03/11/2020, 09.38
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The 'synod' Orthodox priests' wives: children, parishes, an ever-absent husband

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Orthodox Church has always admitted the uxorato priesthood. The priests' wives are called matushki (the "mothers"). The meeting did not raise protests or demands, but brought to light the complex problems these women face. 

Kiev (AsiaNews) - The first great Ukrainian Forum of Orthodox priests' wives took place in Kiev just before International Women's Day. The Orthodox Church has always admitted the uxorato priesthood in pastoral service (the bishops are celibate, generally from monasticism). Over one hundred matushki (the "mothers", as the wives of the batjushki are called, the "papine" priests) took part leaving their families and parishes for a few days to discuss their problems openly.

Normally the matushki are presented as very reserved women, completely dedicated to their large families (priestly families are generally very fruitful, and children often remain in the "priestly caste"), while in church they become severe guardians of discipline and of the many mandatory rules of conduct for attending long Orthodox liturgies (covered head, appropriate clothes, position of hands and body). In recent times, with the growth of the social prestige of priests in the post-Soviet world, matushki are increasingly turning into successful women, entrepreneurs and protagonists of an increasingly mobile society.

The Forum was held in a prestigious ecclesiastical complex, in the territory of the Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles on the bank of the Dnieper River. Overcoming the initial shyness, the priests' wives were served coffee and sweets by the young parish priest of the church. The ladies told journalists they felt "a breeze of freedom".

The matushki spoke o fthe importance of entrusting ecclesial initiatives concerning family issues to those who have experience of them, rather than to the "monastic superiors" who occupy leadership roles in the dioceses. The Forum's interventions, however, did not raise protests or claims, rather they sought to help understand the deeper dimensions of ecclesial life. Theological and spiritual relationships weren proposed to guide discussions and round tables, deliberately very free and informal.

The issues addressed included the difficulty of educating the many children, now unwilling to remain in the hereditary path of  their "clerical" parents. If once the sons and daughters in turn became priests and wives of priests, today they no longer want to take part religious services of their parents, creating strong embarrassment for them. Another issue regards the maintenance of priestly families, to which the proceeds of the ministry are often not enough, and many matushki have had to seek "secular" job that was once expressly forbidden to them.

There was no lack of sharing of experiences - very widespread - on coexistence with husbands often completely absorbed by pastoral work, and of conflicts and divisions that put at risk the obligatory "exemplary" nature of priestly unions. This is often difficult to discuss with husbands who claim to "dogmatic instance", as some interventions have pointed out, often "with the support of many adoring parishioners who do not know the problems within the family home".

The thematic groups also addressed many practical issues, keenly felt by the priests' wives, such as problems related to transfers from one parish to another; the clothes and hairstyles that are more or less imposed on the matushki, caught between the desire to please her husband and the risk of confusing the parishioners; the various situations of social unease for a woman who claims to be "a priest's wife"; the number of children (the Orthodox Church imposes a very faithful following of the moral rules on fertility to priests) and many other topics, for which women also demanded the exit of the various batjushki from the hall.

However, the meeting ended with the intervention of Bishop Venjamin, who augured the matushki: "To continue to live your brilliant lifestyle!"

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