Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
from.our.bishop
The Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Savior
Jesus Christ, According to the Flesh
2013

Beloved clergy, religious, and faithful of the Eparchy of Newton,

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Throughout all of the liturgical hymns for the Offices of the Nativity of Christ and the Theophany—feasts of God’s manifestations to us—we hear again and again that the Son of God became man to reunite our humanity with His Divinity. In Great Compline we sing: Heaven and earth are united today, for Christ is born. Today God has come upon earth, and man has gone up to heaven. Today, for our sake He who by nature is invisible is seen in the flesh. We give glory and cry aloud to Him. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, which your coming has bestowed upon us, O Savior. Glory to You!

God makes a “breakthrough” in time and space by becoming a human being. He assumes our flesh so that we may share His divine life. God intervenes in our life…

    …a God who came not to call the righteous but the sinner;
    …a God who came to seek and save the lost;
    …a God who came not to be served but to serve;
    …a God who came to give us abundant life;
    …a God who came as light so that whoever believes in Him may not remain in darkness;
    …a God who came not to judge the world but to save it;
    …a God who is not impersonal but who is Emmanuel—God With Us;
    …a God who is a Person, Jesus-Savior;
    …a God who cares, who loves, who forgives.

As you meditate on this great mystery of God made flesh for us…

    …allow Jesus to outgrow swaddling clothes and wrap you in His love;
    …discover that you are part of the flock to whom the angels announce the good news;
    …rejoice knowing Christ’s tidings of great joy were for all people and that you are His messenger;
    …let His love and wisdom fill you to serve others as gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

God comes to us in Jesus wrapped, not in holiday paper, but in human flesh from His holy Mother, the Theotokos. He is one with us in the flesh. In the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy we chant: “He left nothing undone until He lifted us up to heaven and bestowed upon us the Kingdom to come.” Because He loves, God sends Jesus, not only to tell us, but also to show us, the height and the depth and the breadth and the length of His love. Only one thing is required: that is our acceptance of His love and our transformation into Godly people.

May the Christ our God, manifested in the flesh, bless each and every one of you in special ways during this glorious season. Be assured of my love, prayers, and blessings for each of you and for your families.

Sincerely in Christ God,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Eparchial Bishop of Newton
 
englishlogonodate

This year, Sunday, October 27, 2013

Priesthood Sunday is a special day set aside to honor Priesthood. It is a day to reflect upon and affirm the role of the Priesthood in the life of the Church as a central one. Traditionally scheduled for the fourth Sunday of October, this nationwide event is coordinated and sponsored by the USA Council of Serra International and endorsed by the Bishops of the various dioceses in the U.S.

What happens on Priesthood Sunday?

The deacons and lay faithful can develop their own special way of marking the day and honoring their parish priests both at Divine Liturgy and other parish events, such as coffee hour, social celebrations and Church School activities. Priesthood Sunday is designed to be an event led by the laity, but you may ask your parish priest to participate by talking about how he experienced and answered his own calling and about priests who have inspired him. Priesthood Sunday offers an opportunity for priests and their parishioners to build a stronger working relationship. Together, they can dialogue to take an honest look at the challenges of the future and how they can collaborate to meet those challenges as a united force.

What is the USA Council of Serra International?

The USA Council of Serra International is an organization of lay men and women of the Roman Catholic Church whose mission is to foster and affirm Vocations to the ministerial priesthood and vowed religious life in the USA. More than 10,000 Serrans in over 250 clubs nationwide collaborate with their bishops, parishes and vocation directors to fulfill this mission. Through this ministry, Serrans work to further their common Catholic faith. If interested, visit the USA Council at www.serraus.org Fostering and affirming vocations is everyone’s responsibility.

How are Melkites involved?

In 2012, our Vocation Office adopted this national event and notified pastors and lay leaders to plan events to honor their priests. Some participating parishes were highlighted in an issue of Sophia Journal.

The National Association of Melkite Women (NAMW), whose role is to raise funds in assisting our seminarians, is a Melkite Catholic organization of our Eparchy of Newton. This group works within our parishes around the country in encouraging events to build up the supplemental funding of the seminarian.

This year, we again contacted the pastors and requested the contact information for all lay leaders of their parish organizations. In turn, information was shared with those parish lay leaders of our Melkite parishes. Parish lay leaders were directed to go to www.PriesthoodSunday.org to gain ideas of what can be done in the parishes. Please check with your Parish Sunday Bulletin or your parish lay leaders for Priesthood Sunday events or plans that might be specific to your community. In addition to official parish activities, in which we recommend all to be involved initially, we also offer the following which can be done by individuals in honoring Melkite priests:

How can I also honor my priest(s) as an individual?

Additionally, you might find the following list of ideas helpful in honoring your priest(s):

  • Pray for your own priest and all priests serving in the Melkite Eparchy of Newton and elsewhere.
  • Light a candle for him in church periodically throughout the year
  • Pray for the Vocation programs of the Melkite Eparchy – and for more people to be open to a call to the priesthood and also the diaconate and religious life of monastics, male and female
  • Personally thank your priest on Priesthood Sunday, and any day thereafter throughout the year
  • Send a thank you note or letter to your priest
  • Demonstrate your appreciation in your own way for his ministry
  • Ask the Church School Teachers to invite their students to write or draw individual notes of appreciation for their priest
  • Send cards to priests of other Melkite parishes (your own parish/mission office can assist you with names & addresses)
  • Invite your priest for dinner with your family or friends throughout the year
  • Send a card or letter to a Melkite priest who used to serve at your parish (your own parish/mission office can assist you with names & addresses)
  • Send a card or letter to a retired Melkite priest (your parish/mission office can assist you with names & addresses)
  • Contact the Eparchial Vocation Director and ask how you, your talent and/or your business can assist his office
  • Ask your parish priest about the “I am the Vine, you are the branches” icon Vocations program
Rt. Rev. Archimandrite John Azar
Eparchy of Newton
Vocation Office
vocations@melkite.org
404-373-9522
 
from.our.bishop

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Christ is among us! He is and always will be!

