“My biggest thought was:
thank God I'm home
I was born into a Roman Catholic family and baptized as an infant. When I was in high school, my parents became increasingly dissatisfied with the Catholic church and left to go to the Episcopal church (protestant). They were happy there and I attended because I didn't have any choice. When I went to college I was still attending the Episcopal church. I met my future husband (his story is more interesting) who convinced me that I had made a big mistake to leave the Catholic church. We attended the small Catholic church together but the mass was dreadful. It's hard to describe to you because I think you may not have the necessary background, but the Catholic church became mired for the most part in the culture of the 1960's in this country. The resulting liturgy is ugly when guitar music is playing! I used to say that the pain of attending mass would get me out of years of purgatory!
I transferred to a different college and in the meantime my future husband began a correspondence with a professor and his wife who had moved to another state. They had been looking for a conservative Catholic church and hadn't found one. Instead, they had found the Orthodox church. Over the course of the next few years he investigated the Orthodox church but felt that he just couldn't "become" Greek or Russian. After graduation he attended a small OCA church in Birmingham, Alabama. It was then that he knew that he wanted to become Orthodox. I visited this church with him a few weeks later when I traveled to see him. I wasn't particularly convinced. I look back now and am astounded by my stupidity! It wasn't until the next week when I was back home, attending the Episcopal church (I just couldn't stand the ugly modern Catholic liturgy anymore and was floundering around) that I realized that it (the Episcopal church) was spiritually empty. The liturgy was dead. I had seen "the real thing" the past week in Alabama and was just now realizing it.
How many Orthodox families have you in your parish? And how do you/ your batiushka get the salary to support your family (from the state, from the community or does he have to work)?
Oh dear, I'm not the numbers person! As far as families, I'm going to guess about thirty? It's probably less than that and some of those "families" consist of single persons.
Since there are no state-supported churches in America, the individual parishes are responsible for paying their priests. Obviously, larger parishes can offer a higher salary and more benefits. We have made as little as $900 a month. Currently, by living in a small provided rectory we are able to live on Father's salary. This is the first time that has happened. Should we need to move, our income would have to increase as well and it would probably be necessary for him to find work. Sadly, many matushki in this country must work to support their families and are unable to be at home with their children. This was the case with us for 11 years (including seminary).
Do you practice Communion frequently for your children and for yourself?
Yes, we partake every week with some exceptions. If I'm ill and haven't fasted, of course I won't partake. I also will abstain from communion during menstruation.
I know this is not a universal experience, but it is what we have been blessed to do by our spiritual father. Frequent communion is common in the U.S.
Do the American Orthodox priests have theological studies to practice this ministry?
Yes, the OCA has three seminaries: St. Tikhon's in Pennsylvania, St. Vladimir's in New York and St. Herman's in Alaska. The Greek seminary is Holy Cross in Massachusetts. These four are the primary seminaries in this country. There are a few others associated with ROCOR etc. but I am not very familiar with them. My apologies. You will notice that all of these are concentrated in the northeast with the exception of St. Herman's. It would be very beneficial to have a seminary in the South or West.
On our blog, many readers are women who are to marry a theology graduate or student. They want to know more about what being a matushka is. So, in the end, please tell us something for them; how, in your opinion, should they see and face this ministry?
Being married to a priest is definitely an exercise in sacrifice. You will most likely not have very much money and will need to be able to keep a frugal house. You should be open to children. You will have a husband with a job that never stops; he will be called to the hospital during dinner. Your job, first of all, is to support him. Take care of the house, children etc., so that he is free to be a priest to his parishioners. Raise your children carefully (one should do this anyway!) because, fair or not, people will be watching them closely. Watch what you say. People will come to you for advice. Unless it is about something that is obviously in your realm, direct people to the priest. I have had people ask me about fasting guidelines etc. You should not be dispensing advice about spiritual matters. Be humble, remember that you are a lay-person, and remind people gently to ask their spiritual father. People accept this well.
On the other hand, while you will certainly sacrifice for the sake of your parish, you also have to be mindful to take care of your marriage. Sadly, so many clergy marriages dissolve. Encourage your husband to take a day (or even half a day) just for his family every week. Encourage him to take what vacation you can. He is a priest, but he is also human and has the same needs as any other man.
If there is tension in the house about something going on in the parish (this will happen, be assured) either because people are criticizing your husband or some other issue, make sure you talk together and don't hold in secrets. Try your best not to complain, but to quietly support him. If the parish is in uproar, then he needs a peaceful home more than ever.
One more thing: I mentioned earlier about raising your children well because people will be watching them. This is true, but don't forget that they are normal children and not endowed with special angelic powers! Don't fall into the trap of expecting perfection because you are afraid someone will criticize you about them. Do your best and treat them with love and understanding. Just as you may feel uncomfortable having all eyes on you, they will too, and will need a forgiving mother to come home to.
Matushka Anna, thank you for the love with which you have shared your experience. You have been very patient with us and you told us so many interesting things; it has been a real pleasure to talk to you!
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some of my experience as a matushka in the United States. I know my own experience is so limited and this country is so vast - I hope I have not misrepresented anything in the course of this interview. Please forgive any inadequacies. I should make it clear that in a lot of cases I am giving advice that I don’t always follow!
It has been a pleasure for us, and also very useful, to learn so many things about your experience about being an orthodox in general in United States and especially a matushka. Maybe this interview will lead to some other connections between matushki/ presvyteras/ preotese and will teach us to see that Orthodoxy is beyond the nationality. We hope we’ll keep in touch in sharing things, in the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Thank you again!