Sunday, November 5, 2023

23rd Sunday After Pentecost

Ephesians 2:4-10; Luke 8:26-39

During Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, Gentiles came to Him from various cities and regions such as Tyre and Sidon along the seacoast (Lk 6:17); and from Syria, the Decapolis, and beyond the Jordan (Mt 4:24-25; Mk 3:8). They came to listen to Him speak, to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled by unclean spirits were cured by Him.

In today’s Gospel, for the first time, Jesus Himself goes out to the Gentiles. Together with His disciples, by boat, they cross to the other side of the sea of Galilee, the eastern side, to a region known as The Decapolis, which was inhabited by Gentiles. The Greek word Decapolis literally means ten (deca) cities (polis). It was the region of ten Gentile cities, and Gerasa was one of them.

Having stepped out on the land, Jesus meets a man “from the city,” who has been possessed for a long time. He wears no clothes, nor does he live in a house, but in the tombs among the dead, which for the Jews, was an unclean place (Num 19:16). The man was guarded and restrained with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and the demons would drive him out into the wilderness.

So, how did this man become possessed? How did he open himself to possession by evil spirits?

The Scriptures indicate a possible answer – He lived “in the tombs” (Lk 8:27).

In the Book of Isaiah, God speaks out against an abominable practice of sitting or sleeping in tombs, so as to consult the dead and receive messages from them through dreams or visions. Thus says, the Lord,

“I spread out My hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices … who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine flesh, and broth of abominable things in their vessels” (Is 65:2-4).

This man most likely came to the tombs to sit or sleep there, so as to consult the dead and receive messages from them. It was not the dead that he came into contact with, but evil spirits impersonating the dead. In the process, he opened himself up to their influence first, then oppression, followed by obsession, and finally, possession.

This is a serious warning to all of us, especially to parents and teachers, to safeguard children from Ouija boards, games and mediums that call out the dead in one way or another. These are often presented as being harmless, but they are in essence, extremely dangerous and harmful, enticing souls into conversation not with the dead, but with evil spirits. Thus unknowingly, an innocent child or an adult open themselves up to the influence of evil spirits, their oppression, obsession, and possibly, even possession. Any participation in such games or activities need to be confessed in the Mystery of Repentance (Confession) as soon as possible, in order to close any foothold on influence than may have been established for the evil one.

When the possessed man saw Jesus, he fell down before Him; and the demons in him recognized the identity of Jesus. With the unity of one voice, they say, “What have I to do with You, Jesus Son of the Most-High?”

Jesus then asks for the demon’s name. The reply is a Latin military word, “Legion,” a term used of an army unit of 6,000 Roman soldiers. The name indicates that the man is possessed not by one demon, but by army of several thousand demons.

The demons then try to negotiate with Jesus, not to be sent to the abyss, the bottomless pit in the netherworld, their future place of confinement. They know that their time of influence upon earth is limited. For thousands of years, Satan and his demons succeeded in deceiving the nations into the practice of worshipping idols, which in essence, is the worship of demons. Now, the Son of God has come to free the human race from this deception and the dominion of Satan. By His Death and Resurrection, Jesus will conquer Satan and his evil spirits and render them powerless. They will be bound and cast into the abyss, the bottomless pit in the nether regions, to be confined there, and to await the Final Judgment. This binding of Satan and his followers will make it possible for the Gentiles to come to know the truth, to receive the Gospel, and to worship the one true God.

While in exile on the island of Patmos, the apostle and evangelist John received a vision of God, in which he saw this very moment – the biding and confinement of Satan and his evil spirits. In the Book of Revelation, he writes the following:

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years [the number 1,000 symbolizes a great length of time]; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the till the thousand years were finished” (Rev 20:1-3).

So, the demons who have possessed this man, they know what is going to happen to them soon. They know that their time is short. And so, they plead, ‘Don’t cast us into the abyss ahead of time. For the short time that is left, allow us to enter the herd of swine.’ For Jews, swine were an unclean animal, and the herding of swine and the eating of their flesh was forbidden by the Law (see Deut. 14:8).

The spiritual warfare that is taking place here is intense. The superior power of Jesus is made clear. His mere word is enough to conquer an entire army of Satan’s forces.

And so, Jesus permits the demons to enter into the herd of swine for a time, which will be very short. And as they enter the herd, the swine go into a frenzy. They stampede and run violently over the steep cliff and fall into the sea below and drown.

So, why did Jesus allow the demons to enter into and destroy a whole herd of swine?

For several reasons:

  • The demons are invisible. The herd makes their great numbers visible to those who are witnessing the event.
  • It reveals the great intensity of the spiritual battle taking place.
  • It reveals the great power of Jesus’ word and command over the spiritual world.
  • The destruction of the herd reveals the ultimate purpose of Satan and his demons – to cause death and destruction to the human race and to God’s creation.
  • The destruction of the herd reveals the great and infinite value of every human soul.
  • The source of sin for Jews, the eating of swine flesh, is eliminated.
  • The falling of the swine into the sea is a sign that, as the swine perish, the army of demons are cast into the bottomless pit ahead of time. It also serves as a sign pointing to what is to happen soon – the binding and casting of Satan and all his evil spirits into the bottomless pit, by the power of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.

Jesus has come to bring liberty to those who are held captive by the devil, by Satan’s lies and deceit, so that they may turn from darkness to the light of truth.

When the people came out to see what happened, they were seized with fear; and in their fear, they asked Jesus to leave. So, Jesus will get into the boat with His disciples, and they will return to Jewish territory.

In the whole crowd of Gentiles, there is one person, only one Gentile, who responds positively to Jesus. That person is the man who was cured, from whom the demons had come out. He is completely restored. He is no longer naked, but clothed. He is no longer possessed, but in his right mind. He is no longer retrained, but sitting free at the feet of Jesus, as a disciple. This man has been saved.

The man wants to follow Jesus as a disciple, but Jesus sends him home to his family and community. Jesus tells him to tell others what God has done for him. Instead, he goes and tells everyone what Jesus had done for him – for Jesus performs the works of God.

Even though Jesus and his disciples leave, the good news is still proclaimed in the Decapolis. The man who had been cured, actually becomes the first apostle, the first disciple to be sent out on a mission to proclaim the good news among the Gentiles. It is not until after this event, that Jesus will send His Twelve disciples on a mission among the Jews. And so, the Gospel is proclaimed to the Jews and the Gentiles at the same time.

In conclusion, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a lot to consider and contemplate in the Gospel reading we heard today. The man that was cured had not knowledge of Jesus’ teaching. He did not hear the Sermon on the Mount, nor did he hear Jesus’ teachings through parables. Yet, he became a very effective missionary disciple. Why? Because he simply shared with others what Jesus did for him. The Gospel today encourages us to take some time to personally reflect upon this question: What has Jesus done for me? And if we can list it, “What Jesus had done for me,” and if we can share it, “What Jesus has done for me,” that we too, can be effective missionary disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ in the world today.

Father Peter Babej

Sunday, October 22, 2023

21st Sunday After Pentecost

Galatians 2:16-20 | Luke 8:4-15

In today’s Gospel reading, great multitudes of people gather to see Jesus. They come from every town and city, and they all come for different reasons.

Looking into their hearts, Jesus knows their reasons and their needs. He also knows their intentions and motivations. He knows that only one in four people will actually listen to His words, His teaching, take it to heart and take action, make changes in their lives, and bear good fruit. Only one in four. 25%.

So, Jesus spoke to the great multitude by a parable, the Parable of the Sower, to be heard by those who have ears to hear and to understand.

In the crowd that came to see Jesus, there are those who want to be entertained. They came not to hear Jesus speak, but to see a miracle, to see something spectacular. Herod Antipas would have belonged to this group. He wanted to see Jesus for the very same reason – to see a miracle. But when Pilate send Jesus to him, bound, and he saw no miracle, he was bored. So, he sent Jesus back to Pilate. These are the people by the wayside. The word of God has no effect upon them. It means nothing to them. The word gets “trampled down” underfoot. Satan has so effectively deceived them by his lies, that the word of God has no effect. The devil has taken the word of God out of their hearts by means of deception and lies.

The second group in the crowd are those who have come to receive something, but not to give. They want something: to be cured, to have their problems solved or taken away, to be moved emotionally, to be lifted up, to feel good, to experience an emotional high. But feelings come and go. These are the people who accept Jesus’ words only superficially. They are like the rocky ground, where the seed springs up, and withers quickly, because it lacks moisture. To this group belong the nine lepers, who came to Jesus and were healed. But they never came back to Him, neither to thank Him, nor to listen to His teaching, nor to give their lives to Him. They got what they wanted and they left.