Having celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit and the completion of the manifestation of the Divine Trinity last Sunday on Pentecost, today the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints. This feast and its placement immediately after Pentecost is significant because the saints of the Church are those who make known the Holy Spirit in the world. Unlike the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit has no Divine Person to reveal Him. While Christ our God makes the Father known: He who sees Me see the Father (John 14:9); and the Holy Spirit makes known the Son: the Spirit of Truth…He will bear witness to Me (John 15:27); it is the saints who, by their lives and actions, make the Holy Spirit known in the world.

We are all called to be saints: this is our divine vocation. In Baptism and Chrismation we were set on fire by the Divine Spirit and were sent to be apostles for Christ to our world! But has our fire for Christ grown cold? Is our precious gift of the fire of baptismal grace scarcely smoldering for lack of the fuel of prayer? Is it being suffocated by the corruption of the world and all its material temptations that threaten to snuff it out?

Let us fan the spark of this baptismal fire into the flame of zeal for Christ and His Church like the Apostles who, within a few short years, brought the saving truth of the Gospel to the ends of the earth! Traditionally, on the Monday following All Saints Sunday (27 May 2013), the Church begins a time of fasting and prayer to prepare us for the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul on 29 June. Although the Melkite Synod has shortened the fasting period to ten days, beginning on 19 June, we may still observe the traditional fast beginning tomorrow. We are given this “Apostles Fast” in order to fan into flame the grace of the Holy Spirit within us and to reflect upon the hardships endured by the Apostles as they preached Divine grace and truth to the world.

This year, during the Apostles Fast, it is particularly appropriate that we remember our brothers and sisters who now suffer for their faith, in the lands of the Apostles, especially in Syria. I ask that during these coming days you consider fasting at least three days each week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) in solidarity with our suffering Christian brethren. In addition, I ask that you offer the money you save by fasting for relief of our brothers and sisters in dire need because of the war in Syria. These donations will be collected by your pastor on the weekend of 30 June and sent immediately to our finance office for transfer to the Patriarchate for Syrian relief. Even though you may have already given to this cause, please consider giving again as the suffering our fellow Christians endure continues to persist and increase.

May Christ God, through the intercession of the holy and glorious Apostles worthy of all praise, bless all those who suffer persecution for the sake of His name and bless you and your families abundantly.

With my prayers and blessing, I remain

Your father and shepherd,

Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Eparchial Bishop of Newton
 

Blazon: Party per pale Eparchy of Newton and Bishop Nicholas

Eparchy of Newton: Azure, a sun resplendent d’or charged with the Greek letters IC XC sable, in the nombril a crescent d’argent and in the base the Greek letters MR OU of the second; a chief paly of thirteen d’argent and gules.

Bishop Nicholas of Newton: In a chief azure, a fortified city d’or with a portal gules on a mountain argent. In the base vert, a pale urdy of the first charged with a shepherd’s staff buff facing sinister, two palets urdy of the fourth. Overall, a bar of the third, the lower edge dancetty charged with three bezants.

Motto: “Steward of the Mysteries” – 1 Corinthians 4:1

Significance

An eparchial bishop is traditionally seen as being “married” to his eparchy and, as such, joins the arms of his diocese to his own. Thus, the right side of the shield (left side to the viewer) bears the arms of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Newton. The left hand side bears the personal arms borne by Bishop Nicholas.

We have previously explained the arms of the Eparchy. The personal arms of Bishop Nicholas reflect upon his own family, commitments, and history.

The golden citadel atop a white mountain is doubly significant. It is a reminder of the city of Aleppo, Syria, one of the most ancient cities on earth and the ancestral home of the Samra family. The name of the city comes from the Aramaic word for white and refers to the glistening marble hill upon which the city is built. The image of the city glistening on a hilltop is additionally found in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:14) and well reflects Bishop Nicholas’ love for the Melkite Church and his commitment to it as a shining example of vibrant Christian living.

In the base of the shield we find even further symbolism reflecting Bishop Nicholas’ origins and service. The green field is a reminder of New Jersey as the “Garden State” while the blue pale flanked by the undulating white “palets” is a reminder of the “great falls” of Paterson, the city of the bishop’s birth and early years. In the center of the “great falls” is seen a shepherd’s staff. At first glance, obviously symbolic of his pastoral commitment, the bishop’s family name was originally “Rai” meaning shepherd. At the same time, the buff color of the staff reflects the present family name “Samra” meaning “brunette.” Blue and buff, it should be noted, are also the state colors of New Jersey.

