Sunday, April 21, 2024

Fourth Sunday of Holy Pascha:
Sunday of the Paralytic

Readings: Acts 9:32-42; John 5:1-15

According to the Old Testament Law, if someone became ritually unclean, immersion into water was part of the process of becoming ritually clean. The water had to be fresh water, running water, and the bath where the immersion took place was called a mikveh.

Any Jew coming to Jerusalem for the celebration of a feast at the Temple, had to be immersed into water and become ritually clean before entering the Temple area.

The main site for ritual immersion was located on the south side of Jerusalem, at the pool of Siloam. Archeologists have uncovered this site, together with the walkway and steps that ascended from the Pool of Siloam up to the Temple area.

It seems that there were pools at almost every entrance into Jerusalem. On the north side, by the Sheep’s Gate, archeologists have uncovered the Bethesda Pool. This pool was actually two pool adjacent to one another, sharing a common walkway that joined them together. There was a walkway around each pool and a shared walkway between the two pools. The walkways, five in total, were covered by a roof held up by pillars, creating five porticoes.

The upper pool provided clean and flowing water to the lower pool, and also to the Temple. It is most likely that the lower pool served as a mikveh, a place where pilgrims coming to the Temple could immerse themselves into water and become ritually clean.

Over the course of time, miracles were associated with immersion into this pool. It was observed that from time to time, the waters were stirred by an angelic force and the waters acquired healing power. Whoever was immersed into the water first was healed.

Jesus comes to this pool as the Divine Physician, the One Who heals man from all his illnesses, diseases and afflictions. According to the prophet Isaiah (Is 35:5-6), the coming Messiah would do three things: 1) open the eyes of the blind; 2) open the ears of the deaf; and 3) heal the lame and the paralyzed. At the pool, Jesus finds a multitude of invalids lying there, the blind, the lame and the paralyzed.

Jesus comes up to a man who was paralyzed for 38 years and asks him if he wants to be healed. Why did the evangelist John include this detail? 38 years? Because it has symbolic significance.

According to Deut. 2:14, beginning at the oasis at Kadesh-Barnea and ending at the brook of Zared east of the Dead Sea, Israel wandered in the wilderness for 38 years, until the whole generation that left Egypt died out. So, if the paralyzed man represents Israel, wandering in the wilderness for 38 years, waiting for Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land, then Jesus represents the New Joshua, Who has come to lead the People of God not across the Jordan, but across death itself, through the waters of Baptism, and to lead them into the Kingdom of God and new and eternal life with God.

Jesus heals the paralyzed man by His mere word. He says, “Rise, take up your matt and walk.” And further, He says, “Se you are well. Sin no more.” The man was a slave to his illness, his matt, and to his sin. Now he was free. Carrying his matt was an outward sign of his deliverance and freedom. So, where did the man go? He most likely went up to the Temple to give thanks to God.

Jesus performed this miracle on the Sabbath, because the Sabbath represents the final age to come, when God has finished all His creation. The Sabbath was a symbol of the final age and the age of God’s eternal kingdom. This Kingdom is near, at hand. It will break through with Christ’s Resurrection, and it will come in its fullness at His Second Return in glory.

According to the Law, people rested on the Sabbath as a sign that they were not slaves to work and that they were free to worship God. But God does not rest on the Sabbath day. On every Sabbath, He continues to create, to bring new life into the world, to hear and answer prayers, to heal, and to judge the dead. Since the Father continues to work until the sixth day(age) is over and the seventh day(age) comes in its fullness, so does the Son – Jesus.

The miraculous healing of the paralytic at the Bethesda Pool points to the Mystery of Baptism. Like the paralyzed man, who was a slave to illness, his matt, to sin and death, so we too are paralyzed by our sins, weaknesses, anxieties; we are paralyzed by the fear of death. Jesus has come to free us from our paralysis, so that in Resurrection, we can walk and come to the House of God.

In the Mystery of Baptism, Christ Jesus is healing us. Sins are forgiven. The Holy Spirit cleanses us and sanctifies us. The Body of Christ in the Eucharist is received by the body as a pledge of eternal life. It will rise at the general Resurrection. In Baptism, Confession and at the moment of Holy Communion, Jesus says the same words to us, “Rise, take up your matt and walk. See you are well. Sin no more.”


Fr. Peter Babej

Palm Sunday

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Readings: Philippians 4:4-9; John 12;1-18

See 1 Kings 1:1-49. When King David was in his old age, his son, Adonijah, was next in line to inherit the royal kingdom. He said to himself, “I will be king after my father, David.” And so, while his father was still alive, Adonijah prepared for himself chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him as a small army. In this way, he rode through the streets of Jerusalem and the roads of Judah, as if he were already the king. And his father, David, never asked or questioned him saying, “Why have you done this?”

And it didn’t end there. In his pride and presumption, Adonijah prepared a great banquet for himself out side the city of Jerusalem, to which he invited all his brothers, except for Solomon, all his friends, and all the royal officials. It was a banquet to honour him and to already acknowledge him as the future king of Israel.

However, man has his plans for the future, but God has His own plans, and He does what He wishes.

King David did not want Adonijah to rule as king after him. We wanted his son, Solomon, to rule. After hearing about Adonijah’s banquet, he decided to act. David called Zadok the priest, and Matthan the prophet, and he told them to set Solomon on the king’s mule, his donkey, and to take him outside of Jerusalem to the spring of Gihon, which was just east of the city walls, and taking oil, to anoint him there as the next king. And they did as the king requested. They set Solomon on the king’s donkey and brought him to the Gihon spring, and anointed him there. Then, Solomon returned and entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, as the new king of the royal kingdom. And all the people of Jerusalem assembled in the streets to greet him, crying out: “Lon live king Solomon!”

The noise and the cheering were so loud that it could be heard by Adonijah and all the guests at his banquet, who expected Adonijah to be king. When news came that Solomon has been anointed king, they all trembled and arose in fear; and went their way.

Throughout human history, there have been many rulers, kings, emperors and empires, who in their pride, have sought to rule the world. Some, were even willing to bow down in worship before Satan, in order to have power, authority and dominance over others. More recently, in the 18th century, we have the rise of Masonry; and in the 19th century, the rise of Communism; and in the 20th century, the rise of National Socialism – all with the goal to take control of the world and to destroy the Church. We know from Holy Scripture, from Our Lord Himself, that the anti-Christ, both a person and a system of government, will come, with the desire to rule the entire world, to destroy the Church, to suppress the celebration of the Eucharist, and to destroy and eliminate everything that is of God.

However, man has his plans for the future, but God has His own plans, and He does what He wishes. God is in control of human history and leads it to fulfillment of His Divine Will.

Today, like Solomon, Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, a beast of burden, as the anointed King of God’s Kingdom. He does not enter riding on a warhorse, or in a chariot with horses and soldiers running ahead of Him. As He enters Jerusalem, Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The Lord God spoke through Zechariah saying: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Lo, your king domes to you, triumphant and victorious is He, humble and riding on a donkey, on the cold of the foal of a donkey. He will announce peace to all the nations and His dominion shall be from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech 9:9-10).

Jesus does not enter Jerusalem like a warrior-king, who comes to conquer and establish His reign by means of force and violence. He does not come to defeat the Romans and win political freedom for Israel. He comes riding on a donkey, a lowly beast of burden. He comes as a king who lays His life down for His people. He comes to defeat Satan, “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31). He comes to free us from Satan’s dominion, to free us from slavery to sin and death (Jn 8:34-36). And how will He do this? By extreme humiliation. Jesus conquers and comes into His reign as king by extreme humiliation. What could be more humiliating that being beaten, mocked, scourged, spat upon, crowned in jest, stripped, crucified, and left to die on a cross? Jesus humbled Himself. He accepted extreme humiliation, and obedient unto death, even death on a cross, God the Father “has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).

Today, we take up willows, which are emblems or signs of victory. They show new life, when everything else seems lifeless. We take up the willows to greet Jesus, who enters Jerusalem as king, and we sing: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of God the Father. Hosanna in the highest!” “Hosanna” means “God saves us.” Jesus saves us. The name Jesus means “God is our salvation.” Today, welcome Jesus and invite Him to enter our hearts, and to reign there as king, forever.