The third group in the crowd are those who want to hear the words and teachings of Jesus, but they don’t want to be challenged. “Teach me, Lord, but don’t challenge my lifestyle, the way that I live.” These are the people who receive God’s word in the midst of thorns, which spring up and choke the word of God. The thorns represent the cares of the world, and attachments to things of the world: money, possessions, career, pleasure, comfort, success, fame, power, authority, etc. A good example of this group would be the young rich man who came to Jesus. Jesus saw his heart and it was good. He invited him to follow Him, to become a disciple and an apostle. Jesus invited him into His close circle of friends. But the young man could not accept the invitation, because he was attached to his wealth and possessions in an unhealthy way. Another example of this group would be Pontius Pilate. He knew that Jesus has an innocent man, and when Jesus said that He was truly a King, but that His Kingdom was not of this world, Pilate took these words to heart. But in the end, he agreed to have Jesus put to death, because of his attachment to his own personal career, his position of power and authority – a position he was not willing to lose.

The fourth group in the crowd are those who came to hear Jesus with an open and sincere heart. They want their wills to be moved, not just their feelings and emotions. They want their wills to be aligned with the will of God; and so, they are willing to make the changes and sacrifices that are required; they are willing to change their lives and to align themselves with the Gospel – they will not refuse whatever God asks of them. These people are like that good soil that receives the word of God, embraces it, nurtures it, and the word of God springs up and yields a crop a hundredfold. They bear good fruit.

So, in conclusion, we have four different groups in the crowd that has gathered to see Jesus. First, we have those who have come to be entertained. Second, we have those who want to receive something, but are not willing to give anything. Third, we have those who want to hear, but don’t want to be challenged. And fourth, we have those who want to listen, to align their wills with God’s Will, to change, and to grow.

The main message of today’s Gospel is that our life and our relationship with God will not grow unless we are attentive to it, nurture it every day, actively pulling out the weeds, so that the word of God can take root and bear good fruit. If we want our relationship with God to grew, if we want to grow in faith and in love, then we need to put the word of God into action and make the changes and sacrifices that are necessary to align our will with God’s Will. And when we do, we will bear good fruit – a hundredfold.

Fr. Peter Babej


Sunday, October 8, 2023, 2023

19th Sunday After Pentecost

2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9 | Luke 6:31-36

What is holiness? What does it mean to be holy?

The word “holy” in Hebrew is kadosh, and in Greek, hagios. It essentially means to be “set-apart,” separate, different, and other. It also means to be “awesome.” To be holy is to be set-apart from sin, what is profane, secular or worldly, to be different, to be awesome.

God, of course, is the Source of all holiness, for He is All-Holy. It means that He is set-apart from all that is not God. He is totally other, different. He is Love. He is all-good, and there is not sin or evil in Him. He is perfect in all His attributes. He is awesome. When we say, “God, You are holy,” we are saying, “God, You are awesome.”

As God’s children, created in His image and likeness, we are also called to be holy, to be like Him, dedicated to Him, set-apart from all sin and evil, and all that is not of God.

In the Old Testament, the Lord God said the following to the People of Israel:

“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your god, am holy” (Lev. 19:2).

“You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord and holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine” (Lev. 20:26).

In the New Testament, the apostle Peter writes the following:

“And He Who called you is holy; be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

So, for Israel, the People of God according to the Old Covenant, what did it mean to be holy, to be set-apart?

First, to be holy was to be set-apart from all sin, to be set apart from the world of sin and evil, to be set-part from all idolatry, sexual immorality, adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, cursing, swearing. It meant to be different from other people in the world.

Second, to be holy was to be dedicated to God, to strive to know Him, to love him, to serve Him, to live by His words, to follow His commandments and His law.

Third, to be holy was to love one’s neighbour, understood to be one’s fellow Israelite. The Lord said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). However, it also meant that one was obligated to love the stranger, the foreigner, the non-Jew, who either passes through or lives in the midst of Israel. “When a stranger sojourns with you in the land, you shall do him no wrong… you shall love him as yourself” (Lev. 19:33-34). In the book of Tobit, we find the following Silver Rule: “Do to no one what you yourself hate” (Tobit 4:15).

Fourth, to be holy was remain ritually pure at all times, to follow the laws with respect cleanness. To remain ritually pure, Jews avoided all unclean foods and drinks, as directed by the law. They avoided contact with bodily emissions and contact with anything dead. If one became unclean, there was a process specified by the laws, as how to become ritual clean once again.

So, what happened practically, from day to day?

Jews did not eat with Gentiles, neither in their homes or at banquets, so as not to be defiled by any food or drink that might be unclean. Gentiles were exempt from dietary laws.

Jews did not enter the homes or buildings of Gentiles in order to avoid any possible association with idolatry, or participation in idolatrous practices or rituals.

There was no Mosaic law that forbade social interaction and communication with Gentiles. However, in Jesus’ time, there were devout Jews who believed that holiness required complete separation from non-Jews, to be physically set-apart from them, because the Gentiles were unclean.

When the apostle Peter came to the house of the centurion Cornelius, a Gentile, as a Jew, he did enter into his house; and he said those who were inside: “You yourself know how unlawful it is [for Jews] to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is helping us re-focus on what it truly means to be holy. He is breaking the barrier between Jews and Gentiles; and the New Covenant that He has come to establish, will be a covenant between God and all the nations of the earth.

So, what is holiness, in light of the words and teaching of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in the Gospel today?

First, to be holy is to be set-apart from sin, to live in the world, but not to be part of the world. It means to be set-apart from all forms of idolatry, sexual immorality and promiscuity, to be set-apart from all lying, deception, cheating, stealing, cursing and swearing.

Second, to be holy is to be dedicated to God, to strive to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him; to live by His words; to live according to the Gospel; to follow God’s commandments.

Third, to be holy is to love our neighbour, which means every human person. gives us the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk. 6:31).

Fourth, to be holy is to stive to be like God. God is loving, merciful and kind to everyone. He generously bestows His gifts upon the righteous and upon the sinners; upon those who are grateful, and “upon those who are ungrateful and selfish” (Lk. 6:35). So, as His children, we are called to imitate Him, to do the same.

To be like God, is to be loving, kind and generous with all people – the righteous and the sinners.

To be like God is to love those who love us and those who hate us; to do good, even to our enemies.

To be like God is to help those in need, without any expectations for receiving anything in return. It means that there are no expectations on our part to be thanked, acknowledged, appreciated or recognized.

To be like God is to be willing to lend things to others, without expecting borrowed things to be returned.

To be like God is to be kind, merciful and generous to the grateful, and also to the ungrateful and selfish. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36).

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Feast of the Holy Protection of the Theotokos

Hebrews 9:1-7 | Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28

The Blachernae was a district, a suburb, just outside of the city walls of Constantinople, northwest from the city. In the year 450 AD, the Empress Pulcheria built a massive and most-beautiful columned basilica in the Blachernae district, and she dedicated it to the Mother of God, and named it the Church of Holy Mary in Blachernae. It was one of three churches that the Empress built in honour of Mary, but the one in Blachernae was the largest, most-impressive, and most-popular. It survived for 1,000 years.

The Church in Blachernae was built next to a well-spring, which soon became a source of miraculous cures, associated with the intercession of the Mother of God. As a result of these miracles, baths were built for immersion into these waters, similar to the ones you find in Lourdes today.

The Church in Blachernae quickly became a very popular place for prayer and devotion to Mary, a site of pilgrimage, and a favourite place for members of the imperial court and for common people. A small palace was built just south of the church, for that members of the imperial family and court could stay over-night, close to the church.

In the second half of the 5th century, the robe (in Greek, maphorion) and the cincture (belt) of the Mother of God were brought to Constantinople. The cincture was kept and preserved in Jerusalem and the robe was faithfully preserved in Galilee. Both incorruptible relics were brought to the Church of Holy Mary in Blachernae, and kept there for veneration in a sealed reliquary.

In addition to the robe and cincture of Mary, two famous and miraculous icons of the Mother of were also kept for veneration in the Blachernae Church. One of them, known as The Lady of the Sign, became the source of weekly miracles in the 9th century.

In the year 626, the city of Constantinople was besieged by the Avars. The siege failed, and the city was saved. The miraculous victory was attributed to the Mother of God. A year later, in 627, Emperor Heraclius gave orders to expand the walls of the city, and the Blachernae district, with the famous Church of Holy Mary, became part of the city of Constantinople.

