Have Icon, Will Travel

The Ministry of an Orthodox Army Chaplain in Southwest Asia Post-9/11

by Alexander F. C. Webster

This article appeared in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

At 11:20 p.m. on April 3, 2010, a loud explosion broke the night silence around the main chapel on Bagram Air Field (BAF) in Afghanistan.

known-unto-godI was putting on my vestments in preparation for the midnight Paschal services. A few of the attendees rushed outside the wooden building to see what was happening. Then, two minutes later, a second shell landed so close that it rocked the chapel as if an earthquake had hit us.

At that point, the intrepid souls outside were summoned back inside the chapel to at least a modicum of safety under our wooden roof, which was better than open air. And I confronted my own mortality with a calm serenity that, frankly, surprised me. Was this a “creeping” rocket or mortar bombardment that would take out our chapel next—and those of us in it? If so, there was nothing we could do about it except continue to prepare for the Feast of Feasts: the situation was truly in God’s hands.

My first thought after the second shell exploded was of my family—the shock and grief they would have to endure if, in the next few minutes, I became a casualty of war.

My second thought was more hopeful. Here I was, vesting for the Divine Liturgy on the greatest night of the Christian year, putting on the “whole armor of God” as befits a priest, in the presence of U.S. and Coalition soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, who were in a God-forsaken corner of the world to restore justice and peace after the atrocities of 9/11. What better way to die than with our boots on, literally, and gathered together to celebrate the conquest of sin, death, and injustice by our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ?

Well, the third shell never arrived, praise God, and we proceeded to celebrate Pascha with a joy—and relief—that none of us had ever known.

That was my last night on my last 30-day tour in Afghanistan, after five years back on active duty as a U.S. Army chaplain for the express purpose of visiting Orthodox U.S. and Coalition forces in the combat areas two or three times each year. I retired from the Army, as planned, two months later, after 24 and a half years of service, delighted to be alive and thankful for the unique, unexpected opportunities with which I had been blessed.

A New Military Ministry

Now, I have a confession. On September 11, 2001, I did . . . nothing! Not by choice, to be sure, but owing to circumstances. When the second hijacked U.S. civilian airplane hit the World Trade Center in New York City at 9:03 a.m., I immediately donned my military uniform—the old “woodland” camouflage battle dress uniform—and waited for the inevitable phone call from Fort A.P. Hill. The armory of my Engineer Brigade, 28th Infantry Division (Mechanized), in the Virginia Army National Guard, for which I served part-time as chaplain, was the Emergency Operations Center for more than half of the great Commonwealth of Virginia. Surely, I thought, we’d be mobilized to prepare for possible attacks by the then unknown terrorists elsewhere in our country, perhaps even in Virginia.

Minutes after the third hijacked airplane crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., I called my brigade commander and learned to my dismay that we had received no alert, no mobilization—no nothin’!

So I sat by the silent phone in front of a television set, waiting in vain until evening, when I traveled to my Orthodox parish church in Falls Church, Virginia, to offer a panikhida memorial service for all the victims of that fateful day.

But it was precisely 9/11 that, a few years later in 2005, launched a new military ministry in the combat areas in southwest Asia.

Few but Demanding

The Eastern Orthodox demographics in the U.S. armed forces are rather paltry—only an estimated 0.3 percent (that’s point three) of our uniformed personnel. But along with the Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, we’re a major, historic, unique “faith group” with unique religious needs and obligations that only clergy of our faith identity and endorsement can serve. Thus, each of these faith groups is deemed HD/LD: a “high demand/low density” religion—in other words, at once too small and too unique for chaplains assigned at random to provide for their religious needs.

To meet the religious needs of our Eastern Orthodox personnel for the “Holy Mysteries”—the sacraments of Holy Communion, Confession, and Anointing of the Sick and Wounded—especially in combat areas, the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, a two-star general officer, decided to call me back to active-duty service upon the request of Metropolitan Herman (Swaiko), first hierarch and military chaplain endorser for the Orthodox Church in America. Though a recently promoted full-colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, I hardly expected this. Why fetch a chaplain who had served only part-time for most of his military career (after an initial tour of active duty in the 1980s) to serve in a senior, coveted colonel position, when there were plenty of regular Army colonels who had served their entire careers on active duty, with the multiple relocations and frequent uprooting of their families, including overseas assignments, that such service entailed?

But the Chief had already summoned a rabbi in the U.S. Army Reserve for the same purpose of going “downrange,” as we say, or into harm’s way, several times each year for the principal Jewish holy days. I would be Chaplain (Colonel) Ira Kronenberg’s Orthodox Christian counterpart.

