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On Saturday March 13, nearly ninety OCA clergy wives from dioceses spanning the country gathered virtually for a retreat entitled “Lent in the Time of Pandemic.”
Meeting under the auspices of the Office of Pastoral Life, the wives were welcomed by Matushka Miho Ealy, a member of the Clergy Wives Advisory Board. His Eminence Archbishop Paul then offered an opening prayer and expressed his gratitude for the group’s efforts. (His Grace Bishop Alexis, who chairs the Office of Pastoral Life, was unable to be present because of a schedule conflict.)
Archbishop Paul introduced the day’s speaker, Mother Christophora (Matychak), who is the abbess of the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA. He noted that Mother Christophora grew up attending Saint Vladimir Church in Lopez, PA. After graduating from college with a degree in psychology, she worked for several years as an addictions counselor, serving particularly those struggling with alcohol addiction. Her working years also gave her a good background in administration.
She began visiting the monastery regularly, and joined after a few years. In 1987, she was elected abbess. In the ensuing years she has overseen the monastery’s notable physical growth, and has welcomed and nurtured a number of women seeking to enter the monastic life. In addition, she has emphasized hospitality. The monastery has accommodations for families and other guests who wish to take part for a little while in the services and prayerful rhythm of life in the place she calls home.
An underlying theme of Mother Christophora’s talk came from a statement by a wise cleric: “It is a dangerous thing to declare your love for God, for He will ask from you down to the very last drop.” She said that this past year in the lives of clergy wives has reflected that statement. The pandemic shutdown required many of them to be the choir, the technician and the reader at limited-attendance Divine Liturgies, while still maintaining their usual family and parish roles.
Cautioning that Great Lent is “a project in itself” in parishes, she encouraged participants to keep the season simple, not adding more efforts to those it already calls forth (preparation for extra services, decorating, cooking, and so on.) She said that we must make time for three elements in our lives, especially during this period: solitude, silence, and stillness or rest. Even standing silently in front of an icon can be a still, solitary prayer. Clergy wives have busy and demanding lives; therefore some rest is essential, and never something to feel guilty about. Another reason clergy wives need to rest and restore their energy, Mother said, is that “your husband depends on you even when he doesn’t know it.”
She went on to say that even with attendance limitations, masks and social distancing, there are ways to serve others. We can offer a nod, a glance, a word, a tissue if needed. But we should strive to be ourselves, not feeling pressured to be an example to everyone. Our struggle before God is to become the unique person He intended us to be. That is how we come to sanctity.
Sometimes, Mother said, that struggle will mean sacrifice and getting hurt. She read the words of Matushka Juliana Schmemann, who urged clergy wives to remember the immense sacrifice Our Lord made for us, and to offer God all our hurt (and our joy) at the foot of the cross.
After Mother Christophora’s talk, participants divided into smaller groups to discuss questions she had provided. Considering what blessings the pandemic has brought about, some women cited increased and less rushed family time, more time for personal prayer, and leisure to pursue hobbies and interests. Yet the hardships of isolation and financial struggle that burden some clergy wives were also intensified. Several wives mentioned their gratitude for Mother Christophora’s statement that “God is practical” and that it is appropriate, not selfish or unspiritual, to prepare for retirement and our personal “end times.”
Retreat participants uniformly agreed that being together, even if only virtually, is a blessing. They appreciated Archbishop Paul’s closing words of encouragement for their ministry which, he stressed, should never be taken for granted by others.
Matushka Miho Ealy thanked Mother Christophora and Archbishop Paul, after which he ended the retreat with prayer. The Clergy Wives Advisory Board also thanks Matushka Janine Kotalik, who was in charge of technical arrangements.
The Board reminds any OCA clergy wives who have not yet joined the group that they can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org, where they will be invited to “Submit Contact Information.” Our plans include more retreats, a directory so that we can all be in touch, and a newsletter. Please join us!