My wife and I have been married for about 14.5 years, and while I the details of our life together before children is a little sketchy I do definitely recall, excepting the laundry which I botched a lot early in our marriage, there being a shared burden of tasks. I did a lot of cooking, tried to vacuum now and again, left my socks around to keep us on our toes. We also were able to spend a lot of time together, and enjoy one another on little weekend trips throughout Indiana (essentially the only place we’ve lived together without children) which was pretty neat. And we were also both wage earners! But once Adeline came, and I started seminary at Nashotah House Jenny was a “stay at home mom” who also worked for the school every other afternoon. And that’s when the traveling started. There were trips to Quincy to meet with the Bishop, a trip to Chicago to sign the Jerusalem Statement, multiple-day stay overs in Sheboygan for pastoral practicums. These were some great experiences. But I was the only one who experienced them.Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago I made the following statement, ironically, a handful of times: “I have a robust hugging ministry.” It is an ironic statement, but I do tend to hug a lot. Well, anyway, thanks to Fr. Andrew Damick for the photo!
We all know that if we want to do better at something we have to work for it. This has been ingrained in us since our youth that when learning or refining a skill, excepting some circumstances, you will see results related to the effort you put into it. But this isn’t just for skills; our managing of money, our investments, relationships, and hobbies will reflect the work that we’ve put into it. If I don’t practice woodworking I’ll never graduate beyond easier boxes and pizza cutters, athletes suffer if they don’t eat a carefully planned diet. The bottom line is if you’re only going to put in a little, if you want to do the absolute minimum you’ll get the absolute minimum result. What if we turned this a little and said the same for our Church? That by providing and doing the bare minimum we’re only going to get a bare minimum back? What if we gave all out to the Church? What would we encounter? This is what St. Paul is addressing in this passage.Continue reading
I’m a little behind on getting my sermons up, but I’ll be caught up this week.
(Sept. 17) In 2007, actor and philanthropist Alec Baldwin got into a little trouble. The media outlets had gotten a copy of some voicemails that he sent to his daughter. They were awful words that he spoke, and it left a lot of commentators and others confused and upset. We see this kind of thing happen a lot in the media, some person who talks a good game, someone who says they want to change the world for the better (and gives money or work towards it) then scandalizing people by their gross behavior.
St. Paul tells us that it’s not he who lives but Christ who lives in him. It’s no longer his own will but the will of Christ that guides his actions, as he says at the end of this reading “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This changes the narrative. It’s not a call for humanitarian work; Christ loves us and also gave himself for us. And in today’s Gospel Christ tells us what we are to do if we were to follow him. ‘For whosever would save his life will lose it, and whosoever loses their life for the sake of the Gospel’s would gain it. If you consider how brutal a symbol of the cross would be at that time, you can understand how serious Christ was concerning our own dedication. As I said last week, we’re called to just be nice people, we’re not called to give money to our favorite charity. But rather Christ calls us to a life of holiness, a life conjoined with God, a life transformed by God. And then we’re to take that transformation, that gospel that so deeply affected us, and spread that out to the ends of the earth. Being a Christian is a hard task.
But it’s not just remembering to say your prayers or show up to Church on time.
It’s taking up your cross when:
- You help a co-worker who had previously “sandbagged” or otherwise hindered you
- you don’t give someone money but instead try to actually help them
- you’re forbearing and loving towards your wife, treating her as Christ treats the Church
- you’re submissive to your husband when you might disagree
- you come to church even though you’re so tired.
- You make the effort to go to church even when your kids are crazy.
- You don’t just love a person who hates you but actively pray for them and their salvation.
- Students speak up for what’s right in their schools. And I mean boys, you’re not taking part in the rough talk towards girls, or the silly macho act towards a marginalized kid. And girls it means not joining in the gossip and meanness that you hear in the school. Not a single one of you would appreciate it happening to you.
As I was thinking about this sermon I also reminded my daughter she needed to empty and load the dishwasher, her nightly chore. Instead of just doing the chore she has to make a number of excuses. “I don’t want to do it” or “Do I have to do it” or my personal favorite “Why can’t they do it?” Honestly, how much do we hear that in our own communities? We have to be the agents of action and change, we can’t rely on anyone else, we can’t point fingers or make excuses. We’re all called to pick up that cross and follow Christ.
The great irony of these examples is that as hard or inconvenient as they seem you cannot avoid being changed. Not only are you going to benefit someone else you are progressing along the path of Salvation. You’re transforming the world while being transformed, but we’re busy telling God we don’t want to do it, that it’s too much of a bother for us, or that someone else could take care of it.
Brothers and sisters, if we are to call ourselves Christian then the ideal is to pick up our cross and walk. Our call is to endure the sufferings, the little annoyances that come in our daily lives, exuding the light and love of our savior, Christ Jesus, for the benefit of the whole world.
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.Continue reading
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!
While 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
- 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
- Add flour into a mixing bowl
- 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
- Add less than the 1C of warm water.
- 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.
- This is just filler text because I was taught in grade school I needed at least 2 points in sub points.
- Use your dough hook attachment and let the mixer run on its lowest speed for 10-12 minutes.
- 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.
- 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
- The dough should be firm but supple.
- Dump the dough on a lightly-floured surface, cutting the dough into whatever weight you want.
- 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.
- See 3.2
- 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.
- Let the dough sit for 30 minutes to rise.
- Sit it on the oven top while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Place a damp towel over the loaf so the skin doesn’t dry out.
- Seal the bread. Push on it with everything you’ve got!
- 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.
- Let the bread sit another 10 minutes or so.
- 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.