Q&A with a Priest: What Does It Mean to Be a Priest’s Wife?

Question: Your blessing, Father. What should I do: my husband has become a priest but I’m not the right kind of a person to be a matushka (a priest’s wife — translator’s note), unfortunately. I’m really bothered about that because I’m not a quiet, meek, and God-fearing girl. I’m a regular kind of woman who has led a fairly secular life. I didn’t have much of a religious upbringing. I have a burden of grave sins in the past: I had had affairs before I met my husband, and I’m not an example to follow even today: I often shout, quarrel, and get annoyed. I get upset easily, I can’t tolerate anything at all. I feel that my soul is seriously ill. I didn’t marry for love: I was just feeling lonely. Why did God send me a seminarian and a son of a priest who decided to follow in his father’s footsteps? – Anna.

Answer by Fr. Andrew Lemeshonok: Dear Matushka Anna, although you refuse to accept this title, you’ve become a matushka for real. It is God’s saving grace and God’s mercy toward you. Perhaps, you don’t understand a lot of what is going on yet. You have a habit of sinful living. This is your new duty, and if you are patient, if you at least make some effort, I believe that you will become a very good matushka.

The matushka’s role is helping the priest. It is inner struggle to make sure that there is peace in your family, that you really love your husband. Who can we love when we are in such a sinful condition? In order to learn to love, you’ve got to change your life, you should correct all those errors that you’ve committed in your life. To do so, you’ll require quite a lot of hard work and time.

That is why you shouldn’t complain or whine that you’re so miserable, that you didn’t want it, that you didn’t know it or didn’t understand anything at all. You became a seminarian’s wife so you might have assumed in advance that he would become a priest in the end. Isn’t that the reason young men go to seminary?

Right now, it’s vital that the devil doesn’t break up your family, in which case the new priest will remain single forever. You see what could happen? The devil will do what it takes to destroy your family. He will whisper into your ear, “Ditch your priest and live freely as you please.” Haven’t you had enough of that freedom already? That’s why you currently need to brace yourself and start changing. To do so, you’ll need to open a prayerbook and the Gospel, and go to the church where your husband serves. You should feel that you’re a wife and begin to build up your family and your inner self, which is so pathetic right now. Work hard! You’ll never regret the fruit of your labour. May the Lord save you, Matushka!



Church Reading: What Makes This Ministry So Important?

Sometimes people say, “I am just a reader,” as though this were a petty or insignificant ministry. However, when the reader (whether tonsured or not) begins chanting the selection from the Acts or the Epistles, he or she is performing an evangelical ministry that is absolutely essential to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, and as such it demands the same care and preparation as any other liturgical ministry.

Orthodox Christian liturgy is an encounter with the incarnate Word of God, made possible through intelligible worship that touches us through every human sense: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Yet, when we consider all the elements that comprise Orthodox liturgy—including processions, icons, incensations, making the sign of the cross, prostrations—the balance of worship is conducted through language. It is through the God-given gift of human language that we hear the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that we sing the liturgical texts, the psalms, the troparia, and the Creed; and that we pray and encounter Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God.

At the epiclesis (the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people and the gifts of bread and wine) in the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, we pray along with the priest, “Again we offer unto Thee this reasonable and bloodless worship.” The Greek word here translated as “reasonable” or “rational” is logikein, which comes from the root logos, the same word used by the evangelist in referring to Jesus Christ as the Word of God (John 1:10). Logikein refers to the human ability to think, know, and understand—the rational ability that sets human beings, made in God’s image and likeness, apart from irrational creatures. In short, one of the most characteristic facets of humanity is our ability to think, understand, and communicate through language. Thus, the Liturgy is not magic; when we gather for worship, we are not casting a spell. Rather we offer our thanksgiving, our eucharistia, to God through intelligible words. The primary task of the church reader is to proclaim the Word of God, and thus help facilitate the celebration of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Of course, in the Divine Liturgy, it is the priest or deacon who reads from the actual writings we call “the Gospels.” However, not only do the Epistles of St. Paul predate the writings of the evangelists, but St. Paul himself reminds us that through his writings he is preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ (a point St. Paul makes most forcefully in Galatians 1). Thus, when a reader reads the epistle at the Divine Liturgy, he or she is reading the Gospel; he or she is proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Sometimes people say, “I am just a reader,” as though this were a petty or insignificant ministry. However, when the reader (whether tonsured or not) begins chanting the selection from the Acts or the Epistles, he or she is performing an evangelical ministry that is absolutely essential to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, and as such it demands the same care and preparation as any other liturgical ministry.

