Five Questions: Melissa Naasko

Welcome to My Orthodox Family.Com! Tell us who you are.

My name is Melissa Elizabeth Naasko. I’m a priest’s wife and mother of eleven, yes–eleven, children. My husband is a married priest attached to a ROCOR monastery which facilitates a mission community. My experience of Orthodoxy is shaped by monasticism, which makes it less typical. We are also very rural, exceedingly so. I am seventeen miles from a gas station, and my closest neighbor is about a mile away. We have a farm with beef and dairy cattle, sheep, one spoiled fat hog, and an enormous number of ducks. I also write and speak on fasting, homeschooling, family life, and living the Orthodox life in the world. I share details of my daily life on Instagram and Facebook.

What do you most enjoy sharing? What do you feel most called to share?

I share a lot of family life photos, shots that depict common aspects of family life but from my particular perspective. My Instagram feed is not slick and beautiful, it does not have a consistent palette or branding. This is intentional. People love to follow the feeds of beautiful people who live beautiful lives, but it is a complex relationship.

Those gorgeous feeds are enjoyable, I follow many of them myself, but in following them, we risk unfairly evaluating ourselves. We might find ourselves judging our messiest moments by the standard of the most carefully edited and curated moments of someone else’s life. Life is real. It is really real. It is really hard and really messy and really complicated. I try to remember this and not overly edit my life.  

The world of social media is complex. What do you see as difficult and as redemptive about sharing your journey in this way?

My life is very public because I live both as a priest’s wife and as an author and content producer. One of my considerations is that I have to be really sensitive to my children’s need for personal privacy and give them a sheltered place to make mistakes and learn lessons without excessive scrutiny. This is a challenge, and I try to be very conscious of this. This is especially trying in the age of modern social media. It is far too easy to post everything that we are thinking and show everything that we are doing and not give enough consideration of how it will affect us, let alone others, when the moment has passed. I might be tempted to do something for the “likes,” but there is a price attached to it, be it personal, professional, or even one to be paid by others.

What is more, my husband is a priest. He hears confessions and cares for the spiritual needs of a flock, and I need to be extremely careful to be respectful of him and his role in our little part of the world. I have never been a fan of the “dumb dad” trope, but it is even more important now because I should never do anything that undermines his authority or causes disrespect. I make a concerted effort to not complain about him or make uncharitable comments that would be considered normal or unproblematic if they came from someone else. He is already being constantly evaluated and judged, and his every decision is subject to questioning, so it is not just a matter of respect but also the fact that he needs shelter from the storm.

This is both difficult and redemptive and really very good for me. I think that if I was not forced to consider others so much, I would certainly do it much less. We all need to learn to “set a watch before my mouth,” me more than anyone, and I have regular reminders to shrink my ego more and more. I am actually grateful for this because it helps me to become a better person than I would be otherwise. It can’t be a bad thing to have our attention turned outward on a consistent basis.

What is your earliest, distinctly Orthodox memory?

I was raised Catholic with the far less restrictive forms of meatless eating of Fridays and two days a year of fasting (one meal and two snacks that together do not equal a meal). It was easy and comfortable, and I knew what to eat, how to shop. The menu was set in a comfortable and established repertoire. My husband, who is a far better person than I am and extraordinarily patient, shook me up a little. In 2001, when I was pregnant with the son who is now in seminary, my husband very gently told me he would keep the Eastern fast for Great Lent. I was horrified. I went to my Catholic priest who was, if possible, even more horrified! I remember having absolutely no idea how to cook for him. I wouldn’t be following it, but my regular stand-bys weren’t going to work. He told me that if it came down to it, he could just eat cereal every night and not to worry. Father Benjamin is like that, just calm and passive and unruffled, as gentle and immovable as a river. I am the mercurial one who cries and stomps my feet and flounces out of the room. I flatly refused to even participate in the fast that Lent.

Fast forward two decades and that sweet patient husband is a priest and I write and speak on fasting. I even planned a fully Lenten menu for an Orthodox women’s retreat! I am really grateful for my experience of being shocked and frightened by the enormity of Orthodoxy, which honestly happened a lot in the beginning. It makes me more sensitive to others, more patient, more hopeful. When I meet someone who is overwhelmed and resistant, I can see myself in them. I can encourage them by telling them that if someone as reluctant and petulant as me can figure this out, anyone can. I take that lack of judgment and a sense of camaraderie with me into conferences and talks, and I hope it helps people see that Orthodoxy is enormous but also small and human and possible.

What do you hope will be the mark you leave on the world as you pass through it?

Like a lot of people, I have thought about this a lot. Every death, every funeral we experience is an opportunity for self-reflection. Despite having thought about it a lot, I don’t know that I have the answer. I think it probably has something to do with the other people in my life over whom I have some influence, like my children. There are a lot of them, and they are far likelier to do better things that I have accomplished. Perhaps it is about the effort I have made to give my husband the time to dedicate to his mission and the parishioners who have become infinitely valuable to him. Maybe the best thing that I have done is to passionately support them all. I am the ringmaster in my circus. I might keep things clicking along, but no one bought a ticket to see me.

If we are talking specifically about me, I have spent a lot of time talking to people about finding the small, human, moments in Orthodoxy (particularly eating). I hope that it is to a good end. If I manage to sometimes put my ego aside and use that to help people learn how to make dinner so that they can engage in other aspects of Orthodoxy, I will have accomplished a great deal to be proud of.

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