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 Balthazar (Abgar)
Prince of Africa and King of Saba (Edessa),
Balthazar brought myrrh to the Christ Child.
He died at the age of 112 on the Feast of the Epiphany
Fontanini Nativities 5 Balthazar.htm
           The city of Edessa in Media was founded by King Abgar the Black (from Africa) one of the Magi Kings who was ruling Media when Christ was born in Bethlehem. He was led by the miraculous light of a star with the other two Magi Kings to Bethlehem to adore Jesus with an offering of Myrrh. Christians call him by the name Balthazar.
        There are traditions connecting this king Abgar with the life of Jesus in different circumstances.  First of all when he came to adore Jesus in Bethlehem, he remained together with the other kings for several days with the Holy Family, and he was instructed by the Blessed Virgin Mary on Christian doctrines. “They consulted the heavenly Mother in regard to many mysteries and practices of faith, and concerning matters pertaining to their conscience and to the government of their countries… As a teacher and an instrument of divine wisdom She answered all their questions, giving them such high precepts of sanctity that they could scarcely part from Her.” (1)  

        The historian Eusabius records the story of Abgar, king of Edessa, who wrote to Our Lord asking Him to come and cure him of the terrible disease with which he was afflicted. Jesus sends back a written reply, praising his faith and assuring him that although he could not come in person he would certainly send one of His Apostles, after His ascension, to heal him.(2)St. Thomas was the Apostle designated for this purpose. H. Leclercq gives the texts of these two letters in an article published in the Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. I Page 42. The letters of Our Lord and of the king of Edessa are as follow:

        “Abgar Ouchama to Jesus, the God physician who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem, greeting:
        “I have heard of Thee, and of Thy healings; namely that Thou dost not use medicines or roots, but by Thy word openest the eyes of the blind, makest the lame to walk, cleanest the lepers, makest the deaf to hear; how by thy word also Thou healest sick spirits and those who are tormented with lunatic demons and how, again, Thou raisest the dead to life. And learning the wonders that Thou doest, it was borne in upon me that, (of the two) one: that either Thou art God, who hast come down from heaven, or else Thou art the Son of God, who bringest all these things to pass. Wherefore I write to Thee, and pray that Thou wilt come to me, who adore Thee, and heal all the ills that I suffer, according to the faith I have in Thee. I also learn that the Jews murmur against Thee, and persecute Thee, so that they seek to crucify Thee. I possess but one small city, but it is beautiful, and large enough for us two to live in peace.”
        When Jesus had received the letter, in the house of the high priest of the Jews, He said to Hannan, the secretary, “Go thou, and say to thy master, who has sent Thee to me: ‘Happy art thou who hast believed in Me, not having seen Me, for it is written of Me that those who shall see Me shall not believe in Me, and that those who shall not see Me shall believe in Me. As to that which thou hast written, that I should come to thee, (behold) all that for which I was sent here below is finished, and I ascend again to my Father who sent me, and when I shall have ascended to Him, I will send thee one of My disciples, who shall heal all thy sufferings, and shall give thee health again, and shall convert all who are with thee unto life eternal. And thy city shall be blessed forever, and the enemy shall never overcome it.” According to Eusabius, it was not Hannan who wrote the answer, but Our Lord Himself.

        There is another account given below according to the source:
  (Historical Geography, Origins of the Christian Faith, Ch. 2 - Origins of Christianity in Edessa): “Osrhoene was a buffer State between the Roman and Parthian empires till AD. 216 when it became a Roman colony. When did Christianity come to Edessa and who brought it? There is an Assyrian tradition that the wise men that came from the East to visit infant Jesus were from Edessa and that they went to Bethlehem in fulfillment of a prophecy made by Zoroaster in the seventh century BC. On their return to Edessa they had told of the wonderful things they had seen and heard and this prepared the minds of the Edessians for the reception of the Gospel.
“Eusebius of Caesarea (Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History 1.13.), the church historian of the fourth century tells of another tradition about the coming of the gospel to Edessa. It tells of an invitation sent by King Abgar V (Ukkoma, the Black) of Edessa to Jesus himself to visit Edessa and cure him of leprosy. In Jesus’ reply to the king, he promised that after his ascension, he would send one of his disciples to cure the king of the disease. The tradition is that according to the promise made by Jesus, the apostle Thomas (Didymus) sent Thaddeus (Addai), one of the seventy, to Edessa. Addai on coming to Edessa first preached to the Jews there and thus began the church in Edessa




        “Under the ruling of the aged Abgar, nephew of Tigranes the Great, the whole territory of Armenia was subdued to Rome. The Roman officials arrived to Armenia to take a census. They brought with them numerous statues of the Emperor Augustus.

