By Pres. Kerry Pappas


In his keynote address to the priests at the national clergy retreat in 2007, Fr. Vasileios Thermos said:

“The clergy couple is the touch-stone of the quality of our pastoral ministry.”  Furthermore, “We minister to the Lord and His people through health and integrity; practically, this means that we are first human beings, then husbands, and after that priests. {For those clergy with children, I would add “fathers” following husbands.}  Thus marriage becomes the first matter of priesthood.  .  .  .  the quality of our marriage definitely marks and affects the quality of our pastoral ministry.“

Given the wisdom reflected in the words of Fr. Vasileios, we can safely conclude that for married clergy, healthy ministry flows from healthy personhood in Christ and a healthy and a vibrant, growing marriage and family life.

These priorities were recently echoed with a different nuance in a Clergy Couple webinar in which Bishop John Abdalah addressed issues of crossroads in ministry.  He stated that the priorities of a priest follow the chronological order of the sacraments of baptism, marriage, priesthood.

The Challenges

Presently we are experiencing stressors we may not have imagined prior to the onslaught of Covid, both in our personal lives and in parish life, which create challenges for maintaining personal health and integrity, and a vibrant, growing marriage.

  • Some of us have contracted Covid or have family members who may have died from it.
  • We, like everyone else feel the isolation brought on by Covid, perhaps even more than others since clergy families tend to feel isolated even in “normal” times.
  • We may be navigating the challenges of two working parents caring for children who may be in school one day and at home the next.
  • We may be caring for aging parents, which now creates a whole new set of challenges.

Additionally, we are all experiencing the strain of the impact of Covid on our parishes—live-streaming worship, low attendance at liturgy, financial strain, re-imagining and modifying ministries, administering and celebrating sacraments with restrictions and the resulting complaints.  We are regularly being stretched beyond our “comfort zones.” More significantly, however, we see and experience the human toll of Covid as we minister to—

  • essential workers putting their lives at risk each day,
  • the sick who are suffering in isolation due to visitation restrictions at hospitals and nursing homes,
  • family members experiencing complicated and sometimes unfathomable grief resulting from the death of loved ones without the opportunity for appropriate closure,
  • those who have lost jobs and are suffering financially,
  • married couples with broken relationships,
  • young and old suffering from emotional and mental anguish, particularly depression, anxiety and panic attacks

—all on top of what we ourselves are experiencing.  Further, we are living with an unprecedented sense of uncertainty and ambiguity, unlike anything we have previously faced.

So, as priests and presvyteres, we are encountering both primary and secondary trauma in a unique way.  That is, for a sustained and undetermined period of time, we are experiencing and ministering to others with many of the same struggles and uncertainties, often without sufficient support.  Likewise, we are tempted and sometimes resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms that are currently increasing:  the use of alcohol, social media, pornography, food, online shopping, busyness, “killing time,” etc., to “ease” the pain.  Finally, we too are susceptible to all of the mental health issues others encounter.

In the words of Fr. Vasileios, which are very timely for our present circumstances: “They {priests} are assigned the task of spiritual leadership while at the same time they find themselves in the middle of their own dilemmas and inner immaturities.”  During Covid, everyone’s dilemmas are compounded, and we do not always have the maturity to navigate them in a healthy way.

The Opportunity

Christ is presenting us with an opportunity to pause and get our house in order – both personally and relationally!

Recently a young father in our parish told me that as a result of Covid, he and his wife have taken a step back to evaluate what is important to them.  They have decided to permanently shut down their business on Sundays in order to attend liturgy regularly.  What is God trying to teach us as we navigate our way through the challenges of this unprecedented time in our lives?

  1. To live from the inside outMany priests and presvyteres fall into the personality category of “people pleasers,” more prone to live from the outside-in rather than from the inside-out.  That is, we tend to find our identity in what we do and how it impacts others instead of who we are.  Living from the inside-out begins with becoming people of prayer, not people who “say” prayers and attend, even celebrate, many liturgical services, but people who have a vibrant and growing relationship with Jesus Christ, beginning with prayer in the privacy of our “closet.”
  2. To be accountableDo we have someone in our life to whom we are accountable for our spiritual life? I know of many priests and presvyteres who do not have spiritual father or mother and who rely only on peers for advice when they are in a difficult situation, peers who may hold a similar view and be unable to offer objectivity or not have maturity or life experience to appropriately listen to and counsel them.  We all need a spiritual father or mother and spiritual mentors who both guide and walk beside us.
  3. To attend to unhealed woundsOften when people are under great stress, symptoms of unhealed wounds tend to surface through irrational fears, anxiety/panic, anger, addictive behaviors, etc. So, if you have any problematic inward or outward emotional responses, are experiencing relationship difficulties or engaging in addictive or unhealthy behaviors, God may be revealing something that needs to be healed.
  4. To have a healthy lifestyleWhen we consider a healthy lifestyle, our first thoughts may go to physical well-being, an important component of a healthy lifestyle. However, a genuinely healthy lifestyle involves the whole person—mind, body, soul, and (I would add) relationships.  In our Incarnate Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, we meet the only fully human person to ever walk the face of this earth, a Man who:
  • sought solitude and communion with His Father regularly,
  • had and nurtured an intimate circle of friends and co-workers and a large network of acquaintances (Peter/James/John, the 12 disciples, the 70, Lazarus/Mary/Martha),
  • ate a healthful Mediterranean diet,
  • exercised regularly by walking,
  • rested and/or removed Himself from the crowds when He was tired,
  • engaged people with whom He had little in common.
  1. To attend to our marriagewe are called to “love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves” (my paraphrase, Mark 12:30-31). Day in and day out, for those who are married, our closest neighbor is our spouse.  After Christ, we must nurture and care for our marriages as the closest and most intimate relationship God gives us by joining us to one another.


So, as we continue in this particular period of uncertainty and suffering in our own lives and navigate how to minister to those who are suffering similarly, let us take the opportunity before us to pause and attend to what is most important.  For, from a vibrant and growing life in Christ, healthy/holy self-care as modeled by Christ Himself, and attentiveness to the relationship with the closest neighbor we have in our lives, our spouse, will we become healthier and more whole persons from whom the love of Christ will flow more easily to our children and to all those in the community of faith in which we serve.