Category Archives: Orthodoxy, clergy wives

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.

How to fail at being the priest’s wife

You know my sympathies are with clergy wives. You know my default mode is to give the priest’s wife the benefit of the doubt. But if you saw my last post, you know I don’t believe anyone is exempt from messing up. And on this subject as so many others, clergy wives are just about invisible, the advice addressed to them non-existent. These points are only my opinion. It is the opinion of a priest’s wife with long experience. Well, long but not that broad. I think I have said before, we have been in our present parish a very long time, and it is a good parish. A very good parish. But I have been in parishes not so good. I have seen times even in this very good parish that were not so good. I know other clergy wives in parishes not so good. It can be rotten, and I sympathize, because in the past I have had some of those trying experiences.

If you are new at being presbytera or matuschka or khouriya or any other special title meaning priest’s wife, or if your husband is currently in seminary or thinking of going to seminary, it may help you to think about these points. If you currently find yourself in a not-so-good parish or in a crisis of some kind, they may help you to pause and think about the next steps to take. I can’t help you with specifics about steps to take in your own diocese or jurisdiction—every situation is different. But I will share with you some observations that you can think about as you seek to find your own path. No-one sets out to fail at being the priest’s wife, do they? But they do.

Very often that failure is tied to their husband failing as a priest. I know, nobody wants to talk about priests failing. But they do. Maybe sometimes it can’t be helped. You probably know all that stuff about dysfunctional family systems—if one member of the family is mentally and emotionally unhealthy, then it is pretty hard for the other members to stay on track. Sometimes it is the clergy wife who is her own worst enemy and the main cause of shipwreck in her husband’s ministry. Remember, my default is support for the clergy wives. But after several decades of failure, success, pain, sorrow, joy, anger, and all the rest, I can tell you what I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Clergy wives may have no control over the gossips in the parish or their finances or the power struggles in the parish or with the bishop, but they do have free will and the choice not to go blindly ahead with bad decisions. Like anyone else, clergy wives have control over no-one’s behavior but their own—and not always that much of that.

So here, in no particular order, is a list of things that I think will contribute to failing at being a presbytera.

1. Don’t want to be a presbytera in the first place. I don’t know how women in this situation get to the place where their husband is ordained, but they do. If you want to fail, convince yourself you want to be a clergy wife, even though every fibre of your being is crying out NO. Talk positive to other people. Don’t mention to your husband that you don’t want to do this thing. Don’t seek out help from clergy couples or the bishop or your confessor or the dean.

2. Want too bad to be a presbytera. Be the one in the driver’s seat while your husband hangs back. Get over-involved in his theology classes, and open your mouth with the answers when people ask him a question.

Let’s assume you get there— wanting too little, too much, or just enough, you get there anyway. How can you fail at being the priest’s wife once you are already there? After all, you get the honorary title automatically when he gets ordained, right? Well, here are some more ways to fail:

3. Don’t act respectful to him in public. If you aren’t acting respectful in private, that’s bad enough. But it only takes once for a parishioner to see you disrespecting your husband for them to decide they don’t need to respect him either.

4. Act entitled. Be seen being involved with demands for a raise, for instance. Don’t help out with the ordinary tasks like the kitchen cleanup—you’re too busy being spiritual, doing the choir stuff or sitting in church praying or something.

5. Or on the other hand, rush to fulfil every unreasonable expectation of the parishioners that you run the women’s group, be at every service, meeting and gathering for every sub-group in the church, direct the choir, teach the Sunday school etc. etc. If you are going to fail, the surest though not always the fastest way to do it is to forget the meaning or even existence of the word balance.

6. Open your mouth with your opinion on every topic possible. Especially political ones. And personal ones. Personal topics are political, and political ones are personal. Be sure to be daringly politically correct, especially if your parish has a lot of people who are more conservative than you. Because they are just mean old fogeys, and you are better educated and you –know- you are right, even if you are supporting ideas that your own Orthodox hierarchy have spoken against. This goes double for anything you do on the internet.

7. Or suppose you are on the more ‘traditional’ end of the spectrum, and some of your parish aren’t—you can still fail as presbytera, it’ll just be via a slow smolder instead of a sudden explosion—all you have to do is never miss an opportunity to correct every little thing about the way people don’t fast well enough, don’t make the sign of the cross right, don’t make their children keep quiet in church. Self-righteousness comes in both flavors, but it’s basically the same thing.

