Orthodox Clergy Wives Weekend 2011

LIGONIER, PA -- "Clergy Wife: Mother, Daughter, Sister, Friend" was the theme of the third annual Clergy Wives Weekend, held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA from October 28-30. This year's Weekend was a not only successful, but will probably go down in history as unique thanks to Saturday's snow storm! Fifty one wives of priests, deacons and seminarians, from as far away as Texas and Colorado, came together for this pan-Orthodox weekend of prayer, reflection and informal fellowship. However, five of our "commuters" did not make it because of the unseasonal storm that dumped 6-8 inches of snow at the Village.

The Weekend began with a casual dinner and evening at the Camp lodge. Then the opening short session, led by Kh. Stefanie Yazge, set the stage for the weekend's theme. Clergy wives need to remember that they are not only women defined as married to a priest or deacon. While they may in some way be a "mother" to the parish, their relationships in life are also as daughter, sister and friend. Winding down the day, the evening then closed with Little Compline.

Saturday began with the shock of the snow, and praying the Hours together in Ss. Peter and Paul Chapel. The morning speaker was Mother Christophora, abbess of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Ellwood City. Her encouraging words began with reminding us that we are first and foremost daughters of God our father and the Church our mother. In that relationship we find our true selves, and our salvation. This can be even more helpful to remember if we are in parishes that are far removed from other Orthodox, where feeling isolated can make life more difficult. That said, our relationships as sisters to one another and the relationship with friends – particularly spiritual friends – also afford God a way to work in our lives to sustain us, and help us grow. Then, being grounded and guided, we can see how we serve as a mother. Mother Christophora's words were given a chance to evoke thoughts and questions in smaller group discussions, led by Mother Christophora, Mother Alexandra (of St Thekla monastery at the Village), and Kh. Janet Shadid. A concern voiced in each group dealt with the area of friendship, as well as the difficulty of being moved away from family and friends.

After lunch and time to take in the continuously falling snow, Dr/Presbytera Kyriaki FitzGerald gave the afternoon presentation. She focused on how Kh. Joanne Abdalah, in whose memory the Weekend is held, was a mother, daughter, sister and friend, especially to clergy wives. Her observations came from what she has come to know of Kh. Joanne through the words of Joanne's daughter Maria at last year's Weekend, and through mutual friends of Joanne and Kyriaki. The conversation that was sparked in the morning's small groups and afternoon presentation led to a discussion by the whole group of those things with which Joanne knew we struggle. While there were no absolute answers, the ideas and thoughts expressed provided insights and encouragement.

Following some free time, we had Great Vespers and then a lovely, leisurely dinner. The evening program was again most entertaining. Presbytera Becky Touloumes brought the game "Parish Feud" for all takers in the Ajjar Auditorium. Based on the TV game show "Family Feud," it was prepared with specifically Orthodox parish content based on responses from numerous Greek parishes, including such gems as "What is the best length of a sermon?" Good fun was followed by a lovely dessert in the museum lobby.

The Weekend concluded with Sunday's Orthros and Liturgy, then brunch before everyone headed for home. Many of the new faces in the crowd said they will be back next year. And many of those who had come in the past but could not attend this year also hope to join us next fall, when we gather for the 4th Annual Clergy Wives Weekend! However, before moving on, there are people to acknowledge who played key roles in this year's event. We thank Fr/Bp-elect John Abdalah and his family for their support of the Weekend, in honoring Kh. Joanne's memory. We are grateful to Mother Alexandra for her presence and participation. The Committee also appreciates the work of the Antiochian Village staff – Fr. Anthony Yazge, Paul Finley, Barli Ross, Chef Tim and everyone there who made it such an enjoyable weekend. Our thanks to Fr. Don Shadid for serving vespers on Saturday. We also wish to extend our gratitude to the Antiochian Women (AOCWNA) for their financial contribution to provide assistance to wives of seminarians so that they could attend the Weekend.

The Weekend Committee: Kh. Laila Ellias, Prot. Mira Filipovic, Kh. Janet Shadid, Pres. Becky Touloumes, Kh Stefanie Yazge, Mat. Valerie Zahirsky, and Fr. John Abdalah.