This piece practically wrote itself in my head all in a few moments. I’ve never been a big fan of these alliterated lists, and my guess is I’m not the first clergy wife to write something like this, but here we go.
It started with a discussion of the role of an Orthodox priest’s wife—a discussion I’ve seen many times, online and off. There are as many (or more) expectations, conceptions, misconceptions and questions about the role of the priest’s (or to a lesser extent the deacon’s) wife in the parish as there are parishes, priests and presbyteras. (I told you there would be alliteration. Run away now if you have an allergy!)
I firmly affirm that there are NO RULES for the ROLE– for what the priest’s wife should be and do in any given parish, expectations or no expectations. There are however a few principles the presbytera ignores at her peril. (Help, I’ve fallen into a well of alliteration and can’t get out! )
So. Here they are—Principles for the Presbytera in the Parish:
- Prayer: be a woman of prayer. I know it’s obvious, but it’s too easy to take for granted. I’m sorry to report that I find it harder all the time—now as a senior, surprisingly, even more than when I had young children. But having firmly established the habit of prayer when I was young, I find now when I am less energetic and more distractible than ever, the persistence of my personal prayer rule never fails me entirely. Even when my formal prayers are brief, seldom throughout the day do I go long without thinking of God, asking His help, thanking Him for His mercy.
- Principle and Priorities: Be a woman of principle who knows her own mind and priorities. Consistent behaviour in accordance with Christian principles is a strong witness and example to others within and beyond the parish. Keeping the balance between your service at church and your service in your home means knowing when enough church is enough for you and your children, and when enough pastoring is enough for your priestly husband. There are many ways and tools to handle time and rest for the clergy family, but if you learn early on the priority of a weekly day off and of screening phone calls, it will serve you well for the rest of your life.
- Patience and Peace: Be one of the blessed peacemakers, and know how to wait on the Lord (and people) with patience. Besides controlling your time, one other thing will accomplish wonders in your life in the parish: controlling your tongue. Many times it is best to say nothing at all; sometimes, it will be necessary to speak up, which is much trickier. So very many things really don’t matter in the long run; but things that do require courage and caution in speech. Sometimes just waiting to speak helps it become clear whether or not you should speak at all. Be careful on social media, even more careful than in person. If you need to vent frustrations, find a safe confidant outside the parish.
I can’t resist adding that there is one “P” that does not appear on this list, and for good reason: PERFECT. You do not have to be perfect any more than anyone else does. Despite your best efforts you will fail sometimes; despite your best efforts, there will be those who find things to criticize.
Pursuing all these principles will help you navigate the path of your ministry as presbytera, finding what God wants for you and not for some mythical perfect presbytera. I am sure there are other principles that you have found helpful—so you are welcome to offer them in a comment here (whether or not they start with “P”)!