Clergy Wives Weekend 2010

LIGONIER, PA --“Everywhere Present and Filling All Things”: The Holy Spirit or the Clergy Wife? was the theme of the second annual Clergy Wives Weekend, held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA from October 29-31. Nearly 70 wives of priests, deacons, and seminarians headed for ordination from all across the country – including Alaska! - came together for this pan-Orthodox weekend of prayer, reflection and informal, enjoyable fellowship.

 On Friday evening, after most of the women had arrived and had finished dinner in the cozy Welcome Lodge, Kh. Joanne Abdalah’s daughter Maria welcomed everyone, and as a PK reflected on her mother’s life and work with clergy wives. In a touching tribute, Maria said that being with us made her feel closer to her mother. After a brief session, where Kh. Stefanie Yazge introduced the theme for the Weekend and our mascot the angel duck, Pres. Becky Touloumes led an ice-breaker that included asking each participant to name an animal that best represents the life of a clergy wife. Monkeys, lions, puppy dogs and chameleons all made appearances in the answers. The evening ended with Little Compline.

On Saturday morning, more women arrived. After a Service of Supplication to Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, followed by breakfast, they joined the rest to hear the first speaker, Mother Gabriella, Abbess of Holy Dormition Monastery in Rives Junction, Michigan. Mother spoke on our relationship with the Holy Spirit, saying that a healthy person is always dialoging with God, just as Adam did before the Fall. But also like Adam, we can begin to confuse created things with the Creator. Yet the image of God always remains in us, and through the Spirit we retain the ability to turn to Him again.

 Mother Gabriella said that clergy wives have something in common with monastics: both have unusual lives which others may not understand, and which may tempt us at times to wish for different circumstances. But as wives we can accept and enjoy our lives if we remember that we have the privilege of providing a grace-filled home for a man who is ordained, and through whom the grace of the Holy Spirit works. We should respect his priesthood and urge others to do so, even while knowing his human weaknesses. She added that “the priest is the sun; the wife is the moon.” Both shine with their own radiance, and both are needed. In fact, both the priest and his wife are given grace through his ordination because they have in fact through marriage become one.

Urging her listeners to be constant in taking part in the sacraments, in seeking the counsel of spiritual elders, and in praying for parish members, Mother Gabriella said that by doing these things we give the Spirit a chance to work in us. Perhaps, she added, there will someday be a category of saints who were the wives of clergy. In the meantime, she suggested starting each day with the confident assertion, “God is good.”

 After lunch and free time, Presbytera Kyriaki FitzGerald, a theologian, author and licensed psychologist, offered the day’s second talk. She noted, reflecting on the theme of the weekend, that while God indeed is “everywhere present and filling all things”, we are not. God’s providence means that He is active in every event of our lives, but often in ways we do not understand or even recognize. This is one of the mysteries of our human life; another is that God has had each of us in mind from eternity. Kyriaki gave an example from her own life, saying that her husband worked during his teenage summers at an amusement park that she and her young cousins often visited. Yet neither one knew the significance of their being there at the same time—only God knew, having in mind eternally that they would one day marry.

 Kyriaki went on to suggest that the wife of a priest or deacon should always try to be a supportive companion to her husband, remembering that they share one life. Cultivating a constantly-growing friendship with her husband will help her develop a pliable heart that the Holy Spirit can work with and mold. A merciful heart, in fact, can become an altar for the love of God. Our hearts, if they are merciful, will be crushed by the world, but then they can be made anew by the Holy Spirit.

The clergy spouse also can be an “alternate face of the priesthood,” in Kyriaki’s words. At times when her husband cannot be present in a situation where he is needed, she can sometimes offer comfort and sustenance. Kyriaki gave the example of a parishioner who fell down the steps during a liturgical procession at church. Medically-trained members of the congregation rushed to offer aid, but Kyriaki’s husband was in the midst of processing, at some distance from the steps. Kyriaki approached the woman to reassure her. Seeing her priest’s wife the woman said with relief, “Oh, you’re here.”

 After a lively discussion period and free time to walk the beautiful grounds of the Village, the afternoon ended with Vespers and dinner. The evening brought a laugh-filled game of Jeopardy, with several categories specially formulated for clergy wives. After the game, some time for informal conversation, enhanced by a selection of wines and elegant desserts served in the Museum lobby, topped off the evening.

Following Sunday morning’s Liturgy, the women shared brunch and said their goodbyes,  expressing their eagerness to have another Weekend together next year. They were very much in the spirit of Khouria Joanne Abdalah, whose life of  service, joy, and wisdom was the inspiration for the first gathering in 2009. Khouria Joanne understood the need of clergy wives to “pray and play” and to share the particular challenges and rewards of their life. The Clergy Wives Weekend of 2010 once again gave them the chance to do just that.

The Weekend Committee included Kh. Laila Ellias, Prot. Mira Filipovic, Kh. Janet Shadid, Pres. Becky Touloumes, Kh Stefanie Yazge, Mat. Valerie Zahirsky, and Fr. John Abdalah. They extend their thanks to Fr Anthony Yazge, Mother Alexandra, Paul Finley and the entire staff of the Antiochian Village for their assistance in making this weekend a wonderful experience!