks his whip in a special way when passing in front of each house; it must be a signal. And the inhabitants of each house, after hearing it, go into their houses and then come out, closing the doors and walking along the avenue, behind the two carts, as the horses are ambling and they stop at the centre of radial paths stretching in every direction like the spokes of a wheel, among numberless fields arranged as flower beds, some of which are bare, some full of evergreens, protected by laurels, acacias or similar trees and by other trees which ooze odoriferous milklike juices and resins through cuts in their trunks. There is in the air a mixed scent of balsamic, resinous, aromatic fragrances. There are beehives everywhere, as well as irrigation vats where show-white doves are drinking. And in special areas white hens are scratching about on the bare ground, which has just been hoed, while some girls are watching over them.

Ptolmai cracks his whip repeatedly, until all the subjects of the little kingdom have gathered round the arrivals. He then begins his little speech: « Listen. Philip, our head and the father of my father, has sent and recommends these holy people from Israel, who have come here by the will of our master, and may God be always with him and his family. We have been complaining because there was no rabbi here to speak to us. Now the bounty of God and of our master, who although so far is so affectionate to us - may God give him the welfare that he gives his servants - have procured for us what our hearts desire so keenly. The Messiah promised to peoples has risen in Israel. They had told us at the Feasts in the Temple and in the house of Lazarus. But now the time of grace has really come because the King of Israel has taken care of His lowest servants and has sent His ministers to bring us His words. These are His disciples and two of them will live with us, either here or in Antioch, teaching us the Wisdom of Heaven and the science that is necessary on the earth. John, a schoolmaster and a disciple of Christ, will teach our children the former and the latter wisdom. Syntyche, a disciple and a teacher of needlework, will teach our girls the science of the love of God and the art of needlework. Welcome them as a blessing from Heaven, and love them as Lazarus of Theophilus and Eucheria loves them - glory to their souls and peace - and as the daughters of Theophilus love them: Martha and Mary, our beloved mistresses and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, the Rabbi of Israel, the promised King.»

The little group of men, wearing short tunics and holding garden tools in their earthy hands, and of women and children of every age, listen in utter astonishment, they then whisper and finally bow their heads very low.

Ptolmai begins to introduce them: « Simon of Jonah, the head of the messengers of the Lord; Simon the Cananean, a friend of our master; James and Judas, brothers of the Lord; James and John, Andrew and Matthew» and then to the apostles and disciples:

« Anne, my wife, of the tribe of Judas, as my mother was, because we are pure Israelites and we came here with Eucheria of Judas. Joseph, the son consecrated to the Lord, and Theocheria, our firstborn, who is called after our just masters, a wise daughter who loves God as a true Israelite. Nicolaus and Dositeus. Nicolaus is a Nazirite; Dositeus, our third born, has been married for several years (he says that with a big sigh) to Hermione. Come here, woman...»

A very young swarthy woman comes forward holding an unweaned babe in her arms.

« Here she is. She is the daughter of a proselyte and a Greek mother. My son saw her at Alexandroscene in Phoenicia, when he was there on business... and wanted her... and Lazarus did not object, on the contrary he said to me: “Better so than debauched”. And it is better. But I wanted someone with Jewish blood...»

Poor Hermione has lowered her head as if she were accused. Dositeus trembles with anger and suffers. Anne, his mother, looks at him with sorrowful eyes...

Although the youngest of all the apostles, John feels that it is necessary to raise the humiliated spirits and says: « In the Kingdom of the Lord there are no longer Greeks or Israelites, Romans or Phoenicians, but only the children of God. When you learn the Word of God from those who have come here, your heart will rise to a new light and this woman will no longer be “the foreigner”, but the disciple of our Lord Jesus, like yourself and all the rest.»

Hermione raises her mortified head and smiles gratefully at John and the same expression of gratitude can be seen on the faces of Dositeus and Anne.

Ptolmai replies gravely: « God grant it, because apart from her origin, I cannot blame my daughter-in-law for anything. The child in her arms is Alphaeus, her last born, called after her father, a proselyte. The little girl with sky-blue eyes and ebony curls is Myrthica, who was called after Hermione's mother, and this one, the first born, is Lazarus, as our master wanted, and the other one is Hermas.»

« The fifth must be called Ptolmai and the sixth Anne, to tell the Lord and the world that your heart has opened to new understanding» says John again.

Ptolmai bows without speaking. He then resumes the introductions: « These are two brothers from Israel: Miriam and Silvian, of the tribe of Naphtali. And these are Elbonides, a Danite, and Simeon, a Judaean. And here are the proselytes, Romans or sons of Romans, whom Eucheria's charity redeemed from slavery and heathenism: Lucius, Marcellus, Solon the son of Elateus.»

« A Greek name» remarks Syntyche.

« From. Thessalonica. The slave of a servant of Rome» - and there is manifest contempt in saying “servant of Rome” - « Eucheria took him with his dying father, in troubled times, and if his father died a heathen, Solon is a proselyte... Priscilla, come forward with your children...»

A tall thin woman with an aquiline nose comes forward pushing a girl and a boy, with two lovely little girls hanging to her skirt.

« This is Solon's wife, a freedwoman of a Roman lady now dead, and this is Marius, Cornelia, and the twins Mary and Martilla. Priscilla is experienced in essences. Amiclea, come with your children. She is the daughter of proselytes. And her boys Cassius and Theodorus are also proselytes. Tecla, don't hide yourself. She is Marcellus' wife. She is grieved because she is sterile. She is the daughter of proselytes, too. And these are the farmers. Let us go to the gardens now. Come.»

And he leads them through the vast estate followed by the gardeners who explain the various cultivations and work, while the girls go back to their hens, which have taken advantage of their absence to trespass on to other ground.

Ptolmai explains: « They are brought here to free the soil from grubs before sowing the yearly cultivations.»

John of Endor smiles at the cackling hens and says: « They look like those I had once...» and he bends throwing bread crumbs taken from his sack, until he is surrounded by pullets and he laughs because a cheeky one snatches the bread from his fingers.

« That's not so bad!» exclaims Peter nudging Matthew and pointing to John who is playing with the chicken and to Syntyche who is speaking Greek to Solon and Hermione.

They then go back to the house of Ptolmai, who explains: « This is the place. But if you want to teach, we can make room. Are you staying here or...»

« Yes, Syntyche! Here! It's lovelier! Antioch oppresses me with recollections...» John begs his companion in a low voice.

« Of course... As you wish. Providing you are well. It is all the same to me. I no longer look back... Only forward... Cheer up, John! We shall be all right here. Children, flowers, doves, hens for us, poor human beings. And for our souls... the joy of serving the Lord. What do you all say?» she asks addressing all the apostles.

« We are of the same opinion as you, woman.»

« Well, that is settled.»

« Very well. We will leave with relieved minds...»

« Oh! Don't go away! I will not see you again! Why so early? Why?...» John relapses into a state of depression.

« But we are not going away now! We are staying until you are...» Peter does not know what to say John will be, and to hide his tears he embraces weeping John endeavouring to console him thus...

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