That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Month: October, 2011

Ten Years, Three Truths

This is a repost of a little piece that came to me on the tenth anniversary of our reception into the Church. In the past month various events have made me look back on our “spiritual journey”, and this piece came to my mind.

Not long ago our family marked our tenth anniversary as Orthodox Christians. As I looked back on the past ten years, I wondered what I had to say about where I’ve come in that time. I suppose that first I’d want to say that every single day as an Orthodox Christian has been an incomparable blessing, in ways that only those in the Church could ever understand.

But in addition three ‘findings’ came to my mind that I’d want to pass along to potential converts. Here they are.

  • The Body of Christ. You join Maple Grove Community Christian Fellowship; you become Orthodox. To be received into the Church is to become a new person, a member of the Body of Christ in a way that has never been true before. Probably many of us, especially if we were protestants, entered the Church thinking that we were doing something we’d done before: ‘joining’ a church, though undoubtedly a better one this time. It can take many years to experience the new reality that descends on us at the moment of our Chrismation. The experience grows slowly and, for better or worse, cannot be described.
  • A marathon, not a sprint. The ‘crazy convert,’ obsessed with every fine point of fasting, rubrics, etc., is a common and often accurate stereotype. In time, most of us crazy converts calm down and find our way into the normal life of the Church. But, really, most of these crazies are only trying to follow a path trodden by many of the saints. (Think of the infant St Nicholas, who refused his mother’s milk on Wednesdays and Fridays. Legalism?) The new convert’s problem is not his zeal but his ignorance of his own weakness. He thinks that he can run a marathon in the same way that he would a 50-yard dash. In time we realize that we’re not yet saints, that Orthodoxy is something that we have to get up and practice every day for the rest of our lives, and we find a pace, a balance, that will (we pray) work for the long haul.
  • Most Holy Theotokos, save us! In the past few years I’ve come to realize that heartfelt veneration of the Mother of God is a key that unlocks many of the depths of the Orthodox Faith — and that, until we have made that key our own, we hover on the surface of our own Faith. Again, this is part of the Mystery of the Church and cannot really be described, only lived. Most Holy Theotokos, save us!

Enter into His Gates with Thanksgiving

This Sunday, the (New Calendar) Sunday of the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, marks the fifteenth anniversary of our family’s first visit to an Orthodox church. I had made a few tentative forays before then, but on that Sunday my wife, our seven-year-old son and I first set foot in the Church as a family. This was St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Lawrence, MA.

Up until that moment our family had belonged to a protestant denomination that took the rejection of church decoration as an article of faith. There wasn’t even a cross on the wall of our meeting-house. The transition from the mandatory starkness of traditional Quaker worship to the richness of the Divine Liturgy in a well-appointed Orthodox temple was startling.

If you know anything about seven-year-old boys, you know that they’re invariably into monsters. And here, right in church, was a large painting of a dragon being slain with a spear! I imagined a voice in my son’s head saying “Now this is more like it.” When he had finished feasting his eyes on the icon of St. George, there was plenty more to hold his attention, including a large iconographic mural that circled the wall of the sanctuary and gave a history of the world from the creation to the last judgment. This was Christian education made visible.

It took us a while longer to make the move to Orthodoxy and to find our own beloved parish, but I think the die was cast on that day. In the years since then I hope that our understanding of, and reverence for, icons has deepened, but I still remember that first response with gratitude, and remember the words that Christ spoke to all of us: “Unless ye become as little children…”

“Entrust me not, I pray, to any human protection”

Monks at Holy Cross Hermitage

Q: Sometimes as Orthodox Christians, we feel that we are not of this world and that we are not relevant to it. How should we react to the changes that are happening around us, specifically the various and increasingly successful liberal and progressive movements, without losing ourselves and our inner spiritual peace?

A: I understand and share in your concern, but the only answer is the one St. Seraphim of Sarov gave: “Acquire the peace of God in your heart and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” You as an individual Orthodox Christian cannot change the course of the world, but you can change yourself. It is, in fact, easier to think about changing the world than to try to change ourselves. If we find the world around us increasingly filled with hatred, then we must try to love; if we find the world running after material goods and pleasure, then we must try to live a simpler life; if we find the world has become preoccupied with carnal things, then we must try to be pure and chaste.

The inner peace that Christ gives us is not the peace of the world. It is not dependent upon proper social conditions or environmental factors. The early Christians would walk into the arena peacefully singing hymns as the lions attacked them. In the lives of the early martyrs, we read over and over again how bystanders and even Roman soldiers were converted by witnessing the firm faith and peaceful resolve of these early martyrs.

•  •  •

This is a fragment of an interview with Abbot Seraphim of Holy Cross Hermitage in Wayne, WV. It can be found in a beautiful book that the Hermitage has produced to commemorate its twenty-fifth anniversary.

The image is from the Hermitage’s web site. The title of this post is from the Paraklesis to the Theotokos.


Our Daily Bread

For a couple of years now I’ve been baking all our family bread. It’s intensely satisfying, and the bread tastes much better than store-bought. My usual recipe produces two sandwich-style loaves at a time.

Bread never tastes better than when it’s fresh from the oven, so recently I’ve been trying an experiment: baking a small loaf every day to serve with supper. I’ve found that it’s very easy and, as I’d hoped, tastes delicious.

Here is my method. It follows the no-knead, wet-dough philosophy that’s become so popular (with good reason) among home bread-bakers.

In the morning: In a medium-size mixing bowl, mix 1 cup bread flour (about 5 oz.), about 1/2 tsp. salt, and a large pinch of rapid-rise yeast. Add 1/2 cup water. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Cover and set aside for 8 hours or more.

In the evening: The dough should have risen and will probably have some visible bubbles. Preheat the oven to 400°. Turn the dough onto a small greased pan (I use a metal pie pan). Do not punch it down— just get the  blob of dough onto the pan with as little disturbance as possible. Put it in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes.

The usual caveats and variations: Oven temperatures vary; you may need to tweak time and temperature to get the result you want. You can substitute any proportion of whole-wheat flour for white, though if you use more than about 1/3 whole-wheat flour your loaf will be denser.

Recently I got a kitchen scale and have been amazed at the variability of “one cup flour”: a given volume can vary in weight by as much as a third depending on how tightly-packed the flour is. So I’ve taken to weighing out my quantities. The current formula is 150 grams flour to 125 grams water or, for a smaller mini-loaf, 100 grams flour to 85 grams water.