Father Peter Babej


Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast – St. Mary of Egypt

Sunday, March 17, 2024
Readings: Hebrews 6:13-20; Mark 10:32-45

Today, we see Jesus, walking ahead of His disciples, on the road to Jerusalem. Mark tells us that the disciples “were amazed,” but he doesn’t explain why they were amazed. There are several possible reasons for their amazement.

First, it could be that they were amazed at Jesus’ courage, that despite the danger, He would dare to go up to Jerusalem. It was unsafe for Him to do son, because of His powerful enemies in Jerusalem. In the Gospel of John, Thomas says, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).

Second, it could be that they were amazed at Jesus’ strong sense of authority. He was leading them forward, leading the way, walking alone ahead of them.

Third, it could be that they were amazed at His firm resolve and determination to do the will of His Father. He was walking ahead of them at a good pace, with firm resole and determination.

Finally, it could be that they were amazed for all the reasons above: His courage, His strong sense of authority, and His firm resolve and determination.

Next, Mark tells us that at the same time, the disciples “were afraid” of what might happen to Jesus and to them in Jerusalem.

Jesus knew that His disciples were both “amazed and afraid.” So, at some point in the journey, He stopped and took them aside, and revealed to them in detail, what has going to happen in Jerusalem.

“The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death; then they will hand Him over to the Gentiles; they will mock Him, and spit upon Him, and flog Him, and kill Him; and after three days, He will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34).

This is the third time that Jesus has spoken to them prophetically about what was going to happen, and this third prophecy is the most solemn of the three and the most-detailed. It is almost like a summary of what will occur soon.

This prophecy that Jesus have given was meant to be taken literally, word for word. But the apostles don’t take the prophecy literally. Why? Probably because of the words, “after three days, He [the Son of Man], will rise again.” They are not even thinking about the possibility of a bodily resurrection from the dead. They understand these words to mean that after three days of persecution, He will reveal His power and glory in a miraculous way and rise to power, assuming His authority as the King of a new and everlasting Kingdom. So, in their understanding, Jesus must be speaking symbolically, only to dispel their fears, and to assure them that despite being persecuted by His enemies, He will rise to power and glory as King. He will conquer His enemies and He will come to reign in His everlasting Kingdom.

It is with this understanding that the apostles James and John come forward and say to Him:

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you… Grant us to sit, on at your right, and one on your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:35-37).

In other words, they are asking for the highest positions of authority in His new government.

The other disciples are indignant at what they are requesting, but Jesus does not rebuke James and John. He says to them:

“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

In other words, are you willing to follow Me through what God the Father has willed for Me? Are you willing to suffer persecution?

James and John respond “yes,” not really understanding that Jesus in reality is asking them if they are willing to follow Him to the Cross, crucifixion and death. Are you willing to die for me? Are you willing to lay down your life for Me?

To sit at the right or left hand of Jesus is something that has already been prepared by God the Father. The Church has understood that the first place to the right of Jesus have been reserved for His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the second place to the left of Jesus have been reserved for St. John the Baptist.

Jesus now takes the opportunity to reinforce His teaching on leadership – servant leadership. He says to them:

“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you: but whoever would be great among you, must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all… For the son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

In other words, what Jesus is teaching His apostles and all future leaders in the Church is that they are not called to be served, but to serve.

First, they are called to serve God, to be obedient to His Divine Will, to follow His Commandments, and to preach the Gospel by word and action. Every leader is under God’s authority, as His servant and slave.

Second, we are called to serve God’s People, His Church, to guide them, to feed them, and to sanctify them.

True leaders are those who serve. First and foremost – they serve God; and then second, they serve the Church – the Body of Christ.

Fr. Peter Babej


Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast:

St. John of the Ladder
Sunday, March 10, 2024
Readings: Hebrews 6:13-20; Mark 9:17-31

In the Old Testament, in the Book of Psalms, we find 150 Psalm-Prayers that have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, and have been prayed by the People of God for centuries – at the Temple in Jerusalem, in synagogues, and in private homes.

Jesus knew the Psalms – all of them, by memory. His Blessed Mother Mary and Joseph taught Him to pray the Psalms from a very young age. He prayed Psalms everyday. And the words of Psalm 21, were the last words on His lips, His mind and heart, at the moment of His death on the Cross.

Right from the beginning, from the day of Pentecost and the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Psalms became the official prayers of the Church. They are the foundation of all our Church Services. When we pray the Psalms, the Word of God becomes our prayer.

One of the Psalms that the Church recommends we pray everyday is Psalm 50(51). This is a Psalm of Repentance that was inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by King David. You will find it in every prayerbook, under the section, “Daily Prayers.”

On the Church’s list of recommended daily Psalm-Prayers we also find Psalm 90(91). It is prayed everyday at noon, in the Liturgy of the Sixth Hour.

Psalm 90(91) is a powerful prayer of faith and trust in God. It dispels all fear. It invokes God’s protection over our lives, our families, our communities and our homes. It becomes a powerful sword against all evil, both physical and spiritual.

In her book, “Psalm 90(91) – God’s Umbrella of Protection,” the author, Peggy Ruth, gives several personal examples when she prayed Psalm 90(91) in times of fear, trouble and danger, and how God miraculously answered her prayer and rescued her. She also includes in her book several testimonies of other people that have experienced the power of this prayer.

One example is the prayer of the people of the town of Seadrift in Texas during World War II. The people of this town made a decision to gather together everyday to pray Psalm 90(91), and to invoke God’s protection over all their family members who had been sent overseas to war. They did this faithfully every day. By the end of the war, all their service men returned home safely, and their town suffered no casualties of war. At the same time, other nearby towns did suffer casualties of war.

When you pray Psalm 90(91), in the first part, verses 1-13, you are speaking to God. Then, near the end, the prayer changes. In verses 14-16, you are listening. God Himself is speaking. In these three verses, God Himself gives seven important promises to those who love Him and trust in Him. The seven promises are as follows:

  • “Because he cleaves to Me in love, I will deliver him.” God promises to deliver us from all evil – the young lion, the adders and the serpents.
  • “I will protect him, because he knows My name.” To know God, is to know Him personally.
  • “When he calls to Me, I will answer him.” God promises to hear our prayers.
  • “I will be with him in trouble.” God will never abandon His children – His faithful ones, his poor and humble ones.
  • “I will rescue him and honour him.” God will honour us as His children, His beloved sons and daughters.
  • “With long life I will satisfy him.” God promises to grant length of days to those who honour Him, trust in Him, and live for Him.
  • “And I will show him My salvation.” Jesus is our salvation. When the time comes for our departure from the world, we will see God’s salvation – Jesus. Jesus is God’s salvation, and only Jesus reveals to us the face of our Heavenly Father.

In conclusion, when we pray the Psalms, the Word of God becomes our prayer. Psalm 90(91) is a powerful prayer. When we pray it, we not only invoke God’s protection, but we also make a decision to live our life under the shelter and umbrella of His Divine Protection. So, pray this Psalm often. Say to God: “You are my refuge, You are my fortress, and You are my God, in Whom I trust.”

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas

Sunday, February 25, 2024
Second Sunday of the Great Fast
Readings: Hebrews 1:10-2:3; Mark 2:1-12

St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “There is nothing on this earth more prized and more precious than true friendship. True friendship is a sweet gift, but it is indeed rare.”

In Greek, there are four different words for love: 1) storge – the love that exists between family members; 2) philia – is the love that exists between close friends; 3) eros – is the passionate love that exists in marriage and in our relationship with God; and 4) agape – is the unconditional love that we must have for every human being created in the image and likeness of God. Today we will focus on philia, the love that exists between close friends.

In the Gospel reading we heard proclaimed today, we find a beautiful example of philia, true friendship. The paralytic has no use of his hands or feet, but what he does have is four very close and loyal friends. They intercede for him. They carry him and bring him to Jesus. And when they are unable to enter the house, because of the crowd of people, they find a way to get up onto the roof, where they make a hole and lower their friend into the presence of Jesus. According to Proverbs 18:24, these four men are closer to him than brothers. Jesus admires them for their faith and their loyalty as friends. And God knows how very precious is friendship!

