Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 24 - Babylas of Antioch, Martyr, Prisoner, Buried in his Chains


Babylas had been a leader of the Church in Antioch. In fact, he was presiding over the Easter vigil and services in the year that the emperor Philip tried to coerce the Church into siding with him. Philip had feigned faith for years and continued to worship the civil religion when he thought he could get away with it. The Church was willing to have him show up but was not willing to make him an object of worship or adoration--when he walked through the Church doors he was nothing more than another sinner seeking grace. In Philip's case, it's dubious that he was ever seeking grace and much more likely that he was interested in covering over his political machinations with the clothing of the Church. Babylas was unwilling to allow it.

When Philip came to the vigil, Babylas met him at the door and tried to save him some shame. Philip asked to be let in and Babylas shook his head sadly and said, "You can only enter if you'll come as a penitent." Philip was uninterested in taking the position of one seeking forgiveness for and healing from sin. It would lower him to be with the people whom he ruled and would not give him the honor he was so confident he deserved. When Philip insisted that he be let in as an honored guest, Babylas was undeterred from his refusal. The tension in the moment only got worse as Philip waited for Babylas to crack and relent. When Philip indicated his armed guards and attempted to coerce Babylas with worldly power and threat it came as a surprise to Philip--but no surprise to those who knew Babylas--when Babylas closed the doors and barred them to the unrepentant emperor. If Philip would not repent from his sins and come seeking grace then the door was to be barred to him as the Church could not honor or esteem one who was not aware of his own sickness--after all, Jesus came for the sick and not for the well.

Babylas paid a price for this and Philip had him arrested, chained, and thrown in prison. He was left to rot in jail alone and constantly chained. He continued his life of devotion and prayer under chains and persecution because he had been called to it regardless of the cost. Occasionally, he was allowed visitors from the Church and they would secret the Eucharist to him so that he might remain part of the communion he had given himself for but he was never allowed out of his chains. His chains were supposed to serve as an ever present reminder of the Empire's ability to punish those who resisted it but for Babylas they were a reminder of the weight of sin upon the soul and the need of healing within the Empire. When Decius took power and the Decian persecutions began, Babylas was martyred as he was already within the iron grip of the Empire that wanted to eliminate Christians. He was one of the first and was buried in his chains as he had requested of his Christian brothers and sisters.

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