Address to the Military, VA and Institutional Chaplains

Military Chaplains and Institutional Chaplains Conference

November 2006

South Canaan, PA

November 2, 2006

It is a joy for me to welcome all of you to St. Tikhon’s Seminary and Monastery, as we host this conference for institutional, military and VA chaplains stationed across this nation and serving throughout the world. Entitled “Orthodox Chaplaincy: Ministry in a Pluralistic Context,” this gathering will explore your respective ministry settings and examine models of care-giving that will enable you to remain authentically Orthodox, while ministering to a broad spectrum of persons in need. You also will learn and share valuable insights about being able to service men and women returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and throughout their lifetime.

As we gather for this conference, let us recall to mind the vision of the Chaplaincy. You are rightly perceived as fully a member of two institutions—the Church of Christ and the branch of the armed forces or the specialized institution in which you serve. But you are a priest of God first, sharing this with all your brothers ordained to the Holy Priesthood ... and then with your co-workers you share the common core of professional responsibilities for personal counseling, administrative duties, pastoral visitations, cultural activities, humanitarian projects, moral leadership, and other collateral duty assignments.

Your challenge is to uphold all the dogmas, doctrines of faith, canonical directives and other disciplines required of all Orthodox priests, and also comply with the administrative requirements of your specific agency. You exercise your priestly ministry in three ways—to those of the Orthodox Faith, to those of other faiths, and to those who have no religious affiliation whatsoever.

As you participate in this conference, I urge you to re-commit yourself to the Mission of the Chaplaincy—the propagation of the Orthodox Faith: to serve, worship and love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and to bring spiritual nourishment and enlightenment to thousands of Orthodox military personnel and their families serving their country throughout the world—specifically now in Germany, Korea, Japan, the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Similarly, the mission of the Veterans Administration chaplains is to counsel and bring spiritual nourishment through the Holy Mysteries to hundreds of Orthodox veterans in VA medical centers throughout the United States. And our institutional chaplains likewise counsel and bring the Sacraments to Orthodox Christians in each of those facilities they serve.

All of you do this through your specialized training in such important areas as suicide prevention, moral leadership development, personal values/values clarification, stress and time management, and marriage enrichment ... as well as a host of other areas of expertise from marriage and family life to alcohol and drug counseling; from spousal abuse to family violence counseling. The Holy Church is truly grateful for your legion service to her faithful and to others in need under your care.

You have distinct advantages that you bring to your service from your own experience. You know well the daily problems that those you serve face. You know the frustration, the loneliness of separation from family, for instance, because the chaplain is also separated from his own family. And so when such problems are brought to you, you do not have to imagine what they are or what they mean; you only have to remember.

You are a chaplain to a total institution—not just the Orthodox portion of it. You have opportunities each and every day to counsel, preach, teach, and propagate the Faith to the secular institution itself—in which you make contact with the unchurched—persons who are a cross-section of the people of our entire country. They come from every region, every social stratum, every economic group. The most striking thing about them is that, in such huge numbers they are not practicing any faith. Many of them, in fact, have never in their lives spoken meaningfully to a clergyman—until you. You have the occasion to bring to them “the Light that shineth in the darkness.”

In that setting you form a small typical parish—of cradle Orthodox and converts, catechumens and curious seekers—with all the attributes of an established parish. Whether on the battlefield or in a hospital, these are people who cannot be ignored or neglected. Their souls must be spiritually nourished, their salvation must be worked out, the Kingdom of Heaven must become theirs, just like parishioners in a diocesan parish.

During my tenure as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, I am pleased to have seen great accomplishment and progress realized among you. Among other things, I have watched the successful recruitment of Orthodox chaplains for services in the armed forces, VA medical centers, and other facilities. I have seen our military department of chaplaincies actively participate in the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF) and the Endorsers Conference for Veterans Affairs Chaplaincy (ECVAC). Your department has participated in meetings involving the US State Department, the Department of Defense, and such institutions as the United States Institute for Peace. The department reviewed and enhanced various models of ministry for enriching family life in the military environment, as well as the quality of life for single service members. And, very dear to my heart, department members have visited both St. Tikhon’s and St. Vladimir’s Seminaries.

As first hierarch of the Church, I am so very grateful for the profound witness that you give to the liturgical theology and spiritual life of Holy Orthodoxy—wherever you serve—by performing the full cycle of divine services: Vespers, Matins, Divine Liturgy, Feast Day services, services during Advent, Great Lent, the Apostles’ and Dormition Fasts, Presanctified Liturgy, and the administration of the Holy Mysteries. In addition in conjunction with these divine services, you preach and counsel, conduct religious education classes, visit the sick, and attempt to uplift the spirits of people by bringing to them the Risen Christ.

The work you are doing is a fulfillment of the words of the Apostle Peter in the fourth chapter of his First Epistle: “Serve one another to the glory of God.” To serve is to be a true Christian, since service is a direct consequence of our faith in Christ. The Son of Man gave us the example and power to serve. He Himself “came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Our faith in Him operates through love. He came to bring His love to all people—regardless of their position or station in life—no one was neglected or ignored by the Savior; and no one is neglected or ignored by you. In this sense, you are the consummate example of Orthodox Christian service in the world.

My spiritual sons, I am well aware of the difficult tension that exists between preserving your authentic Orthodox identity and maintaining the purity of your Orthodox faith and praxis, while still serving those of other traditions or no faith whatsoever. This notwithstanding, I pray that you will continue to grow in both your priesthood and your chaplain ministry, as St. Gregory the Theologian explains: “The growth of the shepherd never stops; even after his initial training he is to grow steadily and continually, like ‘the common sailor grows to be the helmsman,’ or like ‘the brave soldier grows to be the general.’”

I also pray that you will be able to increase your numbers by successfully recruiting seminarian-candidates for service. There is a great need for Orthodox chaplains in all branches of the armed forces, VA hospitals, and the various other institutions throughout the nation, especially with the retirement of the current group of chaplains in the coming years. These men will need to be trained ... mindful again of the words of St. Gregory Nazianzus: “One must be purified before purifying others, be instructed before instructing, become light in order to enlighten, draw near to God before approaching others, be sanctified in order to sanctify” (Oration 2,71).

The Orthodox Church in America is indeed rightly proud of our chaplains who serve and minister in all parts of this country and throughout the world. You provide our Orthodox men and women with spirituality, dedication, love, and professional competency at all times and at all hours. Over the past few years, we have seen great changes in our world—with an inevitable impact on the pastoral skills required of military and other chaplains. The Orthodox Faith in America needs to ensure its leadership role within all forms of chaplaincy. May this conference be an important step in that effort. Truly we need to remain steadfast, as we continue our journey into the 21st century, that we will always go forth in faith, hope, and love, in all our undertakings for the glory of God and the building up of Christ’s Holy Church.

May God bless and keep all of you in His loving care always, through the prayers and intercessions of the most holy Theotokos and all the Saints—and may He preserve your ministry for many, blessed years!