The city would again be attacked and besieged many times: in 677, by the Persians; in 717, by the Arabs; and in 860, by a fleet of ships from Kyivan Rus’, led by Prince Askold. According to Nestor the Kyivan Chronicler, it was during this siege that the apparition of the Mother of God took place in the Blachernae Church.

To save the city, an all-night vigil took place in the Blachernae Church, to pray for the protection and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was about 4:00 am when the apparition took place. It was witnessed by St. Andrew, the-fool-for-Christ (a Slav), his disciple, Epiphanius, and several other people.

The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in the centre of the church in the air, above the people, accompanied by a host of saints and angels. She came forward, towards the altar, and knelt down to pray, and remained in prayer for some time. Then, she rose, and turned towards the people, removed her veil and extended it over the people as a sign of her protection. The veil remained suspended in the air, over the people, for the duration of the appearance. When the apparition ended, the veil disappeared. The besiege ended, and the attacking ships retreated. The city was saved again, by the intercession of the Mother of God.

According to Nestor, the Kyivan Chronicler, it was this miraculous apparition and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that cause the conversion of many among the soldiers and the people of Kyivan Rus’. A delegation was sent by Prince Askold to Constantinople, requesting that missionaries be sent to evangelize Kyivan Rus’. A church was established in the city of Kyiv. Prince Askold and his brother, Dyr, both accepted Holy Baptism. Over the next 100 years, the Christian faith spread, and by 988, Christianity became the official religion of the Kyivan State.

As the Church of Kyiv grew, so did devotion to the Mother of God and her protection. This devotion to Mary is deeply rooted in the Kyivan Church and the Kyivan Tradition (Our Pascha, par. 312). In 1054, the Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise dedicated Rus’-Ukraine to the protection of the Mother of God. May churches were built and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The feast of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God was established sometime in the 12th or 13th century, and to this day, it continues to be an important Marian feast in the Kyivan Church throughout the world.

Today, on this feast, we are reminded that in the assembly of all the saints in heaven, the first place belongs to the most-holy Mother of God. She is the “icon of the Church” and a sign of our transfiguration by grace. She is the model for all Christians, a guide to holiness, and the hope of all who journey towards the heavenly Jerusalem (Our Pascha, par. 310).

In the words of today’s kontakion: “Today, the Virgin stands before us in the church, and together with us and the choir of saints, she invisibly prays to God for us. The Mother of God prays in our behalf to the eternal God.”

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, September 24, 2023

17th Sunday After Pentecost

Jesus Heals the Daughter of a Gentile Woman of Great Faith
2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 | Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus’ public ministry can be divided into three parts.

The first part or early ministry of Jesus and His disciples was closely associated with John the Baptist in Judea. After some time, Jesus and His disciples returned to Galilee. And when John the Baptist was arrested and put into prison, Jesus began to proclaim the Kingdom of God throughout all the cities and towns of Galilee. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 4:17). This was the second part of His ministry – the Galilean ministry. The third and final part of Jesus’ ministry took place not in Galilee, but in the regions outside of Galilee, in regions where the population was mainly Gentile, and not Jewish.

Today’s Gospel marks the turning point, the transition from the second to the third and final ministry. Jesus begins His final ministry, which takes place mainly in Gentile territories.

As we heard today, Jesus and His disciples left Galilee and they went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon, most-likely to be alone for some time and to rest, away from the people, the Pharisees and the scribes. Tyre and Sidon were cities in the northwest, along the Mediterranean Sea. It was Gentilre territory, originally inhabited by the Phoenicians, and then by the Canaanites. Today, this area is part of the country of Lebanon.

While Jesus was there, a Gentile woman from the region came to Him, begging Jesus to heal her daughter, who was severely demon-possessed. She sees the suffering of her daughter as her own suffering. In a way, she comes to intercede not just for her daughter, but also for all the Gentiles who await the coming of the Savior, who hunger to hear and to receive the word of God.

The woman comes to Jesus and she cries out: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” (Mt 15:24). In other words, she, a Gentile, has come to faith. She believes and openly confesses that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Savior sent by God.

But Jesus does not answer her. He does not say a word. Why? Because as God, He has already spoken to her in her heart.

In paragraph 152 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (C.C.C.), we read the following:

“One cannot believe in Jesus Christ without sharing in His Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit Who reveals to men who Jesus is. St. Paul writes, ‘No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:3).”

Without receiving a special grace from God, no one can say with faith that Jesus is the Lord. God has already spoken to this woman in her heart. He has moved her and has given her the grace to respond with faith. And she had done so. She has responded with faith and acknowledges with conviction that Jesus is the Lord, the Christ, the promised Saviour.

What Jesus wants to do now is to allow this woman to witness her great faith openly before His disciples and others. As He had said and taught before:

“A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:14-16).

When Jesus does not respond to her, the woman does not leave. She goes from one disciple to another and continues to beg and plead on behalf of her daughter, and also on behalf of all Gentiles – all of us.

Several Fathers of the Church say that the disciples who come to Jesus, asking Him to grant the healing and to send her away, come not out of compassion for the woman and her daughter, but simply to get rid of her, because she is bothering them. ‘Give her what she wants and send her away, because we are tired of listening to her pleading.’

So, Jesus says to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). These words reflect not what Jesus believes, but what they as Jews believed about the Messiah. What Jesus is saying to His disciples is this: ‘Why are you asking Me to heal the Gentile woman, if you believe that the Messiah has come only to the house of Israel, and not to the Gentiles?’

The woman comes to Jesus once again. She kneels in worship before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” (Mt 15:25).

Jesus then takes to opportunity to test her faith, to challenge it, and also to allow her to further witness before His disciples her deep and profound humility and her deep faith. He says to her, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (Mt 15: 26).

The woman could have taken offense to these words, but she does not. She responds on behalf of all Gentiles, with great humility. She says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table” (Mt 15:27). In other words, yes, God has spoken to the people of Israel, but the Gentiles also seek to hear the word of God and to receive it. They are content to receive even ‘crumbs.’ So, give us crumbs.

The woman’s faith was tested and she chose to make a greater and deeper act of faith. She chose to respond with a great ‘yes.” Yes, I believe. Yes, I trust. Yes, I surrender my life to You. Yes, I am ready to listen, to hear your words, even crumbs, and to live by them.

So, what is the faith lesson for us today?

First, God invites and draws everyone to Himself. “The desire for God is written on every heart, and God never ceases to draw man to Himself” (C.C.C., par. 27).

Second, faith is our response to God’s invitation and His love for us. Faith is our “Yes.” ‘I am Your servant, O Lord.’ In the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Let it be done to me according to Your word” (Lk 1:38). Faith is our “Yes.” Yes, I believe Jesus that You are the Lord, the promised Messiah, the Christ, my Saviour and Redeemer, my Lord and my God. Yes, I trust in You, Jesus. Yes, I surrender my life into Your hands. Yes, I am reading to listen, to receive Your word, even if it is a crumb, and to live by it.

Third, faith is a precious gift. We cannot respond to God with faith unless the Holy Spirit moves within our heart, and gives us the grace and strength to respond with faith. We give thanks to the Holy Spirit for the precious gift of faith, and we ask for more grace, so that we can respond to God with even greater faith.

Fourth, faith is not a parked car. If we become comfortable or complacent in our faith and where we are in our spiritual journey, then our faith is dying and we are backsliding.

Fifth, faith is a living tree. It needs to grow. Therefore, in order to grow, it often needs to be tested and challenged. ‘Grant us Lord, growth in life, in faith and in spiritual understanding, that we may serve the Lord in fear, reverence and love, and be made worthy of Your heavenly kingdom’ (Prayer of the priest for the faithful before the Liturgy of the Eucharist).

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Sunday After the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The Call to Discipleship
Galatians 2:16-20 | Mark 8:34 – 9:1

A few years ago, I was called to a Palliative Care Unity to baptize an elderly man, who was dying from cancer. As a child, growing up on a farm, he was never baptized. As a young man, he moved to the city and during his life, he never pursued it.

The Baptism and Chrismation was celebrated in his hospital room, at his bedside. He was already quite weak and unable to get out of bed.

As we were praying the service, I was inspired, intrigued and totally focused on the cross that was hanging on the wall, just above his head, over the bed. It was the cross that combines both the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Most crosses have the body of Jesus crucified upon it. This type of cross had in it the body of the risen Christ, with His hands lifted up in victory.

I thought to myself, ‘what a filling image for a baptism.’ I have visited this man on several occasions before, and there was no cross on the wall, So, I thought to myself, ‘The family must have put up that cross for him, in preparation for his Baptism.