What Does a Church Reader Do?

The task of the church reader is to chant scriptural texts: the Acts of the Apostles or the Epistles in the Divine Liturgy; Old Testament readings at Vespers for certain feasts; sometimes the Canticle of St. Simeon (Luke 2:29–32) and the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13); and at all of the daily offices, excerpts from the Psalms. In fact, aside from short texts like the Trisagion prayer or the “Glory . . . Now and ever . . .” that concludes readings from the Psalter, the church reader is fundamentally a reader of Scripture.

This should not be surprising, since Orthodox liturgical worship is scriptural, first and foremost. Not only are the services themselves composed largely of texts taken directly from the Bible, but the church year is based on Scripture. The content of most of the church feasts is taken directly from the New Testament. It is only through the evangelist’s account of such events as the Nativity or the Transfiguration that we celebrate these feasts of our Lord and Savior. Could we imagine celebrating the Feast of the Nativity without hearing St. Matthew’s account of our Lord and Savior’s birth (Matt. 2:1–12), or the Feast of the Transfiguration without hearing the evangelist’s account of that stunning revelation on Mount Tabor (Matt. 17:1–9)? Consider as well the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil on Holy Saturday with its fifteen Old Testament readings.

In all of these instances, it is our encounter with Scripture that forms and defines our encounter with God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We could say that our liturgy is an entrance into a scriptural reality, or an opportunity for us to attain the mind of Scripture. And who is it (unless there is more than one deacon serving at the Liturgy) that proclaims the scriptural texts that define the Feasts of Ascension (Acts 1:1–12), Pentecost (Acts 2:1–11), and St. Stephen the Protomartyr (Acts 6:9—7:59)? It is the reader.

Before the reader begins chanting a scriptural text, its words are merely ink on paper, marks that do nothing by themselves. These graphic markings, however, become the life-giving words of Holy Scripture when they are given utterance by the reader. This is the fundamental task of the church reader: to give life to the Word of God contained in Holy Scripture. Through the voice of the reader chanting the scriptural text, we have the opportunity to encounter the Word of God—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Principles of Church Reading

Two fundamental principles governing Orthodox worship are beauty and intelligibility. As we said earlier, the word must be intelligible to be a word, and nowhere in the Liturgy is this more acutely relevant than during the reading of Scripture. If a word is mumbled, mispronounced, or inaudible, it is not a word for the hearer; it is just a sound. Here we should note that, as a rule, music in the Orthodox Church is always a musical word. We do not have organ preludes or orchestral performances in the Liturgy primarily because these musical forms, as beautiful as they might be, are wordless. Thus, for church reading to be effective, it must be intelligible. Yet we cannot make intelligibility the sole criterion for church reading, because authentic Christian worship also requires beauty.

Acknowledging that the study of beauty has taken up thousands of volumes, we can simply say that the effort to make liturgical worship as beautiful as possible derives from love: God’s love for us and our love for God. When a family invites someone to their house for dinner, they generally make every effort possible to clean the house, fix a delicious meal, and provide a beautiful dining experience for their guest. Even if they lack a grand mansion, fine china, and gourmet ingredients, they still endeavor to do the best they can with what they have. They know that the entire meal—the food, its presentation, the setting of the table, the appearance of the house—is an expression of love for the guest.