When we look at the Gospels, we see that Jesus had many friends, and at the same time, several different circles of friends.

First, there was the large circle of good friends. These were His followers, His disciples, those who accepted Him, believed in Him, and supported Him.

Next, there was a small circle of close friends. From all His disciples and followers, His good friends, Jesus chose twelve disciples to be His close friends, to walk with Him and to stay close to Him. Jesus also chose others to be His close friends. There was Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead, and his two sisters, Mary and Martha.

Then, from the circle of close friends, Jesus chose three apostles to be His closest and most-intimate friends: Peter, John, and James. He shared with them things that He did not share with any of the others. And of course, our Lord’s most close and intimate friend was His Blessed Mother.

When we reflect on our lives and upon our friendships, we find the same pattern. We have a wide circle of good friends and acquaintances. These are the friendships we make at work, school, in the parish, and in the community. Then, there is the smaller circle of close friends, friends that we trust, friends that we see often and enjoy their presence and company. Then, there is that small circle of very close friends, true friends, which are rare, and you can count them on your hands. These are the friends that are closer to us than a brother or sister. They are precious and the are a gift from God. All friends are a gift from God, but those who are very close are a most-precious gift!

On our list of our most-close and true friends: 1) Jesus should be first; 2) the Blessed Virgin Mary should be second; 3) if we are married, then our spouse should be our closest fired on earth and the most important person in this world; 4) then others, who are closer to us than a brother or sister.

In his book, “An Introduction to a Devout Life,” St. Francis de Sales writes: “God knows how every precious a friendship is! Precious, because it comes from God, it tends to God, because God is that link that binds you, and because it will last forever.” True friends always lead us to God; false friends lead us away from God.

Today’s Gospel, and the example of four loyal and true friends, provides us with several important faith lessons.

  • All of us need friends, good friends, close friends, and true and intimate friends, who are loyal and trustworthy.
  • True friendships are precious and rare; and so, if you have such friendships, be grateful for them. They are a gift from God.
  • All true and genuine friends lead us to God, they lead us to Jesus. As St. Francis noted, “they bind us to God.”
  • The best way to find a good, trustworthy and loyal friend, is to start by being one. Philia, the love of friends, is a love that requires work and effort on our part.

Fr. Peter Babej

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2; John 1:43-51

“In those days,” according to the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:1). The promised Messiah was coming soon. John called the people to be spiritually prepared for the coming Messiah, to repent of their sins, to be baptized (immersed) into water as a sign of their repentance, and to reform their lives. And many from Jerusalem and the land of Judea came out to him and were baptized by him, while confessing their sins.

The Gospels tell us that there were three important locations where John was baptizing. He would more from one to the next. All three locations had a connection with Holy Scripture: an event in the history of Israel, or with the life of the prophet Elijah.

The first location where John was baptising was at the river Jordan, near the city of Jericho, just north of where the Jordan river flows into the Dead Sea. This was the place where Israel crossed and entered into the Promised Land in a miraculous way, under the leadership of Joshua. The priests were at the front of the procession, carrying the Ark of the Covenant. When the priests stepped into the waters of the Jordan river, the waters immediately parted, and the People of God crossed over on the river bed. This very place was also associated with the prophet Elijah, who came to this place and the end of his earthly mission, crossed the Jordan, and then was taken up into heave in a chariot of fire.

The second important location where John was baptizing was called Aenon near Salim. This location was also at the river Jordan, but further north, closer to where the Jordan river flows out of the Sea of Galilee. Aenon near Salim was the place where the prophet Elijah called Elisha to follow him, by throwing his mantle upon him.

The third important location where John was baptizing was called Bethany beyond the Jordan, or Betania, or Bethabara. This place was a river east of the Sea of Galilee, a river that flowed into the Sea of Galilee. This was the place where the prophet Elijah hid from the wrath of king Ahab, and was fed by a raven, who brought him bread in the morning and meat in the evening (1 Kings 17:4).

When Jesus was baptized by John, He was baptized at the first location, near Jericho. Immediately after, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness, where He remained for forty days. During those forty days, John the Baptist and his disciples had moved on to the third location in Betania, east of the Sea of Galilee.

After the forty days had passed, Jesus left the wilderness of Judea, and he went and found John baptizing at the Betania location. And as Jesus was approaching, John said out loud, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Two of John’s disciples heard this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus then turned to them and said, “What do you seek?” They asked, “Where are you staying?” and Jesus said, “Come and see” (Jn 1:39). They stayed with Him that day. These first two disciples were Andrew and John.

The next day, Andrew found his brother, Simon (Peter), and Simon followed Jesus. Then Jesus found Philip and called him. And Philip, in his excitement, found Nathanael, whom we know as Bartholomew, and he also followed Jesus.

With these first five disciples, Jesus returned to Galilee, and they came to a wedding at Cana, where Jesus performed His first sign – He changed water into wine, and His disciples believed in Him.

Today’s Gospel reading is about discipleship. Jesus has called His first disciples to follow Him, and there is an excitement in this.

Today, on this first Sunday of the Great Fast, Jesus renews His personal invitation to all of us: “Come and see.” We should never lose that original excitement of become His disciple and following Him.

Today, Jesus invites us to enter into a deeper personal relationship with Him – to stay with Him. The first step is to increase our prayer life. If we don’t pray daily, then we need to begin. If are praying, then we need to commit to spending more time alone with God in prayer. The second step is to read the Holy Scriptures, and to read faithfully every day. Prayer is conversation with God, and when we are reading the Scriptures, we are listening to God speak to us. The third step is to break with bad habits, or old patterns of sin; to repent of it, confess it, and break with it. The fourth step is forgiveness – to forgive and to let go of past hurts. Without forgiveness, there is no healing. The fifth step is a renewed devotion to the presence of Christ in the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist.

If we take these steps in the direction of Jesus, if we begin to prayer, to read Scripture, to amend our lives, to forgive, and renew our devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist, then we, like those first disciples, will come to know Jesus in a deeper way and remain with Him. “Come and see.”

Fr. Peter Babej

January 14, 2024

Sunday of Zacchaeus

1 Timothy 4:9-15; Luke 19:1-10

Today, in the hearing of the Gospel, we encounter a man named Zacchaeus. He is not just a tax-collector, but a chief tax-collector.

The city of Jericho in Judea was not far from the Jordan River, on the west side, and north of the Dead Sea. The Jordan River served as a border between two regions: Judea on the west side, and Perea on the east side. An important highway and trade-route went east-west across the Jordan, and through Jericho, into Judea, and further, to Jerusalem. So, Zacchaeus, as the chief tax-collector in Jericho, was responsible for overseeing the collection of all tolls, taxes and duties on all transported goods that come through that trade route.

As expected, Zacchaeus was a wealthy man. He was not liked by the people and was considered to be a “sinner.” Why? For two reasons: 1) the wealth of a tax-collector was not always acquired by honest and just means; and 2) as a tax-collector, he worked for the enemy, the Romans.

When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was passing through the city, he ran out to see Him. But because he was short in stature, he had to climb a sycamore tree in order to get a good view above the crowd. As Jesus passes by, He stops for Zacchaeus and calls him by name: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today, I must stay at your house.”

Zacchaeus makes haste to come down from the tree, while Jesus makes haste to reach Jerusalem, to climb the tree of the cross.

From the tree, Zacchaeus sees Jesus; and from the cross, Jesus sees us – each one of us, and He takes our sins upon Himself.

Zacchaeus come down from the tree to receive God’s forgiveness, while Jesus will ascend the cross to offer God’s forgiveness.

From the tree, Zacchaeus leads Jesus to his home; and from the tree of the cross, Jesus will lead Zacchaeus, and all of us, to His heavenly home – Paradise.

That day, Zacchaeus not only receives Jesus with great joy, he is overwhelmed and deeply moved by the presence of Jesus in His home. ‘Jesus came to my house.’ And so, Zacchaeus then responds to Jesus with great love and generosity. First, he resolves to change his life. He will no longer cheat, lie or swindle. He will live an honest life. Second, he will give half of what he owns to the poor. Third, he will reconcile with those whom he had cheated. He will make restitution by returning four times the amount that he had unjustly taken, going way beyond what the law required. Meeting with Jesus was the turning point in the life of Zacchaeus. It moved him to deep and sincere repentance, an authentic repentance that bears good fruit.