When I first heard the news, I recalled the memorable line of Winston Churchill, one of my boyhood heroes, when he was summoned by King George VI to become Prime Minister of war-torn Great Britain in May 1940: “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”

Serving in Many Places

My post-9/11 active-duty military ministry was much more than I could have dreamed, the defining period in my vocational service to God and country. Among the many places I visited and where I served our troops in southwest Asia are several that should be familiar from both ancient history and our contemporary newspapers:

  • Mosul, Iraq, near historic Nineveh, capital of the vicious Assyrian Empire, scourge of ancient Israel, and the site of a sixth-century Syrian Orthodox monastery within the confines of Forward Operating Base Marez.
  • Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison facility west of Baghdad, Iraq— a dreary place where U.S. military personnel, when I was there in August 2005, had to don full body armor, in case of enemy mortar attack, simply to use the outdoor port-a-potties.
  • Tikrit, Iraq, home of the deposed and ultimately executed Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
  • Victory Base Camp, near Baghdad, where Hussein had been incarcerated in secret and where the main dining facility (DFAC in military parlance) rivaled the most sumptuous American college dining hall.
  • Convoys on the most dangerous seventeen miles in the world, known as “Route Irish,” the main highway from Victory Base Camp to the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad.
  • Baghdad’s IZ, otherwise known as the “Green Zone”—that is, a relatively safe area, where diplomats and other political types, as well as military personnel, walked around almost blissfully without body armor until indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire from assorted terrorists across the Tigris River rendered the green-for-go moniker obsolete.

On August 15, 2007, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the Great Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos with the invaluable assistance of Katherine Beauchamp, a gentle Orthodox laywoman as well as an extraordinarily professional, resourceful, senior military intelligence warrant officer in the Marine Corps, who managed to scrounge up a bouquet of live flowers in that desert clime for me to bless.

  • The little, Arab, oil-rich monarchies of Qatar and Kuwait, which, compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, seemed like vacation spots.
  • Kabul, Khowst, Jalalabad, Sharana, and BAF in Afghanistan—where Alexander the Great trod in the fourth century b.c., when that benighted land was known as Bactria—and, above all, the Coalition’s Kandahar Air Field, where the Romanian, and later Bulgarian, compound contained a delightful wooden Orthodox chapel constructed in the Bukovina-Transylvania thatched-roof style and replete with icons, iconostasis, and altar: the most peaceful place, for me, in the region, where I always felt completely at home.
  • Kyrgyzstan, which is so far east that, due south of Manas Air Base, near Bishkek, lies the westernmost territory of the People’s Republic of China.

A Multi-National “Parish”

The primary mission for those far-flung deployments was, of course, to provide Orthodox Christian priestly ministry. During the course of my twelve month-long “mini” deployments to southwest Asia from 2005 to 2010, I heard more than a hundred confessions and counseled numerous troops, and I provided various teaching or “training” opportunities for other chaplains and chaplain assistants, particularly in ethics, my primary area of academic and pastoral expertise. Most essential were the 197 liturgical services I celebrated (including the “regular” Sunday Divine Liturgy on whatever day I was able to visit, vespers services on Saturdays or the eves of feast days, and the full panoply of special liturgies during Great Lent and Holy Week) for an aggregate of 2,056 attendees. (The chaplain assistants obviously kept good, precise records.)

Now that I have retired
from active military service
and reflect on my wartime
experiences as a chaplain, I can
appreciate more than ever the
wisdom of Benjamin Franklin
during a critical impasse at the
Constitutional Convention in
1787: “I have lived, Sir, a long
time, and the longer I live, the
more convincing proofs I see of
this truth-that God governs in
the affairs of men.”

Perhaps the highlight was a Divine Liturgy on August 16, 2006, for the Great Feast of the Dormition—celebrated a day later than usual owing to logistical issues—at Camp Sarketvelo (“Georgia” in the ancient Georgian language from the Caucasus region in Asia) in Baghdad’s IZ. Three Orthodox troops from America joined 200 Georgian soldiers, who, to the astonishment of my Protestant chaplain assistant, stood at attention and in military formation during the entire Liturgy.

None of the Georgian Orthodox soldiers initially came forward to receive Holy Communion, since they had been unable to confess their sins beforehand, owing to my limited time on site. Holding the chalice high, I announced (through a translator) that there might not be another Orthodox priest in their midst for several more months or before they redeployed to their homeland. In view of their exceedingly dangerous missions—gate guard duty and convoy escorts—I would take upon my own priesthood whatever unconfessed sins they might have. I urged them to come to the chalice, and every one of those 200 Orthodox soldiers communed that day.

What is most memorable, of course, is not the statistics but the persons encountered. And the persons I served as a chaplain were some of the finest Orthodox fighting men and women from the United States as well as from the Coalition nations with predominantly Orthodox Christian constituencies, including Georgia, as already noted, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Macedonia. I also served Orthodox soldiers and civilians from Poland, Serbia, Latvia, and Slovakia, Russian civilian barbers (all women) in Afghanistan, and Coptic Orthodox medical doctors at the Egyptian Hospital on BAF in Afghanistan.

