By Cpl. Mariah BestNovember 1, 2013
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Maj. Ruston Hill, command chaplain for Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan, made a one-time trip to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan with command chaplain assistant, Staff Sgt. Henry Michta, CJSOTF, October 13, 2013, to conduct the holy liturgy at St. Gheorghe Chapel, the religious center on the Romanian compound.
Since the cornerstone of the church was laid on Feb. 2, 2005, the chapel has welcomed hundreds of Eastern Orthodox worshipers, and is host to hundreds of icons that overwhelm the chapel walls. Church services are not provided every Sunday due to a shortage of orthodox priests.
Hill, who has an Eastern Orthodox liturgy every Sunday at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, was asked to give the holy liturgy for the Romanian soldiers at KAF, who normally have a rotating priest that is only able to conduct the liturgy every other Sunday.
Major Daniel Puha, Romanian Public Affairs officer, National Support Element, explained that normally Romanian Orthodox worshipers attend church every Sunday, and some even go every day, so having Hill to provide those services was valued.
"We like keeping with the old tradition for the holy liturgy," Puha said.
Hill said with only seven Orthodox chaplains in the entire U.S. Army and less than 20 in the entire U.S. military, the Eastern Orthodox faith group often finds that they are shorthanded.
"There are two Orthodox priests in Afghanistan right now and this is the first time this has happened since I have been here," Hill said. "Which is ironic because it is the second largest faith group in the world."
Eighty percent of Romania's culture is made up of Eastern Orthodox worshipers, so it is commonly accepted to put the national flag across the altar; something that is not a common practice in American churches, Michta pointed out.
"That tells you a lot about the dedication they have to this religion," said Hill. "You can tell, when they come in here, they are home."
Hill explained that the soldier's families send over hand-painted icons from Romania, and the fact that they can hang them up on the chapel walls represents much more than a painting to pray to, but a sense of contentment and safety for the soldiers.
Despite the communication barriers and cultural differences between an American Orthodox service and a Romanian service, Hill said that language is universal when it comes to worship.
"This to me is a taste of what heaven will be like, being able to worship with people around the world and all being able to speak the same language (of God)," said Hill. "This was my absolute honor to be here and be able to give communion."
Although Hill could only make the trip to KAF once during this deployment, the rotating priest is scheduled to be back at the chapel to conduct the liturgy on Sundays.
"The fact that we are in Afghanistan and that I can give the communion is the most profound thing," Hill said. "This has been a phenomenal experience, and it is a great blessing that I will always take with me."