The red bar charged with three bezants reflects the bishop’s two patron saints – St. Nicholas of Myra and St. James the Brother of God and First Hierarch of Jerusalem. The bezants (Byzantine gold coins) are traditionally associated with St. Nicholas, while the color red and “dancetty” lower edge call to mind the death of St. James who, according to tradition, was martyred by being sawed to death. Additionally, Bishop Nicholas was ordained to both the presbyterate and episcopacy by our first eparchial bishop, Archbishop Joseph [Tawil] who had been himself, as titular Archbishop of Myra, a successor to Saint Nicholas

The form of shield used is one commonly found in the Byzantine Empire and is surrounded with the external ornaments denoting the hierarchical status of the bearer. Behind the shield is a “paterissa” or pastoral staff and a single traversed gold cross and denoting a bishop. The cross used is called “botonny” and is the form of the cross found on the dome of St. Ann Church, now in Woodland Park, New Jersey – the parish where Bishop Nicholas was both baptized and later served as pastor. The form of the paterissa calls to mind the brazen serpent raised up by the Prophet Moses in the desert. A crown and a red ermine lined robe of estate are the traditional heraldic symbols of hierarchical dignity in the Melkite Church.

Reflecting his commitment to evangelical stewardship. Bishop Nicholas chose as his episcopal motto from the Apostle Paul: “Steward of the Mysteries” (1 Corinthians 4:1).

Blason and designs by: Archpriest Lawrence G. Gosselin, USAF (Ret)
 

Blason: Eparchy of Newton: Azure, a sun resplendent d’or charged with the Greek letters IC XC sable, in the nombril a crescent d’argent and in the base the Greek letters MR OU of the second; a chief paly of thirteen d’argent and gules.

ECCLESIASTICAL HERALDRY

Heraldry is often referred to as both art and science inasmuch as it involves the application of precise rules in addition to artistic methodology. In heraldry, what, is called the “achievement” consists of the escutcheon (coat-of-arms), a crest above the shield; it may also include supporters and a chosen motto.

Ecclesiastical heraldry consists of both institutional and personal heraldry. Institutional heraldry includes that of eparchies and dioceses, parishes, monasteries, schools etc., while personal heraldry pertains to individuals: bishops, priests, deacons, and monastics. Those who exercise ecclesiastical jurisdiction within the Church combine, in various precisely prescribed ways, their own personal arms and achievements together with the arms of the juridical entity over which they preside.

Despite misconceptions that heraldry is western European, heraldry was commonly and widely used in the Byzantine Empire. The various Eastern patriarchates and jurisdictions have continuously used heraldry since at least the tenth century with even earlier antecedents dating to pre-Christian times.

The most important element of the achievement is, of course, the escutcheon itself – ordinarily displayed on a shield or, sometimes a cartouche, lozenge or oval.

In written and spoken formulation, heraldry makes use of an ancient form of French. In what is called a blason, the escutcheon (coat-of-arms) is precisely verbalized using as few words as possible. The blason for the Eparchy of Newton coat-of-arms reads: Azure, a sun resplendent d’or charged with the Greek letters IC XC sable, in the nombril a crescent d’argent and in the base the Greek letters MR OU of the second; a chief paly of thirteen d’argent and gules. This blazon allows the heraldic artist and reader to visualize the arms of the eparchy as being: “A blue shield with a golden sun upon which are written the Greek letters for Jesus Christ and under which is a silver crescent moon flanked by the Greek letters for ‘Mother of God,’ while the upper third of the shield is formed of thirteen vertical white and red stripes.”

Heraldry makes use of tinctures (colors), metals, furs, and objects. In the blason for the eparchy’s escutcheon we find two colors and two metals. “Azure” is Old French for blue and “Gules” refers to the color red. Two metals are also found. “Argent” is French for silver and is used interchangeably for the color white, while “d’or” refers to gold and is used interchangeably for yellow.

Contrary to popular belief, a coat-of-arms uniquely belongs to an individual or legally recognized entity or institution and not to a family. In fact, in the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Spain, Italy and other European nations as well, the misuse of a coat-of-arms by someone other than the proper individual bearer is illegal and can be the cause of a lawsuit and while heraldic law is not operative in the United States, coat-of-arms are often registered under federal copyright laws and their misuse is subject to copyright infringement.

Significance

Our eparchial coat-of-arms were first registered and granted at the establishment of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Exarchate for the United States in 1966. They remained unchanged in 1976, during the Bicentennial year of our nation’s independence, when the exarchate became the Melkite Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Newton. These same arms have been borne continuously by the Melkite Church in the United States except for a year or two in the late 1980’s when a variation of the same arms was used, but with the placement of the sun and moon at the top of the shield and stripes below. However, the arms reverted to its original granted form after a short period of time and has remained the same since.

The field of a blue shield and thirteen alternating white and red stripes recalls the coat of arms of the United States and the original thirteen colonies. The Eparchy of Newton is headquartered in one of those thirteen colonies and close to the very birthplace of the American Revolution. The resplendent Sun is symbolic of the Christ who is lauded in the ancient vespers hymn “Phos Hilaron” – “O Joyful Light of the Father’s glory.” The sun is further charged with the Greek monogram for Jesus Christ – IC XC. Significantly, for an eparchy with its cathedral dedicated to the Annunciation, a crescent moon in the base is symbolic of the Holy Theotokos (Rev. 12:1) while the letters MR OU are the Greek monograms for the Mother of God.

A heraldic crown surmounts the shield of a Melkite eparchy. Although somewhat reminiscent of the episcopal mitre, the heraldic crown above Melkite patriarchal and eparchial arms is actually more akin to a royal crown and is symbolic of both dignity and jurisdiction. Additionally, the eparchial arms may also be backed with a paterissa – the pastoral staff used by a bishop.

