RUSSIA: Priests Avoid Draft– Seminarians? Not Really

(Source: Moskovskii komsomolets) Young people of draft age have ceased to be refused clerical ordination because beginning 2013 priests will not be taken into the army. The government of RF recently approved the rules for granting deferment. According to these rules, the lists of those who should not bear arms must be drawn up three months in advance. That is, RPTs, the Chief Rabbinate of Russia, and other confessions are not able to do that before the autumn draft. MK discovered how priests, rabbis, and imams will “avoid” service.

“In February 2008 members of the clergy lost the right to deferment from the army,” explained the deputy chairman of synodal Department for Relations with the Armed Forces of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Sergii Privalov. “And a way out was found right away: they stopped ordaining as clergy people of draft age.”

The Russian Orthodox Church admits that there were exceptions, of course. And if a young man became a priest on the eve of the draft (by someone’s negligence or other reasons), the bishops worked out an agreement with local draft boards and sometimes even by direct contact with the Ministry of Defense. But in July 2012, the president, by his own ukase, established the right to deferment for members of the clergy.

“Religious organizations must request deferment for their ministers three months before the start of the regular draft of citizens into military service,” explained the staff of the White House. “This requires sending an official letter to the government of RF. To the request for granting deferment is attached a list of clergy. This includes not only surname, name, and patronymic and year and place of birth, but also education, clerical rank, position, and place of ministry. In all, 150 clergy will receive deferment each year. This quota is divided among the confessions. The final decision is made by the Commission on Matters of Religious Associations of the Russian government.”

If a priest was given a deferment, he will be required each year (until reaching 27 years of age) in September to “register” with the military commissariat. He will be required to present a certificate confirming his ecclesiastical rank and the position that he occupies. Incidentally, for imams it must be more complicated as their activity is seen more as social work.

Curiously, students in ecclesiastical seminaries will, as before, be drafted into the army out of any classification. Some in the church generally believe that service in the army will do them good.

“After the Great Patriotic War, people who became priests were those who returned from the front,” says Sergii Privalov. “Among them were people who had used weapons against the enemy and had wounded and killed them. But the church made the wise decision and they  received leniency for ordination to the priesthood.  As regards current draftees, by law they cannot be sent to ‘hot spots’ (mercenaries fight there). But the question of the use of weapons still is critical, say, during guard duty. So it would be better if priests in the army will serve strictly as pastors.”

The government of the Russian federation also approved the rules for special training for army chaplains who engage in spiritual nurture of troops. In the future there will be about 300. They will be required to study the military code and to know many other details of military science. They also are forbidden to forcibly engage soldiers and officers in religious ceremonies in the army. (tr. by PDS, posted 9 October 2012)