People have had enoug
· Focus ·
The wife of a priest stands beside her husband and children like any other Christian wife. This is the most important truth of her state of life. If she believed she was something different from the other women in the community she would run the risk of losing the truth about herself and of silencing within herself the voice of all those realities which form the substance of our lives. It is very easy for her or for her partner to entrench themselves behind imaginary models and tasks, losing the essence not only of the priesthood but also of their relationship. I have the impression that the image which a priest’s wife has of her position and her task in the Church is generally similar to that which her husband has of the priesthood: if the priest has a false image of the sacrament of the priesthood, she thinks this sets him above others, lay people, and so she too will adopt an arrogant and finicky attitude.
The centre of the priest’s wife’s life – as moreover of that of any other member of the Church who wishes to take his or her faith seriously – is Christ and not social or pastoral work. If she is caught up in community expectations and spiritual stereotypes that are not inspired by love and by authentic joy it is almost certain that her place in the Church will become an unbearable burden.
It is hard for a couple in which the husband is a priest, especially in Greece where the priest’s clothes are so different from those of ordinary people, to pass unobserved. Such a couple often becomes the object of indiscreet and insistent stares on the part of people who in turn pronounce words of keen disapproval. These are moments when you feel as though you were being examined under a microscope for others to see your stature, your resistance and perhaps how different you are from their expectations.
It depends on the couple to decide how much space to leave for the consequences of this burden. If they lose their mutual tenderness, if their rigidity in the religious and social fields determines their decisions, then it is almost certain that their lives – and in particular the wife’s life – will end by being depressing. The uniqueness of a relationship once spontaneous and free will be crushed beneath a suffocating obligation of “sacrifice”.
Unfortunately many people look at the Church as an institutional factor of society, people who are harsh in their judgements, myopic and unable to understand themselves as members of a community which forms the body of Christ and which is continuously evolving. Yet there are also those who create an idealized image of people. This very often happens with the image that people expect to see in a priest’s family; thus a seductive burden is created, that of having to be a model.
Lastly however, what many of us seek in relationships is something simple but at the same time also rare: it is the truth, spontaneity, a tender smile, a concern full of discretion, consistence, mutual trust and creative joy. These, I think, are the qualities which should permeate the life of a priest’s wife, and in general of a Christian wife, in her relations with the people she meets and especially with her relatives.
On the basis of my own experience I would say that an ever larger number of young people desire us to discuss our relationship as a couple. They sometimes approach with timid curiosity to ask if it is difficult being a priest’s wife, especially because my husband is frequently abroad for the needs of the mission. And it is in fact so comforting to me to reply sincerely that everything goes better if one adopts a positive attitude, if one has trust in one’s partner and never stops being sincere with him. It is deeply consoling to be able to rely on one another, not to fear sharing and exposure to the public. I have met many priests’ wives who seek always to show themselves as perfect, as a sort of mannequin. They prefer to transmit and advise certainties and not to be advised; they fear losing the immaculate image of a priest’s family. This, to my mind, is a tragedy! No human relationship, no family is perfect. We are all on our way, in search of the Perfect One who is none other than God. People are tired of moralizing and respectability. I consider that our time affords a precious opportunity for learning to keep safe what is true and sincere in human relations.
The external appearance of a priest’s wife in Greece – especially in the provinces in which the mentality is still rather closed – is a subject of misunderstandings. Unfortunately such misunderstanding generally involves the external appearance of Christians, and especially of women. Once no one would have said that a code of “ethical dress” existed. The length of one’s skirt or sleeves depended on changes in custom. The more conservative a woman was, introverted and phlegmatic, the more “pure” and “praiseworthy” she appeared. Fortunately in recent years such exaggerations are becoming ever more marginal. Woe betide us if our spiritual struggle should be limited to the quality of the material we use, the way in which we do our hair or the colour of the clothes we wear!
It is very important for a Christian woman, whether or not she is a priest’s wife, to appreciate beauty, to seek beauty without making it become an end in itself. St John Chrysostom, who showed a special veneration for the theme of nuptials, insists on the harmony not only of the spouses’ souls but also of their bodies, and treats with great interest subjects that are apparently secondary, such as the external aspect of the spouses and their commitment to reviving their mutual joy.
The wife of a priest and her husband advance on the path together with the rest of the flock, in expectation of the resurrection of the dead, having Christ as their only model, offering his unconditional love. In this vision all of us Christians are called to become “salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13), models of couples, parents, friends and colleagues.
It is not easy for a priest’s wife to “share” her husband. Just as it is not easy for a priest’s children to share their father with his spiritual sons and daughters. There are moments when you think you are losing the exclusive right to love, not of course in essence but in daily life. This also requires a courageous overcoming of self on the part of the woman, involving the desire for an unconditional love, of which we spoke above, the desire to serve the body of Christ, of which each individual is a member. Serving others is useful to you yourself because you too belong to the same body. A Greek proverb says: “When you water your neighbour’s vegetable garden, you are also feeding your own”.
My daily experience and also my frequentation of couples in which the husband is a priest has confirmed to me that the quieter and more discreet the participation of the priest’s wife is in her husband’s work, the more normal is not only their relationship but also the priest’s relationship with his flock. The priest’s wife has many ways of helping in her husband’s pastoral work and I think that the most efficient are those that make no sound. It is very important that she help where and how she can, with discretion and in the ceaseless conviction that she too, beside so many others, is carrying out a ministry at the heart of the Church.
Katerina Spyros Diamandopoulou-Zimouri
St. Peter’s Square
Dec. 12, 2017
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