The Gospel event that we heard proclaimed today ends with the following important and final words of Jesus: “What was lost, had been found.” The lost coin, the lost sheep, had been found and restored. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows His own. He leaves the 99 to find the lost sheep, and to restore it to his fold.

In conclusion, we are reminded today about four important things that relate to our spiritual life and our salvation.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He loves us and seeks us out. He pursues us. He leaves the 99 in order to find us and to restores us to His fold.

Our encounter with Jesus, this experience, can become a life-changing moment. And we encounter Jesus in in many ways: in prayer, in silence, in nature, at the Divine Liturgy, in confession, in the reading of Holy Scripture, in daily events, and through others. These encounters can be life-changing.

True and authentic repentance brings about real and long-lasting change in our lives. This change is possible, because for Jesus, all things are possible.

True and authentic repentance always bears good fruit. As we begin our preparation for the Great Fast, let us renew our desire for true and authentic repentance.

Fr. Peter Babej


January 7, 2024

Sunday After Theophany

Ephesians 4:7-13; Matthew 4:12-17

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph in the small town of Nazareth, and he was obedient to them. Living with extended family, Jesus led a quiet, peaceful and hidden life. He worked together with Joseph on building projects. Every Sabbath, He attended the synagogue for community prayer, and to hear the word of God. He faithfully observed the Law, and He lived a holy and righteous life, perfect in every way.

At about the age of thirty, Jesus with other members of his extended family and members of His community in Nazareth, journeyed to Judea and came to John the Baptist, who at that time, was baptizing people in the river Jordan, not far from Jericho. Along with others, Jesus received the baptism of repentance by John, which marked the beginning of His public ministry.

Immediately after the baptism, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness of Judea, where He spent forty days in intense prayer and fasting. Satan came to tempt Him three times, and Jesus overcame all attempts by the evil one to divert Him from the path of human suffering, His mission, and His obedience to His Father in heaven.

Jesus then returned to Galilee and He called His disciples to Himself. After John the Baptist had been arrested and imprisoned, Jesus went out to preach in public, announcing that the kingdom God is close at hand: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt. 4:17).

With the words of His teaching, Jesus penetrates the human heart, as if with a double-edged sword, in order to cut away everything that is unclean: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19).

The teaching of Jesus come forth as a new revelation to those who hear and listen to His spoken word. Among themselves, they say: “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (Jn. 7:46). In the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), Jesus reveals to us the new law of the kingdom of God, as the fulfillment of the old. To the law of Moses, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17), Jesus adds “Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment” (Mt. 5:22). To the commandment “Do not commit adultery,” Jesus adds “Whoever looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:28). Jesus also brings to perfection to old commandment of love: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt. 5:43-45). “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). Jesus is the fullness of righteousness and holiness, and the foundation is love. And so, we see that the laws of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims are radically different from the laws of this world.

Our Lord Jesus confirms His words and His teachings with visible signs, which contradict the laws of nature. We refer to them as miracles or divine interventions. Jesus cures illnesses; He restores sight to the blind; He restores hearing to the deaf; He releases souls from captivity to demons; He even raised the dead back to life.

The healings that place through Jesus are signs of something greater, that is, God’s restoration of mankind, a return to wholeness that was lost through Adam. Jesus has come to heal the whole person, beginning with the interior – the forgiveness of sins and the healing of the soul, and ending with the complete healing of the body – at the time of the general Resurrection.

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is near” (Mt. 4:17).  Our Lord awaits us today. He seeks our repentance, the conversion of our minds and our thinking, our will and our heart to Him. In other words, He knocks and waits for us to open the door of our heart to invite Him in (Rev. 3:20). Furthermore, He waits for our response, our “Yes.” We call this response faith. Faith is our response to God’s call, His invitation. By our “Yes,” we enter into a deeper relationship with Christ and thereby, attain our salvation. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16).

And so, today, let us open the door of our heart to Jesus, and let us renew our response of faith – “Yes, Lord, I believe.”

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Sunday After the Nativity of Christ (Christmas)

Galatians 1:11-19; Matthew 2;13-23

According to the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, it seems that a conscious decision was made by Joseph and Mary to settle in Bethlehem. The census had brought them to Bethlehem, but a conscious decision was made to settle in Bethlehem, and not to return to Nazareth in Galilee.

According to the prophet Micah, the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah… from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

It seemed right to Joseph and Mary, that to fulfill this prophecy, Jesus should not only be born in Bethlehem, but what He also grow up and come forth from Bethlehem as the son of David, the promised King and Messiah.

On the eighth day after His birth, in accordance with the Covenant Law, the new-born Child was circumcised in Bethlehem, and given the name Jesus. The Holy Family then remained in Bethlehem for forty days. On the fortieth day, they came to Jerusalem, which was only a two hour walk from Bethlehem. They came to the Temple to consecrated the Child to God as a first-born son and to redeem Him, and also to complete the purification rites for the mother. During this time, Joseph had found a house, and the Holy Family settled into their new home.

Several months had passed, and the Holy Family was slowly beginning to feel at home in Bethlehem. It was then that an unexpected surprise took place. Three wise men from the East arrived at their door. They had come from afar to see the promised King. Matthew describes Jesus at this time to be a child, an infant, and not a new-born baby. “The wise men were led by a star to the place where the child was.” (Mt 2:9). And “going into the house, they saw the child with Mary, His Mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him” (Mt 2:11).

Then, opening their treasures, they offered to Him their prophetic gifts: Gold is offered to Jesus, as to the King of the World; frankincense (or incense) is offered to Him as to the eternal High Priest; and finally, myrrh, a spice used for burials, is offered to Him prophetically, as to the One, who will one day die, be anointed for burial, and will rise again.

The wise men represent the first of the Gentiles who come to Christ in faith, who recognize Him to be the promised Messiah, and bow in worship before Him.

Since the wise men did not return to Jerusalem to inform king Herod about the child, Herod became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and vicinity, two years and under. From the wise men, he had ascertained that the child could be anywhere from a few months old up to two years of age.

The decision to massacre the children was in line with king Herod’s character. The last ten years of his life were turbulent, and he become paranoid and suspicious of everyone. He changed his will sic times to name different sons as his successor. He killed his wife, his mother-in-law, and his three eldest sons, because he suspected them of conspiring against him.

Warned in a dream, Joseph and the Holy Family escaped to Egypt, where the Child would be safe. At that time, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, but it was outside Herod’s jurisdiction. Also, in Egypt there were many Jewish communities. Joseph and the Holy Family would have settled in one of these communities.

After some time had passed, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and informed him that king Herod had died. It was safe to return. The original plan was to return to their home in Bethlehem, but when Joseph and Mary found out that Archelaus had become the ruler of Judea, who was just as ruthless as his father, warned in a dream, they decided not to return to Bethlehem, but to settle in Nazareth, a small town in Galilee. The Child would be safe there.

The word natzor means “shoot” or “branch.” Jesus is first called a Nazorean, because He is a “shoot” or “branch” of Jesse, a descendent of David. Only secondly, is Jesus referred to as a Nazorean because he resides and comes from the village of Nazareth.

So, today on this Sunday after Christmas, as we remember the wise men who bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, let us also bring our most precious gifts.

To Jesus, our King and God, let us bring our faithfulness, our loyalty, obedience, our willingness to serve, and our worship.

To Jesus, the eternal High Priest, let us bring our life as a self-gift, as a living sacrifice offered to God the Father.

And finally, to Jesus, the One who is born in a cave and will one day be buried in a cave, a tomb, out of which He will rise, let us offer our hearts as a fitting cave, in which Christ is born, and a fitting cave, into which Jesus shall be buried and from which He will rise again.

Father Peter Babej

Monday, December 25, 2023

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas)

Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 2:1-12

Today, we turn to the Book of Daniel, Chapter 2. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had an awesome and frightening dream. When he awoke, the dream slipped away and he forgot what it was about. Nevertheless, he remembered that it was important and frightening.

