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No Military Dispensation Necessary March 11, 2010

Posted by stgeorgeoma in Uncategorized.
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No Military Dispensation Necessary

by Fr. Jerome Cwiklinski

Since 11 September 2001, hosts of Orthodox Americans have enlisted or been commissioned in our nation’s armed forces.  Some have since paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives, all in order to protect our freedoms, among which is the free exercise of religion.  This freedom is not confined to Hometown USA but is upheld even in a war zone.  Such places are far beyond the reach of parish clergy, yet our Orthodox warriors need fortification that only our Church can provide against the dangers of battle and spiritual warfare.

Orthodox Chaplains bring Orthodox worship, sacraments, and spiritual counsel to a widely scattered flock, often reaching out to solitary Orthodox Christians – a true diaspora.  When deployed, they ride a circuit to offer the liturgy at a different camp, perhaps on different days of the week, to those who can’t come to a central location.  They do so in convoys or aircraft vulnerable to attack, risking their own lives to make our people ready to face the possibility of death and to help them lead better Christian lives.

Celebrating the Divine Liturgy in a field environment may reduce some of its pageantry, but not people’s expectations.  Our faithful in uniform desire the fullness of worship even though it may take place inside a tent on an altar made of ration cases.  The grandeur of the Blessed Kingdom is made present despite challenges – a real “Table in the presence” of enemies – where it is not uncommon for vestments to be worn over body armor, or for Lord, have mercy to be accompanied by the not-so-distant thud of explosions.

Ministry as a Chaplain does imply a certain degree of oikonomia, but Orthodox Christians in the armed forces, who take their faith seriously, do not seek personal dispensations. They want to conform to the standards of the Church:  Confession; keeping the fasts despite limited menu choices and high heat conditions; preparing properly for the Sacraments – that’s because they are accustomed to discipline as a routine way of life.

There are still many Orthodox military people who aren’t aware Orthodox Chaplains exist and are therefore predisposed not to look for Orthodox services – most frustrating when they go an entire deployment without the Sacraments, only to learn an Orthodox priest was within easy reach.  “Why didn’t the Orthodox Chaplain look for them?” seems a fair question to ask, and they can if you match their efforts as follows:

Orthodox service members – insist your religious preference is correct in your military records.  There is an established code for Orthodox Christians.  Be visible.  Make the Sign of the Cross.  Do not attend non-Orthodox services – there is no substitute for Orthodox worship or Orthodox sacraments! Non-Orthodox Chaplains can help you by placing you in contact with an Orthodox Chaplain.  Use your chain-of-command to ensure that happens.

Orthodox parish priests – Contact an Orthodox Chaplain and give him the names of the sons and daughters of your parish who have entered the armed forces. The St. George Orthodox Military Association, www.orthodoxmilitary.org or StGeorgeOMA@gmail.com is the best go-to resource to find Orthodox Chaplains or to help Orthodox military personnel find one another.

Orthodox parents – Bug your kids!  Ask them when was the last time they attended an Orthodox service?  Send them an icon and prayer book.  Encourage them to remain active in the faith even while serving in remote locations.  Send their email or mailing address to an Orthodox Chaplain.  Tell them the non-Orthodox chaplain assigned to their unit is obliged to find them an Orthodox priest.  Write to your Representative if necessary.

Everyone – pray to our intercessors among our Orthodox military saints that those who serve will remain steadfast in the Orthodox Christian faith.

The following Orthodox Chaplains are serving in the Middle East through Holy Week and Pascha:  Navy Chaplain Fr. David Alexander and Fr. Philip Pelikan with Marine forces in Afghanistan, Army Chaplain Fr. Alexander Webster in Afghanistan, and Air Force Chaplain Fr. Matthew Street in Iraq. In addition, Air Force Chaplain Fr. Eugene Lahue, and Army Chaplains Fr. Peter Baktis and Fr. George Hill are in Germany, and Navy Chaplain Fr. Christopher Allen is on Okinawa.  Do not let their branch of service deter you from making a request.  The best thing about Orthodox military ministry is that it is Joint and it is Pan-Orthodox – meaning every Liturgy is a triumph of Orthodoxy!

Fr. Jerome, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, is an Orthodox Chaplain in the United States Navy which also provides Chaplains to the Marine Corps and Coast Guard.  He is currently Command Chaplain for I Marine Expeditionary Force and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command.

Did you know…“Orthodox” was not among the choices for dog tags in WWII and until the 1950s?  Our very first Chaplains were forced to choose from “C,” “P,” “J,” or “No Pref.”  World War II veteran and later Archon Nicholas Royce set in motion a letter-writing campaign that finally allowed “Eastern Orthodox” to be recognized and included.  With the Orthodox Church breaking the old paradigm, every faith qualified to be listed as a specific religious preference.  This just goes to show that breakthroughs in our Orthodox Christian faith are not solely dependent on the actions of clergy.

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