Our brother, Fr. Stephan Close, the U.S. Air Force chaplain stationed at the airbase in Ramstein, Germany, shares with us the following observations of his very special and grace-filled ministry:
"Your Grace, one of the joys of my ministry here at 'the Ramstein of my repentance' is to serve the wounded. Rarely do I have the blessed obligation to honor the dead, which I offer with as much dignity as my humanity can muster. It is such a blessing to be at worship with the wounded faithful who look to the icons with eyes which cannot see and offer a candle though they remain in physical darkness, their hand guided by fellow warrior. They faithfully follow a Divine Liturgy (and wait patiently through a sermon) in a language they do not understand but whose form helps them recall worship and remind them of truth which warms their hearts though far away from home. They walk towards the chalice though one shoe has no foot in it. They bow down although they cannot rise without the support of their brother. They make the sign of the cross with a hand scarred and tortured by flame. Such are the saints you have sent me to serve.
Recently, two of our coalition (Romanian) warriors - whom I will call M and E -- have gotten healthy enough to come to the chapel for Divine Liturgy. They were both wounded in a blast last September where one of their platoon was killed (Lord, have mercy!) and none of their group escaped without injury. I first met E in the ICU. I have often feared I would not see M alive again after my first visit with him. Now they are in Liturgy. Afterwards, I chatted with them. They both confessed to being religious before they were hurt. Their vehicle was bombed. M remembers nothing of the event - except the pain - which cost him his sight and more. E was burned so badly rescuing M but mostly recalls the fear of all the blood and the grievous wounds. They both agreed that, by God’s grace, their souls are better now and their love for God deepened. When I asked them to explain how they were different, it took a moment to scavenge through a limited English vocabulary for them to say, 'Now, each second is so expensive. It was not like that before.' Seeing eyes dampened and a head, crisscrossed with scars, bowed. Holy moments like this are not unusual in the presence of such people.
Thank you, my Bishop who loves me more, for your blessing which sends me here and for my brothers of DOWAMA whose holy prayers provide such grace. Forgive me.
Father Stephan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org