So, the king assembled all his wise men, enchanters, magicians and sorcerers, and expected them to make known to the king the dream that had slipped away from him, and also to interpret the dream. He also said to them, “If you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from, limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour” (Dan 2:5-6).

Of course, none of them could do this. They said, “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and none can show it to the king except gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” Dan 2:11).

Because of this, the king was furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. So, the decree went forth that the wise men were to be slain, and they sought Daniel to slay him also.

But Daniel prayed, and God revealed to him the mystery of the king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in a vision at night. So, Daniel came to the king and said to him to him:

“There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made know to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days…

“You saw, O king, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of this image was of fine gold. Its breast and arms of silver. Its belly and thighs of bronze. And its feet, partly of iron and partly of clay. And then you looked… A stone was cut out from a mountain not by any human hand. And this stone smote the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke it in pieces and it became like chaff of the summer threshing floor; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Dan 2:27-35).

The king then remembered. This was the dream that had slipped away from him.

So, what is the meaning of this dream? The Holy Spirit gives the interpretation of the dream through the Prophet Daniel, and through the Church.

First of all, all the parts of the image represent kings and kingdoms, great empires that have arisen.

The head of gold represents the Babylonian Empire. Daniel says to king Nebuchadnezzar, “You, O king, the king of kings… you are the head of gold” (Dan 2:37-38).

Then, a second kingdom will arise, represented by the silver breast and arms. This is king Cyrus and the Medo-Persian Empire.

Then, a third kingdom will arise, represented by the bronze belly and thighs. This will be king Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire.

Then, a fourth kingdom will arise, which shall be great, fierce and ruthless. This is Caesar Julius Augustus and the Roman Empire.

So, what is the stone that was not cut or hewn by human hands? What did Daniel see? Daniel saw the prefigure of the Mystery of the Incarnation and the Virgin birth. Jesus is the stone, uncut by any human hand. He is conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, without a human father, and he is born of a Virgin mother. This is the stone, Jesus, who first smashes and crushes the Roman Empire, and all other kings, dictators, and empires of the world; and no new World Order can stand against Him.

The great mountain that fills the whole earth is Jesus, the Great Kingdom, and the Kingdom of God – His Church. When He comes in the fullness of His Kingdom, all His enemies will be destroyed, and everything will submit to His authority. He shall reign forever and His Kingdom shall have no end.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, today we exceedingly rejoice. Why? Because in the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

“For us a Child is born, to us a son is given. The government will be on His shoulders and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Father Peter Babej


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Sunday of the Forefathers – Second Sunday Before Christmas

Colossians 1:12-18; Luke 14:16-24

Today, on this second Sunday before Christmas, we commemorate the holy forefathers. Why are they? They are the men of great faith and the prophets who foreshadowed in some way the coming of the promised Saviour, or foretold His coming in prophesy.

Next Sunday, we will specifically commemorate the ancestry of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Christ – His genealogy, His royal Davidic lineage, through Joseph, His legal guardian, and his royal and priestly lineages through His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In a special way today, we remember the prophet Daniel and the three holy youths, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

In the year 597 B.C., almost 600 years before Christ, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon and his army came up to the city of Jerusalem and besieged it. Jehoiachin, the king of Judah, surrendered himself and the city of Jerusalem into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. The king of Babylon then took Jehoiachin, his family, his servants, his princes, his palace officials and deported them to Babylon. What followed was the first deportation of Judean elite to Babylon, which according to 2 Kings 24;14, numbered 10,000 captives. Among those taken were members of the nobility, officials, chief men of the land, mighty men of valour, men fit for war, craftsmen, smiths, and youth who were educated and wise. Only the poorest of the land were left behind (2 Kings 24:12-17).

When the captives arrived in Babylon, educated and wise youths were chosen to serve and the king’s palace. They were taught the Chaldean language and underwent three years of training in order to serve the king of Babylon. Among these young men were four good friends: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The Babylonians gave them second names: Daniel was called Balteshazzar; Hananiah was called Shadrach; Mishael was called Meshach; and Azariah was given the name Abednego.

Now these holy youths were determined not to assimilate – not to lose their religious beliefs and their faith in the one true God of Israel. They continued to worship God alone, to follow God’s Law, and to abstain from anything that was unclean.

After some time, because of Daniel’s great wisdom and God-given ability to interpret dreams and visions, the king appointed him to serve as the ruler-administrator of the whole province of Babylon, and also to serve as the chief and prefect over all the wise men (the magi) of Babylon. Upon Daniel’s request, his three close friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were appointed to assist him in the affairs of the province; and Daniel remained at the king’s court. (Daniel 2:46-49).

It so happened that king Nebuchadnezzar decided to make a huge idol out of gold and he set it on the plain of Dura. He gave orders that the members of his government and administration assemble for the dedication of the idol and to bow in worship before it. Anyone who failed to comply with the order would be thrown into a fiery furnace. The three young men of Judah, who served as administrators, refused to worship the idol. After being reported to the king by their enemies, they were bound and cast into a fiery furnace.

And then, a great miracle took place. First, it was a great sign that pointed first to the Mystery of the Trinity, the revelation that God is One, yet a communion of three Divine Persons. Second, it was a great sign that pointed to and foreshadowed the Mystery of the Incarnation.

Cast into the fiery furnace, the three young men were not burned alive, but walked about freely and unharmed in the fiery furnace. Thus, they became a living sign of the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. There was one fiery furnace, with three persons inside it. In the same way, God is One in Being, One Divine Fire, yet in Him, there are three equal divine Persons. This was the first revelation.

Then, while the three young men walked about in the fiery furnace, a fourth person appeared in their midst. This man had a divine appearance; he was like “a son of gods” (Daniel 3:25).

This fourth man in the fiery furnace was a prefigure of Jesus the Christ, the promised Saviour to come. Here we find a second revelation, a foreshadow of the Mystery of the Incarnation. The promised woman will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and by His power, the Son of God will take flesh and become a man. He will be conceived in her womb, and she shall contain the uncontainable Divine Fire – God Himself. And He will be born of her.

Having witnessed this miracle, king Nebuchadnezzar gave orders that the men come out of the furnace. As the three young men came out, the fourth figure disappeared. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were then vindicated and restored to their positions of authority.

What happened as a consequence, was the conversion of the king – his change of heart. Seeing the faith of the three men and the miracle that took place, the king proclaimed that the God of Israel to be the God Most High. He makes the following statement about God and the Christ that is to come:

How great are His signs! How mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3).

After some time had passed, the faith of Daniel the prophet was also tested. When Darius became king, he issued an edict forbidding anyone to pray to their gods for thirty days, under the penalty of death. All requests and needs were to be submitted to the king for his intercession.

Well, Daniel would not follow this order. He continued to pray faithfully three times a day, on his knees, towards Jerusalem. This, of course, was reported to the king by his enemies. Daniel was arrested and thrown into a den of hungry lions. But God sent His angel who shut the mouths of the lions. Daniel was saved; and when his accuses were cast into the den, they were devoured.

King Darius then issued the following decree:

“Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion, men are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for He is the living God, enduring forever; His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and His dominion shall be to the end” (Daniel 6:26).

Living in a world of idols and idol worship, Daniel and his three friends remained faithful to the one true God Most High. They lived in the world, but were not of the world.

Today, we live in a secular world where idols are much more subtle and refined. There are movements, ideologies and others things that have become idols of worship. These movements and ideologies are opposed to God and His truth.

Lately, we were confronted by a movement to eliminate prayer and the mention of God’s name publicly on Remembrance Day. More recently, we were confronted by a movement to eliminate Christmas as a public holiday, and to re-name Christmas trees as ‘holiday trees.’ These movements are not only anti-Christmas, but also anti-Christ. Thanks to all those who stood up and resisted, those who refused to be lukewarm in their faith, anti-Christian statements and decisions were retracted.

As we prepare for Christmas, we are reminded today of the example of Daniel and the three young men, who remained steadfast in their faith and loyalty to God, despite the social pressures and persecutions they endured. Like them, we are called not be lukewarm, but to burn with zeal in our faith and love for God. To the church in Laodicea, Jesus said,

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth” (Rev 3:15).

