December 29, 2012
"Matushkas:" An Article by Marina Dobrovolskaya

Dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church, the joint Pastoral conference of the Russian Church Abroad and the Patriarchal parishes, for the first time in its history hosted along with the delegates from the clergy – their spouses. It was not by chance that the matushkas were invited to the conference. The Eastern American Diocese has already been working rather closely with its matushkas. Many of them remember warm congratulations received on their namesdays from the Diocesan Office. This is a good sign that they are known and treated with no less respect than their spouses, the clergy.

Kinder, Kuche, Kirche?

"Kinder, Kuche, Kirche," or "3K"… This well-known slogan from Germany can be translated as "Children, kitchen, church," and encourages women to devote themselves exclusively to these spheres of life. This definition of "women’s role in family and society" goes back to the 1890s. An approximate English equivalent for this definition might be "barefoot and pregnant," with obvious allusion to the fact that a woman should not have her own interests outside her house, and ought to give birth to as many children as she can. The contemporary understanding of a "female’s mission" and, probably, a female’s role in life take root closer to our own time – in the 1940s.

In comparison to most Russian matushkas, clergy spouses in the Russian Diaspora have long surpassed their role as housewives. Archpriest Artemy Vladimirov from Moscow, a guest and participant at the pastoral conference, agrees with this point of view.

Clergy spouses in Russia have always been housewives and, above all, homemakers. According to old Russian tradition, when a girl married a future priest, she consciously intended to devote herself exclusively to her husband, home, and children. Parochial school, choir, or an icon workshop are the lot of those matushkas determined to go beyond the tradition. Less commonly, we can see them among doctors and church journalists. Still, even in Russia we have numerous examples of the so-called "unconventional" matushkas who work full time, have their own businesses, prefer jeans and short haircuts to a skirt "to the floor" and braids to her waist. At the same time these "offbeat" matushkas feel comfortable driving a car, cooking, making the table for their large families, in which members of the younger and older generations intermingle and feel at ease.

In the United States, besides supporting her husband, homemaking, and raising children, a clergy spouse considers her role also as an active assistant to the priest or deacon in his ministry. And this ministry is, above all, working with parishioners and taking on numerous parish chores: parochial school, choir, charity work, concerts and parish festivals, and picnics, which are so popular in America.

Immigration is an Orthodox notion

One particular service being carried out by matushkas throughout the Russian Diaspora – from North America to Australia – is work with "new" Russians – Russian-speakers who come to work or study in the United States. From the beginning of the last century, wherever Russians have settled down, they first established parishes and built churches. Since then, little has changed, except that many of our countrymen, who lately have come and are still coming to the United States, are now devoid of a Christian mentality and ecclesiastical nurture. Nevertheless, their soul is Christian by nature and, living thousands of miles away from their homeland, Russian immigrants strive to find and visit a Russian Orthodox church. And it is often the clergy spouses that chiefly care for the newcomers.

There are matushkas in our Diocese who work as interpreters and translators along with their husbands as immigration lawyers. Others help newcomers in search of work, professional counseling, offering a piece of good advice, comfort, and consolation.

"Most newcomers who crossed the ocean in the last fifteen or twenty years have come through a tough period of getting acquainted to a new life in a foreign country," Matushka Irina Pastukh from Daytona Beach, Florida, comments. "My husband, Father Andrey, has been serving as rector of St. Andrew's Church in Daytona Beach for four years already. Our first parish was a church in Khasavyurt (Dagestan, Russia). But the Chechen war forced us to move to the neighboring Stavropol region. After fifteen years there, we began to feel insecure because of the proximity of the war in the Northern Caucasus, and we decided to move to the United States. Father Andrey started services with a small community in Palm Coast, then St. Andrew’s parish in Daytona Beach was established."

"Personally I consider myself sort of a ‘support pillar’ for Batushka, I always stand by him," Matushka Irina continued. "Since our arrival in the U.S., my main occupation has always been communicating and working with people. Members of our congregation have a lot of questions, but some of them don’t feel comfortable approaching the priest directly. Most urgent and pertinent questions relate to immigration matters: newly arrived people often do not know to whom to address this or that question, where to go and look for work. The main thing about this situation is to have these people surrounded with care and attention, to make it clear to them that all of these problems are temporary and fleeting. All newcomers, in fact, are used to experiencing the same problems in a foreign country, and all of us have gone through a very tough time."

On weekdays, Father Andrey and Matushka Irina are both busy at their secular jobs in the spa industry in Florida. On weekends and on holidays, they take their youngest son, an assistant to the priest, and drive to the temple for worship and meeting with compatriots.

I got acquainted with several priests’ wives who, along with their husband-lawyers, engage in working with newcomers from Russia, Ukraine, and Latin America. They mostly help the working priest as translators or interpreters at law firms.


A large portion of the parishes of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Church Abroad use the English language for divine services and fellowship. The Patriarchal parishes in the USA have an even larger proportion of English-speaking parishes than ROCOR.

