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The Orthodox Clergy Wife

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  • Tenny Thomas
    What does it mean to have a wonderful title, and no real job description? The position of the wife of a priest is exactly this. The various languages or every
    Message 1 of 368 , Aug 2 10:57 PM
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      What does it mean to have a wonderful title, and no real job

      description? The position of the wife of a priest is exactly this.
      The various languages or every Orthodox country have titles of honor for
      the priest's wife. Some might literally be translated as `priestess',
      while some mean `wife of the priest', and in at least one language —
      Russian — the priest's wife is `mother' or `little mother'.

      So it's clear that our Orthodox cultures have always seen the
      position of priest's wife as something special. Yet there really is no "job
      description" for what she should do or be. This might be seen as a
      reason for confusion and frustration, but I think it's more true to
      the nature of Orthodoxy to see it as the Church's loving freedom, given to
      her children. It leaves a woman free to regard her position as a
      ministry which can be carried out in whatever way is most suitable
      and comfortable for her own character and personality. If there is no
      job description, there is no blueprint, either, to which any woman
      should feel obliged to conform.

      The late Jacqueline Onassis was asked early in her husband John F.
      Kennedy's presidency what she though her most important role would
      be as First Lady. She answered that it would be to take care of the
      President so that he could do his job effectively. And despite the
      differences in "style" of various priest's wives, they, too, have
      this as their first task. Like any wife, the priest's wife must help her
      husband carry out the demanding tasks that are his, not by taking
      part directly in those tasks, but by seeing to his physical, spiritual,
      and emotional well-being. If the family includes children, there are
      other things to be seen to. The priest's family needs to be a healthy unit
      whose members' needs are attended to. The members must also be
      allowed to grow through their mistakes and experimental "trying on" of
      various aspects of life. Most of all, there should be continual spiritual
      effort in the family, involving all its members.

      We can say more about each of these points. First, seeing to a
      husband's well-being: For a priest's wife, this includes what it
      does for most wives — overseeing the diet, activities, and living
      conditions of her family. But it can also mean helping her husband feel
      confident in his ministry, encouraging him during rough times, and discerning
      what to tell him about the things she herself observes in the
      parish. Because so often there is little monetary or status-related reward
      for the priest's work — as there is more likely to be in other
      professions — her support is particularly important.

      The second point, the need for the priest's family to be a place in
      which members' needs are attended to, applies especially to the
      children. The demands of the priestly ministry can be — or can be
      allowed to become — so overwhelming that there is little time left
      for a busy priest to see to the needs of his own offspring. His wife is
      often the one who makes sure he carves out time to attend a son's
      concert or a daughter's game, and who encourages family conversation
      at the dinner table, as well as private talk between father and child
      at other times. There are many clergy wives who, while themselves
      holding down full-time jobs to meet material family needs, manage also to
      satisfy the family's emotional needs in this way. Their heroic
      efforts will surely find a great reward in heaven!

      The third point, that a priest's family should be a unit whose
      members can make mistakes and experimentally "try on" aspects of life
      applies to children as well as to their parents. Green hair on the priest's
      son or a little gold ring in his daughter's naval, for example, should
      not scandalize the parish any more that they would if they appeared on
      other parish teens' bodies. Priest's wives need to work with their
      husbands to protect their children's right to try things out, and
      not to let those outside the family put the children into a box of
      expected, impeccable, exemplary behavior — different from what is
      expected of any young, growing Christian. A clergy wife must also
      resist the temptation to impose a certain standard of behavior on
      her children for no other reason than "not to embarrass the family."
      Good behavior should be encouraged because it will help the child have a
      satisfying and God-pleasing life, not because he or she is a PK
      (`priest's kid'), and therefore has a special responsibility to make
      the family look good. If the priest's wife can calmly accept her and
      other children's quirks and mistakes, she will by example help other
      parents to have the same flexibility and calmness. In fact, this
      will help them to be more accepting of people in general — a healthy
      trait for Christians to develop.

      Finally, the fourth point: The clergy family must be a place in
      which there is constant spiritual effort. A clergy wife with small
      children knows the struggle of getting little ones dressed and ready for
      Liturgy on a wintry Sunday morning with no help from the husband, who left
      for the church some time ago to begin the preparation in the altar. She
      knows, too, that he won't be standing with her during the services
      to hold a tired toddler or gently quite a baby's outburst during the
      sermon — because he'll be busy giving it!
      Perhaps this is the place where the priest's wife has the most
      important aspect of her ministry. If she can make the effort — not
      always successfully — to get to the services even under difficult
      circumstances, and if she can show that she wants to be there, she
      will do a great deal for the people around her. We can be tempted to see
      worship as a beautiful but inessential adjunct to the "real" parts
      of our lives: work, home, school. But the priest's wife, a layperson
      like the others in the parish, has the same responsibilities and
      temptations that they do. When she makes the Church and its worship central to
      her life, other may see that they also can do so. They may even decide
      that they should do so!

      If the priest's wife can encourage even one person in this way, she
      will have done the work of the Lord and will truly be the partner to
      her husband that her Orthodox title of honor calls her to be.
      Lots of Titles for the Priest's Wife
      Every "traditionally Orthodox" country has a special title in its
      language for the priest's wife. In America, we tend to bring these
      terms into our parishes based on the ethnic background of the
      majority of the parishioners, as our own English language really has no
      "comfortable" equivalent. Here are a few:

      Presbytera (pres vee TEAR a) — Greek, for `priestess'
      Papadiya or Popadia (PO pa DEE ya) — Serbian/Balkan
      Matushka (MA toosh ka) — Russian, for `mother'
      Panimatushka (PA nyee MA toosh ka) or Panimatka — Ukrainian, for
      `little mother'
      Pani (PA nyee) — a shortened form, common in the Carpatho-Russian
      tradition
      Khouria (ho REE ya) — Syrian
      Beth'Kyomo/Beth'Kyama - Syriac, for `daughter of the covenant'
      (Beskyama – Malayalam – this is an adulterated form of the Syriac
      beth'kyomo/beth'kyama

      The wife of a deacon has a title, too! In Greek, it's Diakonissa
      (for `deaconess'). In the Slavic tradition, it's the same as the title
      used for the priest's wife!

      Compiled by Tenny Thomas
      The Orthodox Family Life (Valerie G. Zahirsky)
    • Prasad John
      Dear Joykutty, Do you have the electronic version of the below, if so could you please forward it to me. My email id is prasadvjohn@hotmail.com Thanks Prasad
      Message 368 of 368 , Aug 20 11:43 AM
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        Dear Joykutty,

        Do you have the electronic version of the below, if so could you please forward it to me.
        My email id is prasadvjohn@...


        Thanks
        Prasad John

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