        Later, Abgar, planning to revolt against the Roman tyranny, settled in Mesopotamia and founded the city of Edessa. He transported there his court, the treasury, and the archives of the Armenian kings. That is why the Armenian sources designate him as King of Armenia while some Greek and Roman sources mention Abgar, ruler of Edessa. When Abgar heard about the miracles Jesus Christ was performing in Galilee, he was already ailing, (in his declining years). Astonished, he came to believe in Christ and wrote a letter to Him. Abgar asked the Savior to heal him and invited Him to Edessa.

        Following the Armenian tradition, Abgar’s messengers met Jesus in Jerusalem. Jesus would not accept the offer to visit Edessa, but wrote a response to Abgar’s request. After Christ’s ascension Thaddaeus, one of the disciples, arrived to Edessa bringing a piece of cloth that some researchers identify as the Shroud of Turin. According to Moses of Khorene, Abgar and all inhabitants of his city were baptized.”

        In order to prove that it was St. Thomas the Apostle who had sent Addai, and that it is not said anywhere that King Abgar was baptized by Addai but by St. Thomas, a portion from “The Doctrines of Addai” has been quoted below:

      “I will send to thee one of my disciples, who will cure the disease which thou hast, and restore thee to health; and all who are with thee he will convert to everlasting life. Thy city shall be blessed, and no enemy shall again become master of it forever.

       “When Hannan, the keeper of the archives, saw that Jesus spake thus to him, by virtue of being the king's painter, he took (a brush) and painted a likeness of Jesus with choice paints, and brought with him to Abgar the king, his master. And when Abgar the king saw the likeness, he received it with great joy, and placed it with great honour in one of his palatial houses.
Sacred Mandylion

     The Mandylion icon,Icon of Our Lord Jesus Christ Not Made by Hands, is the first icon painted by a new iconographer in the Byzantine tradition. King Abgar V of Edessacommunicated with Jesus by his messenger, Hannan. These letters are reportedly in the archives of UrhoyIn one version of the Mandylion, Hannan painted a likeness of Jesus during one of these visits with Him.
          “Hannan, the keeper of the archives, related to him everything which he had heard from Jesus, as His words were put by him in writing. After that Christ had ascended to heaven, Judas Thomas sent to Abgar Addai the Apostle, who was one of the seventy-two Apostles.

        “Then Abgar said to Addai, "Of a truth thou art the disciple of Jesus, that mighty one, the son of God, who sent to me saying I send thee one of my disciples for healing and for life." Addai said to him, "Because that from the beginning thou didst believe in Him who sent me to thee, therefore have I been sent to thee, and if thou believest in Him, everything in which thou dost believe thou shalt have." Abgar said to him, "So have I believed in Him, that with respect to those Jews who crucified Him, I desire to take with me an army, and to go and destroy them; but because the kingdom belongs to the Romans, I was restrained by the covenant of peace, which was confirmed by me with our lord the emperor Tiberius, like my forefathers." Addai said to him, "Our Lord has fulfilled the will of His Father. And when He had completed the will of His Parent, He was taken up to His Father, and sat with Him in glory, with whom he was from eternity." Abgar said to him: "I also believe in Him and in His Father." Addai said to him: "Because that thou so believest, I place my hand on thee, in the name of Him in whom thou believest."

        “At the moment that he placed his hand upon him, he was cured of the plague of the disease, which he had had for a long time.

