Women's Group Hosts Metropolitan Tikhon

The appealing invitation read, "Good afternoon, Ladies, Please join us at tomorrow’s Wine & Cheese reception. Let’s enjoy this last celebration before Lent begins!" Invited by Matushka Thekla Hatfield and Matushka Robyn Hatrak, SVOTS women attended a pre-lenten campus gathering on March 7  featuring an honored guest, His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

The ladies first enjoyed a potluck of favorite cheesefare cuisine, before assembling to hear from His Beatitude, the Seminary's president and board chairman. After the chancellor of the Seminary, Archpriest Chad Hatfield, offered a short introduction, and Metropolitan Tikhon briefly shared his thoughts on the role of clergy wives in the Church, the floor was open for questions.

“How can I help my husband establish a good relationship with our bishop?”
“If there happens to be another Orthodox jurisdiction nearby, may I confess to a priest there?”
“What is your opinion on confession over the phone?”
“How did your trip to the Diocese of the South go, and what is your view on the incorrupt remains of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas?”
“Has the process of canonization changed and sped up with the development of information technology, especially social networks like Facebook and Twitter?”
“What is your vision for the OCA in the years to come?”
“How does one regard the concept of spiritual fathers in America?”
“Whom do you turn to for spiritual guidance?"

Metropolitan Tikhon provided candid informal responses to these and other questions. As he elaborated on the practical pastoral aspect of serving at a parish, he pointed out that the ministry of a priest’s spouse is unique and demanding; yet to preserve one’s sanity and humanity, one shouldn’t forget about self-care.  

“The role of a clergyman’s wife is to keep him grounded. As he gets caught up in the mysteries—hearing confessions, serving Liturgy, and so on, she helps him get back down-to-earth. But in order to do that, you have to keep grounded yourselves. Many of you came tonight with a baby. Tending to a parish is somewhat similar—in some sense they are your children, your flock. And then the temptation is to escape into a fantasy, to imagine yourself someplace else: ‘I’m not really here.’ And yet it is essential to be present. Remember: your role is important, you are not just an accessory to the priest.”

One of the seminarian spouses asked the Metropolitan to share some concrete advice in how to stay grounded: “Of course, praying, fasting, and reading Scripture are some of the ways. But can you suggest something specific? Like a concrete prayer or other measure?”

Metropolitan Tikhon paused in thought for a moment, before he gave a response: “You know what? Go for a walk. Tell your husband to look after the kids for a bit, and take a stroll in the woods or the park. This is also a way to get away from the problem, but it’s a healthy distraction. Consult a therapist. Some look down on seeking counseling, but it can really help. Talk to a friend. And even if you don’t have friends in this town—as clergy families are usually a bit detached from the parishioners, in order to maintain a healthy parish—have some friends to call, establish a network, make a connection.

"I think I understand your question," he continued. "Praying and reading Scripture is good, but when one feels burdened and trapped, then telling yourself ‘I have to do my prayer rule! I have to read the Bible!’ can add more pressure. And yet often you just need an outlet to speak things out. That is why an important part of my vision for the OCA is promoting clergy health—establishing peer groups for priests where they can share their experiences. And of course, talk to your husbands. Encourage each other.”

"At seminary," reflected first-year seminarian spouse Ilaria O'Keefe afterwards, "we are given many opportunities to interact with clergy, including hierarchs of the Church. It is encouraging to see bishops who act as true pastors to their flock. Metropolitan Tikhon's gentleness and humility help make him a kind and approachable minister to the people of North America. Mravalzhamier! Many Years!"

(Text by Olga Kirilchenko; Photos by campus photographer Mary Honoré)