Blason and designs by: Archpriest Lawrence G. Gosselin, USAF (Ret)
 
from.our.bishop

Dear beloved Clergy and Laity,

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

These simple words of greeting which we use for the next forty days speak a celebration of life and an explosion of joy. When we first proclaim them at the Divine Liturgy and the liturgical offices of Pascha we are filled with a new joy, refreshed and renewed even though our bodies may be tired from the long week of the Lord’s passion. All you faithful come: let us adore the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold, through the Cross, joy has come to the world.

Our simple Pascha greeting also has a tremendous meaning for us, for not only is Christ risen, but we are too! We die with Him in Baptism and live with Him in a new life. We die to our selfishness and sins in order to become more and more actual images of Christ as He raises us up from our fallen nature to make us beacons of His life and love. Let us glory in this feast and embrace one another. O brothers and sisters, let us all say: ‘Because of the Resurrection, we forgive all things to those who hate us.’

As new people we no longer fear death for as St. John Chrysostom says in his famous Resurrection homily: the death of our Savior has set us free…Christ is risen and life is freed.

No sooner do we hear these amazing words, take joy in them, and believe them, when we suddenly realize that this Paschal message has not reached millions of people throughout the world. I think of our fellow Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine where war and terror rage on. Surrounded by so much war and opposition, these people may be celebrating Pascha but not so radiantly as we would hope. The message of Christ–love unfailing–has not reached so many people. I can understand how these simple words: “He is truly risen” can seem to announce nothing or proclaim nothing.

Let us in a special way pray for our brothers and sisters under oppression, that God will strengthen their faith in this Paschal event. And let us pray also for the oppressors, “those who hate us,” that God will shine in their hearts a triumphal understanding that love and not hatred conquers all.

We have recently witnessed a great act of love for the Church as Pope Benedict XVI stepped down from his office because of age and frailty–he is truly a man who knows and loves Christ and recognizes his own humanity. And now we welcome His Holiness, Pope Francis, a continued sign of the vitality of the Church, and we rejoice at his enormous acceptance by the world. We offer our prayers for the Pope Emeritus and for our new Holy Father.

I offer to all of you my greetings and love on this glorious feast, and I remind you that you, too, are the witnesses of the Resurrection. As Jesus appeared after His resurrection to Mary Magdalene, to Peter and the other Apostles, to Thomas, and to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He continues to appear today in the hearts of each and every one of you, and He calls you to be the image of “Christ alive” in your surroundings.

He continues to show us the way. In our despair, He continues to be our hope; in our sinfulness, He continues to be our forgiveness; and in our death, He continues to be our life.

And you too, in His joyful image, be the same!

Christ is risen! He is truly risen!

Sincerely yours in the living Christ,

Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Eparchial Bishop of Newton
 
from.our.bishop
The Springtime of Repentance

The Great Fast or Great Lent is a time of preparation for the Feast of Pascha–the Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Historically, the Fast was the final forty days of catechesis in preparation for Christian Initiation. The Church extended this season to all Christians as a time of renewal of our Baptism/Chrismation and of recommitment of our life to Christ. (See introductory article in the upcoming issue of SOPHIA). The focus of Great Lent is on Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving or Good Works. In regard to these things, the Clergy should ask parishioners to observe the minimum fast, but encourage them to do more.

The Traditional Fast

  1. No meat or dairy products are eaten for the entire season of Great Lent. (Although fish with a spine was originally considered meat according to the traditional fast, it has become a fasting food in our Melkite Church for hundreds of years).
  2. No food or drink is taken from midnight until noon (or until Vespers) on all the weekdays of Great Lent (i.e. Monday through Friday).

The Mitigated or Minimum Fast

  1. No meat is eaten on the following days: Monday, February 11, the first day of Lent; all Fridays of Lent (also strongly recommended on Wednesdays); Great and Holy Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, March 28, 29, and 30.
  2. No food or drink is taken from midnight to noon on the following days: Monday, February 11, the first day of Lent; Great and Holy Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, March 28, 29, and 30 (also recommended for each day of Lent).

Liturgical Fast

The Divine Liturgy is not celebrated on the weekdays of Great Lent (i.e. Mondays through Fridays), except on Monday, March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation.

Prayer

Parishioners should be urged to augment their daily personal and family prayer life at home in their “domestic church” and to participate in the liturgical services in church during the week. For example, at home they can pray some of the Little Hours each day, and the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete on the first four days of Lent and on Repentance Thursday of the Fifth Week (available in the Publicans Prayer Book, Sophia Press).

In addition, the following liturgical services should be served in every church each week of the Fast: Great Compline, Presanctified Liturgy, and the Akathist Hymn. The schedule of services should be published in the church bulletin each week.

Spiritual Reading

Parishioners should be encouraged to read and reflect on a passage from the Bible each day. The readings noted for every day of Lent on our eparchial calendar (from Isaiah, Genesis, and Proverbs) are recommended. Other spiritual reading, for example, the classic, Great Lent, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Way of a Pilgrim, or more recently published, First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty Day Journey through the Canon of St. Andrew, by Frederica Mathewes-Green, or other books the Clergy may wish to recommend should be suggested in the parish bulletin.

Almsgiving/Good Works

Parishioners should be urged to become more aware of those in need in their communities. In addition to visiting shut-ins and the sick in hospital, serving the poor, and performing other works of mercy, parishioners should be encouraged to support the Shepherd’s Care collection. The money that is saved by fasting can be put in the mite-boxes every family should receive in all of our churches. After Pascha, I, as the Shepherd of the Eparchy, will distribute these offerings to those in need. I am forming a consolidated charities committee for consultation regarding the distribution of these sacrificial gifts.

