The Holy Hieromartyr Babylas lived in the third century, during the reign of Emperor Numerian, and he was the Bishop of Antioch. He shepherded his flock with sacrificial love and he was also made worthy of martyrdom, which is why he is called Hieromartyr. He did not hesitate to rebuke the emperor Numerian for the crimes he committed, and this brought on the occasion for his martyrdom.
Numerian held captive the son of the king of Persia and killed him in an inhumane manner. Then Saint Babylas sternly rebuked him for such an action. Numerian wanted to take revenge on the Bishop and together with him many other Christians, and he even wanted to meet out his harsh decision during the Divine Liturgy. But when he attempted to enter the church, Saint Babylas rebuked him again and refused his entrance. Angered, he ordered the next day for Babylas to be dragged off to jail and there to be beheaded. The faithful took the body of their martyred Bishop and buried him with his chains, as was his wish.
Along with the memory of the Hieromartyr Babylas we also celebrate the memory of the three children who were martyred with him. They followed him selflessly when he was bound and led off to jail, and as a result they also were captured. Because they boldly confessed their faith in Christ, they were killed and thus received the crown of martyrdom.
The life and works of Saint Babylas and the Holy Three Children who were martyred with him give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:
First, there is no greater honor and blessing than martyrdom, for a Christian to give his testimony for Christ and then seal it with his blood. “As Christ shed His blood for us, may He make us worthy to also spill our blood for Him”, said Saint Kosmas Aitolos, whom God made worthy of such a high honor. Indeed, in the List of Saints of the Church there are registered as martyrs those who in times of persecution confessed their faith in Christ and then sealed their confession with their blood. Martyrs, however, emerge everyday even in times of peace, because there are many ways of martyrdom. The struggle for the purification of the heart from the passions in order for God to “make His dwelling and move about” in there is also a martyrdom. Martyrdom is also for one to endure the sad things of life, which God allows for our cauterization, without murmuring and exasperation, but with patience, thanksgiving and glorifying God for all things. To love everyone selflessly is a martyrdom, even ones enemies, and to pray unceasingly for the world. “To pray for people means to shed blood, but we must pray” (Saint Silouan the Athonite).
An important event in the life of every human being, and so it must be considered, is the way in which they will depart this world, since it is related to their eternal future, for, while our earthly life has an end, life never ends. This is why we must seriously concern ourselves with it and prepare our entire lives for our departure. Besides, “for one to live a Christian life is impossible. They can only die a Christian death, as the Apostle Paul died daily” (Elder Sophrony Sacharov). When someone was asked why they became Orthodox, he responded: “So that I may die well.” In reality, it is to be able to live well in eternity.
Second, the three children who showed great love to God and dedication to their Bishop and spiritual father, reminds me of the three children of the Old Testament, Ananias, Azarias and Misael, who did not succumb to the threat of the wicked King Nebuchadnezzar. They remained faithful to God their Father and therefore were thrown into the fiery furnace from which, however, God saved them in a wondrous manner. The God of the Church is not an abstract being, a higher impersonal power, but He is a Person, He is Love. He is “the God of our Fathers”, who loves all of mankind and is interested in everyone together, but also for each of us individually, and we all have the ability to attain personal communion with Him.
Love and obedience to a Bishop is not person-worship, but it shows an ecclesiastical mindset, because the Bishop is “in the type and place” of the Head of the Church, namely Christ. He is the visible presence of Christ on earth, which is why “wherever the Bishop is, there is the Church” (Saint Ignatius the God-bearer).
Nowadays, unfortunately, there is much confusion around ecclesiastical issues, even to many of those who serve in various positions of the Church. Foremost of them are those who are entering the sacred clergy without canonical preconditions, thereby creating serious problems and causing wounds in the Body of the Church. Service within the Church, and especially those in the sacred clergy, should be done with the necessary canonical preconditions, because the violation of the sacred Canons in general and specifically the Canons referring to the “prohibitions” from the priesthood are serious offenses with many consequences.
Respect for the Church is not independent of respect and obedience to the Bishop, the Dogmas, the sacred Canons, but also the God-seeing Saints, who are the real members.
by Protopresbyter George Papavarnavas
Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, “ΙΕΡΟΜΑΡΤΥΣ ΒΑΒΥΛΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΟΙ ΣΥΝ ΑΥΤΩ”, September 2008. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.