How to Greet a Monk or Nun
by Protopresbyter Alexander Lebedeff
In the Russian Church: Only tonsured nuns are addressed as "Mother"the
others are addressed as "Sister." This is exactly the same as the
practice regarding monks, who are called "Father" only if tonsured.
The clue is whether they wear the "klobuk"the cylindrical black hat
with the veilif they wear a klobuk, they are called "Father" or "Mother."
The problem with this clue is that the klobuk is worn only in church or at formal
occasionsthe rest of the time monks and nuns wear "skufias"soft,
usually velvet, pointy hats. Abbesses,
of course, are always addressed as "Mother"in Russian, the greeting
is usually the diminutive "Matushka" [pronounced with accent on the
Only Abbesses (or in rare cases their chief assistants) can wear a pectoral
cross. Laypeople should approach an Abbess for a blessing the same as they would
a Priestthey bow and hold their hands, palms up, right over leftand after
receiving the blessing (which the Abbess makes holding her fingers the same
as when one makes the sign of the crossnot the "Name of the Lord"
configuration of fingers used by priests when blessing)they kiss the
When a Priest greets an Abbess, he blesses her as usual, but they kiss each
other's hand, exactly as two Priests meeting (or two Bishops) do. Abbesses stand
in a throne and hold their staff, which looks like a Bishop's staff, except
it is made of wood.
In her convent, the Abbess is the Rector. The Priests who serve in the convent
do nothing without her knowledge and blessing. The serving Priest bows to the
Abbess when beginning the services, and he censes her before anyone else. The
Abbess is commemorated by name at all the major litanies and at the Great Entrance.
In many ways, the Abbess is given respect by the serving clergy similar to that
given to Bishops present at the service, except that she is censed only three
times, not three-times-three.
Abbesses can enter the altar at any time. In larger convents, certain nuns are
appointed by the Abbess (with the approval of the Bishop) to enter the altar
to maintain it and the vestments of the clergy, and even to assist the serving
priest if no male altar servers are availablebut it should be known that
other nuns cannot enter the altar. Nuns appointed to help in the altar are usually
chosen from those who have been in the convent from a young age.
Russian approach is usually rather easy: if they're wearing a pectoral cross,
you can get a blessing from them. Unless, of course, they're outside of the
church and not wearing their cross. . .
love in Christ,
Taken from the archives of the Orthodox Email Forum ("Indiana
List") in February, 1999.