Matushka Kira Webb is the wife of Priest Steven Webb. Both, as with many Orthodox people in America, are converts. Now Father Steven is attached to St. Nicholas Church in Fletcher, North Carolina. Initially, they joined this parish as parishioners. Here they were accepted to Orthodoxy. Then they moved to Florida, where Steven Webb was ordained a priest and became Father Steven.

Father Steven is a digital iconographer. Kira Webb herself is fond of being a matushka and can talk for hours about their church, digital restoration of ancient icons, their four children, and a school she organized for them at home. Although, she admits, their life could not be seen at as a path strewn with roses…

"I am a mom by profession. I am a true friend and assistant to Batushka. I am always involved in baking prosphoras and cleaning around the temple if necessary."

Her name is Lubov (Charity; Love)

Unlike other clergy spouses, this annual pastoral conference is not the first one for Matushka Lubov Lukianov. Her name can be translated into English literally as Love, but traditionally as Charity. Though not an official delegate to the clergy conferences, Matushka Lubov has always been "behind the scenes" ‒ involved in accommodating guests, including those from Russia, providing them with lodgings and even a car. Actually, she has always served as a hostess, accompanying assistant, and driver.

Matushka Luba is a native of Nyack, and Holy Protection Church is her native parish. From her youth, she sang in the church choir. Thirty-one years ago, she met a seminarian, the future Archpriest Serge Lukianov, and married him. Younger generations of ROCOR have for many years been accustomed to seeing Father Serge visiting scout camps with the wonderworking Kursk-Root Icon and leading various church gatherings of the Eastern American Diocese. Youngsters probably do not know that for 18 years, Father Serge served as a deacon in the parish of his father, Archpriest Valery Lukianov, who is famous far beyond America’s borders.

Matushka Luba was a teacher at the parochial school in Lakewood, then at St. Nicholas Church in Red Bank, known as "Krasnobregovo," and finally at St. George’s Church in Freewood Acres. There Father Serge was engrossed in renovation of the church and renewal of the parish life at request of the descendants of the Cossacks.

All these years, Matushka Lubov taught the Russian language at a local American school, which gave her the opportunity to always be at the church together with Father Serge. She read and sang in the choir, baked prosphoras, and sewed cassocks during the years when church sewing workshops were a rarity and many clergy spouses had to sew vestments all by themselves.

While Father Serge devoted himself entirely to the service of the Church, Matushka Lubov, besides her church obediences, fulfilled another great task: as a Russian teacher she taught the younger generation of descendants of the Russian immigrants in Lakewood and the surrounding area. Among them are five children of her own: two sons and three daughters.

"When the children were small," Matushka Luba said, "I always tried to reconcile them to the thought that only Lord was superior to all of us, and when children were naughty, I would remind them that they did not only hurt me but, above all, the Lord God and the Mother of God. I tried to make them understand that all our actions were laid bare before God.

"Church life in our family always came first. Once our daughter, Katya, who had just started school, brought home a bunch of cents. When we asked where the money were from, she said she had collected small change at school among her classmates – Americans, whom she told that her grandfather had been building a church. Now I can proudly say that young children were among those who participated in the construction of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral!"

Interestingly enough, all of the matushkas with whom I spoke at the conference unanimously admitted that sacred service to God in a priest’s family could not be considered the priest’s duty and privilege alone, but in this ministry the two are naturally involved – both batushka and matushka. And when their children grow up, batushka's ministry becomes the communal service of the whole family. Usually, a priest’s family lives and grows along with the parish, thus contributing its own unique traditions to already existing ones.

"Our parish is rather small, and we never had a parish hall for our parishioners to meet," Matushka Lubov Lukianov said. "We saw our parishioners leaving for home as soon as divine services ended. We thought it wasn’t right, and decided to have our parishioners invited to our own house for dinner on feast days. And it has long become a tradition of ours to gather everyone at our home on Pascha.

"Many of those who drop in on our house become part of our family and our community. They interact with Father Serge and with each other and become permanent parishioners. Among our good traditions, I can’t help mentioning our ‘Christmas Yolka’ party, held at the Cossack hall, and traditional Russian Bliny. We have many newcomers from Russia and they appreciate hearing us speak Russian. Far away from their homeland, they feel the warmth and hospitality of a real family".

Two Roses

While the priests were engrossed in discussions on diocesan issues at the conference, their spouses had plenty of things to discuss and participated in a workshop specially organized for them. They were willing to share their ideas and thoughts about what they had worked out over the years during their church life. But I noticed that, the older and more experienced a matushka, the less inclined she was to teach and give advice to the younger ones. That is because each family is unique. So is each parish, which comes vibrantly alive in the terms of the real world.

