Christ is among us! He is and always will be!
My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
“Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch:” these words which Our Lord spoke to His apostles in today’s Gospel symbolize the mission He is to give them, namely to make them “fishers of men,” sending them out into the midst of the world to bring all people into the saving net of the Church. These words of our Lord are as relevant and necessary today, as they were in the time of Jesus. For our world is in great need of the saving message of the Gospel at this moment in history.
Our secular culture casts God aside with renewed vigor and seeks desperately after every kind of fleeting pleasure and self-indulgence; all the while forgetting the “one thing needful,” which is the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. In our own country, the very freedom of the Church to preach this Gospel of love, guaranteed by our Constitution, is under assault. In the Middle East, the violent persecution and systematic elimination of Christians from their ancient homelands shocks the conscience of the world. We receive, almost daily, reports of atrocities committed against innocent Christians in the very homelands of our Church, in a return to the barbarism of the 7th century where Christians are beheaded, crucified, and enslaved by a self-declared Islamic caliphate for no other reason than they believe the True Faith. Especially now, Christ our God speaks these bold words to His Church: “Put out into the deep and lower your nets.”
In such a troubled world and culture, in the face of such odds, we might well respond to the Lord’s command with the frustration and weariness of St. Peter in today’s Gospel: “Lord, we have been at this for so long and have caught nothing.” How long must Your Church labor in such a world? How can we preach the Gospel when it seems that everywhere we turn, the enemies of God are ready to attack?
But we, too, are called to the same faith and trust in the Lord, which St. Peter showed when he responded: “But Lord, if You say so, I will lower the net.” And when they had lowered their nets, as the Lord commanded, so great was the catch that their nets were filled to the breaking point. And, the Gospel tells us, “They were amazed!” Indeed, they were amazed at what could be accomplished when they put their trust in Christ and not in themselves.
Our Lord is teaching us an important lesson today. He did not simply make fish miraculously jump into their boat. Rather, Jesus required their effort; He required them to go out again and lower their nets, in order to show forth His Divine power. St. Peter’s personal sacrifice and willingness—reluctant perhaps—was the condition Jesus required to perform His miracle.
Truly, the Lord is calling His Church, you and me, to do the same today. To trust, not in our own power, but to rely upon the victory over evil and sin He has already accomplished for us upon the Cross. The Lord is calling us to unite our own personal sacrifice with His Divine power to “put out into the deep” of our stormy world. “Be not afraid” He tells Peter, and Peter left everything to follow Him. Such is the power of Christ’s call!
And so, my brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to bring the saving Gospel of Christ to the world in which you live. When all seems dark, when the Church’s efforts appear to be futile, it is precisely at this time that the saving truth and love of Christ is most needed. Especially at this time, we must let our light—the light of Christ—shine in the darkness.
And so, I come to you in these troubled times to seek your generous financial assistance to bring the light of Christ to the people we serve. When we view the needs of our Church in America in light of those of our suffering brethren in the Middle East, we cannot but give thanks that the Lord has spared us the suffering they endure, and we cannot but be moved to support them in whatever way we are able. And so, again this year, we will tithe, or give ten percent of all the monies collected in the Bishop’s Appeal for the relief of our persecuted and suffering fellow Christians in the Middle East, as well as for charitable works in our own country. I am pleased to report that, from last year’s Bishop’s Appeal, our Melkite Eparchy in America has sent over $36,000 to His Beatitude, Patriarch Gregorios III, bringing the total sent to the Middle East by our Eparchy for charitable and refugee assistance to $250,000! His Beatitude made special mention of his deep appreciation for this at the Synod of Bishops in Lebanon last June.
In addition, we are forming a Consolidated Melkite Charity Fund with a committee of several clergy and laity to oversee it: 60% of the charity funds will be distributed here in America to worthy causes, and 40% will be sent abroad to our Mother Church in need. This will also include Shepherd’s Care–your fasting savings during Great Lent.
And so, my beloved Melkite flock, your financial support is absolutely essential! Your gifts to the Bishop’s Appeal help us continue the work we have begun of revitalizing the adult religious education program of our Eparchy. I know many of you have already taken part in the new instructional programs offered around the Eparchy and on-line by our office of Educational Services. In addition, your gifts to the Bishop’s Appeal support the continued publication and distribution of SOPHIA magazine, which is an important means of unity in our Church, bringing to the homes of all our faithful enlightening articles and teachings about our Melkite faith and news from our parishes around the country. Your contributions to the Appeal also fund our deacon formation program and support our seminarians in their studies for the holy Priesthood. When there are needs in our struggling missions, your generous gifts provides for them, and they also support our elderly priests who have served our Church so faithfully for so many years.
When you receive my appeal letter at home, please do not delay. I ask you to be as generous as you possibly can in responding to the needs of our Church and our suffering brothers and sisters. Your sacrifice made with a loving heart is indeed a pleasing offering in the sight of God.
May our heavenly Father reward your generosity with His abundance. And may the Most Holy Theotokos, our “watchful Protectress and our unfailing Hope,” be close to all those who suffer for their faith in Christ, especially in the ancestral homelands of our Melkite Church. With my prayers and blessing, I remain
Your Father and Shepherd,
✠ Most Reverend Nicholas J. Samra
Bishop of Newton