On Friday, November 24, Student-Wives were graced with the animated presence of Khouria Olga Atty of St. Michael’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Louisville Kentucky. Olga, wife of Fr. Alexander Atty, is also the granddaughter and daughter of Orthodox priests. As such, Olga has witnessed to and herself lived out varying “styles” of how to be a priest’s wife. This role is to be assumed with absolute solemnity as we assist our husbands in tending to the spiritual and salvific needs of a parish. However, Olga stressed that each priest’s wife must take into account her own personality and gifts in assuming the role of “matushka” with her husband as "batushka" in a parish. Although matushka is not considered a “sacramental priesthood”, a matushka is a co-minister, with her spouse in the parish, acting as the church’s “little Mother", even as her spouse stands as the parish Father.
For over thirty years, Olga and her husband have witnessed the growth of their diverse multi-cultural parish from around 70-80 parishioners to over 700, including two missions. Olga attributes their success as a team to Fr. Atty’s 150% dedication as a Father to this parish family, and to Olga’s lived theology of following the Theotokos as the ultimate role model for how we are to mother our parish families. In this, a priest/wife team must view their parish as their family, and sacrifices must be undertaken willingly and joyfully in the interest of the well-being of everyone in this family.
Olga gave specific advice on keeping a distance from whatever strife may inevitably occur within parish contexts, and not to try to “fight our husband’s battles,” but remain pleasant and compassionate to all. This compassion, care and hospitality must extend to all and cross all social and cultural barriers. Marginalized or lonely folks in a parish family can be invited to holiday meals at the rectory, and personally invited and given assisted transportation to parish programs. As Olga has taught us, a matushka must open herself and her own nuclear family to the needs of the larger parish family. All efforts at breaking down barriers or erasing “lines” of exclusivity must be exercised and “masterminded" by a conscientious parish mother.
We must, however, take precaution to keep a special balance of objectivity between compassion and becoming “thick-skinned” about disappointments or stressors which are part of parish life. Olga’s paradigm of hospitality helped to set the tone for the rapid and continued growth at St. Michael‘s in Louisville, and can help any parish in the efforts of growth and development. Hence, this model of hospitality can not only be a personal theological paradigm for all priest wives, but can also be a successful blueprint for parishes in “marketing” themselves for growth.
By Mat. Eileen Jones, wife of Seminarian Fr. Dn. John Jones (OCA)