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“A happy family is one that joyfully accepts the yoke of Christ”

A talk with Archpriest Mark TysonFr. Mark TysonIt was Divine Grace that led me to understand that Lisa was the person with whom I should be closest, and that the Lord would help us to build a life together.

The Very Rev. Archpriest Mark Tyson is a clergyman of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox church in Tobaccoville, North Carolina.

Mark Tyson and Lisa, 1990 Mark Tyson and Lisa, 1990 Fr. Mark, how did you and your wife become acquainted?

—My wife and I met each other at a small college in central Virginia. It is now called the University of Mary Washington. We both went through adolescence in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Like most of the people who lived in that area, we were not born and raised there. My father was a career Coast Guard officer and her father worked for Mobil Oil. As the university was very small (only about 2500 students), we noticed each other from time to time during our freshman year, but only got acquainted during our sophomore year, in 1985. We found ourselves together at a class on Russian Literature (in English translation). I was half-heartedly studying the Russian language as well, but did not give myself to my studies the way Lisa did. Her overall beauty and stunning blue eyes captivated me from the start. What she saw in me… I have no idea.

How did you come to understand that this was the person for you; that you wanted to start a family with her?

—We went from being “lapsed Catholics” to becoming active in our faith before embracing Orthodoxy. Lisa was more interested in this than I was. While studying in Moscow in 1990, she sent me a letter stating that she was attending St. Bede’s Catholic parish while studying in Williamsburg, Virginia. I was astonished as this was the church where I was baptized as an infant (my father being stationed in nearby Yorktown at the time), and her dedication made me want to rekindle my spiritual life with her upon returning to the States. Within a month after my arrival, I offered my first confession in almost a decade, which helped me to share in laying the foundation for a more Christ-centered life, which ultimately led us to Orthodoxy. It was Divine Grace that led me to understand that Lisa was the person with whom I should be closest, and that the Lord would help us to build a life together.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

—I have read honest accounts of such a thing, but I never experienced it myself. Perhaps infatuation at first sight exists. However, infatuation is NOT love. I’m afraid that the two are often falsely conflated. Infatuation generally lasts for three to six months, and afterwards, the real work begins. Infatuation is shallow, love is deep. Infatuation is almost involuntary, love demands concrete decisions. I know for a fact that my love for Matushka is much stronger now, after 38 years of knowing her, than it ever was during the early period of getting to know each other.

What do men expect from family life?

—In general, men want a loyal, faithful, supportive wife. We want respectful, obedient children. We want to provide materially for our families to the best of our ability, without the pressure to strive for luxuries that we cannot afford. We want God’s love and forgiveness to be at the center of our homes. We want to keep hedonistic materialism out of our homes. Lastly, we want our wives to be our partners in everything; advising and assisting us in the management of family life. However, as St. Paul admonishes us, we are to be the head of the house. All responsibility for the tough decisions rests on our shoulders. May God help us and guide us!

Please tell us about your Matushka’s education; and does she work outside the home?

My wife has her bachelor’s degree in Art History from Mary Washington (where we met) and her master’s degree in Education from the College of William and Mary. She was a “stay-at-home” mother until the toddlerhood of our fifth child, Ambrose. She has worked at our local library in the children’s department for 17 years, and is now Director of Children’s Services. Her work has touched the lives of a great number of children in our local community and she is well-known in our rural county in Southwest Virginia. She would have stayed home always, except for the fact that in 2005, we bought a lovely farm where we have raised all of our children. We would not have been able to maintain our life here without her additional income.

What is your opinion concerning the division of labor in the family? Is there such a thing as “women’s work” and “men’s work?”

—The question of “women’s work,” and “men’s work” at home is a fascinating one. I remember a hilarious Krokodil cartoon from many years ago, which showed the wife running with a load of laundry and a baby in her arms, while pots of food boiled over on the stove. The man was sitting on the couch, engrossed in a chess game which he was playing with her! He said, “Vera, the black knight moves to square d-5,” or something like that. This cartoon illustrated the dilemma of women in the Soviet Union. They were liberated in the workforce, but slaves at home. Perhaps, this is something unique to the Soviets, I don’t know. I DO know that whenever I’ve tried to be helpful as a guest in Russia, and picked up a plate or a teacup to take to the sink, I am strictly admonished: “Father, don’t you dare! That’s WOMEN’S WORK!” When my wife stayed home, she did all of those things, but as a priest with irregular hours at my church, I was right alongside her. We had to adapt a bit, once she was out of the house all day. I intensely dislike cleaning and dusting, but try to keep up with what I can with the help of my boys still at home. Matushka always leaves our parish on Sundays before I do, and when I come home, it is such a pleasure to see an orderly house and a meal on the stove. On weekdays, I love to cook, (just look at my picture!) and I do that job regularly. My jobs outside include gardening, working with animals on the farm, hunting and processing meat, and chopping firewood for our wood stove.