Lenten Suppers

Many parishes have the commendable customs of holding Lenten suppers to support charitable causes, as well as holding potluck Lenten meals prior to or following the weekday church services. If one is planned for the Presanctified Liturgy it should take place after the Liturgy and not before so that the Eucharistic Fast may be properly observed.

The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great

The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated on the Sundays of the Great Fast: February 17, 24, and March 3, 10, and 17. If more than one Liturgy is celebrated during the weekend (e.g. Saturday evening vigil or two on Sunday), the Liturgy of St. Basil must be celebrated for each. In addition, the Anaphora Prayer of St. Basil is to be spoken or chanted aloud, just as in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Processions

On the first three Sundays of the Great Fast three processions are called for: with icons, on February 17; with relics, on February 24; and with the Cross, on March 3. Traditionally, these processions take place during the Great Doxology at the end of Orthros, but, in practice, they are often moved to the end of the Divine Liturgy. As another option, the processions may also take place during the Little Entrance with the Gospel in this manner: upon reaching the solea, the priest and deacon remain at the tetrapod (small table), place the items carried in procession (i.e. icons, relics, Cross) upon the tetrapod, incense after the Isodikon, and then the troparia of the Sunday and Feast are sung. On the Sunday of the Cross, March 3, the Ekphonesis and “We bow in worship” are chanted while the priest and deacon remain at the tetrapod, bowing each time it is sung. They return to the sanctuary before the Epistle.

Parish Mission or Retreat

Each parish is asked to schedule a spiritual retreat or mission, during the time of Lent, generally at a convenient time, but not during Holy Week. This may take place on several evenings or on a full weekend (i.e. Friday evening, all day Saturday, concluding on Sunday). A retreat speaker from outside the parish is recommended, and preferably one from our own Eastern tradition or someone very familiar with it. To attract more participants, a light potluck Lenten supper can be offered. All the faithful are called to reflect upon the betterment of their life in Christ and their practice of the Faith.

To all our parishes and missions–to the priests, deacons, religious, subdeacons, readers, and laity, my prayers and best wishes for a happy, healthy and blessed Great Fast. This is the “springtime” for our souls and bodies. This is a time of joy as we strive to become more Christ-like.

I greet you all, as we greet one another after Forgiveness Vespers and on the first day of Great Lent: A blessed Fast! Saome Mubarak!

Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Eparchial Bishop of Newton
 
ecc-2012a
Encounter 2012 of the Eastern Catholic Churches
Midwest-Cleveland, OH – September 20 – 23, 2012
East-Hillsborough, NJ – October 11-14, 2012
West-Los Angeles, CA – November 1-4, 2012

Who Are We as Church Leaders

The New Testament attests to the sacramental leadership of bishops, priests, and deacons. There is no clearly defined “organizational chart” for the Church, but we do see three structural offices which have come down to us in the mystery of the priesthood:

  1. “Elder” (presbyter) was the most general designation, functioning first of all as the ruling council of the local congregation. Later some presbyters would be sent out to oversee rural congregations.
  2. “Bishop” was an overseer, one of the presbyters who was given general responsibilities for the church in a particular city. At first this was probably only one main congregation with perhaps one or two satellites.
  3. “Deacon” means servant or minister and deacons dealt with temporalities and service.

But with these three offices it was necessary to have a congregation. All three offices came from the Laos or laos tou theou – the people of God. From laos we get the word laity. Without them the ministerial offices had no function.

The body of the faithful – the laity, being baptized in Christ and chrismated or anointed in the Spirit become part and parcel of the priesthood – the royal priesthood of Christ. We put on Christ and are sent to be another Christ, called to evangelize and live the Gospel.

Hand in hand the ministerial priesthood, deacon, priest and bishop , and the royal priesthood – the laity – work to build the Body of Christ, the Church.

St Paul presents in imagery a special approach to leadership. In 1 Corinthians 3:10 “Thanks to the favor God showed me. I laid a foundation as a wise master-builder might do, and now someone else is building upon it. Everyone, however, must be careful how he builds.” He presents the builder analogy. The Greek word he uses is architecton from which we get the word architect. Tecton means carpenter. Archi means head – the “headbuilder” is the designer or architect. From this analogy we can see three types of builders/leaders: architect, contractor and carpenter or craftsman.

The builder theme for Paul is basic. He uses the Greek word Oikodomeo – easily understood as a house and fellowship group – a “home.” When Paul talks about building, we hear it as “building fellowship.” Fellowship means community which is much more than superficial interaction.

The architect draws up the plan, focusing on a foundation and a sturdy design. In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul sees the community as “fellow citizens, with the saints and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together as a community to become a dwelling place in which God lives by his Spirit.” In Ephesians 4:12, he says “to prepare saints for works of service, for building up of the Body of Christ.”