And so, here is this man, lying in his hospital bed, gravely ill and dying, and at the same time, he is being immersed into the very life of God. Immersed – in the name of Father – and re-born as a child of God, a beloved son. Immersed – in the name of the Son – into the very life of Jesus, and immersed into His death, dying with Him on the cross, being buried with Him, and then rising with Him in His Resurrection to live a new life in Him. Immersed – in the name of the Holy Spirit – washed and cleansed by the Blood of Christ. The burden of all his sins removed, purged, washed away, all sins forgiven, and sanctified by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The white bed sheets and covers served that day as a baptismal robe for the dying man, a sign that he had been clothed in the garment of light and the garment of righteousness.

I returned a few days later to visit him again and to bring Holy Communion, and to my surprise, that cross that I had seen above his bed – it was gone. I asked him about it. He knew nothing of it. He pointed to the cross with the body of Jesus crucified lying on the table next to him. It was a gift from one of the nurses on the occasion of his Baptism. But that cross was not the cross that I had seen hanging on the wall above his bed.

I asked the nurse that was looking after him. She said that there was no cross hanging on the wall in his room. I know that I wasn’t dreaming. So, I looked closely at the wall above and behind the bed. There was no nail hole. There was not tape. There was no evidence of any kind of hook. Nothing. The cross with the risen Christ was there during the Baptism, and then it was gone. It had appeared for the Baptism, and then it disappeared.

So, what could this mean? What was the message?

First, the appearance of the Cross was a confirmation that Jesus was present there to welcome His newly-baptized son into His Church.

Second, the appearance of the Cross was a confirmation that very special gift was being given and being received. Baptism is essential to salvation. And to be baptized before death – was a very special gift.

Third, the appearance of the Cross was a sign of salvation. Death would not have victory over him. Jesus was bringing him home.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus called the multitude and His disciples to Himself, and He said to them: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).

Deny yourself. In other words, say “no.” To whom? To the “old self,” the “old person,” the “old man.” Say “no” to that person who is selfish, self-centred, self-seeking, that person interested in being satisfied, that person that desires to own, have and control, that person who is dominated by the pride of life. “No” to him. He died on the day of our Baptism, and he continues to die from that day on. He needs to die daily. St. Paul writes: “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31) to that old man, so that a new person in Christ may live.

Take up your cross. This is a call to embrace the Gospel, to embrace the life of discipleship, and to embrace the persecution that comes with it. Be willing to die for Jesus, to give Him everything, even our very life. Embrace a life of prayer. Embrace a life of sacrifice. Embrace a life of love, and love until it hurts.

Follow Him. Follow Him in life, follow Him in His Passion, follow Him in His Death, Burial, Resurrection and Ascension. And follow Him glorified, when He returns in glory, into the fullness of God’s Kingdom.

Fr. Peter Babej

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

1 Corinthians 1:18-24 | John 19:6-11, 12-20, 25-28, 30-35

So, whatever happened to Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified? And what happened to the garden tomb, where Jesus was buried, and out which He arose alive, on the third day?

Both sites were part of an old abandoned quarry, which was located just outside the west walls of the city of Jerusalem. King Herod the Great converted this abandoned quarry into a city park, leaving a large hill-rock untouched on the north end. This hill or mound consisted of useless brittle rock. It had the shape of a skull, and so, it was called Golgotha, which means “skull,” or “place of the skull.”

Not far, further west from Golgotha, there were some vertical walls of bedrock, which formed the edge of the old quarry. Burial chambers or tombs were hewn into these vertical walls to create a cemetery. One of the tombs in that cemetery belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. It had a garden at the entrance to the tomb, which was also the private property of Joseph. This is where Jesus was buried.

The early Church of Jerusalem would have marked both sites, Golgotha and the Tomb of Christ. Both sites were venerated, protected, and preserved with great devotion. They were also visited frequently, and became places of pilgrimage. Since the tomb and the garden were the private property of Joseph of Arimathea, they most-likely, were donated by Joseph and became the property of the Church.

In the year 44 A.D., king Agrippa expanded the protective walls of Jerusalem. So, the old quarry that had been converted to a park, became part of the city, enclosed within its walls.

In the year 66 A.D., the Christian community in Jerusalem left the city when the Roman army had landed in Galilee to suppress the rebellion of the Jews. This was understood to be the sign given by Jesus: “When you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by David the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Mt. 24:15-16). Valuable items would have been placed into the tomb of Christ, and then the tomb was sealed. Also, it is likely, that the Cross and the crosses of the crucified thieves were hidden and sealed in a cave near Golgotha.

After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., the Christian community returned to Jerusalem. The Church of Zion was the first house church in Jerusalem. It was the guest house where the Last Supper took place. This house church was re-build, using stones taken from the ruins of the Temple and the Temple mount. The Church recovered the sites of Golgotha and the tomb of Christ, and both continued to be places of veneration and pilgrimage.

A great change took place in the year 135 A.D. To completely wipe out any connection with Judaism and Christianity, the Emperor Hadrian gave orders to re-build the city of Jerusalem according to the structural plan of a Roman city, and it was re-named Aelia Capitolina. The area of Golgotha and the tomb of Christ were filled in with earth, and that very spot became the intersection of the two main streets of the city: the primary road, Cardo Maximus, oriented north-south; and the secondary road, Decumanus Maximus, oriented east-west. A pagan temple was built at this intersection, in honour of the pagan gods Jupiter and Venus.

Centuries later, in the year 326 A.D., the Empress Helena, came to Palestine to find the tomb of Christ. The local Christian community knew exactly where it was – beneath the intersection of the main streets of the city. Helena issued the orders and the pagan temple dedicated to Jupiter and Venus was demolished, and excavations began. Eventually, the tomb of Christ was uncovered, and also Golgotha, and the cave close to it, where three crosses were preserved. Miracles identified the true Cross upon which Christ was crucified. The true Cross was then elevated and carried in procession through the streets of Jerusalem by Macarius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Construction of a new church began almost immediately, and it was completed in ten years. In the year 336 A.D., the new church was consecrated and named, The Church of the Resurrection. It encompassed both sites, the tomb of Christ and Golgotha, under one roof. It also included a great basilica, which was oriented towards the tomb of Christ.

The Church of the Resurrection became the most important site of all Christendom. Initially, Catholic churches were built and oriented towards the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. However, at some point, a change was made, and churches were constructed facing East, in expectation of Christ’s final return in glory.

In the year 614 A.D., the Holy Land was invaded by the Persian army. During this invasion, the Church of the Resurrection was destroyed. It was re-build, and then destroyed again by Arab-Muslims in 1009. It was re-built again in the year 1048, but at a much smaller scale. It was repaired and restored by the Crusaders in the year 1149. At some point, the church was re-named as The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

You can travel to Jerusalem on pilgrimage and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and venerate the site Christ’s crucifixion, Golgotha, and the site of His burial and Resurrection, the tomb of Christ. Otherwise, you can stay at home and attend the Divine Liturgy, where both sites and both events become present to us, here and now.

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Sunday Before the Exaltation | Post-Feast of the Nativity

Galatians 6:11-18 | John 3:13-17

Today, I would like to speak about the vision-dream that Jacob experienced, when he was leaving his parents and his home in Bersheeba (Gen. 28:10-22).

So, who is Jacob?

Jacob and his brother Esau are non-identical twins, sons born to Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac is the only son born to Abraham through Sarah. And so, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve sons born to Jacob, are the founding fathers of the nation of Israel. We call them The Patriarchs.

When Jacob left home, making his way north to Haran in Mesopotamia, he came to a certain place near the city of Luz. He decided to stay there for the night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones that was there, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.

That night, Jacob dreamed that a ladder was set upon the earth. The top of it reached to heaven, and angels of God were ascending and descending upon it. And behold, the Lord God stood above it and said:

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, your father, and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give to you and your descendants; and your descendants will be like the dust of the earth… and by you and your descendants, shall the families of the earth bless themselves. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I had spoken to you” (Gen. 28:13-15).

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and he said:

“Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. How awesome is this place! This is note other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:16-17).

So, Jacob arose early in the morning and he took the stone, which he had put under his head, and set it up as a pillar, and he anointed it by pouring oil on the top of it. And he called that place Bethel, which means “house of God.”

Jacob’s dream was a prophetic sign. It pointed to the future. So, what does that mean? What was it pointing to? How is it fulfilled?

