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On Matushki

Twenty-five years ago my husband was ordained to the diaconate and nearly seven years later to the priesthood. On his ordination to the diaconate, three very experienced matushki – priest’s wives – came to advise me. They were of the old Paris Russian emigration and knew Church life in every sense. Since then, several other matushki have also offered me advice. Not only has this advice been very similar and extremely helpful, but I have also found from personal experience that their advice is true in every detail. I am presenting this advice now in the form of a list. Please remember that these are not rules, only advice and that it does not come from me, but comes from the practical experience of many, many matushki and I am merely confirming it.

1.Never make your husband choose between the Church and his family.

If you do so, you will make both yourself and him suffer unnecessarily. You agreed to him being a priest (in our experience bishops always ask for the permission of the wife before ordaining) and so you accepted the cross. He will have left his wedding ring on the altar or given it to you to wear, so he is married first to the Church and only then to you.

2.Never have an argument before a service.

That would disturb him too much and he would not be able to celebrate properly. The parishioners would suffer from this.

3.Always try to be as even-tempered as possible.

You are the balance of the parish and the parishioners expect to receive consolation from you when they speak to you.

4.Try not to become close friends with one of the parishioners.

Like children, parishioners sometimes tend to create conflicts and be jealous of anyone who is close to the matushka. This could make the priest’s work more difficult.

5.A matushka must be visible, but she must also know how to make herself invisible.

Your job is to be a link between the priest and the parishioners. If you are observant, you can speak to the priest about problems you have noticed so that he can deal with them in the way that he thinks fit. You never tell him what you think he should do – that is his prerogative alone. You are only there to observe, relay, listen and console.

6.Never take part in arguments. Your duty is to unite, not to disunite.

7.When someone behaves badly at church or there is an unpleasant situation, never try to solve it yourself.

Ask a babushka (granny) or the churchwarden (starosta) who have age and authority to solve it. You must remain above everything so that you can keep the trust of the parishioners.

8.Never get involved in money matters at Church or in parish councils.

Otherwise a priest’s family could be unfairly accused of being dishonest and the matushka could be tempted to get involved in the sort of arguments that always happen in the Protestant-style parish councils of the emigration (unless the parish is fortunate enough to be run by a trust or as parishes are run in Russia, without all that divisiveness).

9.Always protect your husband from the sort of female parishioner who may want to make advances towards him.

He will know not to be alone with such women (that is why we confess before the public and not in confessionals). Such women, unhappy in their marriage, lonely and vulnerable, may be tempted and then when their advances are rejected they may turn to slander. We have often seen this in Paris. If, for example, such a woman comes to the house to talk, always leave the door half-open and interrupt to offer drink or food. In this way any misunderstandings can be avoided and the good name of the Church is protected.

10.Never speak about scandals in the Church in front of the children.

Children are innocent and may misinterpret what they hear. We do not discourage priest’s children, it is difficult enough without that. Tell them that this is an adult conversation.

11.Children are not to carry their parents’ cross.

They must be protected from problems you meet and above all you must leave them the freedom to choose. They must be free to help you or not. Only if you leave them the freedom to live a normal life will they want to help. And always thank them for help because they were not obliged to do so. Do not take any help for granted. Show them that when you work together as a team, everything becomes easier, more relaxed.

However, when they decide to come to church, their behaviour must be exemplary. The other children will follow them. But when they get home, it is vital that they live like other children and even sometimes you have to be especially tolerant with them. It is difficult to be the child of a priest.

12.Always ask for the help of other parishioners in Church matters.

The Church does not belong to you, but to everyone. Everyone must have the opportunity to help. But be careful to keep your place, you are the matushka and no-one else. The Church should be as clean as your house.

13.An old lady whose father was a new martyr and brother a priest in Paris told me to ‘be like the queens of the past’.

This was invaluable advice. What she meant was that you always put your duty before everything else. Your happiness and that of your family and your parish depends on you doing your duty.

14. As a matushka must share her husband with the Church, she can be exposed to temptations, loneliness, constant duties, frustration and this can lead to falling into traps.

Always remember that if the matushka falls, then often the priest falls with her and, having lost credibility, the priest’s family and the whole parish may fall as well. It is not the sin that is particularly important, it is the consequences. An individual sin can become a collective sin. A matushka can destroy her whole life with such a sin.

15. Finally, remember that all the above applies only to Church.

At home, to keep your balance and sanity, you are who you are and you must continue to act freely.

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