Dear Brother Archons:
At the National Council meeting held last week on March 13th at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Conference Room, our Secretary, Archon John Halecky, Jr. brought to my attention a poignant and most compelling sermon on stewardship that appeared in the official bimonthly magazine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Archdiocese of the United States. The homily entitled "For What Should It Profit a Man If He Should Gain the Whole World and Lose His Soul." As brother Archons throughout America are asked to offer their donation of Archon Stewardship to the Exarch's Appeal, please read the powerful sermon below which was written by a humble priest who served the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese for over 60 years.
For What Shall It Profit A Man To Gain The Whole World
And Lose His Soul?
by Rev. John A. Limberakis (1925-2010)
Our sacred Christian faith, properly interpreted and preached in our midst, was never intended, of course, to soothe or to coddle the moral ills and failures of man. On the contrary, the truly Christian message is a challenging message and not the sweet spiritual lullaby that lulls us to sleep, as some of us have taken the words of Christ.
If the truths of God embarrass us and irritate us, cause us to feel guilty for our wrong doings, then we really ought to rejoice because the Word of God is apparently penetrating the thick shell of our religious indifference and we can therefore hope that in due time, at least, the challenge will be met.
The Son of God was not made man to be subsequently reduced only to a saintly vagabond or a simple story teller to be followed by innocent children or simple minded people and old folks. He came to deliver His Saving Message with His Own Blood. He came to jolt us out of our lethargy, to disturb our false tranquility, to awaken us from a deep sleep that had numbed and paralyzed our moral vigilance, the lethargy that saps away and deteriorates the character and integrity of man, that destroys the possibility of his ever becoming a citizen of God's Heavenly Kingdom.
So jolting was the Lord's message to the Jews and Romans of His time that after three short missionary years in Palestine, His voice was silenced by force, only to make His resounding words echo forever in the great span of time, centuries and centuries.
Well, you can imagine the thoughts that must have run through the minds of His audience when the Lord Jesus Christ was prompted one day to say, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God," and "For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."
The first reaction to these words of our Lord is probably a jolting one, because it might be inferred here by the fault finders that God condemns the wealthy, or that God will not permit the rich to inherit His Heavenly Kingdom. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, if only we will take the time to explore the implications of this revelation uttered by Christ.
Money and wealth of and by itself, its overabundance or complete absence in one's life, can never become a determining factor, whether or not we shall be deemed worthy to inherit God's Kingdom. The Lord sought simply to emphasize how terribly difficult it would be for people of more than average means to gain Eternal and Everlasting Life, difficult because of the distractions, the great temptations, the false sense of security that wealth invariably creates in the mind of the beholder. You've seen what this sort of temporal independence has done to otherwise pious and God-fearing men and women in our society.
The revelation of Christ is issued as a fair warning, particularly to those of us who, dominated by worldly possessions, have over-emphasized the value of materialism and who have long forgotten the real meaning of life, now and in the hereafter.
When the Lord Jesus Christ said, "How difficult it is ...," He was confronted then by a certain man completely possessed by his material wealth. And despite his wealth he did nothing to alleviate community problems, nothing to encourage noble works. Nothing moved him, neither the needs of the suffering and indigent, nor the misery of the afflicted. Surrounded by his riches, he remained content and unperturbed.
In the race for worldly goods, the man forgot that money and wealth are merely the means to an end, but never the end itself; an instrument to be employed with prudence if we are to climb the ladder of our moral and spiritual enrichment, with acts of mercy and deeds of compassion.
In the race for worldly possessions, the man forgot that God and God alone raises mortal beings to the rank of Steward and as a true Steward of God he is thus commissioned to spread some comfort beyond the limited realm of his own ego and his selfish circle.
What man will claim one, single talent, or virtue that did not come to him from Heaven? What man can honestly say he made it all the way on his own, with no help from anyone, even God? The man who will, is a mortal fool, because what we are, what we hope to be, is but achieved through the Grace of God Who has surrounded us with His Divine Providence and Who has endowed us from the first moment of our conception with countless talents that make us what we are finally.
All these material things, therefore, money, security, worldly goods, the finest and most luxurious that man can own, all these things are but a means to an end, the end finally being our inheritance of God's Heavenly Kingdom -- utilizing the things at our disposal according to God's Will and Divine Commandments. You see, then, how responsible wealth can make man suddenly. How shall he react to it, if he is to prove himself a worthy Steward of God?
You recall the parable of the rich man whose land produced more than his warehouses could hold? He tore them down only to expand them for the surplus. And just as he was settling down one night to relax it was suddenly all over. All his ingenuity couldn't prevent his death. He died just as he began to enjoy life. Yes, of all the material comforts that we acquire, how long can the best last? Hardly long enough when one day we shall be called to leave everything behind, either to continue the good for which it was employed, or the evil, either to honor our memory or to disgrace it.
When the Lord Jesus Christ was prompted to say, "How difficult it is ...," let us appreciate the purpose for which these prophetic words were said. All the good things in his world are granted to man by God but not to be spent selfishly but spent prudently in God's name, furthering God's work in society, in addition to satisfying our own personal needs and wants.
This stewardship, therefore, places a heavy responsibility upon those who are extraordinarily favored by God. These wealthy people have been chosen by Divine Providence to serve in this world as instruments of God's love, compassion and goodness. The needs are many all crying out for attention.
And day by day we draw closer and closer to that threshold that divides this life from the next, and each of us has been born to cross that threshold.
What then will be the record of our stewardship when the grand total is drawn? "For what shall it profit a man," the Lord says, "to gain the whole world and to lose his soul?"
Fr. John A. Limberakis (1925-2010) was an exemplary priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for over 60 years having shepherded four parishes into building houses of worship. A dynamic homilist and liturgist; a devoted husband of 60 years, a loving father, grandfather and great grandfather, he always supported and defended the Mother Church of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. His remarkable and pioneering ministry will long be remembered by the thousands of lives and souls who were comforted by his loving pastoral care.
I am profoundly proud and humbled that this devoted servant of our Lord and Savior was my beloved Father and role model par excellence. Eternal be his memory. AJL