Informed in advance that a small Bulgarian battalion was stationed at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan, as I prepared to deploy there in December 2009, I read Under the Yoke, the epic nineteenth-century novel by Ivan Vazov, Bulgaria’s Dostoevsky. When I finally met Colonel Petko Libov, commander of the Bulgarian unit at that FOB, he was surprised and delighted that an American, even an Orthodox priest, could converse with him about the Bulgarian insurrection against the Ottoman Turks in 1876. He urged his troops to attend the Orthodox chapel services and led by example.

The Americans to whom I ministered included commanders and troops from all the service components—Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The vast majority have, of course, worn the Army camouflage uniform and hailed from the most storied units as they deployed, in turn, to the region: 82nd Airborne Division, 101st Air Assault Division, 10th Mountain Division, 25th Infantry Division, 1st Infantry Division, 3rd Infantry Division, 4th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 173rd Airborne Brigade, 29th Infantry Division (Light) of the Virginia Army National Guard, and my own sponsoring unit, Third Army, which General George S. Patton once commanded in Europe during World War II.

To each of those international Orthodox warriors I gave a laminated, pocket-sized (“field expedient” in military lingo) icon of Christ or one of the saints, distributing some 2,000 over the five years of my deployments. You might say that my motto was “Have Icon, Will Travel.”

Poignant Moments

Among the many poignant moments and images burned into my memory is the haunting countenance of “Ershad,” a shell-shocked six-year-old Afghan boy at the U.S. hospital at BAF, whom I visited on Pascha afternoon on April 23, 2006. He was a victim of a deliberate Taliban terrorist rocket attack on a local school in Asadabad a week or so earlier. I gave him a teddy bear and some American candy, but the lad continued to stare right through us, a living icon of the horrible consequences of terrorism.

I also recall a bittersweet wake service in the main chapel at BAF, followed by a Fallen Comrade Ceremony and Ramp Ceremony, which I conducted with the soldier’s own Romanian Orthodox infantry unit’s chaplain on April 6, 2009, in both English and Romanian, for a Romanian major killed in action in Afghanistan. The senior Orthodox chaplain in Romania also flew in from Bucharest for the occasion.

For the Fallen Comrade Ceremony, every one of the hundreds of available personnel on the ground at BAF lined both sides of the route of transport from the chapel to the tarmac of the airfield and saluted in silence as the two-vehicle “cortege” passed by slowly. On the tarmac, where a Romanian cargo aircraft waited with its rear entrance ramp lowered to the ground (hence the term “Ramp Ceremony”), hundreds of Romanian troops, as well as the Division Commander (a two-star general officer) and Headquarters staff of the 101st Air Assault Division, stood in formation while we chaplains chanted a brief panikhida memorial service. Then the fallen hero’s casket was loaded into the aircraft and returned to his native soil. That was an unforgettable testament to the truly international dimension of the war on terrorism since 9/11 in which, in the combat areas at least, “we leave no man behind.”

Poetic Moments

There were also some lighter moments, such as the night of December 23, 2007. I was about to hop on a Blackhawk helicopter headed to Camp Grizzly near Ashraf, Iraq, where I would celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord with a contingent of U.S. Marines and a Bulgarian infantry battalion. Suddenly one of the aircraft’s two machine-gunners invited me to sit in the one seat between them, in the front row, facing forward, for the one-and-a-half-hour flight.

How could I refuse—even though the side doors would be open for the entire trip (for their machine guns to stand poised and ready to counter-attack if necessary) and even though it was the dead of winter in north central Iraq, and the bitter cold would assault my face (alas, without the balaclava that I had forgotten to pack in Baghdad) seemingly endlessly?

To keep my mind occupied and to distract myself from the Arctic-like cold, I composed Japanese haiku poems in my head. Carefully hewing to the 5–7–5 meter of the classic literary tradition, I composed poems to convey the marvel of liftoff in a Blackhawk helicopter, the flight over the barren and historic desert terrain below, the view of the Tigris River on either side of midnight, and a safe landing—praise God!

Two years later, back home in the U.S., I was moved to compose a much different haiku—this one about the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who have the dreaded responsibility of delivering next-of-kin death notifications to the families of the fallen:

Twin angels of death,
Green-suited with sympathy,
Ringing the doorbell.

I think I can declare, without fear of contradiction, that most, if not all, military chaplains and combat soldiers would rather endure incoming enemy fire than have to be the bearer of such tragic news to family members who have lost a son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister. The immediate reactions of these family members have, in my experience, ranged from a frozen stillness in apparent denial to complete collapse in tears on the floor of their doorways. And each time, my own heart broke “on behalf of a grateful nation” and, more importantly, as a fellow human being, a son, a dad, a brother.

A Small Miracle

But one quiet but profound moment revealed how God the Holy Trinity, the Lord of the universe, provides small miracles every day in his usual, inconspicuous way.

