Veterans’ Day:  Honoring our chaplains and military personnel

For well over six decades, Orthodox Christian chaplains have served the needs of military personnel the world over.

The first Orthodox chaplain in North America was Protopresbyter John Ovsianitsky, who served with the Canadian Armed Forces.  In 1943, Archpriests Vladimir Borichevsky and John Kivko became the first US Army chaplains.  The following year, Archpriest Alexander Seniavsky became the first US Navy chaplain, while Archpriest Basil Stroyen assumed duties as the first US Air Force chaplain in 1953.  Over the years, hundreds of priests from several jurisdictions have served—and continue to serve—Orthodox Christian military personnel and their families.

Today, according to the pan-Orthodox Saint George Orthodox Military Association, an estimated 39,000 Orthodox Christians are serving in the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard all over the world.

There are 23 active duty chaplains and 12 reserve chaplains from the Orthodox Church in America, which supplies 51% of all active duty Orthodox Chaplains in the military and 75% of reserve chaplains.  An additional 22 active duty and six reserve chaplains are supplied by other North American jurisdictions.  Nine chaplains also serve at veterans administration centers.  All Orthodox Christian chaplains are certified by the National Conference of Ministry to the Armed Forces and the Endorser’s Conference for Veteran’s Affairs Chaplaincy.

“We have had chaplains on continuous duty, serving in all major conflicts,” according to Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, OCA Secretary.  “All current active duty chaplains have served in the Middle East over the past few years.

“Since the end of the cold war, our chaplains also have been serving Orthodox Christian military personnel from other countries—Romania, Russia, etc.—when they find themselves serving together in the same region,” Father Eric continued.  “They have also assisted in establishing a chaplain corps for military personnel from countries that were not permitted to have chaplains during the communist era—so there is a real spirit of cooperation among the Orthodox Christians serving in all armed forces.”

Saint George Orthodox Military Association was founded in 2009 to help those who are serving in the armed forces.  The association offers prayer and support for those serving.  They also collect funds to send bibles, prayer books, crosses, and icons to active military personnel.