Moses Berry and Theotokos Unexpected Joy

mb-3Every once in awhile, we here at Monomakhos solicit material from our correspondents. A lot of the recent news has been quite unpleasant. Every now and then however, we get a story about something extremely positive.

Michael Bauman, one of our regular commentators, alerted me to the ministry of Fr Moses Berry, an OCA priest in the Diocese of the Midwest. I have had the pleasure of meeting Fr Moses on at least two occasions and have always walked away edified. If Orthodoxy in America is to have a fighting chance and offer something to this land, it will be because of the efforts of priests like him. (Fr, if you’re reading this, I plan on making good my promise to visit you soon. Michael, if all goes well, I plan on being in Wichita in January at the annual Eighth Day Symposium.)

Please take the time to read this wonderful article by Mr Bauman.

By Michael Bauman

With all the bad news about the OCA (God forgive us all), I thought it might be a good idea to write about some really good news. I’m not in the OCA, but I have many friends who are. One of those friends I have known for forty years and was fortunate enough to share some of my journey to the Church with him. The story of his personal encounter with St. Moses, the Ethiopian was one that helped lead me into the Church when I first heard it and lifts my spirit today when I recall it.


Father Moses Berry of Theotokos Unexpected Joy OCA parish in Ash Grove, MO is a remarkable priest who is doing remarkable work in his little corner of southwest Missouri: a work that is international in impact. I’ve been there; I’ve seen some of the fruits of his labors. It is those fruits that are the good news.

Father Moses comes from a family dedicated to others and he is the inheritor of a tradition of love and service, especially to the most needy without regard to race or religion. That alone is an unusual testimony considering he is the ancestor of slaves in an area that was still highly segregated when he was growing up.

His great-great-grand mother was a slave of Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone. They had a child together. Despite the circumstances, Fr. Moses asserts that it became much more than just a slave-owner taking advantage of his slave. There must have been love, for when Nathan Boone freed her near the end of the Civil War, he gave her a substantial plot of good farm land on which to live and make a life. She did so and not just for herself. The house Fr. Moses and his Matuska live in and raised their family in was built on that land and they still own most of it. The parish is also on his land.

At the time, among the many other indignities and violence done to freed slaves, no cemetery would accept their bodies when they died. The Berry’s established a cemetery on their land to bury freed slaves and other undesirables. There are two Delaware Indian graves that date to that time distinguished by their unique tortoise shell form of small boulders that cover the grave.

Fr. Moses has reclaimed the cemetery from its over-grown state, gotten it placed on the National Registry of Historic Sites and consecrated it as an Orthodox Cemetery. There have been several Orthodox who have chosen it for the final resting place of their bodies recently. For awhile an Orthodox nun had a small cell there in the chapel on the grounds. Work is still on-going for the reclamation and restoration of the older graves. Money is always needed and used wisely.


In addition to the parish and the cemetery, Fr. Moses has also established a museum that is filled with his own family’s artifacts and stories of slave life that testify to the strength, faith and forgiveness it took to both endure and triumph over that life.

It is not, like many, a museum that is a monument to cruelty intent on promoting white guilt, it is filled with peace and healing, despite the unflinching look at that inhumanity of that “peculiar institution” that dominates much of the history of our country. There are such things as the iron shackles worn by Fr. Moses great-great uncle (I believe) who was wearing them when the Union soldiers told him he was free; Underground Railroad quilts and much, much more in a physically small building that is open to eternity

There are too many to stories to relate and frankly, they are themselves part of a tapestry that only a personal visit can adequately reveal: the depth of love and healing that is there. It is iconic in its power, cathartic in its experience, mesmerizing in its beauty and simplicity.

Fr. Moses is using the experience of his family and the horror of slavery to promote healing by bringing it into the Church and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform and transfigure it. In that small corner of rural Missouri, the Orthodox Church is being made part of this land and our people because She is accepting the blood, the suffering and the sacrifice of those who were slaves in body, but never in spirit.

The parish building itself is beautiful, built by the hands, the money and the labor of parishioners and others in the community (black, white and Asian). The iconostasis was constructed from local oak by a gentleman (non-Orthodox) who has a woodworking shop next door to the museum in Ash Grove.