On Thursday, December 28, 2006, when my chaplain assistant, Master Sergeant Malcolm Wolfe, and I arrived at the Salerno Forward Operating Base near Khowst, Afghanistan, we discovered to our dismay that the host chaplain staff had not been expecting us. No Orthodox chapel services had been scheduled, so we had to scramble to get the word out about a couple of Divine Liturgies and a vespers service in the next three days.

As it happened (or perhaps this was the first sign of divine providence), the heat in our designated tent was excessive, rendering sleep almost impossible. Early the next morning, MSG Wolfe requested that Base Operations lower the temperature, since there was no thermostat for us to do so ourselves. At 1:30 that afternoon, as I was about to take a brief nap to compensate for a miserable night of little sleep, two Kellogg-Brown-Root (KBR) workers arrived at the tent to adjust the thermostat on the outdoor unit. Both men were Orthodox Christians from Macedonia. At last I had encountered fellow Orthodox on this base!

As I was attempting to identify myself as an Orthodox priest (“Otets Aleksandr, Pravoslavnie”), one of the workers received a cellphone call and repaired to a quiet area beneath a tree near the tent. After ten minutes went by, I wondered what had happened to Marko Dmitrievsky. So I went outside and saw him next to the tree, sobbing uncontrollably in the embrace of his colleague. Marko had just received the devastating news that his mother had died back home in Macedonia. I invited him inside the tent, and there we sat for some fifteen minutes, as he continued to sob for his beloved mother and I hugged his shoulder in silence. Then I asked her name (Hhristana) and prayed for her and for him in a mix of English and Old Church Slavonic, concluding with the signature hymn for the deceased: Vyechnaya Pamyat (“Memory Eternal”).

Marko then mentioned that he had to return to his supervisor in the KBR heating/air-conditioning section to ask his boss for permission to fly home as soon as possible. He was quite worried that, having returned from two weeks of R&R (“rest and recuperation”) only a week or so before, he might not be able to leave. I promised to intercede on his behalf if necessary. A short time before sundown on Friday, I walked to the KBR village and learned that Marko’s supervisor was indeed humane; Marko would begin the long and circuitous journey from Salerno to his mother’s house in Macedonia the next morning. On Saturday, I visited with Marko and prayed the prayer for a journey as he waited for the aircraft to arrive.

Though obviously of great personal significance to Marko, our meeting was a simple pastoral event, one that priests—whether military chaplains or civilians in parishes, hospitals, or college campuses—experience with some regularity. What made this particular encounter so unusual and profound for me was the convergence of otherwise unrelated circumstances at precisely the most opportune times.

I am convinced that the Lord God of the Universe does intervene in the affairs of men and women more often than we know or even ask. The quiet moment on Salerno was one such occasion of divine providence at work in a war zone during the Nativity season—not a moment of military heroism or combat tragedy, as we see in so many Hollywood films about war, nor the spectacular kind of nature-transcending miracle we believers sometimes crave, but the more subtle, almost routine miraculous intervention of a caring, loving, compassionate God in one of the personal crises that so often beset his human creation.

Unchanging Truth

The atrocities of 9/11 have changed America and perhaps the world forever and in unexpected ways. Now that I have retired from active military service and reflect on my wartime experiences as a chaplain, I can appreciate more than ever the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin during a critical impasse at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men.” And I take even greater comfort in one truth that, for Christians, remains a steadfast hope in times of crisis and trouble: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster, PhD, is a retired U.S. Army Reserve chaplain in the rank of Colonel and parish priest of St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), Stafford, Virginia. This article is adapted from the author’s 9/11 Memorial Presentation on September 11, 2012, at St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church (OCA) in Palos Hills, Illinois.



  1. Fr. Peter Dubinin says:

    Many Years, Fr. Alexander. Thank you for your years of service and for your testimony for the work to which God called you as a military chaplain. Peace.

  2. Sean Richardson says:

    Reading this article is a true blessing. There are so many who serve our country so faithfully, who serve our Lord devotedly, and they are due our respect and I honor them. Several in my family have served in the military and they do this because of their love of country and family. Thank you Fr. Alexander for all you have done and for all that you do.

  3. My "twin angels of death" were dressed in white, not green and my response to the news of my husband's sudden repose was stoney faced silence because not 12 hours prior we talked on the phone. That "angel" was a God-send to my 21 year old self at a time of complete bewilderment. K.S.Shunk USN, 1st Class Diver, HTFN. D: 06-27-1982.

    Thank you Fr. Alexander for your service to our country and to Our Almighty Lord God. May God grant you many, many blessed years.

  4. While Orthodox clergy had served in the U.S. Army as chaplains since 1943 while classed as "Christian Chaplains", the Army recognized the Eastern Orthodox Church as a distinctive faith group in 1979.

  5. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
    Thanks, Father Alexander, for your service, and for sharing this, which indeed is a blessing to read and reflect on.
    Please pray for me,

  6. George Michalopulos says:

    Thank you indeed Fr Alexander for your service.

    To all: originally I intended to write something about the Orthodox chaplaincy. It seemed that l'affaire Sprecher had ignited not a little controversy about the role of that particular priestly office. Being out of my depth, I asked Fr Alexander for help and he directed me to this article in Touchstone. (A magazine I heartily recommend, by the way.)

    • Archimandrite Gregory says:

      God grant you many years, Fr. Alexander. With so much negative news about members of the Orthodox Church, it is exhilirating to hear such a profound witness to Faith, expressing itself in Hope, in such far off lands. May God continue to bless the works of your hands as you offer the Divine Sacrifice "for each and every one."

  7. It is an impressive list of honorable service to God and country.. But, the truth of 911 is, a false flag attack by elements within our own US government ,murdered those who were sacrificed with impunity. on that day. The fact that the 3 building were destroyed by controlled demolition is irrefutable proven science The true terrorist are those in our government, not the invaded Islamic nations.To these nations, the US appears as Assyrian inhuman conquerors.The question that begs to be addressed is. If, the demolitions are indeed the truth, and the us government is the terrorists. Is it the duty of Orthodox clerics to champion the US aggression, and guide young Orthodox men to act like they believe the government lies and fight for it in these wars of aggression? I will remind these of the support for Hitler after the false flag Reichstag fire, and it's ultimate effect. The truth of this is the most important factor. Else wise these Orthodox Christian fight for the beast, which they should not do. Jesus Christ will not approve. Of this I am certain.. I am grieved to have to write this, but, this is the truth, ugly as it is.

    • Thomas Barker says:

      Mr. Kinsey,

      Military service can be an honorable vocation. Recall, if you will, the passage in Matthew 8:5-13. The centurion, whose servant was suffering greatly, declared his faith very boldly in terms of obedience to military authority.
      Please consider verses 8 through 10:

      8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.

      9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

      10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

      And our Savior said this of a man of war, an obedient officer of an evil empire.

      • Michael Kinsey says:

        The centurion was a man of great faith in the Only Holy One, the Ancient of Days and recognized the great Divinity in Jesus Christ. He also recognized his unworthiness as a man of war, to approach such Holiness. But he knew the infinite goodness of the truly divine in his great faith, and he asked not for himself, an unworthy thing, but his servant, his knew the Holy One had a far greater charity than himself. This one had a reputation among the Jews as a good man, quite a feat of serving the Just God. he did all the good he was able to do in this position. I can see Fr. Alexander following this in his essay. His service appears honorable, because he did what he could. This does not mean he cannot do the good of guiding Christian men to not put themselves in this fearful service to an evil aggressor.

  8. Fr. Aaron Oliver says:

    Thank you for your reflection and service, Fr. Alexander! Pro Deo et Patria.

  9. Love God and serve Him alone, live by His WORD & not bread alone, do not tempt God. This is the Way of Peace. There is no place in this soul saving obedience for a warrior culture.

  10. Michael Kinsey says:

    My brother came to my house and shot my dog. He blamed my neighbor. I decided to shoot his dog in retaliation. My neighbor defended his dog and refused to let me shoot it. This quarrel continues. Whose side is God on? My brother, definitely not. Me, who has been deceived by my brother, or the neighbor, who is only defending his dog.?. We as a nation are deceived by our own government, to kill who they want dead, for no just cause. It is this simple. I sincerely hope all will exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and not consider killing my neighbors dog is the just and honorable course.

    • Hieromonk Joshua + says:

      Orthodox Christians are not pacifists and pacifism is not Orthodox Christian. Actual history shows the truth of my assertions herein. I don't know who shot who's dog but knowing many dogs the dog probably had it com'in to him! Your believing that our government had something to do with demolition of the World Trade Center is delusional at best and is identical to radical Muslim propaganda and the radical and incoherent Left. I guess Bengazi is the proper way to handle people out for a walk transporting imaginary mortars, rocket propelled granades and gasoline bombs. Pacificism is a product of delusion and those who are pacifists live off the blood of the brave, the love of the humanized and the righteous actions and sacrifices for liberty. Pasicifism has never brought about liberty from oppression and has produced nothing worth looking up to. Pacifists help no one but themselves.

      • Monk James says:

        Hieromonk Joshua (January 28, 2014 at 4:12 am) says:

        Orthodox Christians are not pacifists and pacifism is not Orthodox Christian. Actual history shows the truth of my assertions herein. I don’t know who shot who’s dog but knowing many dogs the dog probably had it com’in to him! Your believing that our government had something to do with demolition of the World Trade Center is delusional at best and is identical to radical Muslim propaganda and the radical and incoherent Left. I guess Bengazi is the proper way to handle people out for a walk transporting imaginary mortars, rocket propelled granades and gasoline bombs. Pacificism is a product of delusion and those who are pacifists live off the blood of the brave, the love of the humanized and the righteous actions and sacrifices for liberty. Pasicifism has never brought about liberty from oppression and has produced nothing worth looking up to. Pacifists help no one but themselves.