Let’s begin with the stone. The stone points to the promised Messiah, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Jacob’s son, Judah. Jacob anointed the stone, because his descendant, the promised Messiah, Jesus, is the Anointed One to come, upon whom the fullness of the Holy Spirit shall rest. He will be the Anointed One of God. Christos means “Anointed One.” Jesus will become the cornerstone upon which a new house will be built, a new Temple, a new House of God (Bethel), which is His Church.

So, if the stone in the dream represents Jesus, God-made-man, then what does the ladder represent in this vision?

The ladder represents the Blessed Virgin Mary. By her conception and nativity, by her life on earth, her Dormition and Assumption, Mary became the Ladder “set upon the earth” that reaches to heaven.

At the time of her Conception, angels descend and ascend, announcing her conception to her parents, Joachim and Anna.

At the time of her Nativity, angels descend and ascend, announcing her birth into this world. God’s plan of salvation begins to unfold.

At the time of the Annunciation, angels descend and ascend, announcing the Incarnation of the Son of God.

When the time arrived for Mary to give birth, angels descend and ascend proclaiming the birth of the promised Savior.

During Mary’s lifetime, angels descend and ascend to speak to her, to strengthen her and to guide her.

And finally, at Mary’s Dormition and Assumption, angels descend and ascend, carrying her most-pure, incorruptible and glorious body into heaven. In the first stichera of Vespers for the feast of the Dormition, we sing, “Her grave became a ladder to heaven.”

In the Akathist Hymn to Mary, in honour of the Annunciation, in the second ikos, we sing the following to Mary: “Rejoice, heavenly ladder, by which God came down. Rejoice bride (ladder), leading those on earth to heaven.”

St. Mother Theresa used to say, “No Mary – No Jesus.” Mary is the ladder by which God came down to earth and became one of us – Jesus. And Mary is the ladder, the bridge, that leads us to her Son, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

In every church, on the royal doors of the iconostasis, you will always find the icon of Mary and the Archangel Gabriel at the moment of the Annunciation. Why? Because Mary is the ladder, by which God comes to us; and she is the ladder that leads us to heaven. She is the Gate of Heaven.

So, as you approach Holy Communion today, reflect upon the prophetic vision experienced by Jacob at Bethel. It is fulfilled today. You are standing in the House of God, and you are a part of it, the New Temple, the Body of Christ – the Church.

The altar represents our Lord Jesus, the Rock of our salvation, the Cornerstone, upon which the new House of God is built. And the royal doors represent Mary, the ladder set upon the earth, which reaches to heaven. She is the Gate of Heaven.

Through Mary, Jesus comes to us. And through Mary, we come to her Son, Jesus.

Fr. Peter Babej

Friday, September 8, 2023

Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos

Philippians 2:5-11 | Luke 10:38-42, 11:27-28

So, what is the Protoevangelium of James? The Protoevangelium, which in Greek means “First Gospel,” is an early Church writing, a part of Church Tradition, which dates back to the second century. It was already in circulation in the year 150 A.D., and so, it may have been written as early as 140 A.D. It was written in Greek. Just to compare, the old Church writing outside of the New Testament Scriptures, is the Didache (Teaching). Which dates back to the year 110 A.D.

So, who is the author of the Protoevangelium? We don’t know. The author of the document claims to be James, the brother of the Lord, who became the first bishop of Jerusalem. It is this James who wrote “The Letter of James” that we find in the New Testament Scriptures. It is not likely that James is the direct author of the Protoevangelium, however, he may be the author indirectly. It is possible that the document was written by one of his disciples or several disciples, who heard James speak and teach, and they recorded what he said in the document, and prescribed authorship to him.

So, why is the Protoevangelium important? It is important because it is the oldest written history of Mary’s conception, her nativity, her perpetual virginity, and her betrothal to Joseph.

The document was suppressed in the West, because St. Jerome, in the fourth century, rejected the idea that St. Joseph was an older man and a widower with children. However, in the Christian East, the document was accepted and read widely. It was translated from Greek into Syriac, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Old Church Slavonic, Arabic, and presumably, into Latin. It reflects the official position of the Eastern Church to this day.

The Protoevangelium of James inspired the Eastern Church to establish very early on, several important Marian feasts: the Conception by St. Anna (Dec. 9), the Nativity of Mary (Sept. 8), and the Entrance of Mary into the Temple (Nov. 21). It had a great influence on liturgy, and especially on iconography. The Protoevangelium does not have the authority of Holy Scriptures, but it does have the authority of any early Christian writing that belongs to the Tradition of the Church.

So, what does the Protoevangelium have to say?

Mary is presented as an extraordinary child, destined by God for great things, from the moment of her conception.  Her parents, Joachim and Anna, are people extremely devoted to God. They are wealthy, but at the same time, they are very generous. Instead of tithing (one tenth), they give away one third of their income annually. However, they are distressed about not having children. Anna’s barrenness causes other to ridicule them and to judge them unfairly.

After an unpleasant incident at the Temple, where Joachim was accused of being unworthy to bring sacrifices, he went out into the wilderness with his flock, leaving Anna behind to lament her barrenness. But the Lord God hears Anna’s prayer. Angels appear to both Joachim and Anna and announce the conception of the promised child. In time, Anna conceives and bears a child, a girl, who is name Mary. Both Joachim and Anna vow to dedicate the child to God, and that she will be raised in the Temple in Jerusalem, at a school that was established for girls.

So, what is the faith lesson for us, on this day when we celebrate the Nativity of Mary?

The lesson is the importance of generosity. Love can be defined as the action of giving and receiving. Within the Trinity, between the three divine persons, there exists a perpetual motion of self-giving and receiving. In the life of Joachim and Anna, we see love in action – giving and receiving. God gives them a child, Mary. They receive the gift, and then offer the child as a gift to God. In time, Mary becomes the model of perpetual giving and receiving, a model of motherly love.

Inspired by the example of Joachim and Anna, we are called to do the same – to be generous – knowing that God is always generous with us.

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, September 3, 2023

14th Sunday After Pentecost

The Parable of the Marriage Feast
2 Corinthians 1:21-2:4 | Matthew 22:1-14

One of the happiest occasions that we experience in life are wedding celebrations. So, it should be of no surprise to us that Jesus would use weddings to describe for us the eternal joy of life with Him in heaven.

In today’s gospel parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a marriage feast that a king prepared for his son. Actually, in the Gospels we find not one, but several parables in which Jesus compares the kingdom to a marriage. He also begins his public life by performing His first sign at a wedding feast, changing water into wine. To understand today’s parable and other Scriptural passages, we need to know how marriages took place in Jesus’ time.

In Israel, marriage was a two-step process. First, there was the betrothal. Then, about a year later, the marriage feast.

At the betrothal, the father and the son came to the house of the bride-to-be. The two fathers made the arrangements for the marriage and they determined the bride-price – what was to be paid to the father of the bride, who was giving away his daughter in marriage to another man and family.

Then came the betrothal ceremony, which was simple, but very meaningful. For Jews, wine was a symbol of life. The man took a cup of wine and he offered to the woman, as a sign that he was offering his life to her as a gift. If she accepted the cup of wine and drank of it, her answer was ‘yes,’ ‘I do accept the gift of your life in marriage.’ Then, she in turn offered the cup of wine to the man, as a sign that she was offering her life as a gift to the man. He would then accept the cup and drink of it, as a sign that he receives and accepts the gift of her life. And so, in betrothal, they became husband and wife, in a covenant bond of live, were each is a gift to the other. Betrothal was not an engagement. It was the first step in the marriage process. In betrothal, the man and women were legally married; and to break a betrothal, a legal divorce was required by law.

Now, although they were legally married in betrothal, the husband and wife did not live together during the time of betrothal, which lasted about one year. During the time of betrothal, they lived separately. The bride continued to live in the house of her parents; and the groom returned to his father’s house, where he began to build a dwelling place, a new home for his bride and future family.

After a year, when everything was ready, the day of the marriage feast was set to take place at the new home, which had been prepared by the groom. The guests were invited. All the food and drink were prepared for the banquet.

On the wedding day, the bride remained in her parent’s home. She bathed, washed, and was then adorned and clothed in beautiful wedding garments – white, clean and pure. Together with her maidens, with lamps lit, she awaited the arrival of her bridegroom. Then, at the time chose by the bridegroom, he came for his bride. He came in a great procession, with all his attendants. And then, from the house of the bride’s parents, the bride and her groom went together in procession, as husband and wife, to the new dwelling place, where the feast was prepared. When they arrived, a ceremony took place with a special blessing. Then, the marriage feast began with all the invited guests, who had come to the feast adorned in beautiful wedding garments. From that time in, the bridegroom and bride lived together under one roof, in their new home.

