Category Archives: Orthodox Church

To Orthodox laywomen, regarding the wives of your priests:

To Orthodox laywomen, regarding the wives of your priests:

These are the women who are married to priests:

They are just like you.

 They love and support their husbands and want them to succeed.

 They are trying to raise their children in the Faith they love.

 They are managing their families’ health and household needs on a daily basis.

Sometimes they are engaged in ministries or careers with a strong sense of calling, where they work with a great feeling of personal fulfilment and regular awareness of  accomplishing something worthwhile.  Sometimes they are working ill-paying, soul-deadening jobs, full time or part time, just to make ends meet in their household.

 They are just like you, but often their lives are not just like the lives of most of you.

 They live in a fishbowl, like the wives of a politicians. But without all the glamour.

 They are sent to live, more often than not, far away from family and friends, like military wives.  But not always with guaranteed housing or income.

 They have husbands who are on 24 hour call, like the wives of emergency responders.

 And besides all this…. indeed, before all this…. they live their life, and direct the life of their family, around the matrix of the services and life of the church. Almost like monastics, but they have to balance as much fullness of liturgical life as possible with the same balancing act  other women do with work and family.

 They are in the social life of the parish, but not of it in the same way as the other women in the parish. They are often expected to be at every event in the parish, from midweek services (whether or not they have to go to a regular job) to food festivals to Sisterhood meetings ( whether or not they can afford a babysitter); but then at those events, the fact that they are outsiders to the established cliques can become palpable.

 They don’t want you to be their BFF and close confidant, but they don’t want you to ignore them either.

 They really, really don’t want you to talk about them behind their backs (does anyone want that?)  They really, really want you to treat their children as kindly as you (hopefully) treat other children in the church. As kindly as you would want your own children to be treated by other adults in the church.

 They really, really, don’t want you to complain about their husbands, to their faces or to anyone else.

 They do not want special entitlements. They don’t care if you address them by titles such as presbytera or matushka or pani—unless you are making a point of not doing so.

 They just want their husbands not to be treated like hired help. They just want their families not to live in abject poverty, scrambling to work several jobs and get to services too, while many parishioners live a more than comfortable lifestyle without making decent regular contributions to the church finances or bothering to attend services if something more interesting comes their way.

 Make no mistake: the wives of priests have chosen this life, for themselves and their children. It can and ought to be a good life, but they know it can be terribly challenging and stressful. They want to be at services. They want to contribute to the ministry of the parish in teaching church school, singing in the choir, helping at fundraisers or in some other way. But they want to be able to choose which of those they do and how much they do, the same as you do, so that they can keep their life and family in balance.

 They probably pray for their parish and its members every day. Maybe more often, if you are one of those who criticize their husbands or are unkind to their children.

 There is good soil everywhere, and some people who are open to sympathize with the priest’s wife just don’t know how best to help her. If you are one of those, here are some of the ways:

  •  Make her and her family welcome when they first arrive. Tell them about your life, about the neighbourhood and community. Let them know that you are without agenda and that your care for them is unconditional.

 

  • Pray for her and her family. I know this is an obvious piety and invisible, but it is powerful.  You do not even need to tell her, unless you think she would appreciate hearing that you keep her in your prayers regularly – not just when some kind of crisis or unpleasantness has happened in the parish.

 

  • Be open to finding a way to deliver some of those prayers. She may need babysitting, or prepared meals offered during a time of particular stress. Helping wrangle children in church, in a tactful and friendly way, can be a big one for a priest’s wife with several children and often responsibility in the choir as well.  Have a care for her normal human pride as you do—you don’t want to make her an object of ‘charity’ in the condescending sense, but to treat her as a member of the family who just needs a little help from you.

  •   Show appreciation. Gifts at Christmas or Pascha demonstrate that you don’t take them for granted, but a personal note detailing your appreciation of specific things the priest and his wife have done in the parish can be even more meaningful. The cake will be eaten gratefully this week, but a warm and sincere note may be tucked away to look at again in future days.

  • Stand up publicly for the priest and his family. This is a big one—in fact, in the end, the one that will matter more than anything else.  It will possibly result in more trouble than you really want. But, dear layperson, it is the right thing to do. As the saying goes, for evil to succeed, it is only necessary for those of good will to do nothing. Through prayer and persistence, it is possible that you may help to initiate a change in the culture of a priest-eating parish. There are such places, but I believe in most cases it need not be entirely hopeless—if only some of the laity will have the courage to speak up when the priest is criticized, the wife is gossipped about, the children are mistreated. It is easier to nip such things in the bud when they are small and at the first offence, rather than wait till there is a crisis. Be the first to raise your hand to vote in a raise for the priest, the first to dare rebuke the gossip.  The priest and his family cannot be the ones to make the difference in such cases—it is the laity who affect the atmosphere parish, especially when the priest is new to them. If you speak up…. others may follow, and the priest’s family will be buoyed up by the swell of support they feel from that.

There are already in many parishes people who do all these things and more  for the priest’s wife and her family, God bless them—we have several in ours.  If you are a priest’s wife and have such people in your parish, let them know you appreciate their appreciation!

I realize this blog is one that mostly preaches to the ‘choir’, as it were, of other clergy wives. These thoughts come from the things I have heard from many of them over the years.