        Contrary to what 'Hieromonk Joshua' (an almost unimaginable name for a monk since it means and sounds like 'Jesus' in most languages) writes here, his opinions are anything but corroborated by history.

        Consider these words written by the carthaginian priest Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus ca 200 A.D., years before he adopted some heretical montanist views:

        'In that last section, decision may seem to have been given likewise concerning military service, which is between dignity and power. But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters—God and Cæsar. And yet Moses carried a rod, and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier. No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action.'

        -- Tertullian (145-220) Of Idolatry, Chapter 19 (Translated by S. Thelwall)

        Here, Tertullian is expressing the common POV of The Church in first three christian centuries, when no Christian could serve in the roman army because performing the required sacramentum (offering incense to the image of the emperor symbolized by the unit's standard) was regarded as an act of idolatry, no more and no less than that of the civilian thurificantes whose idolatrous apostasy saved their physical lives and properties from pagan Rome's persecutions.

        In a curious turnabout (history is full of them), the same roman army in which Christians could not serve for three hundred years was manned almost exclusively by Christians by the middle of the fourth christian century. This watershed event is usually described as being the demarcation between pre- and postconstantinian Christianity. It's worth noting here that Constantine himself, allegedly because he -- as emperor -- could not reliably restrain himself from committing acts of violence, either directly or by command, did not accept baptism (from an arian bishop!) until shortly before his death.

        The ideal sacredness of human life was in place from earliest christian times, and remains in place even now as we can see from efforts to support a 'consistent prolife ethic' which proscribes abortion, murder, and capital punishment. These concerns continually come to the forefront in orthodox christian nations from the time of St Nicholas of Myra to tsarist Russia.

        There's a vast and valuable resource for orthodox christian thinking on these matters at

        This is the website of the international Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Mother of God. I urge people to actually READ what's there and not just write off the OPF because it APPEARS sometimes not to agree with their politics. I assure you, the OPF is not a pacifist organization, as explained by a few articles on the website. Rather, it's a group of deeply prayerful, practical people striving to apply the principles of orthodox Christianity to modern life. Their opinions vary, but they're all focused on the same thing: the peace which only Christ can bring.

        • Thank you, Fr. James, for your most sensible and absolutely correct post.

        • Doesn't Matter says:

          Just for the record...Hieromonk Joshua is legit. Feel free to argue the position but don't say it's impossible for him to be named Joshua...because it's not. Well you said "almost" but still...have a little more faith maybe?

        • Michael Bauman says:

          So, all of the saints, Fathers and ordinary faithful who blessed, encouraged, allowed for and especially those who served in the military over the centuries have distorted Christianity and it all went wrong with Constantine? The person who saw it the most clearly was a western heretic? Do I have that right?

          If I don't please explain more clearly. If I do, shame on you.

          • Tim R. Mortiss says:

            Is a Western heretic more of a heretic than an Eastern one?

            Without adding them up, I think that the East was far more productive of heresies than the West was.....

            • Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald says:

              While it is true that the see of Constantinople has been heretical more often than any other of the ancient sees of the Church, the Western Heresy is the "Filioque,' and those who confess the "Filioque" are correctly called "Western heretics." And even Constantinople was a Western Heretical See at the time the Turks conquered the city and restored Orthodoxy to the see of Constantinople (just as Emperor Julian the Apostate finally imposed Nicene Orthodoxy on the see of Constantinople which had been Arian since the time of St.Constantine the Great.)

          • Monk James says:

            Michael Bauman says (February 1, 2014 at 7:06 am ) says:

            So, all of the saints, Fathers and ordinary faithful who blessed, encouraged, allowed for and especially those who served in the military over the centuries have distorted Christianity and it all went wrong with Constantine? The person who saw it the most clearly was a western heretic? Do I have that right?

            If I don’t please explain more clearly. If I do, shame on you.


            Anticipating just exactly this sort of reaction, I wrote here earlier:

            'There’s a vast and valuable resource for orthodox christian thinking on these matters at

            This is the website of the international Orthodox Peace Fellowship of the Mother of God. I urge people to actually READ what’s there and not just write off the OPF because it APPEARS sometimes not to agree with their politics. I assure you, the OPF is not a pacifist organization, as explained by a few articles on the website. Rather, it’s a group of deeply prayerful, practical people striving to apply the principles of orthodox Christianity to modern life. Their opinions vary, but they’re all focused on the same thing: the peace which only Christ can bring.'

            I'm ashamed of my sins and other failings, but not of anything I've written here.