So now, knowing that marriage was a two-step process in Jesus’ time, we can take a closer look at the parable we heard today.

In today’s gospel parable, the king is God the Father. The king’s son is the Beloved Son of God the Father, who became a man – Jesus. Jesus is the bridegroom. And His Bride is the Church, the People of God.

So, if Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church is His bride, when and where did the betrothal take place? It took place on the Cross.

On the Cross, Jesus offers the gift of His life to His bride – the Church. She receives it, and in turn, offers her life as a gift to Him. In the Mystery of Baptism, Jesus personally offers the gift of His life to us. We receive the gift of His divine life, the Holy Spirit, and we drink of it in Holy Communion. We become part of His bride, a member of His Church. And we stive to be a self-gift to Him.

And what is the bride-price? The bride-price, offered by the Father for His Son’s bride, the Church, is the very life of His Son, Jesus, offered in sacrifice on the altar of the Cross.

After the betrothal, Jesus the Bridegroom, rose from the dead and He ascended to His Father’s house to prepare a new place for His Bride. Before His departure from this world, at the Last Supper, Jesus said the following words to His Bride, the Church, and to each of us personally as members of His Church. He said:

“Believe in God [the Father], believe in Me. I go and prepare a place for you. And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that were I am – you may be also” (Jn. 14:1-3).

During the time of spiritual betrothal, Jesus the Bridegroom remains in heaven, seated at the right hand of His Father, while the Bride, the Church, still remains on earth. But Jesus stays close to His Bride. In the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, He remains present to His Bride. He nourishes her, sustains her, guides her, and prepares her.

Then will come the Day of the Marriage Feast. Jesus the Bridegroom, will return in glory for His Bride, the Church. He will come in glory with all His attendants, all the heavenly hosts of angels and bodiless spirits.

At the general resurrection, the bride will arise – washed, purified, adorned, and clothed in the beautiful garment of Light, the garment of God’s sanctifying grace. Then, Jesus the Bridegroom, together with His Bride, the Church, will enter together into the kingdom of heaven, were the eternal Marriage Feast takes place.

The holy Apostle John was given the grace to witness both the betrothal and the wedding feast. Standing beneath the cross, he was a witness to the betrothal. In a vision, he also saw the final marriage feast. In the Book of Revelation, John writes the following: “Let us rejoice and exalt and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself reading” (Rev. 19:7).

Finally, in conclusion, who are the guests invited to the marriage feast? The answer is, all of us. All of us are invited, but not all choose to come. Those who have chosen to come, are not only guests. They become the bride. We are both the guests and the Bride of Christ. At our baptism, we have been given the wedding garment that is required for the feast. Our baptismal garment is the wedding garment, the gift of the Holy Spirit and His sanctifying grace. At our baptism, we have also been betrothed to Christ, as members of His Church – His Bride.

When we celebrated the Eucharist, we leave this world and enter into God’s time, to already participate in the eternal Marriage Feast in the kingdom of heaven. In Holy Communion, Jesus renews His Betrothal to His Bride. He offers His life to us. We accept it, and strive to be a gift to Him. In Holy Communion, he cleanses us, nourishes us, guides us, and prepares us.

As members of His Church, the Bride, we wait patiently for His Coming. As the Bridegroom, He will come for us personally and individually, at the moment of our death. He will also come for us collectively, at the end of this age.

In conclusion, the parable ends with a man who comes to the marriage feast without a wedding garment. He is taken out and cast into the other darkness. The message is clear. One must be clothed in the wedding garment to enter the Marriage Feast. So, be attentive to keep your spiritual garment of light in order. Clean it in the Mystery of Repentance. Wash it in the Blood of Christ. And keep the light of faith burning brightly. Jesus is coming, and He is coming soon. “Maranatha. O Lord, come soon” (1 Cor. 16:22).

Fr. Peter Babej

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Beheading of John the Baptist

Acts 13:25-32 | Mark 6:14-30

Herod Antipas was the son of king Herod the Great. After the death of his father, Herod Antipas became the ruler of Galilee, and Perea, the region east of the Jordan river and the Dead Sea. His half-brother, Phillip, became the ruler of the region further north and east – Gaulanitis, Betanea, Trachonitis, and Auranites. Another half-brother, Archelaus, became the ruler of Judea and Samaria. Archelaus was ruthless and unstable, and after a few years, he was deposed by Rome, and a Roman governor was appointed to rule over Judea and Samaria.

Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea from his capital city of Sepphoris, which was not far from Nazareth. Herod eventually built a new capital city for himself, which he called Tiberias. It was located on the west side of the sea of Galilee.

Herod Antipas married Phasaelis, the daughter of king Aretas of Arabia (Nabatea), the kingdom just east of his own territory. Phillip married Herodias, his niece, and they had one daughter, Salome.

At some point in time, Herod Antipas entered into an adulterous relationship with Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Phillip. They lived for sometime in adultery. When Herod brought Herodias to his palace in Tiberias, his first wife, Phasaelis, fled and returned home her father.

Eventually, Herod and Herodias divorced their spouses in order to re-marry a second time. According to the law (Lev. 20:21), it was forbidden for a man to take his brother’s wife while his brother was still alive. There would be no blessing, and according to the law, “they shall remain childless” (Lev. 20:21). As far as we know, Herod and Herodias had no children.

Knowing that political leaders had a great influence on the moral environment of their country and their people, John the Baptist boldly spoke out against the unlawful marriage and called out for repentance. Herodias despised him for this, and wanted John arrested and killed. Herod Antipas was ambivalent to the situation, and held a certain curiosity with respect to John. Nevertheless, he conceded to Herodias’ demands, and he had John arrested.

Herodias waited for the opportunity to have John executed, and the opportunity came. When Herod held a great birthday party for himself (not a Jewish custom), he promised to give anything to Salome, Herodias’ daughter, if she danced for his guests. She agreed to dance, and in the end, she asked for the head of John the Baptist. Since Herod was more concerned about his reputation and not about an innocent man’s life, he gave orders for John to be executed and his head was brought to Salome on a platter, as she had requested.

Today, the gospel reading presents to us two important themes and lessons that we find in the Holy Scriptures.

First, sin begets sin. Once a person sets on the path of sin, life spirals down into greater sin. Herod commits adultery, and this led to further debauchery, and eventually to murder.

Second, there are consequences to grave sins committed. King Aretas, the father of Herod’s first wife, Phasaelis, was greatly offended by the divorce. In 37 A.D., he led an attack against Herod Antipas. His army caused serious damage to Herod’s realm, and then returned home. After this, Herod was accused of conspiracy against Rome, and he was banished to Gaul by the Roman Emperor. Herodias followed him. Shortly after his banishment, in 39 A.D., Herod Antipas died.

Third, there are two ways in life – the way of life and the way of death. Repentance sets us on the path of life, which leads to righteousness and holiness. It brings us to God. Obstinance in sin sets us on the path of death, which leads us to greater sin, destruction, and alienation from God. Blessed is the man who has chosen the way of life and righteousness (Psalm 1).

Sunday, August 27, 2023

13th Sunday After Pentecost

Parable of the Landowner and the Vineyard
1 Corinthians 16:13-24 | Mt 21:33-42

Yesterday, when we were out for dinner, I could not help but notice that there were four men, who wore hats indoors, while they were eating.

If you were a child growing up in the 1950’s, 1960’s and even 1970’s, they you will remember a time when hats were an important part of a man’s and women’s attire. Both men and women wore hats.

For men there was a special hat etiquette, from which women were exempt. When a man entered a church, he took his hat off, because it was the house of God and he had entered into the presence of the Lord. God is the landowner, and the man is his servant. When a man entered a house or any building, he took his hat off, because he was not the owner or master of that place. In the presence of a woman, out of respect for the woman, the man took his hat off. When sitting down to eat, the man took his hat off, out of respect for God who provides and in gratitude for the gift of food. When the national anthem was sung, the man took his hat off, out of respect for his country for whom he is called to serve. Finally, at prayer, the man took his hat off, as a sign of his humility before God and out of respect for God. God is the Lord and Master, the Owner of the vineyard, and the man is called to be His steward, His faithful servant.

So, for a man, taking off the hat is traditionally a sing of respect, humility, service, and gratitude. It is a reminder of God’s kingship, authority and providence. God owes everything and He is the One Who provides.

The custom is definitely of Christian origin. It goes back to early Church tradition and is rooted in the New Testament Scriptures. St. Paul writes, “The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonours his head” (1 Cor. 11:3-4). When at prayer, the Christian man removes his head covering, as a sign that he is directly under the authority and lordship of Christ, the head of the Church. The woman prays with her head covered, as a sign that she respects the authority of her husband, who is head of the family and the domestic church.