As Christians, we are called to live in this world, but not be of this world. We are citizens of our country in this world, yet at the same time, we are servants of Christ, our King and God, and citizens of His everlasting kingdom that is not of this world.

Father Peter Babej

Sunday, December 10, 2023

28th Sunday After Pentecost | St. Nicholas Sunday

Colossians 1:12-18; Luke 18:35-43

In the second last chapter of the Book of Revelation, chapter 21, Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist describes his vision of the final dwelling place of God among His people – the New Jerusalem, the eternal city of God – which shall descend from heaven, from God, at the end of this age, when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness.

First, the New Jerusalem is a perfect place. This is symbolized by its perfect dimensions. St. John says that the height, width and length of the city are all equal. The city is square and it forms a perfect cube. Only what is perfect and holy can enter into it and dwell within it.

Second, the city of God is surrounded by a great and high wall made of jasper. It is set on twelve firm foundations, which we understand to represent the twelve Apostles. The city walls have twelve gates, three on each side, and each gate is a single pearl. We are reminded that the kingdom of God is like a single pearl of great price, which the merchant, once he found it, sold everything that he had, so as to have that one pearl, and thus gain entry into the kingdom of God.

Third, the city was made of pure gold, like transparent glass (Rev 21:3), and “the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass’ (Rev 21:21). The one street reminds us that there is only one way that leads to God – His Way.

Fourth, the city had no need of sun or the moon to shine in it, because the glory God – His Divine Presence – illuminates it and makes everything shine.

Fifth, there was no temple in the city, because the New Jerusalem is the temple where God dwells visibly among His People.

So, what could the gold of that city represent? The city of God and its street are made of pure gold. What could the gold represent? According to one possible interpretation, the pure gold represents thanksgiving and gratitude.

In our spiritual life, gratitude is essential.

First, gratitude is what brings us to God. If we have the spirit of gratitude, then we walk on the road of gold. In today’s Gospel reading, it was the spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving that brought one man, one leper that was healed, back to Jesus and to faith in Him.

Second, gratitude dispels all darkness. It dispels all gloom, sadness, complaining, criticism, grumbling, and all things negative. In his book, “Unseen Warfare,” St. Nicholas of the Holy Mountain describes the absence of gratitude as being black. He writes, “Ingratitude among men is black.” So, if the absence of gratitude is black, the gratitude and thanksgiving must be pure gold, transparent as glass.

Third, gratitude has many close friends. So, when the spirit of gratitude enters the heart, it never comes alone, but enters in with all its close friends: peace, joy, happiness, a sense of well-being and contentment, and the light of God’s Presence.

Fourth, the spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving enlarges the heart to receive more gifts and graces from. The absence or lack of gratitude closes the heart, and we lose what we have received.

So, how to we maintain a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving?

First, keep the spirit of gratitude warm in your heart. Begin in the morning, by being grateful for everything. Remember throughout the day to be grateful to God; and lie down to sleep with words of gratitude on your lips.

Second, be grateful, even when things are difficult. There is always something to be grateful for. “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess 5:18).

Third, remember what God has done for you and continues to do for you. List them and go ever the list often.

Fourth, participate fervent in the celebration of the Eucharist, because the word Eucharist means thanksgiving. The Eucharist is the highest prayer of thanksgiving and praise that we can offer to God. If you have a love for the Eucharist, you have a love for Jesus, and you have found the pearl of great price, which brings you through the gate into the eternal city of God.

In the life of St. Nicholas, there is a story about his generosity to one particular family with three daughters. Secretly, St. Nicholas left a bag of gold for each daughter, so that they could enter into marriage with a dowry. In time, the gold would have been spent on what was need for marriage and family life. However, the true gold that endures and last forever is the spirit of thanksgiving – gratitude to St. Nicholas for his generosity, and gratitude to God for His Divine Providence.

Father Peter Babej

Sunday, December 3, 2023

27th Sunday After Pentecost (2023)

Ephesians 6:10-17; Juke 13:10-17

The Lord’s Day – Sunday – is five important things. All five are essential to our understanding and observance of the third commandment: “Remember the Lord’s Day, to keep it holy.”

First point. Sunday is a “Day of Protest.” Yes – a Day of Protest. These are the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In paragraph 2172, we read, “It is a Day of Protest.” So, why are we protesting on Sundays? What are we protesting or demonstrating against? The Catechism goes on to say the following:

“It is a day of protest against the servitude (slavery) of work and the worship of money” (C.C.C., par. 2172).

In other words, on Sundays, we go on strike. Why? To make a point: to proclaim that we are not slaves to work or to business; we do not worship money, nor do we worship any idols. In the Old Testament, when Israel was in bondage in Egypt, the Hebrews worked seven days a week. There was no “day off.” They were slaves that belonged to Pharaoh; they were slaves to work. When God led them out of Egypt, He spoke to them at Mount Sinai and said:

“Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8-10).

The Sabbath became a visible sign of their freedom. They were no longer slaves to any idols, or slaves to tyranny or an oppressive authoritarian government. They were now free to worship God.

Second point. Sunday – the Lord’s Day – is a Day of Worship. Since we are not saved from slavery alone as individuals, but together as a people, we come together as a community, as the People of God, to worship God on the Lord’s Day, to praise Him, to give thanks to Him for everything, to ask for our needs, to pray and intercede for others, and to renew the New Covenant of Love that exits between God and His People.

So, what is the New Covenant? The New Covenant that God has established through His Son, Jesus, on the cross, is simply this: God gives His Divine Life for us on the cross, so that we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in us, and to partake in His Divine Life. This is a free gift that is to be received, and then in turn, we are to give our life as a self-gift to God. This is the New Covenant of Love, which is renewed every Sunday at the Divine Liturgy. God gives us His Divine Life in the moment of Holy Communion. We receive this free gift, and renew the self-gift of our live to God.

The best way to worship God on Sundays is to participate in the Divine Liturgy. Why? Because the Divine Liturgy is the highest form of worship that we can offer to God. It is the greatest prayer of praise, thanksgiving, and petition. At the Divine Liturgy we hear God speak to us, and we learn to apply His words to daily life. And finally, at every Divine Liturgy, the Covenant of Love that God Himself established is renewed in us.

Third point. Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is a Remembrance of Creation and Re-Creation. If the Sabbath was the seventh day, then Sunday is the first day of the week and also the eighth day of the week.

As the first day of the week, Sunday reminds us that God created the heavens and the earth. He is the Creator of all things, and He is the Author of the seven-day week.

As the eighth day of the week, Sunday is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Sabbath. Why? Because as the eighth day, it points to the New Creation or Re-Creation that is taking place, which begins with the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and will be completed on the day of His glorious Return. In the Book of Revelation, God the Father proclaims, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:5).

Through His Son and in the Holy Spirit, God the Father is re-creating, transforming this world. We await “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1), in which, risen from the dead in a glorious body, we will live with God forever in His kingdom.

By keeping the Lord’s Day and participating in the Divine Liturgy, we proclaim that we belong to God’s New Creation. We are part of the “new heaven and earth” that is to come. We belong to God and His everlasting kingdom.

Fourth point. Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is a Day of Rest and Re-Creation. The Lord’s Day brings our everyday work and business to a halt, so that we can rest. It is a time for re-creation and recreation. On Sundays, we “sharpen the saw,” so that the following day, we are prepared to return to our daily work and duties with new energy and strength.

Fifth point. Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is day for family and community, a day for others. It is the day on which we express our love not only for God, but also for others: those closest to us, for our spouses in marriage, for our close family and friends, for those in need, for our parish community, and for God’s family – the Church. Sundays is the day to celebrate family and our life in community, because that is what eternity will be – life in community as family, in communion with God and with others.

So, in summary, Sunday – the Lord’s Day – is five important things. First, Sunday is a day of protest against servitude to work and the worship of money. Second, Sunday is a day of worship, on which we worship the one true God alone and renew our covenant of love with Him. Third, Sunday is a day of creation and re-creation, on which we remember that God has created the heavens and the earth, and that through His Son, Jesus Christ, He is re-creating all things. We await a new creation, a new heaven and earth, and a new Jerusalem. Fourth, Sunday is day of rest, a day to “sharpen the saw,” to renew our effectiveness, our energy and our strength. Fifth, Sunday is a day for family and community, to celebrate our communion with God and others, especially those who are close to us.