American-born Rose Star married the future priest Roman Star in 1967. Both were involved in medicine. Both, from their youth, have been Orthodox. Fr. Roman Star’s ancestors came to the United States from Galicia. During World War II, Roman’s mother, a nurse for the "Red Cross," often had to work long nights, and the boy spent plenty of time with his Orthodox grandmother. Together, they went to church and the boy dreamed of becoming a priest.

A former military medic, Father Roman spent twenty years of his life at research work on cancer. Today he is in charge of the Central States Deanery of the Patriarchal Parishes and the rector of St. Innocent of Irkutsk Church in Redford, Michigan. He has been serving for 28 years now as a priest. Additionally, he is a member of the Episcopal Council of the Patriarchal Parishes, president of the Association of St. John Chrysostom of the Metropolis of Detroit, which includes clergy of various Orthodox jurisdictions, the spiritual father of the Brotherhood of St. Moses, the Association of Orthodox Women, and the Orthodox Humanitarian Organization in Detroit, as well as working with prison inmates. Matushka Rose helps Father Roman in his work with homeless and poor.

Their charity work gets especially intense when winter comes and the parishioners gather food and warm clothes for the needy, hold annual Christmas mittens and gloves campaign. "People often come up to our house," Matushka Rose said. On weekdays Father Roman is often away, and I talk with the parishioners myself."

The Stars’ daughter – Elizabeth – is a church choir director. Her son serves as an altar boy, and her daughter once started collecting cans to help an orphanage in Mexico (I can’t help but remember Matushka Lubov Lukianov’s story!).

"The most important thing for us is that our grandchildren never lose our Orthodox Faith," Matushka Rose said with a gentle smile.

Her namesake, Matushka Rose Legouté, came to Nyack with Fr. Gregoire from one of the world’s poorest countries – Haiti. There are only two Orthodox priests in the country, and both are school teachers. In Haiti’s capital, the city of Port-au-Prince, in the parish of St. Moses the Black, there is a specialized school for children with disabilities, run by Father Gregoire and Matushka Rose. Besides their own daughter Anastasia, the couple adopted a girl named Christie, who had been abandoned by her parents.

“When I was sixteen, I met Gregoire and fell in love with him at first sight. In fact, he is that sort of a man one can’t help falling in love with!" Matushka Rose explained. "I am from a family of Catholics, was an active parishioner and a singer in a Catholic church. Now I also sing in the choir, but in our own parish."

"The greatest difficulties faced by the Orthodox Mission in Haiti stem from the pitiable financial situation in which the country’s citizens and members of the Mission find themselves, worsened to the point of tragedy and suffering by the terrible earthquake," continued Matushka Rose. "In Haiti, it is not parishioners who support the parish and priest, but the priests who support their parishioners, who in the most real sense are fighting for their lives. But, despite the virtually intolerable difficulties, the Orthodox Mission of the Russian Church Abroad in Haiti is expanding, while parishioners pray for the economic recovery of their country and that today, while society’s full recovery is still far-off, the Church might be able to help the needy, caring for orphans and handicapped children. To face this task, our priests must possess health, strength, and wisdom."


The youngest matushka to participate in the pastoral conference is the spouse of Deacon Ephraim Willmarth from Jordanville. Joanna Willmarth had then been a matushka for only four months. Joanna’s family boasts two priests – her father and her uncle. Since childhood, her mother has set an example for her as an assistant to her father in everyday life, as well as in his ministry.

"Kind by nature, a delicate and unobtrusive assistant, Mom has always been an example for members of our parish in the state of Maine," Joanna says. Deacon Ephraim appreciates this humble support about his young wife, too.

...It was impossible to discuss all the variety of problems and joys in matushkas’ lives during those three days of the pastoral conference. And how could these sketches of our matushkas embrace the diversity of their family and church lives – that other side of their lives, which are mostly unfamiliar to our parishioners? But even these notes, the author hopes, will enable the reader to think about the role of the Church in the life of the Russian Orthodox family and the family at home ‒ in the life of the Church.

I would like to say a word of gratitude to many of our priests’ spouses who would have loved to come to the conference and share the joy of fellowship, but chose their secular job. And that is because we have Orthodox parishes financially supported by a working priest and, sometimes, even working matushkas. There are parishes in which the matushka allows the priest to give up his secular job, in order to rebuild the church and restore the parish. And all those good words that were said during the meeting about our matushkas, and prayers offered up in Holy Protection Church in Nyack and Three Saints Church in Garfield can be equally applied to those devoted women.

…and one more thing. I would like to mention a tradition shared by almost all the spouses of the ROCOR clergy in America: regardless of the language spoken ‒ English, French or Russian – they all prefer being addressed as, and call themselves by, a good Russian word – "matushka," just as priests are called "batushka." Perhaps they write these words in Latin letters and pronounce them with the accent! But being called by these ancient Russian names both – batushkas and matushkas – naturally and humbly take on their shoulders and into their hearts the great service with which the Lord has blessed them for many years of their mutual life on earth.

Marina Dobrovolskaya

Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese