Category Archives: St. Josaphat

General category for the St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The Sunday of the Prodigal Son, or should we say, “The Sunday of the Merciful Father”?

This Sunday, February 17th, is the third Sunday of our preparation for the Great Fast. Once again, we hear the story of the Prodigal Son, and the Church will present to us the important theme of REPENTANCE. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind and heart. In essence, it’s a decision to return home and to embrance the Divine Will and Love of our Heavenly Father.

There are four key figures in this story. First, there’s the compassionate and merciful father, a symbol of God Himself. Not only has he given life to his sons, he has also provided them with everything that they need. Everything is a gift from him.

The second important figure in the story is the younger son, who has no respect for his father and lacks any sense of gratitude. The root of his spirtual illness is pride. In his ignorance and self-centredness, there is a deep sense of entitlement. “My father owes me… I’m entitled to my inheritance. It belongs to me, and I’m free to do with it as I wish. My life is mine, to live as I see fit, and I will decide for myself what is best.” So, it’s no surprise that he quickly squanders everything that he has after he leaves home, because he has no respect or appreciation for what he has been given. Can a sieve hold water? Pride is that “spiritual sieve,” that fails to hold and preserve any of God’s graces, given to nourish and water the soul.

There is a crucial turning point that takes place in the life of the prodigal son. It’s that special moment of metanoia. The Gospel tells us that “he came to himself,” in other words, “he came to his senses.” The light of truth breaks through his mind and heart. He comes to appreciate the goodness of his father. He realizes that everything belonged to his father, and that everything was freely given to him by his father in love. This is that moment of deep repentance, a radical change of mind and heart, a change in thinking, a discovery and acceptance of truth. He has been humbled. He sees the world now with new eyes. Through humility, he has become “poor of heart,” relinquishing all sense of ownership and feelings of entitlement. Everything has been a gift from his father. He will return home. He will simply serve as a slave and will be grateful for whatever is given to him.

Reading the story or hearing it proclaimed, we are called to identify ourselves with the prodigal son. We are no different. We all suffer from the spiritual illness of pride, selfishness. With a sense of entitlement, we often think that “God owes us,” and we get upset and resentful when things don’t go our way. We go our way and seek to find happiness elsewhere on our own. What we find instead a sense of dis-ease, a feeling of unhappiness and discontent. Eventually, suffering becomes the teacher that brings us to our knees, and hopefully, that moment of metanoia: I will return to my Father’s house. As pride is conquered, humility leads us to “poverty of heart,” the realization that everything belongs to God, and that everything is a gift from Him. God in His goodness, has freely chosen to share everything with us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Mt 5:3).

The third important figure in the story is the oldest son, who remains by his father’s side. Like his brother, he too lacks a sense of gratitude. Pride is also the root spiritual illness within his heart. He has remained by his father’s side and has listened to him, but not out of genuine love. In his self-centredness, there is deep sense of entitlement for his loyalty and service. “My father owes me… I’m entitled to my inheritance. It belongs to me; I have worked for it and I have earned it.” Like his younger brother, he has not realized the depth of his father’s goodness; he has not realized that really, everything belongs to his father, and everything is given and shared by his father in love. “All that is mine is yours” (Luke 15;31). He can’t accept the fact that his father is free to distribute his goods as he wishes and to be generous with whomever he wishes. The older son lacks faith, trust, true obedience and surrender to his father and his father’s will.

And so, the older son becomes resentful when his father chooses to be merciful and generous, to forgive the younger son upon his return, and to restore him to his grace and sonship. In his mind, this was something that needed to be earned. The older son failed to see the value of important gifts: his brother was a gift, his return was a gift, repentance is a gift, forgiveness a gift, and that life itself is a precious gift. “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:32).

In reading and hearing the story, we are also called to identify ourselves with the older son. In our service to God, we too can quickly forget that God’s love is not something to be earned — it’s freely given. Our life and service to Him should always be a free-gift offered with love and joy, without any expectations of reward, self-seeking motivations, hidden agendas, and a sense of entitlement. Like the younger son, we also need to rediscover the importance of faith: believing in what God promises; trusting in his goodness, providence and care for us; listening and submitting to His Will (even when we don’t understand); and finally, surrendering our life to Him as a total free-gift.

The fourth and final figure in the story is the male calf, fattened by wheat. The father’s gift of mercy, forgiveness, atonement, reconciliation, and the offering of praise and thanksgiving is incomplete without the sacrifice of the fattened calf and the communion banquet that follows. The sacrifice is a symbol of Christ, who takes away the sins of the world, and reconciles us with the Father through his death on the cross. The calf was fed by wheat, which points to the fact that Christ, the chosen Lamb of God, will become for us the Bread of Life in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist.

The final lesson of the story is that God has loved us first. Everything is gift. He offers us forgiveness and eternal life with Him. Nothing can be earned, but only received with faith, humility, repentance, surrender and love.

Christ is Born!