Paul acted as a contractor: he sorted out and prioritized contributions (1 Corinthians 8:1, 14:22-26) He recognized the diversity of gifts; (1 Corinthians 12:4-12) “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord, there different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. “The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body; and so it is with Christ. … Now the body is not one member, it is many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” would it then no longer belong to the body? If the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” would it then no longer belong to the body? If the body were all eye, what would happen to our hearing? If it were all ear, what would happen to our smelling? As it is, God has set each member of the body in the place he wanted it to be. If all the members were alike, where would the body be? There are indeed many different members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” any more than the head can say to the feet, “I do not need you. Even those members of the body which seem less important are in fact indispensable… If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy. You, then are the body of Christ. Every one of you is a member of it. Furthermore, God has set up in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, healers, assistants, administrators, and those who speak in tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles or have the gift of healing? Do all speak in tongues, all have the gift of interpretation of tongues? Set your hearts on the greater gifts. He exhorted members to contribute their part as well as possible (Rom 12) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and not all the members have the same function, so too we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another. We have gift that differ according to the favor bestowed on each of us. One’s gift may be prophecy; its use should be in proportion to his faith. It may be the gift of ministry; it should be used for service. One who is a teacher should use his gift for teaching; one with the power of exhortation should exhort. He who gives alms should do so generously; he who rules should exercise his authority with care; he who performs works of mercy should do so cheerfully.”

And Paul was a carpenter or hands-on builder. He evangelized, exhorted a house group in Philippi (1 Corinthians 12); he healed at Lystra (Acts 14:8-10); preached in Corinth (Acts 18:5); baptized in Ephesus (Acts 19:5); Taught daily in Tyrannus (Acts 19:9); celebrated the Lord’s supper in Troas (Acts 20:7-11).

He passed on the hands-on building to others when he went to prison.

This building analogy helps us understand the different leadership roles needed to build up today’s Church.

Christian Leadership: Service

From our tradition then, Christian leadership is connected with being created in the image of God. Because mankind is in the image of the Creator, he is the leader of creation (Genesis 1:26,28): “Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” (Psalm 8:6-7) “You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet:” The same exists in the marriage ceremony – husband and wife are crowned to do God’s work, particularly in their kingdom, the family.

Christ, the perfect image of the Father, portrays leadership as servanthood (Mark 10:42-45) “Jesus called them together and said to them: “You know how among the Gentiles those who seem to exercise authority lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest; whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all. The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve-to give his life in ransom for the many.” At the supper before his passion: “After he had washed their feet, he put his cloak back on and reclined at table once more. He said to them: “Do you understand what I just did for you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and fittingly enough, for that is what I am. But if I washed your feet- I who am Teacher and Lord-then you must wash each other’s feet. What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do. I solemnly assure you, no slave is greater than his master; no messenger outranks the one who sent him. Once you know all these things, blest will you be if you put them into practice.” (John 13:12-17) Christ led by serving His Father’s purposes: we imitate Him if we are more assertive of His will than our own. He washed his apostles’ feet and told them that they too had to do likewise, true servanthood.

Our Blueprint is God-given

The New Testament term for the Church, also used directly in our Divine Liturgy, is the “community in or of the Holy Spirit.” This evokes a pattern of relationships with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and with our fellow believers.

In Acts 2:42-47, Communal Life – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and the communal life to the breaking of bread and the prayers. … Those who believed shared all things in common; they would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one’s need. They went to the temple area together every day, while in their homes they broke bread. With exultant and sincere hearts they took their meals in common, praising God and winning the approval of all the people. Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Here we find our blueprint to be Church. We are meant to be a people growing together in worship, learning, fellowship, and service. This is all held together by the “mortar” of the sacramental leadership. When we do this and balance out these four tasks we are evangelizing and we welcome others into the Body of Christ. This is God’s blueprint or “mission statement” for the Church – We need no other. The people of God, clergy and lay, all share in making this blueprint work.

We must constantly be aware of God’s vision for the Church and His vision must become our vision too.

In a book New Designs for Church Leadership by David S Luecke, we see that we need to build a full-bodied fellowship. We are building what the New Testament and the Divine Liturgy calls “the community in the Holy Spirit,” living according to the pattern of the Apostolic Church in Acts. This involves all the interactions that a gathering of Christians have with God and each other – it is the basic identity of Church.

The primary dimension is the vertical: our relationship to the Father through Jesus Christ, who has given us the Holy Spirit. This relationship is then shared and therefore made real by the way we conduct our horizontal relationships: those with our fellow believers.

Applying this to God’s design or blueprint: a fellowship can be full-bodied in three ways:

  1. In vertical relationships, participating in the fullness of God’s presence (full cycle of liturgical services, spiritual direction, prayer ministry).
  2. In horizontal relationships, involving most members in lively interaction.
  3. In horizontal functions, being active in the full range of community functions: worship, nurture, service and witnessing.

The “building challenge” for each of the kind of fellowships identified earlier is:

  1. Sacramental: to increase liturgical and spiritual life in the community.
  2. Serving: to realize a greater commitment to outreach: works of mercy, works of justice, witnessing.
  3. Occasional: to develop relationships in a nominal community.
  4. Full-bodied: to reach for the heights of Christ’s full stature.

This is the organizational tool for building community. The purpose of the leadership structure in the community is to shape and protect the Church as a community committed to God’s blueprint.

Our leadership must be Kingdom centered. The Kingdom of God is here and now. We need to be in accord with God’s vision for the Church, not what we think or want is best, or what society tells us or even what pop psychology or the latest management techniques suggest, but by the vision of the Kingdom of God.

When we learned the Lord’s Prayer at the age of five, we learned to say “Thy Kingdom come.” The kingdom is where God rules, where His way is the norm, where His will comes first: absolutely in heaven. This will only be fully manifested at the second coming, but it is here and now by our cooperation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This manifests the assembly or ecclesia – the people of God gathered to do God’s will.

In our own personal life or business life as well as the Kingdom of God, we must ask “What does God want?” The Lord says “seek first, the Kingdom, then the rest will be given you.”

