The year 325 - Egypt

      The gentle sound of chanting echoed along the stone corridors of the monastery and drifted through a partially open door into the corner tower room. The melodic music of the monks mixed with the late afternoon song of birds floating on the warm breeze. The open window cast a shaft of sunlight on a rough wooden workbench. There sat a man nigh unto fifty years of age in a monk's habit of rough Egyptian cotton. Carefully, he labored to place very fine flakes of gold foil on a faceplate that he was illuminating.

      From the early Christian hermits, there developed a social order characterized by the union of common life with personal solitude. This communal order of ascetics came to be known as cenobites, of which Saint Anthony is regarded as the founder. The fame of his sanctity drew many followers to him in Alexandria, Egypt. One of his disciples, Saint Pachomius, founded what was to become a great monastery on an island in the Nile River. It was here that Brother Barnabus labored to reveal that which he knew to be true.

      The door creaked on its iron hinges and a head appeared around the corner of the roughhewn casing. "Brother Barnabus, what is it that keeps you from vespers? The Abbot will notice your absence and now is not a good time to be on his bad side."

      Barnabus looked up from his work at the kind face of Brother Simon, his friend, and confidant. "And why should I not be in any less favor today as opposed to any other?"

      "Have you not heard?" exclaimed Brother Simon. "There is to be a great meeting of Christian leaders at Nicaea to define the Christian beliefs. The Nicene Creed will be a document to unite all of Christendom! And there has been some talk that the Abbot may send you as an observer."

      "Politics!" shrugged Brother Barnabus, and returned to his work.

      Simon came into the room and looked over his friend's shoulder. There he saw the drawing of a magnificent bird with a large crest on its head. Barnabus was laying gold foil on the wings of the bird and creasing it where every feather overlapped. This resulted in sunlight cascading through the window reflecting a rainbow of colors off the delicate curves of shiny gold relief, creating a magical iridescent effect. Beneath the illustration was an artful calligraphic label that spelled Phoenix.

      "This is marvelous!" said Brother Simon. "But why do you spend so much effort on a mythical creature? Are we not here to follow the true word of God? It appears you are wandering back to idols and superstition."

      The face of Brother Barnabus reddened slightly. "Is not the stone cutter in the yard even now chiseling the form of dragons, griffins, and wyverns? We would decorate our abbey with these ornaments, yet deny the existence of their origin? Where do you think these visions have come from? Is it not possible that these things are based in truth?"

      Brother Simon was taken aback by the conviction in Brother Barnabus' voice. "Well . . . perhaps there were once creatures that resembled such things, but do you know any reliable person who has witnessed such a thing?"


      "Perhaps what?" asked Simon.

      "Perhaps I do."

      Simon pulled up a stool and sat across from Brother Barnabus. "I am your friend Barnabus and I care not what you say, for I know your good intentions, but others may not be so charitable. I caution you that where faith is frail and power is weak, anything out of the ordinary may be seen as a challenge. The faithful have been persecuted for less cause, and indicted for heresy."

      Barnabus did not waver in his conviction. With a soft and even voice, he said, "I know what is true and I am not afraid of the truth. You may question the existence of the Phoenix, but you cannot question what he knows, for that is provable in fact. Only someone who has been to China could know the details of the widespread revolt that has swept the land since the fall of the Han dynasty. You may know of the Gupta family that rules India now, but what do you know of Buddhism? What do you know of the Mauryan dynasty that preceded the Gupta family, and the great leader Asoka (265 BC - 232 BC) who sent Buddhist missionaries throughout India and into the Western world, Egypt and Greece? Even now, this religion is being spoken of in Burma, Thailand, Japan, and Tibet. How could all these things be known if they were not seen firsthand?"

      "Are you saying that the phoenix has witnessed these things? That he has seen history beyond a man's lifetime? That he has traveled to the far ends of the earth?"

      Barnabus studied his illustration and then looked deep into his friend's eyes. "I can tell you that he has spoken with Hipparchus (144 BC - 127 BC) of Rhodes and learned how to calculate the timing of solar eclipses. He has learned about longitude and latitude and triangular measure for celestial navigation. And Hipparchus told him that two hundred years prior, Aristarchus (310 BC - 230 BC) had determined that the sun is the center of the universe, rather than the earth. And even before that, the Greek astronomer Anaxagoras surmised that the light of the moon is simply a reflection of the sun's light! These things that are not easily known by us are known to the phoenix.

      "I can tell you that he was there in 71 BC when the slaves revolted and Spartacus was killed. He was there in 46 BC to see Julius Caesar parade the Celtic prince Vercingetorix of the Averni tribe through the streets of Rome in a triumphal procession to celebrate the conquest of Gaul. And he witnessed the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra by Octavian in the naval battle of Actium in 31 BC. He has described it with a detail that none other than one who has seen it could know."

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