            Before getting into the more substantial issues raised by Michael Bauman, I'd like to point out two facts about Tertullian. First, he was a north-african orthodox christian priest in good standing when he wrote the remarks I adduced earlier. His adoption of some montanist heresies came years later. Second, Montanism, as a heretical school of theological thought, appears to have originated in Phrygia in Asia Minor, and in Greek -- like all the early heresies and their best refutations as well. There's nothing particularly 'western' about any of this except Tertullian's use of Latin here; like most well educated people of his time and place, he was also fluent in Greek.

            And it's not at all the case that Tertullian was the only or the most perceptive observer of christian resistance to roman military service during The Church's first three centuries -- he's just one of the most often quoted witnesses. Honestly, I don't know how people can derive such wildly imaginary ideas from the plainest statements.

            With all the foregoing in mind, let's return to Constantine for a moment. Once he decriminalized the faith in the early 4th century ('Edict of Milan' A.D. 313), christian consciences had to do some serious readjusting. Because the forced participation of soldiers in the imperial cult was then ended, it became possible for Christians to serve in the roman army since they were no longer required to perform acts
            of idolatry. It was that, rather than any tendency toward pacifism, which had excluded them on a sort of 'conscientious objection' basis.

            Still, it must be admitted that Tertullian (among others) considered the shedding of human blood under any conditions to be just as evil as idolatry, if not more so. In fact, after the roman persecutions ended, the only sins committed after baptism which required public confession and public penance before a long-deferred eucharistic reinstatement were murder, adultery, and apostasy/ idolatry -- a pattern of severity which we inherited from jewish practice, but which (for Christians) could not eventuate in capital punishment as had been prescribed by the Old Law.

            In the years just after Constantine, many christian military officers (St Martin of Tours, e.g.) asked to be relieved of their commissions because they could not find conceptual room for weapons in their hearts. Although St Martin famously cut his uniform's cloak in half to shield a freezing beggar (Jesus), he is not revered for his military exploits but rather for his service as a monk and a bishop and a teacher of the faith.

            St Alexander Nevskiy was not glorified for his army days, either, but as a penitent monk. St Theodore Ushakov wasn't recognized as a saint just recently because he sank enemy ships, but because, by his prayers, he protected his sailors from harm and lived in retirement as a pious ascetic.

            The authentically orthodox catholic christian tradition forbids monastics and clergymen to bear arms at all, mush less to use them to hurt and kill people. In fact, they are not permitted to hunt animals even for food (fishing is allowed; nets are better than hooks).

            Considering all that, the story of St Sergius's blessing two (only two!?) monks to fight in the battle of Kulikovo might be true or not, but it was certainly a patriotic tale. But, as we observed, patriotism isn't the sort of characteristic which is usually considered when we recognize people as saints. This is probably true because there's not too much practical difference between patriotism and nationalism/phyletism.

            Perhaps in a bit of a reductio, we might draw the difference between the two in these examples:
            PATRIOT: 'I love my country, and I invite you to love it with me.'
            NATIONALIST: 'I love my country, and if you don't love my country too, I'll kill you.'

            Now, the fact that christian monastics and clergymen may not bear arms or draw blood doesn't mean that they may not come to the defense of people under attack. Naturally, this is mostly contemplated as a one-on-one experience in which a monk must do what he can to neutralize someone bringing harm to the defenseless; he must not intend to kill the aggressor, but that sometimes happens.

            Without getting into thomistic skhemata of 'just war theory', it's self-evident that monastics and
            clergymen (and laity) who come to save defenseless people from attack might find themselves in larger or smaller groups of good people who would aid groups of defenseless people. These groups could be constituted in many different ways, even as nations and their armies. And when the bad group cannot be persuaded by logic and love to cease their aggression, the good group might -- without blame -- resort to physical interventions. Still, the good group must not intend to destroy the bad group, but merely to stop their attack on otherwise defenseless people. The trick here, though, is to be really and truly good, not just in our own ideological imaginations.

            So the good group might be a nation's army, whose soldiers are fighting to protect people and preserve or restore good order. For that, I would no more abolish the army than I would abolish the local police force, since we sinners occasionally need some sort of fail-safe to save us from our sometimes all-too-human selves.

            But I might abolish the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution....

            • Tim R. Mortiss says:

              Ah, but you won't be able to abolish it! Thank goodness.....

              I agree that tossing the term "heretic" about hardly ends the discussion about pre-Nicene Christian thinkers, in particular.

              True, there are some here who think "heterodox" is all that one needs pronounce to forestall thought, much less "heretic".

              There is hardly an ante-Nicene Father that doesn't have some waft of "heresy" about him!

              I will admit that I carry so much heterodox baggage with me as I enter the Orthodox Church at age 65 that it would take a special miracle to dispel all of it. That isn't going to happen, but I am thankful for the miracle that has been vouchsafed me and my son to even approach the Church as a catechumen.