For putting the Kingdom first we don’t make plans or decisions without seeking God’s direction. And we don’t implement without insistent prayer for the community.

Our Mission as Church Leaders – the Building Process.

In 1 Peter 2:4-5 the Church is described as a spiritual house erected out of living stones (the members of the community). “As you come to Him, the living stones… you also, like living stones, are being built as a fellowship into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Peter uses the same word as Paul does, translated here “to build a spiritual community or house.” A house means a household.

The reference to stones means not something inanimate, but the raw material for the building. Peter uses the term “living stone”, probably better translated as ‘lively stone” to describe anyone who has come to life in Christ, anyone who is saved. I think “lively “is better than “living” because it seems to have action in it. “Living” can be a lazy lump – living but not lively. The life from Christ makes people into living raw material that can be built into a spiritual house.

The first step of church leadership for mission is the evangelism work of spreading the Word of salvation so people come alive in Christ and are thus able to be in the spiritual house of the church.

But the mission is not finished when people become living stones through a church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament. That’s the start and other “stones” are necessary. Passive stones are waiting to be put in place. Lively stones have initiative. Inactive (maybe dead) stones are distant from fellowship interaction that their life in the body (and perhaps even in Christ) is to all appearances dead. Cornerstones help establish where the rest of the material will be placed, help turn a corner or set a new direction for church life.

The Building Process

So the building process is by moving inward and upward. As a leader you must help people move inward toward believing participation in the community (from outsider or inactive stone to participant) is important, and to move upward (from passive stones toward participation in more lively interaction).

The first conviction is to make church leadership a compelling mission: it is better in the Church than being outside. This is the work of evangelical outreach. It implies that churches should grow outward in numbers.

The second conviction to make community building a compelling mission is that more interaction within the community is better than less. Hebrews 10: 24-25 “We must consider how to rouse each other to love and good deeds. We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do, but encourage one another; and this all the more because you see that the Day draws near.”

The concept of community includes all the sharing that members do in worship, personal growth, service or witnessing. Lively community life is the preferred direction. This can be compared to shallow or even inactive community life. The building challenge is to move inactive stones in, passive stones to become lively, and some lively stones to become cornerstones.

Church leadership must go beyond responding to the felt needs of parishioners (the law of supply and demand). It must seek to:

  1. Elevate members’ consciousness of God’s purposes, presence and power – the Kingdom of God.
  2. Help members grow beyond their self-interest to gain a greater commitment to God and the Church.

The process of building commitment may be called “incorporation” – being formed into one body.

  1. Incorporation into the Body of Christ is first of all, God’s work.
  2. Incorporation next depends on the willingness of members to be in visible contact with other believers.
  3. This contact must transcend the individual’s personal needs.
  4. This contact must also transcend short-term goals.

The first avenue for consistency is a commitment to mutually support one another in our faith: Hebrews 10:24-25 “We must consider how to rouse each other to love and good deeds. We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do, but encourage one another; and this all the more because you see that the Day draws near.” Ephesians 5:19-20 “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and inspired songs. Sing praise to the Lord with all your hearts. Give thanks to God the Father always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs.”

A renewed commitment by the leadership to personal spiritual growth and mutual support is a prerequisite for expanding the community.

An extended leadership for the parish can develop out of those in the parish who are committed to their own spiritual growth.

Responsible Stewardship of the Parish’s Gifts and of our Personal Gifts

As I come close to closing this presentation I touch briefly on how all this can be done – I call this Stewardship – probably another topic for a weekend encounter like this one.

From the beginning, God made man and woman stewards or managers of creation, giving them “dominion over the work of his hands:” not so that we can exploit it but that we can return it to God in thanksgiving. We are responsible, not only for the material treasures we have, but for the intangibles, such as our time, and relationship with God and our life in the Church as well. Stewardship in the parish involves discerning what gifts God has blessed it with, and building on those gifts for the growth of the community. Planning involves recognizing what God has given and expanding on those gifts for the sake of the Kingdom.

Leadership being connected with being created in the image of God, We now have this God-given capacity to lead – we are stewards or managers of creation. Our purpose as human beings is to manage creation for God, to be stewards of creation. Stewardship is at the heart of being human.

Being a responsible steward means: a) that we are aware that everything is the Lord’s, not ours to do with as we will; and b) that we are to care for it responsibly and intelligently in His name, not to exploit or waste it.

Stewardship exists on the personal level: how I manage my own resources: children, food, money, material goods in a consumerist society which is dedicated to consumption and opposed to stewardship.

Spiritual stewardship involves being responsible for the spiritual gifts we have received, including the life of the parish community, the Body of Christ.

Stewardship is the bottom-line principle of Christian living.

Now let me apply that to the community. Every church, like every believer, has specific gifts from God, to enable it to witness to God’s presence in an effective way. Not all communities are the same; the strengths of one may not be the strengths of another. One will stress one aspect of the blueprint while in a second parish another of these aspects will dominate.

The first thing we must do in long-range planning for the parish is to discern and recognize the central strengths in its life (for example: good liturgy, social concern, a supportive fellowship). They are there because God has enabled the community to develop them and so affirming them is to recognize that the Holy Spirit has been at work in the parish. They indicate what God is calling us to do as a community.

Once the community has claimed its strengths, it should decide on new ways to expand these strengths: to build on its strengths, not its weaknesses. Thus, if your parish has good liturgy, you may encourage people to develop a program to share that liturgy via video media to the homebound or to arrange for Cable TV broadcasts of that liturgy.

