The ever-memorable Protopresbyter Matthew (Matfey in Russian) Stadnyuk, the foremost of the married clergy of the Russian Church, fell asleep in the Lord on Sunday, January 26, at the age of 95.
His funeral was served by His Holiness, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’, His Eminence, Metropolitan Sergei of Ternopil, from Fr. Matthew’s homeland, and several other bishops at Theophany Cathedral in Elokhovo, Moscow, on Tuesday, January 28. Among the clergy were many of his family members. Photos of the service can be found here.
As Patriarch Kirill said, Fr. Matthew represents in and of himself “an entire epoch” for the Russian Church, and thus it follows to say his repose marks the end of an era. Though he personally knew some of the greatest spiritual figures of our times, in his humility, he would only say that he was blessed to serve among giants, though in reality, he himself was a spiritual giant. Gentle, not particularly tall in stature, this Volhynian priest died a colossus whom the Russian Church will never forget.
Fr. Matthew served the Russian Orthodox Church faithfully for a good 75 years. His service took him everywhere from his native Pochaev in Western Ukraine, to Egypt, to New York City, and finally to Moscow, where he was the long-time rector of Theophany Cathedral in the Elokhovo district of Moscow.
The Theophany Cathedral is a magnificent basilica that served as the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Moscow Patriarchate during the dark days of Soviet persecution; its golden domes topped with crosses became a beacon of hope for the suffering, at times crucified, Russian people.
Fr. Matthew lived through it all like a true confessor; he met everyone from Patriarchs to Presidents to the Queen of England, and for his loyal service to the Church of Christ, he was awarded practically every honor the Church can bestow upon a married priest, including the miter, the right to wear three crosses, and Patriarchal Cross itself. Let’s remember his blessed life.
Protopresbyter Matthew was born on September 22, 1925, in the village of Zalistsi, very close to the Pochaev Lavra in the sunny and green forested fields of Volhynia—a land of many saints. To emphasize the piety of Volhynia, that most ancient land of Western Rus’—possibly the birthplace of the Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Vladimir of Kiev himself—it is enough to say that his humble village alone was known for the fact that over 150 young men dedicated their lives to serve Christ as clergy.
To this end, it is worth recalling the ever-memorable Patriarchal Archdeacon Andrei Mazur, Fr. Matthew’s contemporary compatriot, who was born in the nearby village of Novi Kokoriv. Their homes were only two miles apart. Protopresbyter Matthew and Archdeacon Andrei are representative of the Western Ukrainian faction that always existed strongly within the hierarchy and clergy of the Russian Church, and both Fathers Matfey and Andrei were strong supporters of the canonical unity of the Ukrainian lands with the entire Russian Church.
Fr. Matthew was the son of Anna Demyanovna, who always took him to Pochaev Lavra for services. Of her four sons, three became priests, while the forth died during WW2. By 1942, after taking courses in Pochaev, he became a chanter.
On March 10, 1945, he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Job of Kremenets. On January 4, 1946, he was ordained a priest in Chernivtsi, the capital of Bukovina, which is also the homeland of Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine, who would later conduct his hierarchical services for many years in the cathedral where Fr. Matthew was ordained.
His first parish was an old village church in honor of the Nativity of the Theotokos, deep within the Carpathian Mountains, over thirty-five miles from the nearest train station. Due to a lack of clergy, he also served four nearby churches, and he was quickly appointed as the local dean for his dedicated service.
In 1949, he entered Moscow Theological Seminary directly into the third year, and later graduated from Moscow Theological Academy in 1955, and would go on to serve in the Moscow area, and assist Protopresbyter Nikolai Kolchytsky, yet another famous priest from Ukraine, who also served as rector of Theophany Cathedral in Elokhovo.
Fr. Matthew was sent to America in 1962. From 1964 to 1967 he served in Egypt, and then returned to America, where between 1970 and 1973 he served as Rector of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York. He then returned to Russia where he was named secretary to Patriarch Pimen.
On June 9, 1978, he was named rector of Theophany Cathedral and elevated to Protopresbyter, the highest dignity a married priest can hold. For decades, he served in and later led the Financial and Economic Management Department of the Moscow Patriarchate, and participated in the creation of the famous Church supplies company Sofrino, reviving an old tradition of excellence in ecclesiastical craftsmanship.
In 2000, he was named secretary to his dear friend Patriarch Alexei II who is entombed in the Theophany Cathedral together with the relics of St. Alexei of Moscow.
Fr. Matthew closely served with every Patriarch of Moscow from Pat. Pimen to Pat. Kirill.
Protopresbyter Matthew is a perfect example of the fact that Ukrainians, particularly Western Ukrainians, have been known to occupy some of the highest positions in the Russian Orthodox Church. Fr. Matthew is part of a long line of Volhynian, Galician, Carpatho-Rusyns, Malorossians, and otherwise Ukrainians, who rendered indispensable service to the Moscow Patriarchate. In the Russian tradition, there are very few living protopresbyters at any one time.
Fr. Matthew was truly part of that great generation whom we read about in Met. Tikhon's (Shevkunov's) extremely popular book, Everday Saints, shining in those final soviet years.
In these latter days, when there are many troubles in the home of the Orthodox Church, it is lamentable to see so many great elders and spiritual pillars passing away. Those who were here with us moments before are gone the next day. One can only think to say in the words of the Prophet Baruch: Ubi Sunt? And where are they who were gone before us? Considering Fr. Matthew understood English, and was from the green mountainous fields of Volhynia and Transcarpathia, one could paraphrase in his honor the lament of the great Christian writer J.R.R. Tolkien:
“They have passed like rain on the Carpathian Mountains, like a wind in the Volhynian meadow; The days have gone down in the West, behind the hills, into shadow. Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning, or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?”
May God grant eternal memory unto Protopresbyter Matthew, who was buried in the shadow of Theophany Cathedral which he served for decades.
In his humility he never knew how loved he was—by people from Pochaev to Transcarpathia and Bukovina, Moscow to Egypt, and New York to San Francisco. It is easy to fall into melancholy at the death of these great figures, but this is not the Orthodox way. Fr. Matthew has passed on the torch to a new generation of clergy, many of whom are his kinsmen.
When we see such holy men repose, this means it is up to each and every one of us to keep the faith, and to carry on where they left off; to faithfully serve God and holy Mother Church in such a way that people like even the humble Fr. Matthew would be proud to call us their spiritual children.
As for Fr. Matthew of Pochaev and Moscow, he fought a good fight, he finished the course, he kept the faith. Eternal Memory, dear Batiushka, on behalf of everyone who loved you so dearly!