Christ is among us! He is and always will be!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“Even as you wish men to do to you, so also do you in return.” “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” In these two beautiful commandments of Our Lord in today’s Gospel, Christ our God reveals to us the way He wants His disciples to live in this world; He sets out for us the Christian way of living. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and “be merciful, as your Father is merciful.”
To be a follower of Jesus is to imitate our heavenly Father who is rich in mercy–to act even as God acts! Indeed, “Christianity,” in the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa, “is an imitation of the Divine Nature.” When we received baptism and chrismation, we were renewed and anointed–we were Christened–made into to other “Christs”. We put off the “old man”, and we put on Christ. St. Gregory the Theologian said: “Be as God to the unfortunate, by imitating the mercy of God. For in nothing do we draw so close to God as in doing good to one another.” What a noble and lofty calling we are given in Holy Baptism.
What does it mean to be a merciful person? St. Peter of Damascus offers us the following description: “The merciful man is he who gives to others what he has himself received from God—whether it be money, or food, or strength, a helpful word, a prayer, or anything else that he has through which he can express his compassion…” The merciful man is one who, in the words of today’s Gospel, does good without expecting a reward.
In our secular culture today it is “every man for himself,” and our technology bombards us from morning till night with alluring messages that tell us we deserve the best of everything, that we should get all we can get before some else gets it, and that we constantly need more and better material things in order to be happy. Yet, in the midst of this materialism and consumerism, our Lord sets before us a clear choice: do we live the lifestyle of sinners according to the sensible standards and secular priorities of this world, or do we live according to the commandments of God? Do we love only those who love us; curse those who curse us; and lend only to those from whom we will receive a substantial return? Or, do we love our enemies; give to everyone who asks us; and bless those who curse us?
But perhaps we think this standard is out of our reach or too difficult for us to attain. In today’s Epistle, the Lord reminds us that “My grace is sufficient for you, for strength is made perfect in weakness.” Christ became one of us, so that He could show us how to live a Godly life. He has become the standard by which He calls us to live, and He has sent us His Holy Spirit to become for us strength in our weakness. Jesus is the mercy of our heavenly Father, and He bids us to imitate Him.
And so, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I come to you today, as we begin, once again, our annual Bishop’s Appeal, in the spirit of Jesus’ powerful words—“be merciful even as your Father is merciful”—to plead for your mercy. I appeal to you for your generous, financial support of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church in America. I come to you with gratitude for your past generosity. Last year so many of you responded to our appeal without hesitation and with increased generosity: you gave more than you had ever given before! Thank God, we received over $310,000 in donations to meet the needs of our Melkite Church in America, with only 1,456 of our nearly 12,000 parishioners participating.
Moreover, my heart overflows with gratitude because, in addition to your donations to the Bishop’s Appeal last year, you also responded with generosity to our urgent appeal for aid to our brothers and sisters who are devastated by the civil war in Syria, and you gave almost $120,000 to our Patriarchate for Syrian relief. This is truly a testament to your fidelity to Jesus’ call to give without expecting any return.
Now, as our brothers and sisters, especially in Syria and Egypt, continue to experience the ravages of war, hatred, and persecution, I come again with hand outstretched to ask for your support for the important works of our Church. Because of the grave needs of our people and in response to the call of His Beatitude, our Patriarch Gregorios III, I have decided to send a tithe, or ten percent, of all the funds raised in this year’s Bishop’s Appeal for the relief of the suffering Syrian people. And I ask you to look upon the needs of our Melkite brothers and sisters as your own needs and to respond again with a merciful and generous heart.
Please know that your gifts are used very prudently to support the important works of our Eparchy and to assure its future growth. Last year, donations to the Bishop’s Appeal helped to subsidize the cost of the publication and mailing of SOPHIA magazine; to aid our mission churches in need; and to fund religious education, youth ministry, and deacon formation—all essential works for the future of our Church in America. In addition, because of your generous gifts, we were able to assist our elderly priests, and give assistance to struggling parishes and missions.
My fellow Melkites, it is not an exaggeration to say that without your support of our annual Bishop’s Appeal our Melkite Eparchy would not be able to meet its financial commitments. That is why I appeal to you today, as the Father of our Melkite family in America: we need every member of our family to take financial responsibility for the works of our Eparchy. I ask you to make the support of our Church a priority in your charitable giving. Each year, we ask every Melkite household in America to consider it their duty to give at least $100 annually to the Bishop’s Appeal for the needs of our Church. To each of you, I say with Saint Paul: “give according to your means” (2 Corinthians 8:3), and “glorify God by the generosity of your contribution” (2 Corinthians 9:13).
I am very much aware that these times can be economically challenging and that our economic future may seem uncertain. Yet, I am also very much aware that we, in this great country of ours, enjoy tremendous blessings especially in comparison to so many who suffer in the Middle East and around the world. And so, I humbly ask you not to act like sinners who give only when they are guaranteed a good return on their investment, but to live like Christ, who gives freely, abundantly, without counting the cost. After all, “what have we that we have not received?” What we possess is not ours—it is on loan from God. We are but stewards of God’s gifts.
And so, dear friends in Christ, as you consider your response to my letter of appeal you will receive at home, I ask you to take a few moments in prayer to reflect upon the tremendous mercy our Father has shown to you and your family and to be merciful as He is merciful. Make your financial gift a heartfelt offering of love and mercy to God and to your Melkite brothers and sisters. And our Lord assures you that “your reward shall be great, and you shall be called children of the Most High.”
May Christ our true God bless you and your loved ones, and may He bring peace to our beloved Syria and Egypt and all the peoples of the Middle East.
With my heartfelt prayers and gratitude, I remain
✠ Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton