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A Letter From Ukraine

by Olena Malchyn with photographs by John E. Kozar

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Olena Malchyn is the wife of the Rev. Volodymyr Malchyn, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest who serves as the vice chancellor of the curia of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. They live on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital of Kiev with their two young daughters, Marichka and Anastasia.

I was born in the Ukrainian region of Podillia. My mother is a nurse who worked all her adult life in a hospital. My father was an organizer of cultural events — a specialization very valued during Soviet times. Even though my parents were not practicing Christians, I was baptized in an underground Orthodox church.

When I was six years old my family moved to central Ukraine, but each year I continued spending summers with my grandparents, who lived in a small village. My grandparents belonged to a Baptist church and in their house they hosted meetings of the local Baptist community. Even though I formally did not belong to this church, I nevertheless grew up with an understanding of faith, surrounded by people who showed respect and love to each other.

I rediscovered the depths of my Eastern Christian roots when I met my future husband, Volodymyr.

When I was a third-year student at the Kiev-Mohyla University I had a chance to attend an ecumenical Taizé Community youth gathering in Milan, Italy. Volodymyr, who was studying as a seminarian in Rome, also came to Milan for the gathering.

We found each other walking on the street among 60,000 young Christians. After that we kept in touch on the internet. The following summer we had volunteered together at a Christian summer camp for children in Ukraine, organized by a Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish. At this camp I had an opportunity to learn more about Volodymyr and the Greek Catholic Church. I fell in love with both of them.

I had plenty of time to adjust to my husband’s role as an ordained minister because he was ordained a deacon in the third year of our marriage, and then a priest a year later.

Still, at first it was quite challenging. After ordination, my husband was able to spend much less time with our family than before. Once he became a priest he devoted much time in the evenings ministering to youth groups. Also, besides his pastoral work during the day he lectured at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Kiev, and accumulated administrative responsibilities as a vice chancellor of the Archeparchy of Kiev.

At that time I felt quite stressed because I had to take care of two young children who did not see their father much; he would leave early in the morning and would come back late at night.

I would say that this is the main role of a priest’s wife — to understand and to share her husband’s priestly and family obligations. You have to be ready to support your husband in his ministry and to be ready to go with him wherever the church sends him.

In central Ukraine, in comparison to the western regions of the country, the priest’s wife traditionally does not enjoy any special social status. Thus, her reputation is built solely by her work and by daily interaction with people around her.

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