Dear brothers and sisters,

    The Christmas-Theophany season will come to an end on February 2nd, exactly 40 days after Christmas, with the celebration of the feast of the Encounter of our Lord, also know as the Presentation of our Lord.

At the very moment when Mary and Joseph entered the Temple, carrying the Lord Jesus, they were met by the old man Simeon and the old woman Anna. It is from this meeting in the Temple that the feast gets its name in the Eastern Church.

According to the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus was brought to the Temple on the 40th day after His birth in obedience to the Old Testament Law, which He as the Messiah had come to fulfill.

This meeting is spiritually and theologically significant. It tells us that the Old is over and that the New has come. It tells us that the two covenants have now met: Israel has accomplished its God-given task in bringing forth the Messiah. The promises made by God to Abraham are being fulfilled. Jesus is now encountered in the world as the “light of revelation to the Gentiles.” In Him, the whole world is illuminated and saved. The New Testament has come.

The old man and the old woman who meet Jesus in the Temple and recognize Him for who He is symbolize in their oldness the passing away of the ancient laws, rituals and customs, which were “but a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb 10:1).

So, when and where did the celebration of this feast begin? There is good evidence indicating that the feast originated in Jerusalem in the second half of the fourth century. From Jerusalem the feast spread throughout the entire East and was officially adopted as a major feast in the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century, under the rule of Emperor Justinian (527-565).

From the East, the feast eventually spread to Rome in the fifth century, and from there to France and Spain in the seventh century, and then to Germany in the eighth century.

In his inspired hymn, St. Simeon referred to Jesus as the “Light to the Gentiles.” This prompted Christians to carry a lighted candle or lamp in the procession on the day of the feast, to symbolize the mystical presence of the “True Light,” Jesus. The solemn procession itself symbolized the journey of Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Law.

There is good evidence that the custom of carrying lit candles in procession at the feast was introduced and practiced in the fifth century in Alexandria (Egypt), and in Ancyra (Asia Minor).

In time, this custom was introduced in Rome, and from Rome, spread to Jerusalem and other cities in Palestine. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius (c. 641), speaks of this custom in his sermon on the feast of the Encounter.

Blessing candles on the day of the feast became a custom only after the tenth century. It was introduced in the Kyivan Church sometime in the seventeenth century.

Christ is Born!

Christ is Baptized!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

    Last Sunday, we solemnly celebrated the Feast of Holy Theophany. The post-feast continues for eight days, ending on Monday, January 14th.

    For the first time this year at the Cathedral, we celebrated the full vigil on the eve of the feast: Vespers, with 13 Old Testament readings; followed by Divine Liturgy and the first Blessing of Water. We were blessed with a special gift of peace, a pervading spirit of prayer, and the gentle anointing of the Holy Spirit. The loving presence of God was felt not only at the service, but also at the Holy Supper that followed. It was well attended, and a genuine atmosphere of family, friendship and fellowship was experienced by all.

    On the day of the feast, at 9:30 am we celebrated the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which gave us an opportunity to pray more fervently in thanksgiving to God for everything, and to intercede in a deeper way for the needs of all His people. The second Divine Liturgy at 11 am gave us the opportunity to experience the Great Blessing of Water a second time.

    Every year, the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan leaves us with so much to reflect upon.

    First of all, the Lord God, for the first time in salvation history, reveals to us that He is One, yet three in Persons. God the Son, having become incarnate, stands in the river Jordan. The Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descends upon Him. The heavens are opened and the voice of God the Father is heard: “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” By reason and intuition, we could come to know that God is One, but never that He is three in Persons. Only God, in His infinite goodness, has revealed this mystery to us.

    Secondly, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan summarizes everything that He will do for us! People came to the Jordan to confess their sins, to symbolically leave them behind “in the waters” into which they were immersed, as a sign of their repentance. However, Jesus comes to the Jordan without sin. He comes not to confess sins, but to take upon Himself all the sins of the world, which He will carry to the Cross. His immersion into the waters of the Jordan foretells His freely willed immersion into death upon the cross. His burial into water points to His burial in a tomb. His rising up from the water foretells His Resurrection from the dead on the third day. The heavens are opened, foretelling His Ascension into heaven and His sitting at the right hand of the Father. The descent of the Holy Spirit foreshadows the feast of Pentecost and the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church – the Body of Christ. The voice of the Father proclaims that the Church (The Body of Christ) is His Beloved Son, and that all those who are baptized in Him are His beloved sons and daughters.

    Finally, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan confirms that He is truly the “Anointed One,” the “Messiah,” who was promised in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:15), and whose coming was reaffirmed by the Prophets of old. He comes to re-create and to save us, both body and soul, and to bring all creation to its final transfiguration and perfection.

    In conclusion, His Baptism is also our Baptism. In our Baptism we share His Baptism, not only into the very same waters of the Jordan, but also into the waters of Death, Burial, Resurrection and Ascension to the Father, with heaven open to receive us.

Fr. Peter Babej