Hello, ladies! If you have read my welcome post, you may recall that I said this would be a place with no fear. Here, we will be diving into the tough questions, and even the embarrassing ones. Particularly as women!
To that end, I sat down with my Priest, Father Achilles, who graciously agreed to let me interview him, and ask him how, as a priest, he would instruct us to approach our clergy with the more delicate topics we want answers to but have no idea how to find them. I figure I will just let him speak for himself!
CS: Thank you so much for sitting down with me to answer some questions. The biggest question I got from women who plan to be readers, I was surprised by the overwhelming agreement on this, is that women, especially converts, feel like there are so many topics they are curious about, they want to make sure they are following the canons. Especially when it comes to bedroom type things, or being on their menstrual cycle and taking communion, or just very female type of issues and they are just very uncomfortable with their priest. They don’t even know if their priest wants them to talk about those things. Different ways I have heard this question are, “who should Orthodox women go to about ‘lady things’ and is there any topic off limits to asking a priest?” “Should women ‘edit’ certain topics when it comes to their priest? Yes, he’s a priest but he’s also a man.” “What if I need spiritual advice on a topic I would never discuss in mixed company?”
How would a priest prefer women approach him when it comes to these topics? I always thought it was just me, overthinking things, but it turns out it’s really not, so, how would you want someone to come to you and talk to you about these things?
FA: Yeah, sure. And I think all of these questions are important questions. I had a sort of similar question when I was a seminarian, actually, I don’t want to criticize him too much, but, [a certain man] was visiting our campus, and he had an open session of questions and answers after evening vespers and, I think Presbytera was pregnant with our third child at the time and I asked him about the, um, the general question of “what would the Church say respecting intercourse that doesn’t allow for the possibility of conceiving? How should we understand that? Or as priests, what advice should we give others that would be asking similar questions.”
So, his response was that, you know, the priest doesn’t go into the bedroom, is essentially what he said. And I, for lack of a better terminology, I distinctly disagree with him, even more so now after having been a priest for 10 years that, maybe, that, you know, God is God and we are called to give our whole life unto Christ our God, and our whole life includes.. we shouldn’t consider things like procreation and things surrounding it as something to be hidden, you know, behind closed doors. That it’s actually one of the most significant aspects of our life, one of the most important.
CS: And the canons spend a significant portion of time addressing those issues. I mean, our Church Fathers certainly weren’t, you know, afraid to go there.
FA: No! They weren’t prudes. So, my general response is, and my personal opinion, not as a seasoned priest but not as a neophyte anymore, there is no question, that no one should be embarrassed about asking any of these types of questions to their priest. They’re all important and they all deserve attention. If someone wants to know what the teaching of the church is, we won’t necessarily have the absolute answer on the drop of a dime but I don’t think anything… there is nothing that is off limits.
The only caution I might give is, for example, in the setting of confession, where they might be sins of the lustful nature, of the carnal nature, I recommend, and I think most clergy would agree, we don’t want to go into graphic details lest we tempt ourselves in the process. You know, there are certain times to be somewhat vague. But other than that, I think these topics are good to discuss.
CS: So, would you say that any woman seeking answers because her goal is to live in a holy manner is probably going to fine approaching her priest about it?
FA: Oh, absolutely, she should be fine.
CS: Ok. What about communing during menstruation? Do you want to know in advance that is why a woman in your parish isn’t approaching the chalice?
FA: No, not really. I don’t have to know those specifics. At least in the Greek church, for someone to not commune every single Sunday is not abnormal and there are many reasons why someone might not come to the chalice. I don’t necessarily need to know every reason, every cycle of every parishioner. But I would become concerned, pastorally, if someone were to, who normally approaches, were absent from the chalice two or three weeks in a row. I’d certainly want to know what’s going on. But I don’t specifically want to know they didn’t come on a particular Sunday because of their menstrual cycle.
CS: Is it ok with you if I do ask one of the specific questions various women had?
FA: Yeah. I’m not an authority but I can answer to the best of my ability.
CS: Should married people have icons in their bedrooms?
FA: Absolutely. I mean, that’s an easy question.
CS: Sometimes it just feels, well, a little strange.
FA: I mean, again, as long as we are not doing anything that is, you know, against the norm of marital relations, I mean, God sees us everywhere no matter what. I think many people, I know among the Greeks, Greek Americans, will place their marriage wreaths in an icon corner that is not in their bedroom, but others, maybe almost half, place those wreaths with an icon in their bedroom, as a sign that God is blessing their entire life.
CS: That makes sense to me. One of my two icons of St. Paisios, the Athonite, I put one in the bedroom because I love advice he gives us about marriage and the different things he has said about that. And if we have an argument, that tends to happen in the bedroom, right? So, it’s a good reminder for me. I can see that.
FA: Yes, exactly.
The interview continues in this post about Everyday Orthodoxy and Family Life.