In Judaism, the tradition was different. A man covered his head at prayer as a sign of humility before God. It is was an acknowledgement that God is above, and man is under His authority His Covenant Law. A woman also covered her head at prayer as a sign of humility before God, and modesty before men. In the early Church, Christian men stopped covering their heads at prayer, because they were no longer under the Old Covenant Law; they were now directly under the authority of Christ, who released them from the Old Law and established a New Covenant relationship between God and all the peoples of the earth.

In today’s parable, the landowner is God, and the vineyard is God’s people. The tenants are the leaders, who have appointed by God to serve as stewards, to look after the vineyard, to tend to it, and to cultivate it, so that it bears good fruit. The messengers who are sent by the owner to receive fruit from the vineyard represent the prophets, whom God has sent to the people of Israel and their leaders. But the leaders “beat one, killed one, and stoned another” (Mt. 21:35). In the end, the landowner sent his son, and the leaders killed him. The son is the Beloved Son of God the Father, Jesus, the promised Messiah and Saviour. The leaders of Israel have rejected Jesus, and plan to have him arrested and killed.

The problem with the appointed leadership of God’s People, Israel, is that they have forgotten that they are only the stewards, not the landowners. They act as if the vineyard belongs to them. But God is the owner of the vineyard and everything belongs to Him. It is privilege and honour to serve the Lord God as His steward and servant. So, in the end, the leadership of God’s People will be taken away from them, and given to those who understand the true meaning of servant-leadership.

There are several important lessons for us today.

First, God owns everything.

Second, all that we have, is a gift from God.

Third, we are not owners, but only servants and stewards. God entrusts us with what He provides for us, and we are called to use it wisely, take care of it, and to cultivate it, so that it brings forth good fruit and a good yield.

Fourth, as good stewards, we are to bring everything back to God, the rightful Owner.

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Sunday After the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos

Also, the 12th Sunday After Pentecost
1 Corinthians 13:1-11 | Matthew 19:16-26

The acacia tree is a very gracious tree, which grows in hot and dry climates. With its’ long, extended branches, the acacia tree resembles an open umbrella.

The acacia tree is the only tree that grows in the wilderness of Egypt, Israel and it is mentioned 39 times in the Holy Scriptures.

The wood from this tree is very dense, hard, and durable, resistant to insects and corruption. Anything made from acacia wood will last a very long time. This is the wood that was used to make the Ark of the Covenant, and other furnishings for the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting).

According to God’s instructions (Ex. 25:10-22), a box was made using acacia wood. It was approximately four (4) feet long, two and a half feet (2 ½) wide, and two and a half (2 ½) feet high. The wood was then overlayed with gold, and gold molding at the seams and edges.

For rings were cast of pure gold and attached to the four corners of the Ark. Then two poles were made from acacia wood, overlayed with gold, and placed into the rings on the sides of the Ark. The poles were used to carry the Ark.

The lid for the Ark was made from pure gold – one piece – with tow cherubin on top, at the ends, facing in towards the centre, with their wings overshadowing the centre. This cover or lid, was called the Mercy Seat. This is where God’s Presence abided among Israel. God said to Moses, “This is where I will meet with you, and from the Mercy Seat I will speak with you of all that I will give in commandment for the people of Israel” (Ex. 25:22).

According to the Holy Scriptures, there were three important things placed into the Ark: first, the two stone tablets, upon which God Himself wrote the Ten Commandments (Ex. 25:16); second, a gold jar that contained manna, the bread from heaven, which remained uncorrupt (Ex. 16:33-34); and third, the staff of Aaron that had blossomed and confirmed Aaron as high priest, and the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants.

The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies, within the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting), and later, it was transferred to the Holy of Holes in the Temple, which was constructed by king Solomon in Jerusalem.

When the Babylonian army attached the kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C., the priests carried the Ark of the covenant out from the Temple, outside the city, and sealed it in a cave nearby. After the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon, when the second Temple was built in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies remained empty. The cave, where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden, was never found. Its location was lost and forgotten. The people of Israel believed that in time, God Himself would bring the Ark to its resting place, in the Holy of Holies.

And God did accomplish this.

It was not the old Ark of the Covenant that was brought back to the Temple, but a New Ark, the Ark of a New Covenant between God and all the nations of the earth. This New Ark is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary is the gracious one, the vessel chosen by God. In her human nature, she was conceived pure and immaculate, and her human nature was ‘overlayed,’ ‘clothed’ not with gold, but with the fullness of God’s grace.

At the moment of the Incarnation, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, took on human nature and dwelt in her womb. She carried Him Who carries all. She contained the Uncontainable God. Her womb became more spacious than the heavens. And the One born of her is the promised Saviour – the Messiah. He is the living Bread that has come down from heaven – the Bread of Life. He is the new and eternal High Priest, Who establishes a New Covenant in His Most Precious Blood, and a New Priesthood.

When all had been completed, the New Ark of the Covenant, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was transferred, body and soul, to the true Holy of Holies – Heaven itself.

In the Holy Scriptures, we find two important verses that speak about this final transfer of the Ark of the New Covenant – Mary’s Dormition, and her Assumption into heaven, body and soul.

The first verse is found in Psalm 132(132). The psalmist is prophetically speaking about Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, and also about Mary’s Assumption into heaven. He writes, “Arise, O Lord, into Your rest; you and the Ark of your Covenant” (Ps. 131(132):8).

The second verse is found in the Book of Revelation. More than forty (40) years after the destruction of the earthly Temple of God in Jerusalem, John experienced a vision of the heavenly Temple, where he saw Mary, the Mother of God, glorified in heaven. He writes the following, “The God’s Temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of the Covenant was seen in the Temple” (Rev. 11:9).

So, was it necessary that the Blessed Virgin Mary fall asleep in death, before being taken up into heaven? Did she have to experience death? The answer is, “No.” God could have taken her up alive, body and soul, just like He took up Enoch before the Flood, and the Prophet Elijah, in a chariot of fire. But, He didn’t. Mary’s Dormition (falling asleep in death) and her Assumption were part of His Divine Plan.

Mary wanted to follow her Son perfectly, in life, in death, in His Resurrection and Ascension. Through His Passover, Jesus became the Way, the Highway, for a New Exodus, out of slavery to sin and death in this world, to freedom and eternal life in the kingdom of God. And Mary wanted to participate in that New Passover and New Exodus. She wanted to remain closely united to her beloved Son, Jesus; and also, to all of us, in the moment of our death and final passage.

In the 5th century, Jacob of Serug, a priest and monk of Syria, writes the following:

“Unto the Mother of this Jesus Christ, the Son of God, death came that she might taste His cup… This pure Mother of the Son of God, they introduced and place her in a cave, in a sepulchre, from a cave of stone. All the company of Apostles gathered together and stood by, while in truth, their Master, together with them, laid her in the grave.”

In the 6th century, Theoteknos, the bishop of Livias, on the left bank of the Jordan River, writes the following:

“If the God-bearing body of Mary has known death, it has not suffered corruption. It ahs been preserved from corruption and kept free from stain… It was fitting that the most holy body of Mary… be entrusted to the earth for awhile… It was raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul, pleasing to God.”

Today, in conclusion, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are encouraged and consoled by the following.

First, we are not alone. Mary continues to be our spiritual Mother. She continues to pray for us and to intercede for us, especially at the hour of our death.

Second, Mother Mary will be with us at the hour of our death. She will stand by us, and precede the arrival of her Son.

Third, Mary will entrust our soul into the hands of her Son.

Fourth, Mary will intercede for us at our Personal Judgment. She will not abandon us when our soul stands in judgment before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of its life on earth.

Fifth, the angels will carry us to our final resting place. At the Second Coming and the General Resurrection, we will rise again to a glorified body, and body and soul, we will follow Jesus in His Resurrection and Ascension, and the blessed Virgin Mary in her glorious Assumption.

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, August 13, 2023

11th Sunday After Pentecost

Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. The Importance of Forgiveness.
1 Corinthians 9:2-12 | Matthew 18:23-25

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt. 6:12). This verse is taken from Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. Instead of the word “trespasses,” he uses the word “debts” to describe sin. And so, sin can be understood to be a debt.

Why? Because when we sin, we steal. We take something that does not belong to us, to use and abuse. To sin is to steal, to take, to use and abuse. And so, sin always creates a debt.

To fully understand this, let us look at the Ten Commandments for examples.