        "Hear, all of you, and understand that which I speak before you; that I am not a physician of medicines and roots, of the art of the sons of men; but I am the disciple of Jesus Christ, the Physician of troubled souls, and the Saviour of future life, the Son of God, who came down from heaven, and was clothed with a body and became man; and He gave Himself and was crucified for all men. And when He was suspended on the wood, the sun He made dark in the firmament; and when He had entered the grave, He arose and went forth from the grave with many. And those who guarded the grave saw not how He went forth from the grave; but the angels of heaven were the preachers and publishers of His resurrection, who if He had not wished, had not died, because that He is the Lord of death, the exit of all things. And except it had pleased Him, He had not again clothed Himself with a body, for He is Himself the framer of the body. For the will which inclined Him to the birth from a virgin, also made Him condescend to the suffering of death, and He humbled the majesty of His exalted divinity, who was with His Father from eternity, He of whom Prophets of old spake in their mysteries; and they represented images of His birth, and His suffering, and His resurrection, and His ascension to His Father, and of His sitting at the right hand. And, behold, He is worshipped by celestial spirits, and by the inhabitants of the earth, He who is worshipped from eternity. For although His was the appearance of men, His might, and His knowledge, and His power were of God Himself; as He said to us,  Behold, now is the son of man glorified, and God glorifies Himself in Him, by miracles and by wonders, and by honour of being at the right hand. But His body is the pure vestment of His glorious divinity, by which we are able to see His invisible Lordship. This Jesus Christ, therefore, we preach and publish, and, with Him, we praise His Father, and we extol and worship the Spirit of His divinity, because that we were thus commanded by Him, to baptize and absolve those who believe in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.        

       “And all who believed in Christ, Addai received, and baptized them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And those who were accustomed to worship stones and stocks, sat at his feet, learning, and being corrected of the plague of the foolishness of paganism. The Jews also, conversant with the Law and the Prophets, who carried on merchandise in silks, were also persuaded and became disciples, and made confession in Christ, that He is the Son of the living God. But neither Abgar the king, nor Addai the Apostle pressed any man by force to believe in Christ; because without the force of man, the force of the signs compelled many to believe in Him. And all this country of Mesopotamia, and all the regions round about it received his doctrine with love.”

            J.F. Goggin observes King Abgar as “The Black”, and says that the promise of Our Lord to Abgar was fulfilled after the ascension, when Thaddeus (in Syriac Addai), the twin brother of St. Thomas and one of the seventy two disciples, was sent by St. Thomas to Edessa to cure the king.(3) This Thaddeus or Addeus, also called Addai Thoma went to Edessa first to heal the king and then to prepare the ground for the preaching of the gospel by St. Thomas the Apostle himself. 

          Thus in the year 33 A.D. before starting for India St. Thomas paid a visit to King Abgar and baptized him, in accordance with the mandate given to St. Thomas by the prince of the Apostles St. Peter. When he proceeded to allot the provinces, he said to St. Thomas: “The servant of Christ, our dearest brother Thomas, will follow his Master preaching in India, in Persia and among the Parthians. He shall baptize the three Magi Kings….” (City of God Vol. IV Nos.227, 229, 230).

             According to tradition, this King Abgar is called Balthazar. “In about the 8th century the names of three Magi—Bithisarea, Melchior, and Gathaspa— appear in a chronicle known as the Excerpta Latina barbari. They have become known most commonly as Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar (or Casper). According to Western church tradition, Balthazar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.”                                                                                      
          St. Thomas baptized him and entrusted the preaching to Addeus, and started in the same year (33 A.D.) to Parthia to meet King Gondophernes (Melchior), the second of the Magi Kings.

          King Abgar and the people of Edessa knew well that St. Thomas was the Apostle of Edessa and that Edessa had been entrusted to the care of Addeus by the Apostle himself. It was because of this close connection between Edessa and St. Thomas that Edessa later asked for the relics of St. Thomas and kept them as its treasured possession. St. Thomas used to make several visits to strengthen them in the faith. After converting the whole of Edessa, Addeus preached the Gospel at Arbela, Nisibis, Bethgarma and Mosul, and came to India to continue the work of St. Thomas.

        Edessa thus owed the Faith indirectly to St. Thomas, to whom, therefore, it was grateful. The Apostle had also endeared himself to the Christians of Edessa by the letters he wrote from India. They had these letters among their priceless treasures, and wished to express their gratitude in a permanent manner by raising a noble monument in which they treasured his relics.(4)
1. City of God Vol. II No. 567.
2. Dom Bernard Orchard (General Editor) “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture” No. 949 Page 125.
3. Cfr. The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. I Page 136                                                                                                           

4. George Mark Moraes, “A History of Christianity in India” Page 4

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