Protesta Lillian, author of Helpful Hints for Orthodox Clergy Wives, explores the tremendous responsibility the wife of a clergyman carries in supporting her husband's ministry, their family, and the extended church community.

Show Notes

The wife of a clergyman, respectfully called Preoteasă, Matushka, Khouria, Presbytera, or Popadija in various Orthodox traditions, serves a unique supporting role in a parish community. Preoteasă Lillian Lupu, author of Helpful Hints for Orthodox Clergy Wives, explores the tremendous responsibility the wife of a clergyman carries in supporting her husband, their family, and the extended church community. 

The episode's title conveys a double meaning. "Supporting" describes the clergy wife in her role, and it explores how the laity can support these women who are constantly called upon to serve and sacrifice for the sake of the community. Rather than offering suggestions and critique, support is better offered by extending the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

What is Doulos?

The Doulos podcast explores servant leadership in an Orthodox Christian context.

Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm delighted to be interviewing Protesta Lillian Lupu. She supported her husband Fr Michael upon his ordination back in 1988 by Bishop Nathaniel, and his assignment to the Nativity of the Birthgiver of God Church in Calgary, Alberta, where they remained until Father's retirement in 2018. During those 30 years at St. Mary's Protesta Lillian conducted the choir, served as cantor for vespers and other services, she helped with church school and church camps, baked the prosphora, and performed what she likes to put in quotes, "other duties as required." Protesta Lillian always had a full time secular job. The most recent was in the human resources department within the City of Calgary from which she retired in 2016. So welcome, Protesta Lillian, so excited to be talking with you today.

Pr Lillian Lupu 1:13
Well thank you, Hollie, for inviting me today. I don't usually like speaking in public, but I'm quite excited to talk to you about this book on clergy wives. There have not been many opportunities exposing the clergy family to lay people. It's a little bit unnerving talking about clergy family lives, and I thank you for asking what we do.

Hollie Benton 1:34
Yes, so Protesta Lilian, you have recently published the book called Helpful Hints for Orthodox Clergy Wives. So tell us a little bit about this book and why you wrote it.

Pr Lillian Lupu 1:47
Well, in the 90s, and for many years after Archbishop Nathaniel of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America held clergy wives retreat weekends at the Vata, which is the headquarters for the episcopate. And at one of these retreats, a small number of us wanted to put together a few points for clergy wives. I was a new clergy wife myself, and felt a little bit lost in the role. And I thought others might feel the same way. In 2004, we put together a trifold pamphlet called helpful hints for Protese, which is clergy wives. Then in September 2020, Archbishop Nathaniel asked me to look at the pamphlet and spruce it up a bit. And with fresh and more experienced eyes, I was surprised at how very flimsy it seemed and not very helpful for helpful hints. So I started to work on it. And every time I'd send them a copy, I'd say it's grown a little bit. This is turning from a booklet into a book. One of the main focal points is how God has chosen us to be a part of His Holy Church and serve him while being a partner to our husband. When we take on this role, it becomes not a part-time, but for all of our life and our family's life. However, we don't receive much of any training for being a clergy wife. So it seems necessary to have a few pointers to help us in circumstances that only clergy families encounter. In order to write this book, I reached out to other clergy wives, and many were very willing to talk about their experiences. And my vision in compiling these experiences in a book was to help my sisters in Christ, and hope they would take away even one hint that would help make their life in their home or parish easier and happier. And hopefully, that in turn, will make the priests, the family, and the parish happier.

Hollie Benton 3:40
And I understand at first that the book was really meant, as you said, to encourage clergy wives, like you said, you don't get a lot of training, so based on the experience of other clergy wives, what are things that you can say to the women who are entering this new opportunity to serve their families and serve their parishes. And I understand you were surprised when your bishop suggested it be shared with the entire diocese. And now you're starting to get thanks and reaction from clergymen and even from the laity themselves. I myself feel it's really an important opportunity for the laity to understand, even if unintentional, the pressure that they put on the families of our clergy, because they really do make so many sacrifices. Say more about the bridge of understanding that you're beginning to see among the clergy and the laity through the interviews and the examples that you shared in your book.

Pr Lillian Lupu 4:38
Yes, you're right, Hollie, I was nervous when Archbishop Nathaniel said he was going to post the link on the website. I felt like the clergy wife was going to be exposed and her role was going to be exposed as fallible or weak. I'm still a bit nervous because some parishioners might feel this book to be a how-to manual, and judge the clergy wife accordingly. I've heard one parishioner come up to her priest's wife and say, I found this book on how to be a priest wife, I'm going to give it to you. So it makes the priest's wife think, am I not doing the job? Except that I think this person is trying to be very helpful. I don't want a person to say, you can do things like this, or I found a book describing how you should be a priest's wife, or how come you didn't handle this situation like this? This is why I was nervous because I didn't want them to hold the book as a um . . .