In the Gospel we heard today, Jesus healed a woman who had been crippled, bent over for eighteen years. Jesus healed her from her suffering and removed the burden that she was carrying for such a long time so that finally, she could truly rest on the Sabbath. Jesus “re-created” the woman. He restored her, and the miracle points to what is to come. Jesus has come to re-create the world. His Resurrection marks the beginning of a New Creation.

The final faith lesson for us today is this: Servitude (slavery) to work, business and making money seven days a week cripples us spiritually. We become crippled, hunched over like the woman in today’s Gospel, bent over and unable to stand upright, and took towards God in worship. In Greek, the word for man is anthropos, which literally means “the one who stands and looks up.” Man, the whole human race as one, and Man, each person individually, male or female – are those who stand and look up towards God. Jesus, the Son of Man and the Lover of Man, has come to heal us, so that we can stand upright, freed from the burden of slavery to sin and risen from the dead, to look to God, to behold Him and to worship Him.

Father Peter Babej

Sunday, November 26, 2023

26th Sunday After Pentecost (2023)

Ephesians 5:9-19; Luke 12:16-21

Anyone who is experienced in driving, know that on a highway, one needs to look far ahead towards the horizon, to remain far-sighted in order to keep the vehicle steady and straight on its path. If one looks to close near the hood, and remains near-sighted, the vehicle will begin to swerve, and eventually, may even drive off to road.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the example of a rich man, who during his life, because of his near-sightedness, drove off the road that leads to salvation and eternal life.

When we look closely at the spiritual life of this rich man, we find several problems.

First, he does not remember death. He does even consider the fact that his life will come to an end, and that he will need to give an account before God. He makes plans, as if he is going to live forever in this world. To ensure his happiness, he places his trust not upon God, but upon the riches he has gained and stored on earth.

Second, he has become an owner, not a steward. In reality, God is the Creator and Owner of all things, visible and invisible. In the beginning, in the garden of Eden, God appointed our first parents, Adam and Eve, to serve as stewards of God’s creation. They were to keep and look after all things in order to bear good fruit, and to bring a good yield for their Master, the Lord God. And so, God to us all that is necessary for life, and to give to us in superabundance, so that we may share with those who are in need. We are called by God to be generous, and to grow in all virtues. We are not called to be owners, but only stewards of what rightfully belongs to God.

Third, the rich man became a narcissist. He was in no way concerned about the needs of others. He became infatuated with his own needs and concerns.  In the Old Testament, in accordance with the Law, each person was obligated to offer a tenth of all proceeds, every hear, to the needs of the Temple in Jerusalem, the community, the poor and the needy.  Why? Because tithing was a way of remembering that God is the Owner of all things. We are only stewards of His gifts, and we are called to generous, to use what has been entrusted to us for the benefit of others, especially those who are in need.

In the book of Genesis, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to the steward of all his wealth and possessions. For seven years, he stored food and grain in various cities and storage places, in order to safeguard food and grain for the people of Egypt in the coming seven years of famine and hunger. It was through Joseph, that God provided for His People.

Unfortunately, in today’s Gospel, we seen a rich man who is a misguided and blind person, one who thinks only of himself. His barns, store houses and treasurers are full; yet his soul is empty –  devoid of any acts of good will and love. His spiritual store house is desolate and empty. In the eyes of the world, he is a wealthy man. But in the eyes of God, he is a poor man, with no possessions or wealth.  He is not prepared to enter the kingdom of God.

Every parable that Jesus gives to us is in essence, a spiritual mirror. Every day, we look at a mirror, to check our physical appearance, to ensure that all is in order. Today, Jesus wants us to look in the mirror that parables offer, and to see ourselves for who we truly are.

Am I a person who is far-sighted or short-sighted? Do I look towards the final goal, the kingdom of God, or do I look to the present, the kingdom of Satan?

Am I a person who is conscious of the shortness of human life? Do I remember that life is short, and that soon, I will need to give an account of my life before God?

Am I a person who uses the best of the time and gifts given to me?

Am I a generous person, or am I a narcissist, concerned only by my needs?

Am I a steward of what has entrusted to my care, or am I an owner, someone who assumes possession of what belongs to God?

Do I use what God has given to me for spiritual growth in virtue, and especially in love?

Are my hands clenched in a fist, or are they open, giving and generous?

Do I live by the word of God, who proclaims, “You have been given freely, freely give” (Matthew 10:18).

In the end, what is the state of our spiritual and heavenly treasury? Is it empty, or is it full? If empty, let us begin to fill it with good deeds of mercy and charity. Let us grow rich in the eyes of God. “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also” (Luke 12:33-34).

Father Peter Babej

Sunday, November 19, 2023

25th Sunday After Pentecost (2023)

Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 10:25-37

As we reflect on today’s Gospel, it is important to keep in mind the fact that Jews and Samaritans were sworn enemies. They criticized each other, they had contempt for one another, they despised one another, and they hated each other.

The man who was attacked, robbed, beaten, and left half-dead on the road was Jew, who was coming down from Jerusalem to Jericho. The expectation was that a fellow countryman, an Israelite, would sooner or later come to his aid. Did not the Law command, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18)? And for Jews, one’s “neighbour” was understood to be a fellow Jew, an Israelite. And did not the Law further say, “You shall love the stranger and sojourner in your midst” (Lev 19:33-34)?

Two Israelites, who knew the Law very well, a priest and a Levite, passed by their fellow man who laid on the road in distress. They saw him, but chose to pass by on the other side. Why? Because they did not want to be inconvenienced. They did not want to be defiled ritually by touching human blood, which would require a whole process of purification. Was not helping a fellow-Jew in distress more important than concern about ritual defilement and purification? And so, we see these two men of Israel, who are more concerned about the lesser things of the Law, and disregard the more important things of the Law.

Then, a Samaritan man comes along, a sworn enemy of the Jews. He is the last person that any Jew would expect to receive help from. Yet, this man, an enemy, is the one who follows God’s commandment of love towards neighbour, stranger and sojourner.

The Samaritan expresses his love for his enemy by washing the wounds of this Jew, pouring in oil and wine to sooth the pain and to aid the process of healing, bandaging his wounds, and then setting the man on hos animal, and taking him to an inn where he could be further cared for and where he could recover.

Now, the Samaritan did much more just care for the physical wounds of the injured man. The poor man had also been spiritually wounded. He was traumatized by the thieves and by their violence. They treated him as an object, not as a human person. They robbed him not only of his money and possessions, but also of his dignity as a human being. He was left alone to die, lonely, abandoned, betrayed and rejected.

The love that the Samaritan expressed brought healing not just to the physical wounds of the man, but also to his spiritual wounds. And that is what love does. It always brings healing to soul and body. It overcomes selfishness, discord, arguments, tensions, and violence. It reconciles people and brings peace. It restores life and makes personal growth possible. Love is the medicine for body and soul, and it proceeds from a good heart and a good will.

It is not everyday that we come across someone lying on the road in need of medical attention. However, we do, almost every day, come across someone who is wounded on the inside: someone who has been robbed of their dignity as a human being; someone who has been treated as an object; someone who has experienced negative criticism, contempt, sarcasm, mockery, name-calling; someone who has suffered not only verbal but also physical abuse; someone who is feeling lonely, rejected, or even abandoned.

Do we see the signs of a person in need? Are we prepared to express our love for them? Are we prepared to bring healing to their wounds, to lift them up, to encourage them, and to give them strength?

In conclusion, as we reflect on today’s Gospel, we can identify three different attitudes.

First, there are those who take, as represented by the thieves. They rob others of their dignity as human beings. They treat others as an object. They degrade others by constant negative criticism, mockery, sarcasm, hurtful comments, name-calling, verbal abuse, and sometimes, even physical abuse. These are the takers, those who rob and steal.

Second, there are those who are indifferent, as represented by those who pass by. They are absorbed by their own needs and concerns, and are indifferent to the needs of others. They are unwilling to make sacrifices that are required to help others.