 And here’s the trick with this post  which I have addressed not largely to priests’ wives, but to laywomen in the parish: your priest’s wife can’t really be the one to forward or post an article like this one to the people who really need it, or it becomes a kind of passive-aggressive dig at their husbands’ antagonists. So do share it with other clergy wives, Orthodox or not—there is a great sisterhood of common experience out there. And perhaps if you have friends in other parishes who are not clergy wives, who are understanding and sympathetic laywomen, and indeed to men in the church as well, maybe they too can share it around without being accused of having a vested interest.

Maturity in the Parish

You do know that the word presbytera means “elder”?  A feminine elder.

This is not about the women’s ordination debate, though. This is about spiritual maturity. Or, since it is easy to mouth pieties while still acting according to our own will,  maybe we should just call it ordinary, everyday maturity.

The canonical age requirement for priestly (presbyteral) ordination is 30. That may or may not be strictly observed in various Orthodox churches these days, but the normal seminary training track should get most candidates fairly close already– high school, undergraduate  degree, M.Div. It does seem that many candidates are now coming to seminary later, too– having married and started a family, worked to earn some of the vast amounts of money gobbled by higher education, and perhaps even spent time acquiring skills or qualifications that will allow them to ‘tentmake’ like the Apostle Paul, helping them defray some of their seminary costs and not making them dependent on a parish for their income.

Presbyters are to rule their own households well. That is of course a job for two working together, the priest and his wife. It’s great to have some years of marriage under your belt and the kid-raising started before you have to begin leading a flock. It takes maturity to train other people, little or big, into their own maturity.

Fortunately, you will learn as you go, too. Because the fact is, people in general aren’t as mature as they used to be. No, really. A Discovery Channel article cites research that confirms what we can see all around us every day, in the workplace, in the social media….yes, even in church sometimes.

….many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people,” he said. “People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.” (emphasis mine–PresAnon)

YOW!  Highly educated people are particularly susceptible to  being ‘strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence.’  When I read this, the first thing that came to mind was the opening season of the soapy TV medical drama  Gray’s Anatomy. Those interns were highly educated all right, but they spent so much time on their studying and training that they had never had time to just grow up properly.

But what about clergy families? As I said above, many are coming to seminary after being in the work world for a time, which is a great thing. There’s just no real substitute for life experience. But the other main resource for priests and their wives is the more experienced clergy and -their- wives– firstly at their home parish, then at seminary, then hopefully in the deanery or among neighboring clergy from other jurisdictions.

Peer friendships are necessary and extremely vital. But the limitations of such are that it is possible to end up pooling ignorance and just reinforcing each other’s inexperienced ideas. That’s where help from more experienced clergy couples comes in.

There is a certain amount of practical experience allowed for in parishes near the seminaries, and a few summer internship offers. We could use many more of these, but the truly fortunate priest will  be able upon graduation to spend some years as an assistant to an older priest before taking on a ‘captaincy’ of his own. There is generally  less pressure on the wife & children of an assistant priest, too, giving them time to adjust to the clerical life. If I could wave a magic wand and make it all happen with the gobs of money it would take, I would want every family leaving seminary to have that kind of apprenticeship experience for a few years.

One more note on the topic of maturity: you will find that just like everybody else, many of your parishioners are less mature than might be desirable. I thought the bit about the highly educated lacking maturity in the article above was really something to keep in mind. You may find your parish is full of farmers, plumbers, or retail clerks who have been earning a living since well before you finished high school. I wish someone had told me early on not to discount the everyday wisdom of these kinds of people.

There are no guarantees about any individual, of course, but some ‘less-educated’ people may actually have a more reasonable outlook on reality than the newly-graduated from some academic discipline…even one like theology.

Educated or not, mere years should be entitled to respect. They have wisdom that we don’t. This goes against the grain in our youth-worshipping culture, but it is Christian. It is traditional. It is Orthodox. The babas and yia-yias may certainly be troublesome at times, but we dismiss them at our peril.

It will take humility  for a seminary graduate to listen humbly to what these people have to offer. The priest has the difficult job of balancing that with his call to teach authoritatively on behalf of the church and lead as shepherd. For once, I think, the presbytera’s job is somewhat simpler, if still difficult; for when confronted with many parish situations, the best thing to do is often to just refer people to her husband, their pastor. That too takes maturity.

If you are near St. Vlad’s tomorrow evening….

Lecture of interest to clergy and clergy wives.  I would also love to hear from any of the seminary wives who might have thoughts on this topic or any others of interest to present or future clergy wives– PresAnonyma
Life in mission parishes topic of public lecture at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

YONKERS, NY [SVOTS Communications]On Tuesday, January 31, 2012, Priest John E. Parker, III, chair of the Department of Evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America, will present a free and public lecture, “Realities of Life in Orthodox Christian Mission Churches,” at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Yonkers, NY.  The lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be held in the Bashir Auditorium, directly across from SVS Bookstore in the Education Building.

Father John is a Saint Vladimir’s alumnus and current rector of Holy Ascension Mission, Mount Pleasant, NC.

While visiting the campus, he also will be speaking to the seminary wives’ group, “Saint Juliana Society,” on the topic “Blessings and Curses: The Life of a Clergy Family in a Mission Church.”