The next is to plan and see what foundational steps you and your parish have and to develop a five to seven year plan. Here the basic question is “What is God calling us to do for his Kingdom?”

Strategic planning is necessary for a parish. It is the application of God’s will for us. It is an indication of the community’s commitment to the careful stewardship of what God has given it.

Planning requires vision: God’s vision for us to build His Church.

We aren’t finished yet! Promise of Leadership Training Programs.

I have available for all of you a Leadership Training Program from my Eparchy. It is set up for a weekend of five sessions – each session is up to two hours in length with a facilitator’s guide and participant work sheets for each session. It also includes posters for the themes of each session.

The facilitator’s guide is quite dynamic in approach with structured presentations and whole group and small group discussions with some Bible study.

I recommend that it is be used in groups of several parishes together rather than just one parish, although this is possible.

Anyone interested, please give me your name and contact information and I can make the program available to you free of charge – by email also, much preferred. If you want a printed form there will be a slight charge for reproduction and mailing.

A second resource is a small book by Anthony Coniaris: “The Eye Cannot Say to the Hand “I have No Need of You.” From Light and Life Publishing Co, Minneapolis, MN 20005

Part One: “What Does it Mean to be members of the Body of Christ.”

Part Two: Laity and Hierarchy: Their respective roles as members of the Body of Christ.

Part Three: Syndiaconia, The Shared Role of the Hierarchy and Laity in the Church.

Fr. Coniaris in his simple short reflections touches strongly on the role of each person in the Body of Christ.

Can we do all this? Can you do all this? Yes you can because you, each and every one of you, are a special gift of God. God made you, God gives you the gifts and God will guide you to develop His Kingdom – Be all that you can be.

 
from.our.bishop

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

My greetings on the glorious feast of Christ’s birth in the flesh are intermingled below with texts from the beautiful Office for the Forefeast of the Nativity.

The exquisite prayers from this Office of the Forefeast of Christ’s Nativity reveal the profound meaning of this feast, why God allows His Son, Jesus Christ, to enter into our world: Bethlehem, make ready, for Eden has been opened for all. Ephrata, be alert, for the Tree of Life has blossomed forth from the Virgin in a cave. Her womb has become a spiritual Paradise wherein the divine Fruit was planted–and if we eat it, we shall live and not die like Adam. Christ is coming forth to bring back to life the likeness that had been lost in the beginning.

By His own will, Christ comes to serve him whose form He now assumes. By his mercy in the richness of His divinity, He grants poor Adam a second birth, a wondrous restoration. Christ assumes our humanity to show us love, to love us, to share our nature so that once again we may share and live the divine life. We are fragile people; we fall into sin over and over again. But Christ draws near, bearing our flesh, and granting to all a divine rebirth through the Spirit.

When we look to our world we still see so much brokenness, even the prospect for peace looks bleak. The Middle East, birthplace of Christ and our Church and many of our ancestors, is war-torn with people dying each day because of political struggles and insecurities. The good news of Christ in the flesh in each and every Christian needs to be proclaimed louder and clearer. We call all to the love of God who sent His Son to redeem us from the bondage of the enemy. He delivers us who were made subject to corruption. Jesus is our only hope! On earth form choirs worthy of God. Christ, the great and mighty Prince, is born: the King of heaven appears on earth! God is no longer far away from us: The inaccessible God has made Himself accessible to me in the compassion of his heart. In His good will, He draws near to be born in the flesh as a man from the young Virgin in the city of Bethlehem… Now God is near, and He lives in each one of us who believe. We are the Bethlehem where He needs to be born: Bethlehem is within us. We are the new Paradise, and we need more and more to manifest Christ to our world: our immediate family, our friends and acquaintances, our communities where we work and where we worship, and to the world at large. If each one of us could be more Christ-like the world would be a better place in which to live.

Behold Christ is coming to overcome the Evil One, to bring light to the souls in darkness, and to break their bonds. Let us go out now to meet Him. As you meet Christ in this feast, extinguish your selfishness and provide a remedy…for abundant healing for all the world! Let the gifts of the Magi–gold, frankincense, and myrrh–be transformed in each of us to become gifts of faith, hope and love. During this year of faith, proclaimed by my Pope Benedict XVI, let us refocus our lives in conformity with the person of Jesus Christ. Let us strengthen our faith in this great mystery which the Father had determined from all ages…God becomes man, taking flesh from the Virgin. The uncreated One allows Himself to be created. He remains what He is; yet become what He was not: Christ the King of Israel is coming to the world.

The wall of separation has been torn down. The powers of heaven are joined to mankind; the angels celebrate in the company of mortals. With a pure heart, let us approach the spotless One, contemplating the Virgin who has become the cherubic throne, holding the God whom no space can contain and carrying the One who is carried in awe by the Cherubim. He does this to grant us great mercy.

Like the Virgin Theotokos we must all give flesh to Christ by the way we live and speak and act. Through Mary, the Son of God became man for us, so that through Him we might ourselves become divine, children of God the Father by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

I urge you to welcome Christ in each person you meet, to find Him in yourself and really feel His rebirth in your heart as you love and serve one another.

My love, prayers, and blessings to my entire flock, the Church of Newton, as we celebrate God in the flesh, Emmanuel, for truly God is with us!

Sincerely Yours in Christ God,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton
 
from.our.bishop
Christ is among us! He is and always will be!

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

Sincerely Yours in Christ our God,
Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton

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