Third, there are those who have a pure heart and good will, as represented by the Samaritan. From a good and sincere heart flows the oil and medicine of love, which brings healing to soul and body. They are quick to forgive and to let go of past hurts. They use their words to affirm others, to encourage others, to build them up. They show great respect for everyone, and they honour the dignity of each human person, created in the image and likeness of God. They are ready to make personal sacrifices, and they are always ready to serve and to spend quality time with others.

The Gospel parable today, like all parables, are in essence, a mirror. Jesus wants us to look into the mirror, His parables, in order to see ourselves. What do we see? Do I see a robber? Do I see someone who is indifferent and passes by? Or do I see a good Samaritan?

The call today is to take action. Repent, and change your way of life. Choose to live the Gospel, the Good News, that Jesus proclaims to us today.

Father Peter Babej

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Feast of St. Josaphat | 24th Sunday After Pentecost (2023)

Ephesians 2:4-22; Heb 4:14-5:10; Luke 8:41-56; John 20:9-16

Saint Josaphat was born in the year 1580, in the city of Volodymyr, Ukraine. His parents, Gabriel and Maryna Kuntsevych, named him John.

When John has four or five years old, his mother brought him to church. And while she was explaining to him the icon of Jesus crucified, John felt a spark of divine love fall into his heart, and this spark never went away. From that day on, John always remembered going to church with joy, to pray, to sing, and to read.

In 1604, at the age of twenty-four, John entered the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Vilna. It was an Orthodox Monastery in communion with Rome. And that is what our Greek-Catholic Church is, an Orthodox Church in communion with Rome.

At his tonsure, John took the name Josaphat. As a monk, he quickly excelled in virtue. In addition to a full liturgical cycle of prayer, he would often rise during the night and go out into the cemetery, where he prayed for long periods of time, despite the cold, rain or snow.

The monk Josaphat was ordained a priest in 1609, at the age of twenty-nine, and he dedicated himself to the cause of Church unity. Many came to the monastery to listen to him preach. His sermons were intelligent, full of spirit, convincing and effective. With great zeal, he spoke about the importance of unity within the Church.

Eventually, Josaphat became the hegumen (the abbot) of his monastery, and in time, the archimandrite, responsible for overseeing the spiritual life and well-being of several monasteries.

In 1617, at the age of thirty-seven (37), Josaphat entered into the final state of his life. This final stage would last six (6) years. In 1617, the monk and priest Josaphat, was consecrated as the Archbishop of Polotsk, which today, is located in Belarus.

As the new Archbishop of Polotsk, Josaphat worked diligently to bring about renewal within his archeparchy, to provide good catechesis, education, formation of clergy, good liturgy and preaching, acts of charity and service to the poor and needy.

Josaphat generously distributed his food supplies to the poor and to beggars who came knocking at his door, asking for help. And despite all his pastoral duties as a bishop, he remained faithful to his monastic rule.

What Josaphat soon noticed was that many of his faithful seldom come to Confession. And so, he himself began to hear confessions, and to instruct the faithful on the importance of frequent confession and Holy Communion.

To assist priests in his archeparchy, Josaphat issued forty-eight (48) short rules concerning the duties of a priest.

His first three years as archbishop were calm, peaceful, and pastorally, successful. And then, trouble began.

The year 1620 marked the turning point for the history of the Church of Kyiv. Theophane, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem came to Moscow in the year 1618 to collect alms for Jerusalem and the Holy Land. After spending almost two years in Moscow, he was coerced into crowning Michael Romano as the Czar (Emperor) of Moscow, and he consecrated Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, as the Patriarch of the Church of Moscow.

Then, while returning home, Patriarch Theophane stopped in Kyiv in the year 1620, where he secretly consecrated six new Orthodox Bishops to the same sees that were occupied by Orthodox Bishops in communion with Rome. Thus, he created a second Orthodox Church in Ukraine and Belarus, a Church which was opposed to communion with Rome. And so, thanks to Theophane, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, two rival Churches were now present in Ukraine and Belarus: one Orthodox Church that was in communion with Rome, and a second Orthodox Church that rejected communion with Rome, and eventually became part of the Orthodox and self-proclaimed Patriarchy of Moscow.

In 1620, for the city of Polotsk, where Josaphat resided as Archbishop, Patriarch Theophane of Jerusalem consecrated a new rival Orthodox archbishop, Meletius Smotrynsky. Meletius publicly accused Josaphat of being a traitor to the Orthodox Church, a heretic, an apostate and a Papist. As a result of his propaganda and smear campaign, several cities in Josaphat’s archeparchy rebelled against him and joined the new Orthodox Church. Despite the defections, Josaphat did not abandon his see or his flock. He redoubled his efforts and succeeded in bringing many to full communion with the Catholic Church. Others, however, remained very hostile towards Josaphat.

Near the end of October 1623, Josaphat came to the city of Vitebsk on a pastoral visit, and he remained there for two weeks. As a good shepherd, he visited homes, judged cases and settled quarrels, he heard confessions, preached the word of God, and conducted liturgical services. During that time, his enemies conspired against him, and they sought the opportunity to kill him.

On Sunday, November 13, 1623, the bells rang for Great Matins early in the morning. Josaphat and his deacon went to the cathedral church to celebrated Matins. After the service, they returned to the episcopal residence to rest, and then to return to the church for the celebration of Divine Liturgy.

At the same time, a great mob of people, a thousand or more, assembled in the cemetery nearby. When given the signal, they attacked the archbishop’s residence, breaking down the fences and gates with axes. Those who had guns began shooting. The mob entered the archbishop’s residence and began to beat all the servants and resident clergy, and to plunder.

Josaphat was in his room at the time, prostrate on the floor, praying. When he heard the commotion, he left his room, closing the door and making the sign of the Cross.

At first, no one dared to raise a hand against Josaphat, the Archbishop of Polotsk. Then, two men, running out from another room, attacked Josaphat. One of the men struck him with a club, and the other man, split his head open with an axe.

The murderers then dragged Josaphat’s body out of the residence into the courtyard, where they continue to beat him and stab his body, mutilating it and trampling upon it, long after he was already dead.

After this, the murderers dragged his body into the street, and then they returned to destroy the archbishop’s residence. After leaving it in ruins, they returned to the body of Josaphat. They stripped his body of all its clothing, leaving the hairshirt that Josaphat had worn underneath in the spirit of penance. Covered only with the hairshirt, the murderers dragged Josaphat’s body through the streets of the city. Finally, they took his body to a high hill and threw it down to the banks of the river. Then, going down to the riverside, they tied rocks to his body and threw it into the river, where it sank into the waters.

On Sunday, November 12, 1623, at the age of forty-four (44), Josaphat died a martyr’s death at the hands who opposed him. By noon, silence encompassed the entire city of Vitebsk. No Divine Liturgy or Mass was celebrated that day – neither in the Greek Rite, nor in the Latin Rite.

The body of Saint Josaphat was recovered from the river by fishermen, and it was placed in the Church of the Archangel Michael. The face of Josaphat looked even more beautiful and radiant in death that it had been in life.

The body was brought back to the city of Polotsk, and laid out in the Cathedral Church of Saint Sophia. The city councilman, Peter Dankovsky, who was legally blind, came to pay his respects. While praying at the body of St. Josaphat, he was healed and his sight was miraculously restored. The body of St. Josaphat laid is state for ten (10) days and then was buried with honour. Numerous miracles continued to take place. They were attributed to the intercession of St. Josaphat and they were documented and reported to Church officials.

After five years, in the year 1628, a commission was appointed by Pope Urban VIII. The commissioned examined the testimonies of 116 witnesses under oath. At that time, the body of St. Josaphat remained incorrupt. In 1637, a second commission was established to investigate the life of St. Josaphat and his sanctity as a monk, priest, and archbishop. In 1643, twenty years after his martyrdom, St. Josaphat was beatified by the Church, Two hundred and twenty four (224) years later, on June 29th, 1867, Josaphat was canonized by Pope Pius IX, as a Saint of the Universal Catholic Church.

The body of St. Josaphat is currently interred at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

St. Josaphat, holy hierarch and martyr, pray for us.

Father Peter Babej

Sunday, November 5, 2023

23rd Sunday After Pentecost (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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 (2023)

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