This expression of love through beauty is also evident in our church buildings. Whether it be the great Hagia Sophia, a hand-carved Russian village church, or a small storefront mission in the United States, an Orthodox church building is always built and adorned as beautifully as possible. The beauty one beholds in the church building is a witness to the love for Jesus Christ concretely manifested in His faithful people. Likewise, the church reader is called to proclaim the Word of God intelligibly and beautifully as a concrete witness to the ultimate expression of God’s love, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Practical Side of Church Reading

  1. Always read it before you read it

Most Western languages can be very forgiving to the reader, inasmuch as a working knowledge of phonetics will usually suffice for pronunciation. Greater difficulty, however, faces a reader who has to chant, for example, from an Arabic text. Arabic writing has no vowels, only consonants, so the reader must have practically memorized the text being read before the first sound is even uttered. English, even though it is not the most predictable language in regards to pronunciation, can lead readers into temptation. Readers who chant in English may assume that as long as they can pronounce all the words they see, they will be able to read the text intelligibly and beautifully. However, this is not always the case. Consider the following text from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans:

Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.” Is this blessing pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised (4:4–12, RSV).

This text is read at the Divine Liturgy during the week following Pentecost. It is a difficult text, and most readers would need to spend a considerable amount of time rereading and reflecting on the passage in order to grasp the major ideas and their relation to one another. What, then, would be the fate of a reader who started reading this text at the Divine Liturgy without having previously studied it?

While the fortunate might correctly pronounce all the words in their proper order, the less fortunate might stumble over the awkward syntax, or become entirely confused as he attempted to chant aloud a text that conveys a complex theological argument. But if the reader does not understand the text being read aloud, how can the hearers be expected to understand what they hear? In order to chant a scriptural text intelligibly, the reader must first understand that text. This is not to say that he or she must possess an exhaustive understanding of the reading; however, the reader must have some degree of comprehension if he is to achieve his goal of intelligibility.



Why Should Reading in the Orthodox Church be Unemotional?

By Fr. Andrew Chizhenko

I remember the words of Alexander Griboyedov from his play “Woe from Wit”:

“Read it not like an altar server, but with passion”.

For centuries, that aphorism was the reason of sarcastic mockeries about church readings in intellectual circles. In fact, they do not correlate with the truth and ancient thousand year rules of reading in church. Thus, people who demand for the reader to read with passion do not know about the church life and the laws of church readings.

Genres mean a lot in art, and it is important not to confuse them. To put it simply, genre is a particular style in which the work is written. It has its own goal and the means which help to reach this goal. Basically, the goals in art are the following: to scare, to make someone laugh and to make someone cry. Consequently, the artistic means of expression are chosen according to the purpose of the specific work. Together with the talent and the work of an author all of these create a particular piece written in this or that style. The same concerns the oratorical art.

Everything is different if we speak about church reading. Its goal is not to scare or make someone cry or laugh, but to ease a person’s path to God:

“As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4-6).

This is why when it comes to the pure sound of the word of God, there must be a definitive sound clarity, properly articulated pronunciation, where the words are pronounced lucidly. Therefore, a reader must not impose his emotions unto people, who are praying in church. He must be just a timbrel and Psalter, which play Divine melodies. Theatrical manner of reading or singing in church always makes it hard to listen to. What is more, it serves as a distraction from from what is most important, which is sincere listening of God’s word. It is the word which will be necessary to perform the sacrament in one’s soul and will purify one’s heart.

At the time, in the Old Testament Church a certain form of reading was developed in the Jewish tradition. It was called cantillation (lat. “sing quietly”). Michael Skabalanovich, a professor from the Spiritual Academy of Kiev, wrote about this form in his book “The Explanatory Typicon”:

“…The introduction in synagogues of so-called cantillation, which is something between reading and singing; it is a load reading in which certain syllables are lengthened more or less.”

It is a practical experience of the Church, which achieved harmony in combination with lucidity, clarity of sound and emotional detachment. This form is used in church services up to the present.

However, it does not change the fact that a reader must develop himself in his art.

First of all, he should live a pious Christian life and be meticulous about sacral texts.

Secondly, he should constantly educate himself because he need to know the Holy Scripture and church history, the Psalter and other prayers.

Thirdly, a reader must thoroughly study the Church Slavonic language, so that he understand what he is reading. Finally, it is advisable that he does some exercise for his tongue, face and mouth muscles and vocal cords so that his voice has a pure sound, and his words are pronounced clearly for everyone in church.

