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Priest-investor explains how the Parable of the Talents holds key to wealth

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Father Lemelson offers insider information on how to capitalize on what we're given.

A Greek Orthodox priest who is active in helping investors realize their financial goals has some advice: listen closely to the Gospel.

In particular, there are two parables that Christian investors should pay attention to: the Talents and the Prodigal Son, says Father Emmanuel Lemelson.

 

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Both are well-known, even to folks who don’t go to church regularly, but they contain vital lessons for those who want to realize a good return, Father Lemelson maintains.

The priest offered his “insider Talent information” at the First Annual Stowe Conference for Charity, which was organized by his firm, Lemelson Capital Management.

In the Parable of the Talents, he said, found in Matthew 25:14-30, “the financial languae is unambiguous” in the literal meaning of the Greek original for “he traded with” the five talents.

Speaking to a gathering April 1 at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, Father Lemelson wondered aloud whether there is a contradiction between the two images of God in the parables: the demanding Master who denied any further privileges to the third servant, and the father who displayed great mercy toward the Prodigal Son, who also wasted his “talents,” albeit in a different way.

The problem with the third servant, who was too afraid to trade with the one talent he received, was his dishonesty, however.

“God cannot accept this sort of lukewarm wasting of talents—because it’s dishonest,” the priest said. “At least the [Prodigal Son] was intellectually honest: ‘Give me my inheritance. You’re as good as dead,’ [he told his father before he went off and spent it all on loose living]. But the third servant was not nearly as honest.”

Christians should not be ashamed about trying to invest their money and making as much as possible, he said. “In fact, I would submit it’s one of the best ways to glorify God.” But it must not be done merely for the sake of accumulating wealth.

“If we don’t use those talents to glorify God—if those talents become an end in themselves,” Father Lemelson said, “it will always lead to a crisis. Money can be misused in so many different ways, beyond gratifying desires, to put one man up against another, to gratify an ego.” We are seeing it today, he said, citing recent headlines of Wall Street investors paying for $1,000-an-hour escorts, for example.

The difference is in the attitude one takes toward wealth. “Unless you see capital, in whatever form it comes, as something that was given to you freely, and which you are to be a steward over, it is impossible that it will not lead to a crisis,” Father Lemelson said. “If there’s any question about the fact that the capital we are entrusted with is a free gift of a transcendent God, … when we see it from that higher standpoint you say, ‘I’m entrusted with this capital. Why?’ For the good you would do with it.”

Practically speaking, then, a Christian investor should ignore what Father Lemelson calls a false dichotomy between trying to get a high rate of return and wanting to avoid risking the loss of one’s initial investment. That’s the fear of the third servant.

“In my experience talking with people, there’s almost a paralysis that comes with having any degree of capital, any degree of talents,” he said. “There’s a fear of losing what one has. But why should that fear exist? There’s nowhere in the parable where the master says ‘By the way, don’t take risks with those talents.’ … The wise thing is to allocate capital without fear, with the perspective that we’re stewards over that capital. Why? To do the good beyond ourselves. For your neighbor.”

That leads to an attitude in which one is better prepared to exercise Christian charity, he continued. “It’s easy to give when you realize that everything you have you’ve received freely,” he said. “If the one talent we have is buried out of fear, we’re never going to get to charity.”

Lemelson Capital Management is a private investment management firm whose flagship fund is The Amvona Fund. Amvona, Father Lemelson pointed out, is Greek for “pulpit.” His work managing funds, in fact, gives him a platform to address more spiritual issues.

I never expected this would give me a chance to speak to so many people, all over the world,” he said. The investment work is “a way to demonstrate what I’m talking about.”

 

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