If you’ve never read St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians you really should. Paul is addressing something disturbing that he’s heard, that there is someone preaching a different gospel than what was given to them originally, a person who is telling the Galatians they must be circumcised to be actual Christians. It’s a beautiful letter, full wonderful testimony of Paul’s story and his exhortations to the church in Galatia not to fall into the trap of trying to fulfil the Law, but rather to fall into the promise of God, the fulfillment of the Law, that being Christ Jesus. It’s in this Epistle that we learn the fruits of the Spirit and how they differ from the fruits of the flesh. We’re called not to be slaves to the law but a new creation in Christ!ij The passage we read today, which is the closing of the Epistle, says as much.

14 But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

But what we’re missing is St. Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians at the beginning of chapter 6, which is helpful for us even today.

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (1-3, 9-10)

First, we’re called to restore the broken

St. Paul here is telling the community on how to help someone in the community. Look around you and think about someone who has maybe fallen away from our community. How were they estranged from us? Or how about people we know who are hurting, even if it’s by their own actions? What could we do to fix it? Sometimes it just takes an honest conversation, but many times all that needs to happen is a loving ear. St. Paul tells his people to restore those who are in trespass with gentleness. But this is also a reminder to us to forgive people who may have done something to us. We who claim to be united to Christ have the greater responsibility to forgive. Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us is what we recite every Sunday during the Lord’s Prayer – who might you be able to restore and forgive this week?

Second, we’re called to bear one another’s burdens

Sometimes life gets stressful, and most of the time that’s life, we’re able to handle life as it comes. But sometimes things get burdensome and more difficult to cope with. As Ringo Starr ‘gets by with a little help from his friends’ so too are we able to cope by the help of someone.  And a lot of times it’s not something incredibly difficult to help. It might be something as simple as letting someone vent, or offering to watch someone’s kids for an hour or two so the person can focus on the problems, but again, most of the time sharing in that burden costs you little but has such a great effect on them. I’ve shared this before but St. Porphyrios says that if a good thought comes to you to do, you ought to do it because it’s the urging of the Holy Spirit. Who do you know who has a burden that needs help this week?

Third, we’re called to refrain from boasting

This is an easier one. How many of us have suffered the embarrassment of telling someone how good you are at something only to fail miserably? When I lived in Boston I could speak Greek at about a 7 or 8-year-old level and I got on OK. While I was in Houston I was bragging to the people that I could order our supper in Greek, and, because I don’t speak Greek all that much down here, I failed miserably! It was awful and incredibly embarrassing. This is just a small example, but it reminds me to not boast in anything that I do. As your priest I want to boast about you, I want you all to boast about one another, but we really shouldn’t boast for ourselves; let our actions speak for us. We’re always more forgiving of someone who’s making mistakes and apologetic, but it becomes more difficult from someone who’s cocky or over-confident. Brothers and sisters, let us be humble in our endeavors.

Fourth, we’re called to remain encouraged in good works

St. Paul understood that being a Christian is hard work. It’s not just as the humanists say that we just need to be nice people. It’s not just that we’re called to make people happy. No, as Christians we have a much higher duty, not just to help one another but to seek a deeper relationship in Christ Jesus. That can be hard, even depressing or despair-causing, sometimes. St. Paul tells us to keep encouraged as we’re reaping eternal life!

One thing this reminds me of is the work that the IOCC does, and how it requires, at its most basic point, humility and love. They endure so many different things (stuff being said to them, being impressed upon by either displaced people or the bigger organizations, and having to hear incredibly sad stories) and none of it can be endured without humility and love. We have to adopt this for our own lives and recognize the hurt around us, and with that same humility and love, the light of Christ, help those around us.

While I was still in seminary I, along with other seminarians from the US Orthodox seminaries, was able to participate in a rebuilding effort in New Orleans with the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). It was an incredible time, and I learned an awful lot about drywall from the Habitat For Humanity guys. Leading our group was Dan Christopulos, the US representative for the IOCC, and he told us all about the great work the IOCC does around the world, and their US-based emergency response group called Frontline. These folks are incredible, going into disaster areas and providing emotional and spiritual support as well as helping with muck out / clean up. I wanted to join up but wasn’t able to get in until 2015. So far I’ve only represented IOCC here in WV during the floods of 2016, and even then it was 10 or 12 days after the actually event.Continue reading