Hollie Benton 5:35
a critique and a judgment against them?

Pr Lillian Lupu 5:37
Yes, yes, exactly. And laity don't usually understand the life of the clergy family. They've got expectations of the priests and his wife. And they don't often think of the clergy family in situations from their own perspective. And really, why would they, we can only perceive what we know, and what we've experienced. So now my thinking is perhaps with an insight as to how the clergy wife sees her role, supporting her husband, and working for the parish. Maybe the laity can understand her better and understand the priest better. And yes, it's true that we are fallible, and we can we make mistakes, even if we try to keep them secret, or private. However, with good understanding and mutual respect among people within a Christian community, we can form a strong unit within the parish. And isn't that what our goal is?

Hollie Benton 6:27
So from your book, it appears that the wives of clergy really take their roles very seriously. You conducted so many interviews. They seem to always be endeavoring to demonstrate their love for Christ from serving in their role as wife and mother to their immediate family, and then extending themselves to the entire parish. Among those that you interviewed, some use the imagery of living in a fishbowl, as though they and their children have really very little privacy and are always being watched or on display. You know, with this work on servant leadership that we're doing with the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative, the phrase "lead by example," often comes up. But the question has to be asked, lead by whose example? It is Christ's, selfless example, and not my own. It's Christ, selfless example, and not that of the clergy wife, that we strive to emulate, and repent. And I, myself inevitably miss the mark. Yes, people are watching, but if we teach and strive to demonstrate the example is not mine, but Christ's example, then we can help turn the eyes of others not to us as an example, but to the better example that we find in Christ. So what would you say to wives of clergy who feel so compelled to lead by example?

Pr Lillian Lupu 7:47
Hollie, indeed, living in a fishbowl is hard when people watch you all the time. There aren't any direct examples in the book of living in a fishbowl, but it's definitely a theme throughout and clergy families try to lead by example, even though they live in a fishbowl. And the challenge is to do both. It's funny, I was discussing this question with my husband, and I was going down the road about doing things in private and don't let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. And his opinion was No, you need to demonstrate what is right. If it's not demonstrated, then people don't see it. But the challenge, as I said, is to do both , live in your fishbowl and lead by example. We also have to be good examples to our children because they all learn what they see. And yes, we should all use Christ as the example in everything we do. We need to be charitable and loving. And the clergy wife has the opportunity to show others how to be loving and charitable. She knows better than many who needs a kind word, who needs a bag of groceries or who needs a drive to church. And I'd say that to clergy wives and parishioners alike, that we should all be examples to each other. Live your life within the church as best as you can. If you have taken on a responsibility, take it seriously and do the best you can. If someone's asked you to participate on a committee or a chore within the parish, show up on time, and be joyful in your work. Don't come begrudgingly and don't complain. Do it. Just do it. And by supporting and working for the parish we're all supporting the church family and the clergy family. Because people within the parish when they're working, I don't know -sweeping the floors or raking leaves. Other people see them do that and say oh, maybe next time I should go and help out. Because it's always the same people doing it. So yes clergy families are living in a fishbowl. But I think we all have to be examples of how to work for Christ and work within our church, our parish.

Hollie Benton 10:08
Yes, we're all striving to be imitators of Christ. Glory to God. You suggested that we look to the myrrh bearing women today as our scriptural daily bread. They are indeed an inspiration to you in the writing of your book, and I'm sure an inspiration to many women and wives of clergy. So the reading today is taken from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16. I'll read that now. "And when the Sabbath was passed, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb. And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back, it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were amazed. And he said to them, Do not be amazed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, He has risen, he is not here, see the place where they laid him. But go tell his disciples and Peter that he was going before you to Galilee, there you will see him as he told you. And they went out and fled from the tomb for trembling and astonishment had come upon them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Now, when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen by her, they would not believe it." So as a woman and a seminary graduate myself, I've been asked to speak at women's retreats, particularly on the myrrh bearing women or other biblical figures and female saints, who are sometimes cast as heroes and inspiration for women today. Indeed, in as much as they are seeking to listen and to do the will of the Lord and emulate the example of our Lord Jesus Christ should they be revered. What I so appreciate about the biblical characters and the hagiography is that the characters are complex. We need to recognize the sin that is always crouching at the door, so to speak, and the tendency to use Bible verses and Bible characters and Saints of the church to twist their stories and their examples in order to justify myself. So in the case of the myrrh bearing women, sometimes I think we miss out on an opportunity for repentance in our own lives when we skip to an unequivocal reverence for the myrrh bearing women without taking a hard look at the teaching of the passage. Sometimes we like to uphold them as brave and courageous heroes, the first who learned of Christ's resurrection and were told to go and proclaim the good news. And because we are women, sometimes we imagine a kind of special favor or insider treatment, like the myrrh bearing women who were the first commissioned with the good news. But time and again, throughout Scripture, the outsiders, like the Samaritans, like the Gentiles, the weak and the marginalized people of the community, the lepers, the blind, the lame, the prostitute, and yes, even the myrrh bearing women who did not carry the kind of power that men had in those days; these are used as examples to bring judgment on the insider, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and those in the house of Israel, who behave self- righteously. So the opportunity we have, every time scripture is read to us, is to assume the comfortable position of the insider and allow ourselves to be made uncomfortable through the revealing of the self-righteousness to which I myself cling to. That revelation and discomfort offers a chance for repentance, seeking the Lord's mercy, which is really our only hope. So while we may be quick to applaud the bravery of the myrrh bearing women, suggesting that they were more courageous than their male counterparts, according to the passage, we must see according to the gospel, that they lacked the courage to trust in the word Jesus preached before He was crucified. As they approached the tomb with spices for burial, they trusted that they would be anointing a dead body. They had it wrong, just as wrong as the disciples. And in the Gospel of Mark, the myrrh bearing women were not only wrong, but they were confused. They were afraid. And at first, they didn't say anything to anybody. In fact, the earliest manuscripts of Mark end at verse eight, where it says, "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled the tomb They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid." And then it stops. And then verses nine through twenty were presumably added later. And even here, it wasn't the myrrh bearing women as a group. But it was Mary Magdalene, the one from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. Mary Magdalene, the least likely to be believed and trusted, because of the demons presumably, who first told the disciples that Jesus was alive. Mary Magdalene, likely considered the least of these among Jesus's inner circle, was used to bring judgment against the disciples when Jesus rebuked them for not believing those who had testified to His resurrection. So Protesta Lillian, say more about these complex characters we find among the myrrh bearing women, and the opportunity for repentance every time we hear Mark's gospel.

