Imagine the following employment opportunity: The position calls for working six days a week; however, the company could expect you to work on your day off should a situation arise. The job also requires that you be on call for all customers at any time, day or night, and to be in the office the next day, on time, for established appointments. You would be expected to be a powerful orator, a prudent businessman, a compassionate counselor, an engaging teacher, an inspirational leader of young people, effective with the elderly, a fantastic singer, a successful mediator, and a fundraiser. More than once in your life, you would have to move your family to a new town without friends or family for support. The culture in this company is tough. You would be scrutinized regularly, compared to the last person who had the job and maybe even to others across the country on any given day. Your family would also be analyzed to gauge your job performance but would be expected to take this scrutiny without any response. Is this a job where you could succeed? Could anyone?
Thank God there are those who try! It is probably obvious that this job description is that of an Orthodox parish priest. According to the Hallmark calendar October is National Clergy Appreciation Month. Let’s use the month of October to appreciate, honor, and thank our clergy and their families. In the United States we are blessed to have such an incredible group of priests and their families who are dedicated to the Lord, to their church, and to the members of their flock. They marry us, baptize us, confess us, visit us when we are sick, and bury us. Being a priest may be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world—but also one of the toughest.
Imagine the wish list in the job description above. How many people in the world have all the skills in that list? Hardly any. Do your children have all of those abilities? Mine don’t. However, the expectation is that our priests will have all of those gifts and more! Some priests have the greatest listening skills and are the best comforters around. Others are creative problem solvers. Some are the best liturgists; a few have fantastic business minds or have the gift of fundraising. All of that wrapped up in one person? Hardly possible, but we hold them to this unbelievable standard and expect perfection.
So, how do we begin to appreciate the gift of the priesthood and their family? We must begin by spending a minute walking in their shoes. Their decision to become a priest is a selfless act. They give up more than we realize. However, sometimes we take for granted even basic things. Young priests and their wives may not realize that the demands of the job would impact their ability to balance involvement in their family’s life—watching athletic events, helping with homework, even having dinner! They may not have understood that being a part of a community means they would be lonely. Most live far away from family and friends and find it difficult to develop close relationships with people in their parishes. Holidays can be a particularly challenging time of isolation. When they have challenges in their marriages or with their children, how can they reach out for help? Who do they talk to? Can you imagine being in this position?
Remember that they are human and need a break just like we do! They are not perfect and don’t have every gift that would make a perfect priest. Christ is the only perfect priest. Being human means they, too, are working on their salvation! The job they have is both emotionally and spiritually draining. Even St. Paisios took time to recharge before going back to nurture his flock. Make sure your priest takes time for himself and his families. If they feel burned out, encourage them. If you have a vacation home, consider sharing it! Honor their days off. Think twice before calling if it is not an emergency. Is it really critical that they attend every meeting scheduled? A well-rested and content priest can do more for a parish than a tired and rejected one.
Thank them and pray for them! Send them a note, bring them a dinner, offer to do some yard work, do something for their family. Welcome them into your family. Invite them to holidays and celebrations, but be ok if they say no! And, most importantly, pray for them! We are blessed to have clergy willing to help us in our spiritual growth. Take time to appreciate them... in October and always!
Cindy and her husband Paul have been married for twenty years. They have three children between the ages of 14 and 18 and are active in both the Greek and Antiochian archdioceses. She has led the St. Mary’s Pan-Orthodox Family Camp in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area and as well as other church leadership positions.