I was going through the used books section of Goodwill the other day when a title popped out at me. It was by a well-to-do Christian businessman, titled How to make a Hell of a Lot of Profit and Still Go to Heaven. It was a guide for ethical money making. Whether his argument is good, I can’t say, but it certainly hearkens to Christ’s words today regarding those who are rich, and the seemingly impossible task that rich people have in obtaining salvation. Christ isn’t mincing word here, there’s no explaining it away, and a preliminary assessment seems to support the claim.Continue reading

 

With the recent events in Charlottesville our parish has been having a lot of discussions, be it about race, forgiveness, or fact checking Confederate generals. In the discussions there is one fact that never changes, and that’s that there is no room for racism or hatred in the Orthodox Christian Church (even being condemned in the 19th century). We can be worried, concerned, scared, or anything else but we must reject any kind of language that blanket blames any race or group of people. It’s certainly uncomfortable to consider that we have to forgive white supremacists or the violent antifa people, but if Christ can forgive the men brutalizing him then at the very least we can discuss forgiving hateful people.

There is also a lot of discussion here in the city, both physically in public and also on Facebook, most recently on a Black Lives Matter rally held at the Capitol. Some of the comments regarding rally on a news page make incredible assertions, ranging from blacks being lazy, to having too many babies, to draining all the welfare from the state, and so on. Some people rose up against those comments, but that particular page is just one example. And to be honest I hear a lot of these similar remarks in places that I frequent, from people I associate with through different activities or clubs. It’s astounding that in a state so heavily identified as Christian that I encounter so many people placing blame on black or Mexican people. Anyway, once I saw those Facebook comments about “all the babies” I did some poking around for census data to see what they have to say vs. how people perceive reality. Although I assumed a lot of what I learned, the numbers were pretty surprising.Continue reading

Just before I was ordained I was talking to the webmaster for the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, and he told me when he was ordained his son was just a little baby. And he always thought of his baby boy as a metaphor for his own priesthood, that is, when he was ordained he was just a baby priest, and he also developed as his son developed. It’s an apt example, and I still use it to this day, because in a lot of ways when I celebrated my one-year anniversary to the priesthood I was just feeling like I got the hang of walking without having to hold onto something. This metaphor works with virtually everything from lawyers to woodworkers; we’re all developing in our respective fields.

That being said I really would like to start writing again, putting my sermons and other thoughts on here as they come up. My goal is to write at least once a week and them maybe increase from there. I don’t deign to place myself among the proverbial pantheon of superstar Orthodox bloggers, though!

60While there are a few things that will make for a smooth Divine Liturgy, for me, having a good loaf of prosforo is clutch. The rub is is that everyone’s grandmother has her own recipe (and a lot of them call for 2 rises so it takes longer), seals vary greatly, and flour behaves only so well depending on the relative humidity, so sometimes priests can get a smooth-topped loaf which then needs a seal cut into it, a major interruption as we are preparing for service.

We had a weekly prosfora baking rota at the school where we’d make dozens of loaves, and they would come out perfect every time. But the recipe was a 25 lb. bag of flour, a whole cake a yeast, and so on. I tried like the dickens to reduce it down to a 2lb. loaf recipe. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, emphatically.

If you know me at all you know I’m really interested in bread baking, and one day I was making lean dough for baguettes, and it hit me: lean dough is just a wetter dough with more yeast. I took my lean dough recipe and just reduced both the water and yeast content. From there I haven’t looked back. Recently my wife expressed her desire to learn how to make prosfora so I will always have a loaf for Sundays, no matter what. So I taught her a month or so ago.

Yesterday my wife made a really gorgeous loaf after changing one of my steps and I shared it around, and she shared it around, and people were asking what she did. So, without further adieu, here’s how you can make communion bread, from start to finish, in about an hour:

Fr. Matthew’s Prosfora Recipe

Ingredients

  • 5C all purpose flour
  • 1/2tsp dry active yeast
  • 1TB coarse kosher salt
  • 1C warm water (about 95 degrees) of which you shouldn’t use entirely