Of course, during the service one should keep the rule of the golden middle concerning the tempo. On the one hand, a reader should not sing or read too slowly (because in this case the service becomes onerous for the people who are praying). On the other hand, he should not hurry, because the words or singing should not merge into one unclear and monotonous noise.

Readers, singers, chanters, deacons and priests should live with the words of prayer and spirit, so that the arrow of prayer released from their hearts reached our hearts. It is important that we should not pass our personal emotions to other people. At the same time, we need to learn with God’s help the essence of these sacred words, which perform the mystery of the union of a man with God.


Two Scripture Verses You Should Memorize Today

Are you discerning a vocation? Do you think about serving Christ as a priest or deacon? Wondering why things seem to slam up against you? Do you feel like you are charging upstream, against the current, sinking in quicksand half the time?

You’re not just being tested – you’re being trained! Memorize these two Scripture verses and meditate on them. Do it now.

1 Peter 4:12

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you.

2 Timothy 3:12

Indeed, all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

It’s a good start.

How to Become a Reader

Question: “How does one become a Reader, and what does a Reader do?”

We learn a great deal about what it means to be a Reader from the admonition that the bishop gives to a Reader after he is tonsured (i.e., made a Reader):

“My son, the first degree in the Priesthood is that of Reader. It behooveth thee therefore to peruse the divine Scriptures daily, to the end that the hearers, regarding thee may receive edification; that thou in nowise shaming thine election, mayest prepare thyself for a higher degree. For by a chaste, holy and upright life thou shalt gain the favor of the God of loving-kindness, and shalt render thyself worthy of a greater ministry, through Jesus Christ our Lord: to whom be glory unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

This tells us that the office of the Reader is the first rank of the priesthood. There are two types of clergyminor clergy, and major clergy. Readers are tonsured, which means that rather than being ordained in the Altar, they are set apart by having some of their hair cut in the form of the Cross (as also happens at baptism, and when someone is made a monastic) and ordained in the Nave of the Church, as are Subdeacons, who are also minor clergy. The major clergy are Bishops, Priest, and Deacons.

But what it means for this to be the first rank of the priesthood is that the same basic requirements to be ordained a Priest are also required of a Reader. A reader must of course be Orthodox. He must also be a man who has not been married more than once. He must be of a good reputation. There are other possible impediments to ordination, and most of them apply equally to readers (there are different age requirements for deacons, priests, and bishops, and bishops are required to be monastics).

A Reader should also read the Scriptures daily, and be familiar enough with the texts that he reads that those who hear him are able to understand him, and be edified by his reading. In addition to that, a Reader should learn the rubrics of the services, and should learn to sing his way through the services by learning the tones, and how to use and combine the liturgical  texts at the kliros. In most parishes, there are choir directors who do most of that work at the main services, but a Reader should learn this as well, so that if he is the only person at the kliros (as can happen at some of the daily services) he will be able to read and sing all of the parts of the services that are not specific to the Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.

The admonition to the Reader that he “in nowise” shame his election means that he should be an example to others in the Church. As St. Paul admonished St. Timothy:

“be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conduct, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

And a reader should do this in order to prepare himself “for a higher degree.” In other words, a reader should be preparing himself for the possibility of serving in a higher rank of the clergy. Of course all Christians should try to be an example

“in word, in conduct, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity,”

but this should be especially the case for clergy. This means a Reader should be personally pious, loving towards others, and should love the services of the Church.

Anyone who is able (and of course an Orthodox Christian) can serve the function of a Reader, when needed. And there are many people who are not tonsured as Readers who do. However, one who actually is a Reader has a duty to fill this role, and so should be zealous to prepare himself to fulfill this role, and should be eager to actually do it, being present whenever possible for the services, and making themselves available to do their duty.

If someone is interested in becoming a reader, they should speak to the priest and begin applying themselves to learning how to properly do it. Even if they are not eventually tonsured as a Reader, the knowledge they acquire is beneficial to any Orthodox Christian.

For more on what it means to be a Reader, I would recommend reading Instruction for the Church Reader as well as A Guide for Readers in the Orthodox Church, by Fr. Geoffrey Korz.