8. Make friends in the parish. I know, this one is controversial. Maybe it depends how you define ‘friend’. But I know many tales of clergy couples who found the way to failure through having confidants and close buddies in the parish. So if you want to fail, pay attention to this one. You can get other people in the parish all jealous and resentful and complaining that you play favorites; you can lean on somebody you thought you could trust only to have them turn on you in a public meeting.

9. I suppose we take it for granted that the priest’s wife will mostly be in church. But strangely enough, I do know of some (usually the ones that were never too keen about being presbytera to begin with) who really are hardly there at all, and clearly not very interested in church, pursuing their own careers and hobbies instead. Definitely a good way to fail.

10. The invisible failure is not praying. Even non-failing presbyteras fall for this one from time to time. I don’t think I’ve ever completely quit praying myself, but sometimes I just don’t keep with the routine. That’s a fail.

These are all I can think of at the moment, but they should be plenty to get you to failure. I invite other clergy wives with experience to chime in on this topic with anything that might be useful for your fellow presbyteras. As I said, these points are my own opinion from my own experience; yours may differ, and it is worth having some different voices here.

Who goes there?

Happy New Year,  Christmas, and Theophany.  We are all of us mostly about to head back into regular work and school routines. I wish you all blessings in 2013.

I’ve been poking around in the backstage area of the blog, not sure what to post about here next. The most recent search term gave me a bit of a shock. A bit, not that much, unfortunately….

Of course the ones at the top of the list are the obvious ones– presbytera, Orthodox, priest’s wife, matushka, ‘role of clergy wife’, and variations of these terms.

Some name searches for well-known Orthodox ‘personalities’, both clergy and their wives.

Not surprisingly, not too far down the list, there are also some searches for things along the lines of “Do Orthodox priests get paid”, “Conflict in church”, and “priest’s wives burnout”

A couple made me laugh– ‘how to be a popular presbytera’ and ‘handsome Orthodox priest’ (!)

Further down the list though, we have such disturbing things as ‘help for the abused clergy wife’, “I dont want to be a presbytera’, ‘orthdox canonon clergy hitting spouse’ , ‘how can we complain about a priest who is lying’ .

The recent  search term that raised my eyebrows was ‘priest f— woman confessor’. You know the f word was spelled out. Browsing through other recent searches I also found ‘priest priest hear the words of hate’. Um.

I make no assumptions about the people who come to this blog or whether they found what they were looking for. The blog is meant primarily for Orthodox clergy wives, though it has been demonstrated that other people, Orthodox and non-Orthodox,  are certainly reading it at times anyway.  I wish the blog had more to offer clergy wives than it does. There is a little information here, and the confirmation that we are not the only ones who sometimes struggle with our unique vocation as ‘The Shadow of a Priest”.

Reading these search terms, it is clear there is hate and pain out there. Rare is the priest or clergy wife who haven’t encountered those indirectly or sometimes even directly. When it is an ongoing situation in parish or wider church affecting the priest and his wife, they cling to one another for support if, as is often the case, there is no-one else standing by them.

But when a presbytera herself is victimized by her husband, and especially if her children are in danger, I think the time for silent suffering is done. Please, if you feel afraid of your priest husband, go to your hierarch for help. If he has attacked you, skip your bishop and church administration and go straight to the police. The same is necessary if you are a layperson who has been victimized by a priest.

Some will tell you such things should be worked out within the church and never brought to civil authorities. Sadly, this has far too often proved to be useless, or worse than useless, as the victim is not believed or the embarrassed church authorities try to avoid trouble and sweep things under the rug. If it can’t be kept quiet, the victim will often be made the scapegoat.

I will add here that clergy themselves can be and have been attacked with false allegations, which is why they must never let down their guard. Remember the search term for ‘Handsome Orthodox Priest?” It looked funny on the screen, but there are  personality disordered characters popularly known as ‘cassock chasers’ who are obsessed with the mystique of the priest and seek to sexually entrap clergymen. Don’t be caught off guard in the clerical devotion to dutiful caring for all kinds of people. There are also envious wolves in sheep’s clothing, and vengeful  and self-deluded people with ‘daddy issues’ who will project all their own faults onto the father-figure of the priest.

I wish I had more answers for these troubling issues. My only answer is, Be wise, put not your trust in princes and sons of men, and pray for God’s mercy. The Psalms are especially helpful.  I love listening to them as a Reader chants them in church. This one I always hear in my head in the version we do in the Presanctified liturgies in Lent:

Psalm 120

King James Version (KJV)

120 In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.

Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.

What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?

Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.

Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!

My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.

I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

A couple of links

A thoughtful and serious response

http://orthodoxwoman.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/a-response/

to a previous post on this blog.

https://presbyteraanonyma.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/so-you-think-you-want-to-be-a-priests-wife/

and an article about a parish helping support seminarians:

http://oca.org/news/headline-news/chattanooga-parish-first-to-respond-to-one-percent-giving-in-support-of-the

The Plight of Mrs. Priest

The original article is titled “The Plight of Mrs. Pastor”, as it comes from a Protestant lawyer/church conflict mediator, but it all is pretty much the same for an Orthodox presbytera.

Depression and other such challenges are rampant among clergy wives of all sorts of faith groups.  As this blogger putsit:

the  “ugly reality of the church…it is filled…FILLED with flawed, broken people who behave badly and who desperately need the Spirit of God and each other.  Those people hurt ministers.  That is a fact of ministry.”

Read the rest of his blog post here on the blog so nicely titled “The Church Whisperer.”

So You Think You Want to be a Priest’s Wife…

Edit Feb. 10: This has been the most popular post ever on PresbyteraAnonyma. Clearly the items covered here resonate with the experience of many. The reason I started the blog to begin with was precisely because there is so little by way of support and networking for Orthodox clergy wives. It is so good to see that there are now some attempts being made to provide seminary programs, for instance.

Please feel free to add to the discussion here or elsewhere. For instance, the post has been picked up by Byztex.blogspot.com, and the blog author (who is currently a seminarian) and commenters there have added much more excellent food for thought. –PresAnon

So you think you want to be a priest’s wife…..

Before you head off on your husband-search to seminary or to a choir concert featuring eager young men in black singing liturgical music, make your way through the following checklist:

v    Do you love being at church? A lot? Not just on Sundays?

v    Have you established a prayer rule and regular confession? Now is the time to do this, before husband and children come along to complicate your routine. Also, you will likely have to find a new confessor once you move to a new parish, and make it a priority to go regularly, possibly traveling some distance.

v    Can you wait patiently for services to start, or for your husband to finish chatting with parishioners after the service? Are you ready to train your children with the same patience? PK’s (priests’ kids) say that the thing they rememember more than anything else about growing up is always –waiting- at church!

v    Can you handle living in somebody else’s house indefinitely? While many churches now offer a housing allowance, a lot still own a parish house where the priest and his family will be expected to reside, often right next door to the church where parishioners can observe your gardening skills or lack thereof, or drop in when you least expect it.

v    Do you find yourself content to be second banana? Can you stand happily beside someone else who is in the spotlight, whether it is your husband or whether it is already-established lay leaders in the parish you move to?

v    Are you ready to deal with expectations about the way you and your children dress, the amount of money you spend on your pets, or the kind of recreational activities your family chooses?

v    Are you prepared to work part- or even full-time, at least temporarily, to make ends meet in a parish that can’t or won’t provide their priest a living wage? Do you have a marketable skill that will help you find work that you will enjoy?

v    Do you have interests to pursue outside the church? These can give you a much-needed break and change of perspective.

v    Have you thought about the ways in which you will contribute to the life of the parish—and the ways you won’t? Can you be firm but polite about your decisions? Do you know what your gifts are and aren’t? If you aren’t sure, are you willing to give something a try when asked, but turn it over to someone else if you find you are not the right woman for the job?

v    Will you remind your husband that you and the children are also parishioners, and ensure that he gets a weekly day off; that the phone will not be answered during family dinner; and that barring emergencies, milestones in your children’s lives will take precedence?

v    Can you gather your strength to move your household away from your familiar surroundings at short notice if the bishop decides to reassign your husband to a new parish?

v    Do you have a network of family and friends to whom you can turn, even if only long distance, to confide in? Can you keep a balance of friendliness to parishioners without favoritism or making any of them ‘special’ above others?

v    Are you any good at all at holding your tongue? You will be offered opportunities to do so almost daily.

If these all sound a little daunting, they are. Clergy wives face challenges that their parishioners scarcely ever think about.

The good news is, a lot can be learned as you go along—in fact can hardly be learned any other way. What is mainly needed is open eyes and a good attitude. Seminaries are now making a point of helping seminarians’ wives to look ahead and prepare for life in the parish. Seminary is also where you will meet other women who will be undergoing similar experiences, and with them you can help build supportive relationships for the future.

Still think you might want to be a priest’s wife? One thing left to do: start praying. And never stop.

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.”