When he heard what the parish was doing, he volunteered to make the iconostasis for them so that it would be right and beautiful. He succeeded. Many of the icons have been donated by iconographers who happen to hear of the parish. One Romanian iconographer was in Chicago several years ago, heard about the parish and drove all the way to Ash Grove to hand deliver one of his icons.

The parish has a complete set of relics from the Optina Elders that was given to them for safe-keeping. A golden onion-dome tops its roof and a set of beautiful, hand rung bells is outside to announce to all the rejoicing of the services there.

Fr. Moses is dedicated not only to bringing the past of the Afro-American peoples into the Church, but also to reach out those living to invite them into the Church, showing them they have a place and are welcome; connecting them to their Christian roots from ancient Africa, slave America and the Kingdom of God now.


For example, I have a new friend, an Afro-American dentist in Wichita who is approaching the Church. I was talking to him last Sunday about St. Moses (the short life of St. Moses that I have practically leapt off my bookshelf shouting my friends name the other day). I asked him if he would like it. He joyfully said yes. In the process I mentioned Fr. Moses. My friend said, “Oh, that’s something else we have in common. I’ve talked to him already. He really helped answer some questions I had and some I didn’t even know I had”

The OCA has an absolute gem in Theotokos Unexpected Joy parish and its priest. There is more there than I can adequately describe. I fully believe that the work being done there could not be done as well in any other jurisdiction. Those of you who are sending your tithes somewhere else right now, think of Theotokos Unexpected Joy. Like any goodness in this dark world, it is not easy to maintain: prayers, publicity and money are always welcome. Go, see for yourself, drink of the deep well of living water that is there.

Rejoice in the Lord and the potential of the OCA for doing God’s work. It is near Springfield, MO and the Missouri Ozarks so there is much natural beauty to appreciate and enjoy too.

I am confident there are other positive examples in the OCA to be found, nurtured and celebrated if one looks. I am confident that there are many faithful people in the OCA to be found to do even more such work whether the bishops will or no. I know this one and wanted to bring to the attention of you all.

St. Moses, pray for us and Lord, grant Fr. Moses and Theotokos Unexpected Joy many, many years increasing and sustaining their labor for you.


  1. I needed to hear some good news today. Thank you!

  2. philippa says

    This is a great story. Thanks for sharing it. I’ve only seen Fr. Moses twice from a distance, but each time his face has such a peace-filled countenance.

  3. Pat Teague says

    Like you, it is not just an honor, but indeed a joy to have met Father Moses Berry on a couple occasions. He is lovely man of God. Anyone who has the opportunity to go to Ash Grove, MO to see the articles of slavery worn by his family, and hear Father Moses talk about life in Christ surely should.

    I will never forget him telling dozens of us how many Africans brought to the New World as slaves had hundreds of years’ history, not only as Christians, but as Orthodox Christians in Africa.

  4. Xenia Grant says

    Fr. Moses in 1994, Christmated me into the Orthodox Church in St. Louis. May God grant him many, many years.

  5. Daniel E Fall says

    Many thanks George…this is one fine story. Someday I’d like to visit there.

  6. What an interesting and edifying article.
    Many years to Fr Moses!

  7. Matushka Elizabeth says

    Like Michael, Fr. Moses is an old and dear friend of ours. My husband was best man at his wedding. Our family has been blessed to visit their church, home, cemetery and museum. Very meaningful and a blessing to all of us, and a great educational experience for our then much younger children. God grant him and Matushka many years!

    • Michael Bauman says

      BTW Mat. Elizabeth sight unseen I would put your ministry in the same league as Fr. Moses. A gem that the OCA ought to treasure and rejoice in. I know a little about what you do and you are in my prayers for what that is worth.

      There are many such ministries of the heart which we so rarely hear of. The bad news gets the press. That is a shame. You ought to write a piece on what you do. I am sure George would publish it.

