My dear Melkite brothers and sisters in Christ,
I greet you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love is beyond compare and whose mercy is without measure! In his first Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul asks a rhetorical question that points to the essential truth about our lives: “What do you have that you have not received?” (1 Cor 4:7) Everything we have, all that we own and have worked for, every beautiful person and choice possession in our life are but the wonderful gifts of God who is the Lover of Mankind and the Benefactor of our souls. Our very lives and every breath we continue to breathe are given us by God. Indeed, as we pray in every Divine Liturgy, “every good gift and every perfect grace is from above, coming down from You, the Father of Lights, and to You we render glory, thanksgiving, and worship.”
When we truly realize our indebtedness to God for every moment of our existence, our lives begin to change. The focus of our lives moves away from my needs, my desires, and my self, and turns to God, the Giver of all life and goodness. Rather then seeking to grasp more and more, and to acquire bigger and better—as if our lives depended on it—we begin to live in gratitude and thankfulness to God upon whom our lives truly depend. What we think we cannot live without, we come to realize that one day we will indeed live without and leave behind. And we become ever more grateful to our Father for the gift of His Son who gave His life for us and for the gift of His Holy Spirit which He pours out upon us. The words of St. Paul now become for us a way of life: “Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness;” “In all things give thanks, for this is the will of God for you.”
Yet, as we experience our complete indebtedness to God, we are at once stuck by our utter inability to render to Him an appropriate response. The words of the Psalmist well up in our hearts: “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good He has done for me” (Psalm 116:12)? How is it possible to offer God a fitting gift for all He has given to us? Yet, even in this, our Father Himself provides what we need. In the Divine Liturgy, He allows us to make the offering of His own Son our very own offering of thanksgiving to Him. This is why for Christians the highest form of prayer is the Eucharist. Eucharistia in Greek means to give thanks. We come to the Divine Liturgy in order to offer up ourselves—all that we have and all that we are—in thanksgiving, uniting ourselves with the sacrificial offering of the Lord Jesus in one great thank-offering to the Father. The priest prays: “We offer You Your own, from what is Your own, in all and for the sake of all.” And in return for our thanksgiving, God gives us to partake of His very Body and Blood.
In so doing, our lives are truly transformed into eucharistic lives—lives of thanksgiving. More and more, we are able to put aside our selfish self-seeking, and assume an “attitude of gratitude” in all things and for all things. Instead of grasping and tightening our grip on material things, we open our hands and our hearts in generosity to God and to our neighbor. This is meaning of Christian stewardship. St. Paul describes the life of Christian stewardship in this way: “Whatever you do in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” A life of stewardship is a life of thankfulness—a eucharistic life.
And so, it is as a fellow steward, that I come to you today. When I became a bishop some 23 years ago, I chose as my episcopal motto: Steward of the Mysteries, taken from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians wherein he writes: “Let a man so account us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” For the Priesthood of Christ is not a personal possession of the clergy that we are given for ourselves, nor is the High Priesthood of a bishop. Rather, Christ entrusts us, unworthy though we are, as merely stewards of the sacred Mysteries of the Church in order to dispense these gifts to Christ’s faithful people. And upon our stewardship we will be judged.
My fellow Melkites, we are all stewards of God’s gifts, and we will all be called to give an account for how we have used our gifts. How have we used our time, our talents, and our treasures? What have I done for God and for His Church with the gifts He has given me? Do I use the time God gives me to grow closer to Him and to become a better person or do I waste my time on frivolous and vain things of little consequence which will pass away in an instant? Do I hide my talents under a bushel or do I use them to serve my Church and to make my world a better and holier place? And do I use my material wealth to support my Melkite Church according to the measure God has given me, or do I give as little as I possibly can? What kind of steward are you?
In our Epistle reading today, St. Paul reminds us that it is not how much we receive or what we possess in this life that matters; rather, it is what we give that brings happiness, peace, and an eternal reward. When we give freely and cheerfully of ourselves and of our gifts, we open the floodgates of God’s grace and bounty in our lives. As St. Paul says: “He who sows bountifully…not grudgingly or from compulsion,” “will also reap bountifully… For God loves a cheerful giver.” But St. Paul also warns us: “Mark this: he who sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly.” If we are selfish with the talents and treasures God has given us, clinging to them as if they are part of us, we leave no room for God and His grace in our lives. Let us learn God’s way of giving, and let us become “cheerful givers” in Christ.
Today, I appeal to you to join me as God’s faithful stewards and to make a generous return to the Lord for all He has given you. Our Melkite Church needs your generous and continuous support; we have many needs, which are supported by your gifts to the annual Bishop’s Appeal. Please join me in meeting the present challenges our Eparchy faces: seeking and fostering vocations to the Priesthood and Diaconate, developing our religious education programs for youth and adults, publishing liturgical and educational books through Sophia Press and our education office, promoting spiritual renewal throughout our Church, caring for our aging and ailing clergy, providing continuing education for our clergy, and preparing our young people for future church leadership. All these require tremendous financial resources beyond your parish assessments.
I am most grateful for the generosity of so many of you to last year’s appeal, and our gratitude is expressed in the honor roll of benefactors published in the current issue of SOPHIA magazine which, by the way, is also funded, in part, by your gifts to the Bishop’s Appeal. Thank God, last year, we saw an increase in the number of Melkites participating in the Appeal, and the second highest gift total in Appeal history. God willing, this trend will continue as we must have 100% of our Melkites taking responsibility for the financial support of their Church.
In the days ahead, you will receive in the mail a personal letter from me asking you to make a sacrificial offering in thanksgiving to God to the annual Bishop’s Appeal. Whatever your particular financial situation may be, it is my firm conviction that we are only able to receive from God according to the measure in which we open our hearts and hands in generosity to Him. When you receive my letter, I ask you to reflect prayerfully and to “count your blessings” which the Lord has given you and your family. Then, decide what is a fitting return to Him.
I am most grateful for this opportunity today to make my annual appeal for your generous financial support, and I have every confidence that you will respond to my call. May Christ the Good Shepherd, Who calls each of us by name, bless you and our Melkite Church with the bounty of His goodness.
With my prayers and blessing, I am
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton