Archpriest John Matusiak, 69, Director of Communications for the Orthodox Church in America, and Pastor Emeritus of Saint Joseph Church, Wheaton, IL, fell asleep in the Lord on the evening of Thursday, August 15, 2019, the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, after a short battle with cancer.
Throughout his life, Father John worked in a variety of capacities at the international, national, diocesan, and local levels of the Orthodox Church in America. His life’s work ranged from singer, cantor, and composer to author, editor, speaker, and from artist and iconographer to teacher, tour leader, and missionary.
In these diverse activities, Father John preserved a balance between faithfully adhering to the teachings of the historic church and identifying ways to make the gospel alive and compelling to those living in our modern world.
Born on January 6, 1950, in Erie, PA, Father John was raised in the Orthodox Faith at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, being active in the life of the church from his youth as an altar server and singing in the choir.
After studying fine arts at the Cleveland School of Design, Father John’s love of Christ and His holy church led him to enroll at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, South Canaan, PA in 1969. He later transferred to St. Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY where he enrolled in their pre-theological program and graduated from Iona College, New Rochelle, with a Bachelor Degree in Communications, and from Saint Vladimir’s with a Master of Divinity. During his seminary days Father John conducted choir at the seminary chapel and at Holy Trinity, Yonkers, as well as being a member and director of the seminary Octet.
Over the last 50 years, Father John has worked tirelessly in a variety of ways to bring people closer to Christ, and to expand the mission of the Orthodox Church in America.
Among the many highlights of his labors, Father John worked for decades with the Department of Christian Education (DCE), beginning in 1969 with a simple request to create a coloring book for youth, which led to larger projects, developing education materials, content, curricula, organizing and leading youth retreats, and presenting teacher training workshops in parishes coast to coast.
It was his talent and approach with educators and his interest in youth work that led to Father John’s appointment as head of the “OCA Youth Desk” in 1972. Immersing himself in that opportunity, Father John organized events and the means for hundreds of Orthodox youth and young adults to come together, learn about Christ, and be encouraged to talk about what it meant to be an Orthodox Christian in today’s world.
Father John’s labors for the church frequently extended beyond the boundaries of the Orthodox Church in America. He worked with John Boojamra, head of the Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC), to develop educational resources, training materials, and youth retreats across North America regardless of jurisdiction or nationality.
Working with James Couchell (later, His Grace, Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos) at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Father John contributed to the establishment of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), a pan-Orthodox ministry program for college students. The Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese invited Father John to organize training workshops and a teacher training seminars held during their national conventions.
Father John’s work with youth and young adults also reached around the world through SYNDESMOS – the World Fellowship of Orthodox Youth – where, as a Vice President, he worked with youth directors, clergy, and other future leaders of world Orthodoxy to organize pan-Orthodox retreats, pilgrimages, and workshops on an international level.
In the late 1970’s Father John began organizing international pilgrimages for adults and young people alike to discover Orthodoxy in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe. These trips were soon followed by visits from young people from Eastern Europe to explore the riches of Orthodoxy in America. Father John’s travels to Russia during the Soviet period introduced him to hierarchs and clergy of the Church in Russia, most notably Patriarchs Pimen and Alexy II, and Metropolitan Pitirim of Volokolamsk. Through those contacts, and after the fall of communism, the Church of Russia asked Father John to develop youth ministry programs for the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1991 Father John participated in the inaugural conference of the newly formed All Church Youth Movement of the Church of Russia.
As OCA youth director, Father John was responsible for providing content and resources for use at the parish level. This led to other opportunities for Father John to write, collaborate, and design, and he later served as editor and author for publications including “The Orthodox Teacher,” (OCA-DRE) “The Youth Resource Handbook,” and “On the Upbeat,” (OCEC), “The Vigil” (OCA-Diocese of the Midwest), and “The Orthodox Church” (OCA), while providing additional content for many other church publications both in North America and Europe.
Father John worked with the OCA’s national and diocesan departments of Christian Education, organizing teacher training sessions, and creating resources for use in local parishes. Father John also taught a number of courses at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, including Dogmatics, working with the seminarians to have a deeper understanding of their own faith and how to articulate that in a pluralistic society.
In 1976, the Orthodox Church in America published a 200+ page compendium celebrating the history of Orthodoxy in North America. As managing editor, Father John provided much of the creative design and content including thoughtful reflections on the early saints of our lands – Herman and Innocent – and those who at the time were not yet formally recognized as saints of the church – Tikhon, Alexis, Juvenaly, and Sebastian – along with inspiring glimpses into the rich mosaic of communities found in our then very young Orthodox Church in America.
Upon arriving in Chicago in 1983, Father John was appointed the Director of Communication for the Diocese of the Midwest, handling the design and production of “The Vigil,” the diocesan newspaper. He worked with diocesan hierarchs, local clergy, and faithful to celebrate the vibrant life of communities across 11 states.
Father John served as Managing Editor of “The Orthodox Church” (TOC) newspaper for the last twenty-eight years, coordinating with Protopresbyter Leonid Kishkovsky, Editor of the TOC, in the creation of thousands of articles about life in the Orthodox Church in America, highlighting the labors and efforts of His Beatitude, our hierarchs, clergy, faithful, and youth, providing a look at what Orthodoxy in America is today. With the advent of new technology and opportunities, Father John led the transition from black and white to color printing, and then from newspaper to magazine format, and ultimately to an all-digital format, always in an effort to reach faithful as effectively as possible.
Since 1998, Father John served as the OCA’s Director of Communications, engaging local and national media on current events and teachings of the church, and writing hundreds of news releases. Working with OCA and diocesan chancellors, Father John perfected the art of drafting church media resources to effectively promote the Orthodox Church in America and its mission to be the Church in North America.
With the advent of the internet in the 1990s, Father John was instrumental in the development of a web presence for the Orthodox Church in America. His years of experience and strategic approach to storytelling guided efforts to organize content in a user-friendly manner. As oca.org evolved and became more complex with technological advances, the most popular resource on the site remained the most basic, the popular Q&A service available via firstname.lastname@example.org. Over the years, from the “west wing of the chancery” in Chicago, Father John personally responded to nearly 100,000 questions about Orthodox Christianity submitted by Orthodox and seekers alike from around the world.
Father John’s creative talents were most widely recognized in his iconography and line drawings. Beginning in 1969, when Archpriest John Kivko, department chair of the Department of Religious Education (DRE), asked him to create a coloring book for youth, that led to Father John providing drawings for the original “Rainbow Series” by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko.
By the 1980s, Father John had created hundreds of drawings which were assembled into a camera-ready book published by Light & Life Publishing which is still in use, and even now found in digital format. Father John’s iconography frequently appears within OCA publications and online, and especially in areas near his parish assignments. From icons for personal veneration to frescoes adorning the dome, iconostasis, and walls of local churches, Father John frequently shared his knowledge and love of the liturgical arts by lecturing at museums, universities, and teaching icon painting to parishioners.
He also taught a simplified iconography course to youth, encouraging them to express their love for Christ through art. Working with church school and vacation bible school leaders, Father John would create custom projects in a variety of mediums (mosaics, wood burning, and stencils) for kids to make themselves and then bring to church for blessing and use during processions. His ideas often inspired those same young people as adults to come up with their own creative projects in church.
Father John’s extensive skill in Liturgical Music found its way into his pastoral ministry when the mission communities he established needed more practical arrangements and settings than those found in older communities. Following in the footsteps of Archpriest Sergei Glagolev, Father John would create service books where none were available, setting melodies or writing new harmonies for his parish’s small choral ensembles and congregational use.
The departmental and administrative church work which was a life-long focus of Father John was always second to his love and dedication for pastoral ministry. His pastoral ministry had begun long before being ordained to the diaconate in November 1974, by Bishop Dmitri (Royster) of Hartford, and to the holy priesthood in January 1975, by Bishop Theodosius (Lazor) of Pittsburgh, but truly flourished in his parish assignments.
After graduating in 1975 from St. Vladimir’s Seminary, the first parish assignment for Father John and his wife, Barbara (nee Zelina) was at St. Herman of Alaska Church, Shillington, PA. Their care and ministry to the faithful deeply impacted the young community. In 1977, Father John and his family moved to Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN where he connected with parishioners of all generations, ministering to them while also supporting the work of the church at the national level.
Life in the Minneapolis cathedral was active with different age groups and over 200 youth, and Father John thrived in the community, identifying ways for parishioners to come together in fellowship while remaining focused on worship at the heart of their lives as Orthodox Christians. From Sunday night young adult hang-outs in his basement to youth mission trips into northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, bringing the revered Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God from Chicago, Father John engaged young people where they were at in life, encouraging them to stay strong in their Orthodox Faith.
In 1983, Father John was appointed as Director of Church Growth for Orthodox Church in America and spent the next three years developing resources and traveling throughout North America leading workshops and training seminars for parishes. In 1984 Father John and his family moved to Chicago and while continuing his work for the OCA, establishing St. Luke Church, Palos Hills, IL serving the community for 5 years. While also teaching at Joliet Catholic High School, Joliet, IL, Father John dedicated his life during those years to building up the new community which was expanding the reach of Orthodoxy into Chicago’s suburbs.
In 1989 Father John was called to establish yet another mission parish in the western suburbs of Chicago which became St. Joseph Church, Wheaton, IL. He continued his work with the national and diocesan church administrations while also applying the many past experiences to the young community. The approach differed slightly from previous communities because the parishioners were slightly different, but the goal was always the same, bring the Light of Christ to those in his care.
The community of St. Joseph’s, made up of second, third, and fourth generation Americans, experienced a wave of immigration after the fall of communism, introducing new pastoral considerations not expected in a suburban parish community. Yet Father John guided the faithful through the challenge by providing resources to help the Orthodox faithful who arrived in America with little more than what they were wearing. The community was living the gospel out in their service to others. The divine liturgy was celebrated on Saturday mornings in non-English languages, followed by English language classes taught by parishioners, and meetings to help the new members to develop the language and skill sets to find jobs in the area.
As pastor, Father John also guided the community through the process of building a church, using Alaskan churches as the architectural model, reflective of American Orthodoxy and the parish community’s own vision of being the local church in Wheaton. Between other projects, Father John painted the first two rows of icons on the iconstasis, and prepared the music books for parishioners to use during divine services.
Through all of these experiences, Father John dedicated his life to bringing people closer to God by building up the Orthodox Church in North America.
He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Barbara. His son, the Archdeacon Joseph and Nina, his daughter, Juliana and Michael, and 5 grandchildren (Alexander, Noah, Daniel, Silas and Zofia.)
The Funeral Service for a Priest will be celebrated at St. Joseph Orthodox Church, 412 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, on Monday, August 19, at 7:00 PM. The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy will be celebrated on Tuesday, August 20 at 10:00 AM, followed by interment at Wheaton Cemetery, Wheaton, IL. A repast will follow at the St. Joseph Church hall. Choir rehearsals will be held in the church prior to each service—on Monday at 6:15 PM, and on Tuesday at 9:00 AM. Email email@example.com for more information.
In lieu of flowers, a monetary gift to Matushka Barbara Matusiak would be appreciated. Gifts can be sent to 570 Crescent Blvd #506, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137-8307.
A photo gallery of services can be viewed on the OCA website.
May Father John’s memory be eternal!