Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Advent-Revelation to Joseph,
Baskiyamo Dr. Ann Kadavil Special, Death and Dying

Volume 6 No. 388 December 9, 2016

V. Priest's Wife (Baskiyamo)

The Orthodox Clergy Wife

by Matushka Valerie G. Zahirsky

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.

About The Author:

A noted Orthodox speaker, Matushka Valerie Zahirsky and her family live in Steubenville, Ohio. Fr. Michael Zahirsky serves as rector of St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Mingo Junction.

2000 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).  

The Shadow of a Priest

by Orthodox America

When a woman marries a future priest, she is also marrying, in advance, his future parish and his priesthood. When he is ordained his wife can often be relegated to a life of isolation, neglect and ceaseless beady-eyed scrutiny."

Whether we call her "popadija", "matushka' , "presbytera," or "baskiyamo", the name itself tells part of the story. The priest's wife becomes an extension of him. Women who thought this would be a symbol of status and honor are often mistaken. Frequently, it only makes them a target and the wife of a priest can often suffer more stress than her husband.

When the Alban Research Institute recently conducted a program on stress among clergymen, they found that the stress scores of their wives were often higher than those of the clergy themselves. A list of stress and "burnout" factors for clergy wives showed the following major problems:

1. isolation

2. lack of support from a congregation, which usually sees the priest's wife as a role model rather than an individual

3. the assumption that when the bishop assigns a parish priest, his wife is also assigned and is somehow responsible to the parish

4. the burden of running the church house on a shoe-string budget under the often critical and uncompassionate eye of the congregation;

5. the financial hardship of raising children and running a household on a priest's salary.

Underlying all the problems is the reality that a priest is married to the parish first and his wife second.

Matushka Alexandra knew that being a priest's wife was no guarantee against marital troubles. Her father had been a priest and she had seen her mother struggle with neglect and isolation. But when she met Serge as a seminarian and they decided to marry, she was convinced their marriage would be different. "I was going to do it right," she says with a somewhat cynical laugh today, after twenty years as a matushka. "I had this beautiful, idyllic picture, We were going to be a team. We would love everyone and they would love us."

It didn't take Alexandre long to discover that, like her mother, she would find herself alone much of the time and be confronted with many unloving, sometimes mean and malicious parishioners.

At the first parish they were assigned to, they had a four-room apartment attached to the church. Matushka could never cook, do laundry or household chores while people were at the church for meetings or any other functions; the sounds and smells from the apartment could be detected from the church or its basement hall. Moreover, when the children came along, they had to be kept quiet when any meetings took place or when anyone came to visit Fr. Serge. When the children played in the yard, which was shared by the church, someone would always find cause to complain about them.

Parishioners constantly dropped by unannounced, often casting a critical eye at Matushka Alexandre's housekeeping.

Popadija Maria's father died just a week after she lost her first child. She became very depressed and entered hospital for treatment. Some members of the congregation called the bishop and told him, "We don't want, a priest whose popadija has emotional problems."

When popadija returned home, she was shocked by the lack of sympathy. One woman curtly told her, "I think you would be better off if you didn't spend so much time thinking about your own problems." She received very little support from the parish and her husband was so busy with parish work that she found herself all alone with her problems while the priest had time for everyone else "Everybody's needs always came before mine."

Divorce is difficult for any family, but it presents special problems for clergy families. Always having to take second place to the congregation, having to repeatedly cancel plans for someone else's often very petty concerns and having one's children constantly being judged and accused creates more stress than some wives can bear.

Presbytera Juliana was full of zeal when she married Nicholas, who was about to graduate in Boston. Her husband was very zealous and threw himself into his work Before long, Presbytera found herself going to art galleries, exhibitions and even walks in the park alone. "I may as well have been a widow. We had one daughter, and I wanted another child but there wasn't even time for that. My husband was always with some parishioner, at a hospital or nursing home, or in his print shop. I admired his work, but I am a human being, a woman and a wife. If I had been only another parishioner, I would have gotten more of his time and attention than I did as a wife." Fr. Nicholas gradually became less sympathetic to his wife's complaints and she found that her life was just slipping past m emptiness and loneliness. Finally, she could take it no longer and sought a divorce so she could build some kind of life for herself.

One of the main problems a priest's wife faces is people trying to get to (or at) her husband through her. Many people will bring their complaints, about the priest, which are often imaginary or just selfish, to the priest's wife and harass her with them, expecting her to bend her husband or influence him to comply with their wishes Others will be hostile to the priest's wife and children as a way of showing their disagreement with or disdain for the priest himself.

When the priest s home life is upset in this way, he cannot really give proper service to his congregation. A priest's wife often suffers cruelly and needlessly from the thoughtlessness of parishioners and the neglect of her husband. They are often not even accorded the common courtesy and respect due to any human being.

Parishioners should take those things into account, Instead of always discussing the priest's wife and judging or assessing her why not make it a point to critically assess your own attitude and behavior toward her? The better and more peaceful the priest's home life is, the better the life of the parish will be,

Love, understanding and compassion are requirements of our Orthodox faith.

4 Simple Things You Can Do to Encourage Your Pastor's Wife

by Rhonda Stoppe

"You're thinking of the pastor position of that church in California? Can we talk about it? Let's make a list of pros and cons."