              But I don't doubt that Tertullian, and many others, had something useful to say about the Faith from time to time.

            • Bishop Tikhon Fitzgerald says:

              I agree with Monk James on this one! Further to his last sentence my motto is: "Guns don't kill people: the 2nd Amendment kills people."

          • "For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier."

            Tertullian was wrong, period. Neither Christ nor St. John deprived soldiers of their weapons or told them to quit soldiering. Christ's own Apostles traveled armed as can be seen in St. Luke's account of the Mystical Supper after which several swords were produced. How could they possibly have accompanied Christ for three years and not absorbed pacifism if it was part of His teaching? Why laud Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, all warriors? Why is the Lord called a warrior (or "man of war") in the Law of Moses.

            Prior to Christianity becoming a tolerated religion, it was seldom if ever considered possible for a Christian to serve in the military not only because of the idolatry involved but also because they might be called on to persecute Christians as Christians. Numerous saints permit military service explicitly (St. Basil, for example). Moreover, St. Paul states that the state legitimately bears the sword. If the sword is legitimately born by the state then why make Christians a permanent occupied minority in every country until the Second Coming?

            It's all nonsense to be rejected, as is the whole program of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship which is a progressive (socialist), pseudo-Christian enterprise best relegated to the same breath as the WCC. They assume Orthodox Christians are pitifully ignorant of their own history, the Fathers and even canon law.

            Much of the problem stems from two things. First, the earliest Christians were an occupied minority who had no practical way to evade or throw off Roman rule. Second, Aramaic, the language that Christ spoke, is resplendent (as is Arabic) with hyperbole. I'm sure Christ wished us all to be as patient as possible, but the scene of a grown man allowing his neighbor to strike him on the cheek endless times in a row would seem as comical and nonsensical to Christ as it does to me. He would no sooner have that happen than have a man cut off his hand if he was worried he might steal or pluck out his eye if he happened to catch the visage of a beautiful woman and linger a second too long. Christ's listeners were used to such hyperbole. We are the ones who want to make mathematical rules out of it.

            No one who reads the Old Testament, or Christ's cleansing of the Temple, or His conduct with centurions, etc., or the Apostles praise of the Old Testament saints, or anyone who reads Revelation should have any doubt that Christianity is not a pacifistic religion. There is some evidence, if read by the myopic, that could support that view. The problem is that there is so much evidence against it that it is more rational to conclude that the apparent pacifism is a misunderstanding rather than that the acceptance or endorsement of violence constitutes some aberration.

  11. Michael Kinsey says:

    opps. misplaced not and consider. and consider not killing.

  12. Michael Kinsey says:

    You are quite wrong about 2 of your assertions. The early Christian church did not fight in battles, excepting those who were converted while already enlisted in the Roman army.Name a battle by any saint or apostle for the 1st 3 centuries. The warrior culture entered into authentic Christian culture with Constantine, although he did mix it with great good, ending abortion and slavery. I cannot equate loving your enemies as commanded by the Christ, to killing them.. Can't get my head around that .Perhaps, saving a loved ones life against eneimes is greatly understandable, and regrettable as Farimir stated..There are no Christian saints who we canonized for winning battles.
    The number of videos produced in the past 12 years proving scientifically, that the government version is a total lie is in the dozens.All 3 building were destroyed by controlled demolition, with controlled aircraft to set up the illusion were we under attack. If, this priest has an iota of intellectual honesty, he will compare the different versions and will arrive at agreement with me. The government destroyed the buildings.. Or he is just a damned liar. .

  13. Michael Kinsey says:

    Lambs for the slaughter is hardly an apt description of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq Do you think your fooling God,? Your not even fooling me.Lambs for the slaughter is how the Christ stated His people would be described. Who and what, pray tell, are you?

  14. Michael Kinsey says:

    I find the post of this priest quite insulting. God created me and gives me life. Not the bullets of kill your enemies hypocrites. Fear not those who can kill the body, after that , there is noting else they an do to you, These silly Words of the Christ must carry no Truth for a liberty fighting man. Killing them dead always solves the problem and saves the spiritual life in the relationships of God to man, man to man, and man's spirit t his flesh. No sir, it does not save the spiritual life, it desolates it., as any repentant abortion mom will tell you. Killing desolates the spirit even it it saves your life. What is irksome is the claim, I live off your bravery, like I own you something. Your are all getting paid are you not.?..You ride for the brand, and if you weren't getting paid , you wouldn't do it.Do tell me loving your enemies is Muslem propaganda, Take you gingo-ism and stuff it.

  15. He who seeks to save his life will lose it, he who loses his life for My sake, will keep it. Spiritual life is what the silly author of all creation is referring to, not physical life. Can't you people read?



  1. Bradley Kurgis

    Have Icon, Will Travel — Monomakhos