—Tell us how you met your wife.
—We have known each other since our first year at the university. I entered the university after having served in the army and Olga right after school. It so happened that both of us were married before. But as we were in the fourth year at the university, our first families fell apart and we got married. Neither of us was a church-going Christian at the time. A couple of years before graduation, I happened to work at the Children’s Hospital No 9, as I was a pediatrician at first. That’s where I met Tatiana Anatolyevna Saltykova, Fr. Alexander Saltykov’s wife. He was just ordained a priest at the time. Owing to our friendship with them, Olga and I gradually learned to be conscious Orthodox Christians. It happened somewhere around 1984 or 1985.
I always wanted to have a large family and my wife didn’t mind having a lot of kids either. We encountered problems though, since she came from a family of academic scholars: Her father was Doctor of Sciences and Academic Secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences, her mother a scientific lab supervisor, and her brother a physicist… Olga graduated from both high school and university with honors. Out of seven hundred graduates, only ten graduated with honors and all of them received attractive job offers. But my wife, instead of going into science, chose to be a mother. Her parents couldn’t easily grasp or welcome their daughter’s choice, but they accepted it later.
We aren’t alike and come from different backgrounds, even though experience tells me that it is best to create a family with an equal. It is better for a married couple to have the same opinion about many different things in life. It’s not always possible to explain to another person that two times two is four. Life teaches you only one thing: As a family, you have to yield. Always. I often joke that in a marriage, you either get a divorce the next day after the wedding or submit yourself and yield. There is no other way out, I think. As for me, I am happy to be under my wife’s thumb!
—But how about “and the wife must respect her husband?
The phrase “the wife must respect her husband” speaks more about the fear of offending your loved one
—This phrase is often misunderstood. A husband and wife make up their home church, where the husband is the head just as God is the head of the Church. The fear of God isn’t about the fear that God is going to conk you on the head with a frying pan; it is about the fear of offending God. “The wife must respect her husband” means that you are afraid to offend your loved one, the love of your life. It’s about how not to upset him or her and deliver on your promises. Obviously, violence of any kind has no place in family life.
I am already sixty-three and I’ve spent all my life working day and night. I delivered babies, helped people in any way I could, and earned money to support my family. But all this time, caring for the family’s daily life has been my wife’s responsibility! There were times when I was home for two or three days a week. I would come home to observe how three boys of different ages were doing math at the same time with their mother assisting each one of them. It is truly a labor of love and hard work! Anything I do pales compared to what my wife is doing. All of my kids entered and successfully graduated from universities. Why? Because their mother was working hard at home assisting them. While I was working. We often joke that they all lived with their father’s omnipresent spirit while he was physically stuck at work. That’s why I yield to my wife, even though I understand where she may not be right—and, quite possibly, where she isn’t right, time and time again. But, fundamentally, a woman isn’t right in only one thing (and everything else stems from it): She loves her children too much and puts up with many things. What I mean is that when children don’t perform their duties, their mother, instead of insisting, goes and does things for them. A husband sees it all. Even these days—Olga is a grandmother but all she does day in and day out is to run around helping everyone—this one needs to be taken to school, another one has to be driven to sports practice, or she has to babysit the third one… She isn’t home anymore, as she is constantly busy with her grandchildren.
—Can you share a few things about your children?
A church is something that can’t be force fed. A young person should feel the need to be there
—I have a daughter from my first marriage and my wife has a daughter from her first marriage—their names are Polina and Masha. They graduated from the Moscow State University, one from the Philology Department and another from the Biology Department. One has three kids and another has six. Both of them grew up in our family. Next comes Anya, who is also a Philology Department graduate who teaches literature at school; she is a mother of five. Kolya graduated from the College of Design and does various projects. He isn’t married yet. Our Xenia is a monumental artist; she graduated from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University and works as a fresco painter. She is married, no kids yet. Our son Mitya finished the Naval Institute and sailed at sea as a ship engineer; they have three kids, and he works as an engineer repairing diesel engines. While he was sailing and away for six months, his kids had a difficult time without him home. Katia is about to graduate from Moscow State University; she is a geographer, not married yet. Vsevolod is a veterinarian, he is a father to a lovely daughter. Philip is about to graduate from the institute and plans to enter a seminary as far as I know. He is an altar boy who spends all his spare time at church. Styopa is finishing high school; he studies at a specialized biology class and has plans to study biology. Sonya will soon turn fourteen, she attends art school and dreams of becoming an artist. Did I miss anyone? I hope not.
—Has it ever happened in your family that your children refused to go to church?
Church is something that can’t be force fed. A young person should feel the need to be there. If a child is in trouble and he is left at home instead of going to church, he perceives it as punishment—that could be considered the correct way of upbringing. We didn’t always have it this way, as we simply always had kids attending church with us on Sundays, feast days, and for someone’s name days. These days, Styopa is the only one skipping church from time to time, as he is busy getting ready to enter the university, but I think it’s a temporary thing. We never pressure them, because children are brought up by observing their parents. If there is a certain problem—as a rule, it is our fault, we sinned somehow or we failed to do it right. Children are all-or-nothing people, very sincere: If they feel you are dishonest, you won’t ever make them believe that white means green. The time will come and they will grasp it all on their own.
—Some of your children also have large families of their own—it means they were receptive of your experience as parents
—The idea of parenthood isn’t about procreation but avoiding sin, and being spared the wrath of God. Some couples are gifted with children while others aren’t. If we are given the gift of parenthood, we bring them into this life—won’t we find the means to support them? Though it always comes with a great deal of responsibility. Your priorities in life shift. But if you can’t have children of your own—don’t you have any nieces or nephews, or godchildren? You can always help take care of them. And continue to seek humility—it means the Lord is giving you these circumstances for your salvation.