By Presvytera Donna Pappas

Fourteen clergy couples from throughout the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco met May 13 – 16, 2013 at Serra Retreat in Malibu, California for the third Clergy Couples Retreat.  With the support and encouragement of His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos, the ongoing development of programs focusing on the marriages of priests and presvyteres remains a priority for the Metropolis.

“The marriages of our clergy come with many challenges and many blessings. It is important that we address the uniqueness of their relationships and strengthen them in their commitment to each other and to the Lord,” stated His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos. “We need our priests and presvyteres to be healthy so that God’s love, peace and grace emanate through all aspects of their ministry.”

According to the retreat’s organizing committee, the purpose of the retreat was to be a refresher course in making marriage a priority. “It is important to strengthen the relationships of our clergy couples, to refresh them for ministry, and to aid them in their spiritual perspective of relationships,” stated organizing committee member Father James Pappas who, along with his wife, Presvytera Donna Pappas have presented many couples’ workshops for both lay and clergy and were the former Executive Clergy Couple for Orthodox Marriage Encounter. The retreat was also a time for priests and presvyteres to share needed time together as a couple. 

The retreat was led by Dr. Ary Christofidis, founder of the Orthodox Christian Counseling Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is a licensed clinical psychologist with degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He received intensive training in family therapy and specializes in the treatment of couples, adults, adolescents, and people diagnosed with cancer. 

The theme of Dr. Christofidis’ presentation was “Renew Your Commitment,”  sharing quotes from scripture, the fathers, and published writings of various elders as they applied to marriage and relationships. Couples were encouraged to carefully examine their words and interactions with their spouses, to seek peace, and to guard their thoughts in order to more deeply establish harmony in their marriages. 

Dr. Christofidis also led couples in a mock “Newlywed Game” exercise which resulted in much laughter as couples were challenged to determine the depth of their knowledge of the minds and hearts of their spouses. The schedule also allowed individual couples the opportunity to reflect on the lessons covered and to use that time to deepen their own relationships. 

The resounding success of the retreat was evident through comments from the participating couples, stating that it was wonderful to have time off together and that the overall experience was spiritually enriching. In addition, the fellowship amongst clergy couples, the sharing of both challenging and inspirational stories, and the development of a support system with other priests and presvyteres were all cited as positive outcomes of this retreat.

The retreat was organized by Fr. James and Presvytera Donna Pappas – St. George, Fresno, CA, with input and assistance from Fr. John Hondros – St. John the Baptist, Las Vegas, NV; Presvytera Pat Tsagalakis – Holy Apostles, Shoreline, WA, and Fr. Gary and Presvytera Christie Kyriacou - St. Demetrios, Camarillo, CA.