Pr Lillian Lupu 15:54
Yes, these characters are indeed complex. I use the myrrh bearing women as an example, after hearing Antiochian Bishop John, use this example when speaking to a group of clergy wives. He compared the myrrh bearers with the clergy wife as being a partner with her husband to share the Good News. The priest's wife carries out her role because the bishop ordained her husband and she's support of her husband. I doubt many clergy wives consider themselves brave or courageous at all, they are unsure what is ahead of them. There was a quote in the book, it said, To be a pastor's wife, she thought she would do anything better fly a single engine plane or open a dog sled business in Alaska. So in other words, she did not know what was ahead of her, she thought she could take on a very strange role other than being a priest's wife, or clergy wife. We have no idea what's ahead of us as a clergy wife, but we agreed to go ahead and just do the job. And sometimes we might be afraid too. The myrrh bearers headed out to do what they had to do. And when they arrived at the tomb, the situation was not what they expected. They didn't have a body to prepare for burial. With the help of our Lord, though, they were sent on a mission. They were called on to spread the good news. And clergy wives are called to do the same. The priest's wife does not know what to expect when her husband's ordained. She may have gone to seminary, or maybe was guided by her bishop or another clergy wife. But no one can anticipate what situations will occur in a parish. She relies on our Lord to guide her to do the right thing, at least most of the times. So we forge ahead. I mean, we always rely on God to guide us, but do we listen? So we forge ahead in partnership with a priest who's also her husband, doing what needs to be done and thereby spreading the good news. I wouldn't want parishioners to consider the clergy wife is more courageous or better in any way. We're lay people living in a parish working towards our salvation. And I think perhaps through this book, maybe others could come to realize that each of us have a role in the parish. And with God's help we can support one another in these roles. By better understanding, we can help each other on the road to salvation.

Hollie Benton 18:17
Amen. Protesta. Could I ask you one last question? If you were to tell your younger self, one thing that would have made your role as the wife of a clergyman just operate a little bit better, what would you have told your former self knowing what you know now?

Pr Lillian Lupu 18:39
We came from a parish that was very cohesive and very tight. When we walked into our parish here in Calgary, back in 1988, we assumed that it was going to be exactly the same. And I think a lot of clergy wives do the same thing, especially if they haven't gone to many different churches, they assume that all churches are the same. You cannot assume that. You have to take people as they are. So it might take a year or two to figure out the dynamics of the parish. And it might not be something that you're familiar with. Some of the people might be different than you've ever experienced before. And that's why you need to just sit back for a little while and observe. Don't be too quick to judge. But just observe and see what you can do.

Hollie Benton 19:33
Great advice for any person in any new role.

Pr Lillian Lupu 19:37
Isn't it true?

Hollie Benton 19:37
It is. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Protesta Lillian. Thank you for this work of love and all of the interviews that you conducted for the sake of hopefully building up the body of Christ, each serving in their role and doing the best we can to encourage one another on this path of repentance and salvation.

Pr Lillian Lupu 20:01
Thank you, Hollie. Thank you for asking me. It's been a very big privilege for me to talk to you.

Hollie Benton 20:06
Glory to God. Thank you.

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