Priests Play a Great Role in the Formation of the Russian Orthodox Soldier - The Amazing Story of Father Dimitry

"Many of them said that when, in extremely difficult circumstances, our guys heard the terrible cry of 'Allahu Akbar' for many soldiers serving in the North Caucasus, they shouted in response: 'Christ is Risen! Truly risen!'. And the Lord really helped them, supported them during those battles. It is no accident that they say there are no unbelievers in war. Everyone there is baptized and prays. . ."


Dimitry Zvezdilin, Archpriest, Rector of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, striving to walk from the earthly to the heavenly, chose the path of priesthood. He spoke about his life experience, his family, in which service to the Fatherland was put first, and the important role of priests in the Armed Forces.

Русский солдат - это легенда

Anna Tyurina: Father Dimitry, how do you think the family affects the formation of a young man, a future conscript?

Fr. Dimitry Zvezdilin: For me, of course, all of this - my love for the army, for uniforms, for everything connected with this - was influenced by my father. It so happened that my father, probably from the age of six, very clearly outlined my future. Daily workouts, morning runs, and sports were an integral part of my life. For some time my father even thought that I should by all means enter a college under the KGB because one of our relatives held a high position in this institution. But I and my boys in the yard dreamed about the airborne forces.
My father was a serviceman. He gave many years to the executive system. My grandfather was a Black Sea Fleet sailor and fought in the Black and Caspian Seas for many years during the Great Patriotic War.

The family is the springboard in which the human soul and the concept of the world are formed. I was born in the North Caucasus in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Then I found out that I am a distant descendant of the Cossacks who settled there in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Frontier Cossacks and my family on my father's side originate from there. From my childhood I had to see stern, interesting men, which also influenced my formation.

Anna Tyurina: You had a direct path to military school or the army. How did you end up in the seminary?

Fr. Dimitry Zvezdilin: My parents sent me to school at the age of five, so I graduated at 15. All my classmates went into the army. I went to the military registration and enlistment office twice, at 16 and 17. But I was told that I was too young, I needed to grow up.
At that time I entered the Stavropol Theological Seminary. God determined my path as a clergyman. To my dismay, clergy were not drafted at that time. But perhaps, seeing my disposition and intentions, the Lord determined in such a way that in becoming a clergyman I was connected with the army practically all my life.

In particular, I served in the North Caucasus in Stavropol Territory on the border with the Chechen Republic, where military operations were going on at that time. I was a confessor and mentor of soldiers of the units stationed there. Among them there were units of motorized riflemen and military intelligence. More than once I myself have been a participant in some of these small peacekeeping operations, for which I have received a number of departmental awards as a clergyman participating in the life of military units.

Anna Tyurina: At all times there have been clergymen in the Russian army who have spiritually supported the soldiers. Did you have a feeling that the soldiers needed support?

Fr. Dimitry Zvezdilin: The work of priests in military units is very important. To set soldiers up, to support them, to listen to them, to strengthen them where they may be afraid, where they may be anxious, where they may be worried. The priest, of course, in this case is not a guarantor of peace of mind, but he gives a sense of security. With people who have participated in combat operations, I have shared the psychological and spiritual difficulties they have experienced after participating in combat operations. More than once I visited hospitals and participated in, shall we say, the rehabilitation of soldiers who had been severely wounded. And there was certainly a response.

Thanks to my friendship and close personal communication with the military officer Alexander Burdov, the Church of Alexander Nevsky was built on the territory of the military unit. In it for many years I was the confessor, educator, mentor of many soldiers, baptized hundreds of soldiers. Almost every outing was accompanied by special prayers. We sprinkled water on weapons and equipment, and the soldiers themselves, and the soldiers understood that they were praying for them. Then we held thanksgiving services in the Church of Alexander Nevsky, and it certainly left a definite imprint on the spirit and condition of the soldiers.

Many of them said that when, in extremely difficult circumstances, our guys heard the terrible cry of "Allahu Akbar" for many soldiers serving in the North Caucasus, they shouted in response: "Christ is Risen! Truly risen!". And the Lord really helped them, supported them during those battles. It is no accident that they say there are no unbelievers in war. Everyone there is baptized and prays. Almost all the soldiers have images and icons, which they carry with them and keep and protect them.

Anna Tyurina: During your time in the army, you saw a lot of new recruits, guys who had just joined the army. Did the guys change? What did serving in the Armed Forces give them?

Fr. Dimitry Zvezdilin: I saw with my own eyes that many boys who came after taking the oath, after being baptized, after six months or a year of service, changed. The traits of a future man, a defender of the Fatherland. Most of the guys who came to serve had no concept of discipline at all. But in the army they acquired all the necessary skills for their future life. A man prepared both spiritually and physically, certainly becomes that legendary Russian soldier, which the great commander Alexander Suvorov called the miracle heroes. And the Russian soldier is a legend. This is a man incapable of shooting in the back, incapable of betrayal. A man not capable of offending or insulting the weak.

Today the military service lasts only one year. But during this period you can learn a huge number of skills, not only related to the military service combat operations, but also elementary practical things. It helps to become completely self-sufficient. Each soldier is, if you will, a separate military unit. Many of the clergymen of our Priozersky parish of the Vyborg Diocese, before choosing the path of the priesthood, did military service, and it gave them invaluable experience.

Fr. Andrei Vinogradov (Rector of Holy Trinity Church in Melnikovo): I wanted to join the army. I grew up, so to speak, on my mother's and grandmother's pies, like a greenhouse plant, and I lacked masculine qualities. Although I did play sports, they were games, nothing that serious. So I even wrote my diploma early, went to the military enlistment office and asked to be drafted six months early. I really wanted to serve. I got to know the military service and its complications from inside and I'm glad I did it. Behind my back there is a huge country and a huge army.

Alexander Semyonov (Secretary of Priozersk Diocese of Vyborg, clergyman of the Konevskaya Icon of the Mother of God Church in Sapiornoye village): I served in the People's Republic of Mongolia, although I originally wanted to serve in a completely different place.
I had a friend at school who was a couple of years older than me. He and I fought hard at first, but then we became great friends. One day I went to school in August for a medical exam and saw his portrait in a black frame. Under it was written, that he died in the performance of international duty in Afghanistan. I immediately went to the enlistment office, due to my adolescent ardor, and wrote an application to be sent to serve in that country. By then I was already registered in the Airborne Forces, because I was engaged in sports and had a clearance. But it was different - I ended up in Mongolia. Being in another country, I really felt that I was part of our great country and our great army, that is, I felt that I was part of it all, and I liked it.

Source: (Russian)

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