      • Matushka Elizabeth says

        Thank you, Michael. Besides our very busy (and very unfunded!) St. George Food Pantry, and our annual Winter Service Retreat for Young Adults, Father does groundbreaking work in creating Spanish language translations of Orthodox materials, as he was mentored to do by Archbishop Dmitri of Blessed Memory. Actually, Padre is in Mexico this week – helping host a team who are teaching basically an Orthodox Bible School to children in some Orthodox Villages in the mountains of Vera Cruz. Last time he went, he said it was like camping out for a week, but with a roof over one’s head. Wonderful, kind and generous people in that region. See:

        • Michael Bauman says

          Matushka, I’ve always heard good things about the work you do from some of my other friends, I know you and you husband and your dedication to the faith. That’s why I’m certain it is good work. I want to clarify my earlier comment about people ‘chasing after’ Hispanics. The people I was referring to are the ones who don’t seem to have any actual connection to any ministry with Hispanic peoples, they just want to use them as cannon fodder against the ‘bad guys’

          I find that attitude morally, ethically and spiritually questionable. On the other hand, the kind of work you are doing is not at all the same thing. You are addressing actual needs of people in a caring and specific way.

          I’m did not mean to impugn your work or any similar work being done in the Orthodox Church.

  8. As for the church and museum of Father Moses, it’s on my list of 100 places to see before I die.

    More good news is that there is an active ministry to the people of Tataristan in Tatar Cyrillic

  9. Pere LaChaise says

    I believe it was Fr. Moses who made a motion at the AAC in Seattle, that carried after much discussion on the floor, stating that the OCA should specifically do outreach to black people. An amendment was proposed to water down the language to include Hispanics and Asians but the genius of Fr. Moses’ idea was enthusiastically grasped by the great majority gathered at the AAC – that outreach must be specific to have real meaning and any hope of effecting a difference.

    Looking around at the gathered delegates of the AAC that day, one could quickly grasp the need for a concerted effort to interest American blacks in Orthodoxy, and that the OCA needs black members in order to fulfill its commission as the sole Orthodox ecclesial entity that self-identifies as American. Black people comprise a big part of American society, and their absence from our churches, which remain by and large Eastern European and Middle-Eastern, impoverishes us as a church of Americans.
    It seemed to me that the motion to broaden the language to include other ethnicities was the result of scandal or embarrassment at the particularity of the OCA’s need for black people – as though it would be ‘nicer’ or more polite to use language that was more inclusive, less specifically pointing up the relative lack of blacks in our midst. But the assembly bravely confronted their demographic absence as the actual scandal.
    It became clear very quickly that Fr. Moses was voicing a palpable truth, and the assembly, in a sign of health, faced it. If another had moved that we do outreach to Hispanics or Asians, let him or her move specifically (none did).
    In the time since the Seattle AAC, I do not know if the OCA has made any demonstrable progress toward bringing in more black people, but at least we responded enthusiastically when prompted by a black priest in our midst. May God grant Fr. Moses many years and many spiritual children, and may our churches fill with Americans of all origins – and specifically black Americans – participating to the fullest in the new life in Christ that is the Orthodox faith!

    • George Michalopulos says

      Pere, thank you for pointing out (if obliquely) how destructive the last year has been in the matter of evangelism and outreach by the OCA.

    • Michael Bauman says

      Pere, you are correct. Fr. Moses mentioned this the last time I spoke with him but since I did not really know the details, I did not include it in my article. He practices what he preaches in that regard which I have had the distinct good fortune to witness a few times over the years.

      I cannot stress enough, however, that the outreach to Afro-Americans is not intended as divisive in any way. It is something we all need. As Martin Luther King recognized early in the civil rights quest, the problem of prejudice and discrimination is a sin that hurts everybody, not just the blacks.

      Here in the U.S., it is a problem with deep roots and horrible consequences. If the Church really wants to graft us into the vine, she (we) must be address it in a way that brings all of the salvific and healing energies of the Church to bear. It is a particular pathology we all share in one way or another that immigrants of any other ethnicity do not. Although when the founders of my home parish first came to Wichita, they were met with ugly epithets, segregated to the west side of town (the old red-light district in frontier times) and spit on in the streets. As a consequence a racial prejudice against blacks developed in many. When our current temple was built in 1990, there was a rejoicing among many of the descendants of the founders that it was built on the east side of town (still the ritzier side of town). That experience could be turned into something really positive rather than negative.

      As Prof Albert Raboteau and others recognize, there is a Christian strength in the slave experience and what proceeded it that would help the Church if we are open to receiving it.

  10. Chris Banescu says

    May God bless Fr. Moses for the amazing work that he is doing to the glory of Christ and for the salvation of the faithful. What a beautiful light that shines in the darkness of the fallen world!

    Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.’ (Matthew 25:23)