  1. If there are idols in our life, then we are stealing from the worship and adoration that belongs to God alone.
  2. If we use the Lord’s name in vain, then we are stealing from God’s good name, we are taking away from the reverence that is due to Him.
  3. If we do not pray or keep the Lord’s Day, we steal the precious time that should be reserved and dedicated to God.
  4. When we dishonour parents, we take away from the dignity and respect that belongs to them.
  5. In the case of murder and abortion, a human life is taken, stolen from God the Creator, and stolen from another human being.
  6. When adultery is committed, something sacred is stolen from a spouse, and from God, the author of marriage. In the case of fornication, sex before marriage, pornography, self-abuse, masturbation and sodomy, something is stolen from the sanctity of marriage. The human body, created in the image and likeness of God, is used and abused.
  7. When we steal, we take what rightfully belongs to others. We steal from them, and we steal from God, the Owner of everything.
  8. When we lie or deceive, we abuse the truth, and the truth is God.
  9. When we lust after someone’s husband or wife, to seek to steal someone who does not belong to us.
  10. When we lust after something that belongs to someone else, in essence, we are seeking to steal.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus presents to us a parable about a slave-servant and a most-merciful Master. The slave has incurred an incredible debt. He owes his Master 10,000 talents. Since one (1) talent represents twenty (20) years of wages, 10,000 talents represent 200,000 years of wages. It’s a debt that could never be paid off in a human life time. Yet, the Master, in his great compassion, he remits the entire debt. Everything is forgiven.

So, who is that slave? Whom does he represent?

That slave represents us, you and I. Because of the sins we have committed, we have incurred a tremendous debt before God, a debt that we could never repay or atone for. And yet, the Master, our Heavenly Father, in His infinite mercy, forgives and remits all of our debt, through His Beloved Son, Jesus. Through His death on the Cross and His perfect sacrifice of atonement, all our sins are forgiven, all our debt is remitted. All we need to do is to ask, with faith and sincere repentance.

Our sins are forgiven and our iniquities are washed away in the Mystery of Baptism and the Mystery of Repentance (Confession).  Having experienced God’s infinity mercy and forgiveness, we in turn, are expected to do the same – to forgive others, and to let go of the debt. ‘You owe me nothing.’

In the parable today, the slave failed to do this. He went and demanded full payment of debt from a co-worker, who owed him 100 denarii, about five (5) months of wages. And because of his failure to forgive, in the end, he had to face His Master’s justice. And, unfortunately, we often do the same. We refuse to forgive others. We cling to our resentments, our past hurts, our bitterness, and demand payment and justice. We expect mercy from God, and at the same time, demand justice from others. And if we persist in demanding justice from others, we will eventually face God’s justice instead of His mercy.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God commands us to forgive. When Peter asked Jesus how often should we forgive, He replied “seven times seventy” (Mt. 18:22), which means, always.

Without forgiveness, there is no healing.
Without forgiveness, there is no spiritual growth.
Without forgiveness, there is no peace or abiding joy.
Without forgiveness, there is no Christianity.
Without forgiveness, there is no eternal life in the presence of God, face to face, in the kingdom of God.

So, in conclusion, there are two important faith lessons for us today.

First, seek God’s forgiveness. Be reconciled with God. If you haven’t gone to confession for a long time, make the resolution to do us. Let Jesus remit all your debts and be free.

Second, learn to forgive quickly. Yes, forgiveness is difficult, but much more difficult to accomplish in Purgatory than here, on earth. Forgiveness is a decision that we make, an act of the human will. Choose to forgive. Let go of the past hurts, resentments and debts. In the midst of your own pain, say, “You owe me nothing.” To forgive is to let go. So, let go and be free.

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Feast of the Holy Transfiguration

2 Peter 1:10-19 | Mt 17:1-19

There are only two people in the Old Testament who experienced God – literally – pass by them.

The first person is Moses. The Lord God said to Moses, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you before My Name – the Lord” (Ex. 33:19). And so, Moses went up Mount Sinai and God placed him in the cleft of a rock, and the Lord passed by Him in great power and might. Moses saw the Lord’s back, but he did not see the face of God. This may have been the greatest experience that had ever taken place in the entire life of Moses.

After forty years of wandering in the wilderness with the people of Israel, near the end of his life, Moses wrote his final book, the Book of Deuteronomy, which is a summary of the Law that was given by God through Moses. This book contains the prophecy about the Great Prophet that was to come. Moses writes, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me, from among you – you shall listen to Him” (Deut. 18:19). Note that at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, God the Father repeats the same command to listen to the Prophet. God the Father says, “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased – listen to Him” (Mt. 17:5).

When the time had come for Moses to depart from this world, He went up to Mount Nebo, from where he saw the promised land, and there he died. God buried him. And the soul of Moses descended into Hades, the abode of the dead, to the bosom of Abraham, where he joined his forefathers and the souls of all the righteous who awaited the coming of the promised Saviour.

The second person in the Old Testament to experience God pass by was the Prophet Elijah. The experience took place on Mount Sinai (Horeb). Elijah had fled from the land of Israel and he came to Mount Sinai to be alone. And while he was staying in a cave on the mountain, the Lord God passed by him. There was a great and mighty wind that passed by and rent the mountains. But God was not in the wind. Then, there was a great earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then, there was a great fire that passed by, but God was not in the fire. And then, in the end, there was a gentle breeze that passed by, and a small voice – and God was present in the gentle breeze and the small voice as He passed by Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-13). We can also say that this may have been the great experience and moment in the entire life of Elijah.

When the time had come for Elijah to depart from this world, he came to the Jordan River near Jericho, to the very same place where Jesus would one day be baptized by John. And from that very same place, he was taken up into heaven by God, in a fiery chariot and in a great whirlwind (2 Kings 3:11-12). Elijah did not experience death, but was take up alive, so that one day, he would return again.

In the gospel reading we heard today, near the end of His public ministry, before His Passion, Jesus took three of His close disciples – Peter, John, and James – up a mountain, to spend some time alone in prayer. Jesus is the Great Prophet that Moses spoke of, the Prophet that was to come.

It was dark at night. Jesus was awake, deep in prayer, while the three apostles had fallen asleep. They would do the same in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus would again be immersed into prayer. Then suddenly, the were awakened to witness Jesus transfigured in His prayer. His glory as the Son of God, the light of His divinity, was revealed and made manifest. It shone through His face, His body, and even His clothing. And the two prophets, who during their lives on earth had seen God Himself pass by them, appeared – Moses and Elijah.

Moses came up from Hades, representing the underworld and all the souls of the righteous departed, who were waiting for the coming of their Lord and Saviour. Moses now appears before the Lord God, Jesus, and He sees the Lord God incarnate, face to face. Moses then speaks to Jesus about His departure from this world, His Passion, His death on the Cross, and His descent into Hades. At the moment of death, the soul of Jesus united to His Divinity, will descend into Hades with the brilliance of the sun. Moses will relay this message to those in Hades. Jesus, the Great Prophet and Saviour, is coming to them soon, and He will release them from their captivity to death and the dominion of Satan.

The Prophet Elijah also appears before Jesus transfigured. He represents all the angelic powers of heaven, the invisible world of bodiless spirits. Elijah also speaks to Jesus about His departure from this world, but not about His Death, but about His imminent Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus will rise from the dead, and transfigured in glory, He will ascend into heaven, leading a host of souls, the captives that He had released in Hades. The gates of Paradise, closed by the sin of Adam and Eve, will finally open to receive Jesus and the human race. And Jesus will be seated at the right hand of the Father in glory, as the King of Glory. Elijah also speaks to Jesus about His return in glory, which will take place at the end of this age, on the great Day of the Lord.

So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what is the faith lesson for us today? There are several lessons for us to consider and meditate upon.

First, in prayer, we are being slowly transfigured by the grace of God. When we pray, we feel better. The light of God’s Presence penetrated us. It purges our sins. It lifts us up and transforms us. We begin to shine with the light of God’s Presence and Divinity.

Second, one day, we will be completely transfigured with light, like Jesus. On the day of the general resurrection, our soul and body will be re-united and transfigured, filled with the light of God’s glory and presence. God will shine through us for all eternity. And we shall behold God face to face. “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Third, with the eyes of faith, we see Jesus transfigured at every Divine Liturgy, in the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, in the Holy Gifts. And having received Holy Communion, we sing and exclaim:

We have seen the true Light. We have received the heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith. We worship the undivided Trinity for having saved us” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Today, in Holy Communion, our hearts become that ‘holy mountain’, where Jesus is present, transfigured in glory.

Fr. Peter Babej