Matthew Moore was sitting in civics class in a high school in Iowa.
The burly, bushy-bearded priest said, “I don’t really remember what I was doing exactly. I was sitting in class, writing a paper about the president, maybe?”
That hardly matters. What he remembers is feeling the call to serve god.
“So, I raise my hand and get a bathroom pass,” the 34-year-old said. “I go down the hall, find a phone and call my mom.”
Moore said he told her, “Mom, God just called to me to be a pastor.”
His mother thought he was a little crazy and then told him, “Matthew, there’s no money in that.”
The priest laughed. She was right about that, of course.
For the last year, Moore has served as the pastor of St. John Greek Orthodox Church, in Kanawha City. It’s a small church wedged in between a Subway and optician, just a couple of doors down from a Taco Bell.
It can be easy to miss and easier still to misunderstand.
“People have asked if we’re Greek Jews or if it’s just a Greek church,” he said and smiled broadly.
Moore is about as Greek as a bowl of cornflakes. You don’t have to be Greek to pray at a Greek Orthodox Church. You don’t even have to be Greek to be a priest at a Greek Orthodox Church.
The Rev. Matthew Moore was born in Burlington, Iowa, and raised in a Methodist church in Davenport, Iowa, a medium-sized midwestern city surrounded by farmland.
“My parents took me to church as much as I wanted,” he said.
What he remembers about growing up Methodist was activity.
“There was always something going on, especially, if you were a kid,” he said. “There were youth groups, bell choirs and puppet ministries. My Boy Scout troop was based out of that church.”
As he got into his teens, Moore said he gravitated toward trouble.
He squirms about the specifics, which embarrass him to remember.
Sighing, he said, “I was a wreck.”
The call to become a pastor at 17 didn’t necessarily make everything better. He struggled trying to find balance between a typical teenage existence and a life of faith.
The struggle continued into his 20s. Moore bounced back and forth between wanting be a pastor and wanting to make a regular living. He liked technology and computers and started a program to get a CISCO certification, but didn’t finish. He tried his hand at retail and retail management.
“I thought I could make some money to pay for going to seminary,” he said.
But he got bogged down with the work.
He studied psychology to become a counselor.
“I thought I could have some other job or career and then when I turned 50, I’d go into the priesthood.”
In 2003, Moore married. It was the same year Gene Robinson became the first openly gay minister to be ordained into the Episcopal Church.
Moore felt like that represented part of a change in the religious world he wanted to be part of. The call to join the church grew louder, but it took him until 2008 before he entered the Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin.
The seminary school let Moore move at his own pace and, while his wife Jennifer worked, he stayed at home with the kids.
While he was in the Episcopal seminary, he was more and more drawn to orthodoxy.
“There was such beauty in orthodoxy,” he said. “I had to be a part of it.”
And there was no reason he couldn’t.
Moore explained that Eastern Orthodox churches are all essentially the same: Greek, Russian, Polish, etc.
The Eastern Orthodox faith came to America along with the people who practiced it.
“A lot of them came to this country to make money, to make a living,” Moore said. “They brought their families and they brought their priests.”
They didn’t necessarily intend to stay forever, but wars and conquest cut off their connections to their homelands.
“They just couldn’t go back,” he said.
Scattered, the different nationalities formed churches united under the same faith because Moore said the core of what they believe is the same.
Eastern Orthodox worshipers believe in a single God who is also Father, Son and Holy Ghost. They believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They baptize and strive to reach a communion with God.
“The ultimate goal of a church,” Moore said, “is to help people get into Heaven.”
Like the Roman Catholic faith, they have confession, though it is practiced differently.
They also keep icons, not as objects to worship, but to help venerate Christ or the saints they are meant to depict.
Churches, Moore said, often favor a dominant nationality, but have congregants from other parts of the world. There might be a Polish Orthodox Church with a contingent of Russians or an Arab Church with several Greeks.
As those contingents grew, they would tend to split off and found their own church that would serve them in their own language and know better the customs from whatever country they originated.
In 2009, Moore became Orthodox, but remained at Nashotah House until 2011, when he joined Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School in Boston.
“Nashotah House was really good to us,” he said.
While in Boston, Moore and his wife had two more daughters. He finally graduated in 2014, was ordained into the priesthood May 30 and was sent to St. John in Kanawha City June 1.
“I can’t stress enough how kind and welcoming the people of this church have been to me and my wife,” he said.
Moore and his family aren’t the only non-Greeks in the congregation. There are several others; most married into the faith, but Moore said everyone is considered part of the tribe.
“Who doesn’t want to be Greek?” He said. “Greeks take pride in each other, they support each other and want each other to succeed.”
Unabashed at championing his own faith, Moore said Orthodoxy is one of America’s best-kept religious secrets. To be part of the faith, he said, is to be part of a great tradition and linked to the sacred mystery.
“We strive toward holiness and being in communion with God,” he said. “In orthodoxy, we are called to do better, to keep moving forward toward reaching communion.”
Orthodoxy is an old religion, he agreed, but one that still fits for today.
At least, orthodoxy fit one kid from Iowa. It just took a while.