Two holidays are brought to us in the Orthodox Church in America on November 11—Veterans Day in the United States of America and Remembrance Day in Canada.
In the United States, Veterans Day originally was celebrated as Armistice Day beginning in 1918, celebrating the end of World War I, the “War to end all Wars.” In 1954, the emphasis changed and the celebration and remembrance became known as Veterans Day.
Throughout US history, men and women in the US Armed Forces have served in various wars, conflicts, and humanitarian efforts. Chaplains have been assigned within the US Armed Forces to perform and to provide for the religious accommodation of the service members. During World War I, Father John Ovsyanitsky served as the first Orthodox priest in the Armed Forces of Canada, while during World War II, Father Vladimir Borichevsky became the first Orthodox priest to serve in the US Army. There are currently Orthodox priests serving in the Active, Reserve Components and National Guard of our military and over 25 Orthodox Church in America chaplains who have retried from the military after completing 20-plus years of service for our Church in ministry in the military. The Orthodox chaplains have served during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, “peacetime environments,” peacekeeping missions, conflicts, the Global War on Terrorism, and currently in the Wars of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Orthodox Chaplains celebrate the sacraments and worship of the Orthodox Church for our Orthodox service members and their families and provide for those of other faiths and those who have no religious affiliation. The Orthodox Church in her worship has petitions in litanies for those who serve in our armed forces.
From the time of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and other conflicts and wars, especially in the last century, there are times when our nation’s sons and daughters are called upon to serve and to give the ultimate sacrifice. Some others would return from the battle, and others would serve in years of peace time. Many, if not all, would be in need of physical, psychological and spiritual care. Upon return to their communities, many would receive care from military or veterans’ medical centers and chapels.
I am certain that each of us has an unique remembrance or feeling as we celebrate Veterans Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Canada. It is most appropriate and fitting that we rededicate our lives to the work of peace, justice, good will, and fulfillment of the Commandments and, above all, loving God and our neighbors as we offer thanksgiving to God for all the blessings He continues to bestows upon us.
Our military personnel are prayed for within the context of the Orthodox Church’s worship. Let us lift up hearts in prayer, and especially let us remember the Orthodox priests who serve—and have served—in the military, together with their families and the VA chaplains who provide ministry to veterans and their families. May God grant His grace and blessing upon them and grant them many years. And to the veterans who have departed this life, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, may God grant them rest eternal in His Heavenly Kingdom. Memory Eternal!
Father Theodore Boback, Lieutenant Colonel, USA-Retired, is Dean and Executive Director of Orthodox Military and Veterans Administration Chaplains. Additional information on Orthodox chaplains is available on-line.