Almost 20 years ago my husband, Steve and I were enjoying an incredible season of ministry in Austin, Texas where we had planted a church along with another well-seasoned pastor and his wife.

Steve was the youth pastor (a ministry we loved with all our hearts), worship leader, and associate pastor.

The new church was exploding with new converts. We could hardly believe how God was working among the teens and their parents to draw them to Christ. What a wonderful time it was!

Our children were flourishing as well. Our oldest son, was about to graduate from A&M University with a position secured as fighter pilot in the Air Force. Our eldest daughter was in eleventh grade. She was a dynamic part of our youth ministry, and genuinely loved growing in her faith alongside her friends. Our son, Brandon was in middle school and enjoyed being included in all of the high school activities - since his dad was the youth pastor. And nine-year-old Kayla loved being a youth pastor's kid.

All was well so you can imagine how taken aback I was when Steve said he was considering accepting a pastor position at a church in California.

Truth be known, the church had called Steve about once every six months over the past two years to pray about the position. Steve would agree to pray, but assured them he wasn't interested.

Now Steve had a change of heart. He seemed moved by the Lord to consider the opportunity. He was obviously wrestling with the same concerns as I was.

How will our kids fare if we move them now?
What will become of our church in Texas if we leave now?

One day Steve had enough of my badgering him with questions, so he said, "Today we will talk through our concerns and then we are not gonna talk about it any more - we are just going to pray."

I put on a pot of coffee, pulled out a tablet and made a pros and cons list. All morning we talked about accepting the position.

At the finish of our second pot of coffee, we agreed taking the job would be too hard on our family, and a tremendous sacrifice to our children. We both said, "We shouldn't take the job."

But then in the next breath we both tearfully agreed, "But we have to. We just have to."

The Lord impressed upon our hearts that it was His will to move out of our comfortable lives to minister in California.

We were surprised when our kids agreed moving was the right thing to do. And our decision was confirmed when our church in Texas tearfully agreed too.

So, off to California we drove. On the way, everything that could go wrong did. If we were looking for a "the door is closed" sign we certainly could have found one. But we pressed on. God had put in our hearts an ache to follow His leading - no matter what the cost.

As we pulled into the town where we would minister, my heart was gripped with anxiety. Immediately I was encouraged by God's whisper:

"Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you."
(Isaiah 41:10)

It's amazing how the Word of God comes to mind at just the right time if you've hidden it in your heart. A peace washed over me as I was assured God would help us.

It has now been 17 years since Steve became pastor of our church in California. In that time God has truly helped us minister there.

So what's the point of telling you my story? Well, for those of you who are pastors' wives, I am sure you share a similar story of God's leading your husband too.

But for those of you who are not married to a pastor, I thought a little peak into what it's like to be married to one would help you know how to encourage your own pastor's wife.

Try to put yourself in the place of the woman you see seated next to your pastor each week. Are their kids struggling because of the pressure the congregation puts on them to be perfect?

Maybe they have financial struggles because her husband has chosen to work in a field that notoriously pays a low salary. (Realize many pastors wives choose not to work so they can help their husbands serve - that was my situation.)

That being said, let's quickly visit four simple things you can do to encourage your pastor's wife.

1. Don't expect her to be perfect.

The woman God has called to minister to your minister is just that - a woman. She has a unique calling that only other ministers' wives understand.

If she forgets your birthday, doesn't smile at you when you see her at the grocery store, or loses her temper with your kid who just poured blue paint on the head of a little girl whose family was visiting the church - cover it with love.

First Corinthians 13 says, "Love bears all things, believes all things..." That means genuine love believes the best about others.

Determine to believe the best about your pastor's wife and make sure she knows you are committed to do so.

And don't expect her kids to be perfect either. She is doing the best she can. Believe the best about your pastor's kids. And when they don't measure up to your expectations, cover it with the same grace you hope someone will offer your own kids when they mess up.

2. Show up.

You can't possibly know how discouraging it is for a pastor to prepare all week to preach only to find a number of people just didn't feel like coming to church that day.

Your pastor and his wife pray for you - you! And they look forward to teaching you what God has laid upon their hearts.

So, whether your pastor's wife is teaching a Bible Study or hosting a fellowship show up! I can't stress enough how encouraging your presence will be.

3. Pray.

Pray for your pastor, his wife and his children. They are in the heat of a battle and Satan would like nothing more than to destroy their testimony. I am confident my children follow Christ today because of the faithful prayers of our congregation.

They need you to stand in the gap for them - on your knees. And you can't do that if you're constantly critiquing the way they are serving Christ.

4. Pray for godly mentors for your pastor's wife.

The mentors God sent my way had such a profound influence on my ministry as a pastor's wife that I wrote an eBook to mentor ministers' wives: I Sleep With the Pastor.

About The Author:

Rhonda Stoppe is a pastor's wife, speaker, and author. As the NO REGRETS WOMAN, Rhonda has more than 20 years experience of helping women live life with no regrets. Through humor, and honest communication, she helps women build NO REGRETS LIVES by applying sound teaching from Scripture. Rhonda appears on radio programs, speaks at women's events, MOPs, and homeschool conventions throughout the nation.



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