The wedding of the eldest son Nicholas The wedding of the eldest son Nicholas     

Some say that the wife is the “kind one” with the children and that the husband should be a strict disciplinarian. Is that the case with your family?

—Absolutely, yes. My wife is more thoughtful and diplomatic than I am, and although she constantly guided and corrected our children, we both felt that it fell to me to be the disciplinarian. I always tried to temper strictness with love and I always tried to be fair and just with them. One of my guiding phrases was: “What would my great-grandfather do?”

—Of course, no mother or father is perfect… and I have told my children that they will find that out as they bear and raise children. It’s easy to judge the parenting skills of one’s mother and father… I certainly did as a young man. It wounds my soul that my parents died so young and that they never saw our children. I have missed the opportunity to thank them for all that they did for me as a child and a young man. I do pray for them regularly, in private on the prayer rope, as neither of them were Orthodox.

The wedding of the eldest son Nicholas The wedding of the eldest son Nicholas     

You have six children. What are their names and ages?

—My eldest son, Nicholas, is twenty-eight and married with a son. Catherine is twenty-five and married. Elias is twenty-two and single. John is twenty and married. Ambrose and Nathaniel are high school students and live at home. They are seventeen and fifteen, respectively. Their names were chosen for two reasons. The first: Did we love their Patron Saints? Second, were their first names euphonious with our family name of Tyson? There are other factors involved in the naming of each of them, but it would take a long time to explain and this would probably be boring to your readers.

What does a happy family mean to you?

—A happy family is a family which joyfully takes up the yoke and burden of Christ. We were extraordinarily blessed as I served as a priest, and we also schooled our children at home until they reached high school age. They attended the services, my boys served in the altar and for many years, they were surrounded by the “parish family” in Bluefield, West Virginia who cared for them and loved them as if they were their own. Our faith, combined with a steep learning curve of work on the farm, the cycles of feasts and fasts and regular confession with capable spiritual fathers, all combined to give us contentment in general and true joy at times. Of course, we had our moments of frustration and worry… But until now, all of my children are connected to the Orthodox Church. Those who have left home attend parishes nearby, and my youngest, who has faithfully helped me during the past five years of mission work, was recently tonsured a reader by our First Hierarch, Metropolitan Nicholas. My prayer for all of us: “May Thy holy will be done in our lives!”

All spouses have quarrels. How do you make and preserve peace in the family?

—The demons are never inactive. It’s a well known fact that clergy and their families undergo severe temptations as their falls will scandalize “the weaker brethren” and cause others to lose heart and lose faith. I think that one of the best practices which we developed in years past was to approach each other after evening prayers in order of eldest to youngest, and the children kissed both my and their mother’s hand while saying: “Forgive me, I love you.” Of course, we all repeated this phrase. We tried to end each evening in this way, and if there was more to say, we would speak privately. I never felt that I had a problem in apologizing to the family members whom I felt I treated unjustly… And I’m sure that this happened more than I would have liked.

You have visited Russia. What impressed you the most? Did you travel with your family?

—I have visited Russia six times. I was there in 1990, 1997, 1998, 2017, 2018 and 2019. All but the first time, I was there as an Orthodox priest. There are too many things which impress me about Russia for me to answer this briefly. Suffice to say, I have always been deeply moved with the quality of friendship that I have experienced in Russia. Once you get to know a person, and he becomes your friend, the feeling is intense and genuine. We have a lot of “fake politeness” in the West. We are invariably well-mannered with each other, but few are willing to sacrifice for a friend, much less a stranger. In public, Russians can be very stoic and withdrawn, even rude. But as friends, there is no one I’d rather have next to me.

The wedding of Catherine The wedding of Catherine     

I experienced this to a small degree in a university dormitory in Belyaevo in 1990, but the joy of this has grown exponentially in my years as a priest. Of course, if I were to say what has impressed me most about Russia, it would have to be the rebirth of Orthodoxy in the country. Tens of thousands of churches have been built and more are under construction all the time. The monasteries which I have visited have shown tremendous growth over the years. I recognize that many of the people do not attend church regularly, but they still seem open to the Faith; they are just waiting for a drop of Grace to fall in their hearts. And when they are in need, there is always a church nearby, or friends who can take them to a good priest or hieromonk in order to begin the path to the Cross and Resurrection. I have visited Russia with my eldest son, Nicholas on one occasion, and with my daughter Catherine, twice. She is fluent in the language, having spent a semester in Vladimir, and the two of us utterly rejoice in the language, people, culture and faith of the Russian land. Sadly, my mission duties, Covid, and the instability of our world has precluded me from visiting since 2019. I pray that Matushka and I can one day make a long-awaited pilgrimage to a land which I hold very dearly in my heart.

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