Method

  1. Add flour into a mixing bowl
  2. Add salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl and mix each of them into the flour a little with your finger so they don’t touch
  3. Add less than the 1C of warm water.
    1. It’s important to note here that the key here is as little hydration as possible. I find 3/4C works really well, but you could start with a 1/2C and go from there.
    2. This is just filler text because I was taught in grade school I needed at least 2 points in sub points.
  4. Use your dough hook attachment and let the mixer run on its lowest speed for 10-12 minutes.
    1. Yes, 10-12 minutes. The more you knead dough the smaller the air holes get. When I’m making baguette dough I’ll mix for maybe 3 minutes maximum so when I bake it I’ll get those big air pockets.
    2. If the dough is real chunky and not coming together, and you see a lot of loose flour, add water by the tablespoon until it starts to come together. If the dough is really sticky and looks wet, you need to add 1 tablespoon of flour until it looks to dry up a little
    3. The dough should be firm but supple.
  5. Dump the dough on a lightly-floured surface, cutting the dough into whatever weight you want.
    1. If you have a standard 6″ seal you can get away with cutting the dough in about half. We have an 8″ seal so we use the entire loaf.
    2. See 3.2
  6. Roll the dough into a ball. If you’ve never done this you can watch this video, which is rolling dinner roll dough but similar in application.
  7. Let the dough sit for 30 minutes to rise.
    1. Sit it on the oven top while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Place a damp towel over the loaf so the skin doesn’t dry out.
  8. Seal the bread. Push on it with everything you’ve got!
  9. Take a toothpick and poke holes on each corner of the respective images; so around the 9 triangles, around all 3 of the lambs, etc. You can also poke holes all around the outside of the seal, too.
  10. Let the bread sit another 10 minutes or so.
  11. Bake @ 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Internal temperature should be around 200 degrees.

Besides the whole not having to wait around and do extra steps, I’ve found zero difference in sifting flour vs. the “everyone in the pool” method.

And that, my friends, is how it’s done. If you have any questions feel free to ask.

 

In the 70’s there was a man named George Price, a man famous in the circle of theoretical biology, who wrote an equation to try and explain the biological drive of altruism. There had been one already written, and it explains that we love our neighbors because it helps to further our gene pool. According to scientists, the same thing that drives us to be nice can also be the same thing that would drive us to be totally cruel. In other words, there is no such thing as selfless altruism.

This drove George a little crazy. A materialist and devout atheist, reportedly selfish to the core, George immediately became a Christian and set himself to being altruistic without gain. He gave away all of his money, distributed keys to his flat so the homeless could come and go. He did everything he could to give to others, even to his own detriment! He lost his life, penniless, with few possessions, in an abandoned house.Continue reading

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes necessity is the mother of building. When Pres. Jennifer was pregnant with Beatrice, we knew that the square-model dining room table wasn’t going to cut it for a family of five. We also always wanted to have a table that reflected our value of being able to entertain a large group of people over dinner. But what seminarian has two grand to drop on a big table? My dad is a very skilled craftsman and furniture refinisher, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunity during my formative years to learn about it. Naturally, I decided to build something.

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Yesterday we commemorated the beheading of St. John the Baptist, the patron of our parish. I’ve been preaching on St. John for the last two days and since today is called the apodosis, or leave-taking, or giving-back of the feast, I’d like to take some more time to preach about him.

John is the greatest of all our prophets, because he was sent by God to announce the coming of Christ. In the Gospels he says to ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’. He’s saying ‘Get ready, guys. Get yourselves in order because the Lord is coming’ and having people make confessions of their sins and receive baptism. It was of grave importance to him that everyone understood that they were soon to meet the Lord. And now, even as at that time, we 21st century Orthodox Christians, every Liturgy, will meet our Lord, mystically present in Eucharist, and it’s just as important to be prepared.

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In June of this year an ISIS jihadist converted to Christianity. His story goes that he was quite comfortable and willing and happy to be killing Christians and Muslims alike, until he began to have visions in his dreams of a man in a white robe telling the ISIS man that he was killing all of his children. Then, the next day, he was given a Bible from a Christian he was about to martyr, read it, and then, being disgusted by his actions, converted. This is exactly what St. Paul was doing, as he referenced himself in today’s epistle about Christ revealing himself. He was murdering and persecuting Christians, on behalf of Jewish leaders. He says that by the grace of God is he is what he is, and that grace working in him inspired him to work harder. St. Paul here was reconciled to Christ’s body through repentance and metanoia, a change of action, a change of mindset to bring about better behavior. We’ve talked a lot about forgiveness over the last few weeks, dealing with one another gently and always expecting best intentions, but today I want to talk about reconciliation. It’s different than forgiveness, because you can forgive someone, but you might never try to reconcile! And if St. Paul can do it, so can we! What do I mean by this?

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