By now we have all learned of the tragic death of Fr. Matthew Baker and some basic facts about his life. He was married to Katherine (Katie); they have six children ranging in ages from 2-12; he had been assigned to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Norwich, CT, his first parish, two months prior to his death; he was a brilliant scholar, who was working on a PhD at Fordham University; he was a loving, merciful man who radiated the love of Christ; he and his family sacrificed a lot for the sake of his priestly training and education. The most moving tribute I have read is written by Fr. Andrew Stephen Danick: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/roadsfromemmaus/2015/03/02/we-need-more-spiritual-brothers-losing-fr-matthew-baker/
Some of us knew Fr. Matthew and Katie personally; most of us never met him, though we may have heard of him as an upcoming brilliant, Orthodox scholar engaging the best learning of our day, yet deeply rooted in the life of the Church. However, we have all been shaken to the core by his death. The “we” includes the entire body of the Church, but there is a subset of the “we” for whom Fr. Matthew’s death takes on a different significance, “we,” priests and presvyteres. Fr. Matthew’s death is first and foremost about him and his family. However, as we all know, in tragic circumstances, the grace, mercy and love of God are at work, teaching, touching, and convicting all of those who are impacted. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:24, NRSV).
In less than 48 hours following Fr. Matthew’s death, over $350,000 has been raised to support his family, and this is only what has been made public. We also know that people around the world are praying for Fr. Matthew, Presvytera Katie, and their children, Issac, Elias, George, Ellie, Cyril, and Matthew. I have never witnessed nor been part of such an outpouring of love and support for anyone.
Particularly for those of us on the front lines of ministry in the Church — priests, presvyteras, and by extension, our children — what can we learn from Fr. Matthew’s life and death? Over these past few days, my sense of connection with and love and appreciation for my fellow presvyteres has deepened in ways I cannot begin to articulate. We, as presvyteres, clergy couples and clergy families share a uniquely intimate connection with one another, whether we personally know each other or not.
Do we go on as if nothing has happened, after we have made a donation to the fund for his wife and children, offered a Trisagion, written a note of condolence, and/or attended Fr. Matthew’s wake/funeral, or do we learn from his passing that we are responsible to love and care for one another in life? We know from research that ministry is the most isolating vocation in America. Yet, we have one another; we need not be isolated, even if we live in a more isolated geographic area. We need one another.
I will leave you with some questions that my husband and I will prayerfully consider in the weeks and months ahead and invite you to do the same:
- What are the needs of the priests/presvyteres/clergy families in our more immediate geographic area?
- How can we better reach out to, support and connect with other priests, presvyteres and clergy families?