Church and Army: Pastors Among the Military

Are faithful soldiers more predictable? Does the Russian army need regimental priests?
A seminar of the subject "Vicarial service in present-day army" was held in the Russian city of Ryazan on June 24. The seminar was organized by the RF Defense Ministry and the Moscow Patriarchate Department for cooperation with the armed forces and law enforcement structures. Main goals of the seminar are to determine objectives that the Orthodox Church pursues while working in the army, to find out the instruments it uses at that or plans to employ in the future.

How do confessions plan to help the army, what will they do for this purpose? Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Colonel-General Igor Puzanov voiced position of the ministry on the problem.
According to Igor Puzanov, values common to all mankind are connected with Christianity. Christianity is the basis on which, the deputy minister of defense says, economy, politics and other spheres can be based. May the church help in settlement of the serious problem of outlaw relations between younger and older servicemen?

The church sees its main objective in forming normal people, those who believe in the future, who are responsible for protection of their country and account for their good or bad deeds. The colonel-general thinks the above mentioned facts are quite enough to thank the church for. At that, he means not only the army but the whole of the society as well. Indeed, today soldiers do their service just within two years, after that they get back to the society.

There are just few true believers among us. "I don't think that the revived popularity of religion that we witnessed ten years ago in Russia can be called a true belief. To my mind, it is rather another extremity when people understand there is no need to be an atheist any longer, but on the contrary it is prestigious to be ranked among the believers," Igor Puzanov says.

True belief is something inherent to people's internal sphere, but not only the outward life connected with the traditional church rites such as baptizing. Belief is the art of living for other people, not for oneself. The deputy minister of defense adds: "I am absolutely sure that true believers can never do evil deeds. It is quite natural that faithful people treat military service more seriously than those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol."

"I am often asked if the Ministry of Defense will conclude a cooperation agreement with other confessions, such as the ministry has already concluded with the Russian Orthodox Church. I say that we do cooperate with different confessions. However, my opinion is that if another document were a panacea for all problems, we all would be standing in a long line to sign this document. Unfortunately, it is sad reality that many documents are still ineffective after they are signed. Clergymen may cooperate with the flock irrespective of the fact whether juridical agreements are concluded or not. The only thing now is to find out what confessions or churches want to help the army and what they may offer to help us."

Here are some fragments from works by the last Protopresbyter of Russian Army and Fleet Georgy Shavelsky written in 1915.
"A priest must remember that he shouldn't jeopardize his life without necessity, if a priest falls out it will be quite a problem for his military unit to make a substitution for him. He must show concern for slain and wounded soldiers of the regiment. I learnt these things from my own experience of ten battles in which I participated. In the very first battle, though, I acted as I shouldn't have to.

Brave doctor O. and me (we were together during the subsequent battles as well) settled in the line of the 9th company. Now it is quite a problem for me to explain why we did so. It seemed that the company's position was the most dangerous; we liked the commander of the company. However, there was no use of our staying in the thick of the battle. Lots of bullets and shells whizzed above our heads; we were tormented not by fear of the danger but because we realized our absolute uselessness staying there. We had to lie and couldn't stand up because the enemy could see the company's location. Thanks God, there were no seriously wounded soldiers and none was killed during that combat. At that very combat we understood where doctor and priest should better stay: next time we settled in the frontline hospital where we certainly were of more use for soldiers. Being there, I had a chance to encourage and comfort soldiers, I buried slain ones; I helped bandage and feed the wounded.

When the whole of the regiment participated in fighting, I tried to stay at a point where suffering soldiers could reach me and ask for help. Soldiers appreciated my presence during the fighting, as it encouraged and helped them. What priests say at the dangerous moments of fighting sticks to the memory forever. What is more, priests should give their blessing to soldiers before fighting and wish them God's help.

The Russian army and the Fleet are a school that educates thousands of Russians who in their turn spread the knowledge about the country. The duty of pastors is to bring up faithful sons of the church and the country."

According to the last Protopresbyter of Russian Army and Fleet Georgy Shavelsky, at wartime priests should pursue the same objectives as they do in peaceful life.

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Author`s name Michael Simpson