Norway’s first Orthodox military chaplain

Deborah Belonick

Norse contacts with Eastern Christendom, including the establishment of the Rurik dynasty of Russia, are historic. While the Christianity of the north leaned to the West following the Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation, the Orthodox Church recently opened a new chapter in Norway’s history with the commissioning of the country’s first Orthodox Navy and Armed Forces Chaplain.

(from left) Royal Norwegian Navy Chaplain LCDR Hans Kenneth Sundsbø, Fr. Jerome Cwiklinski, Fr. Theodore Svane, and Senior Navy Chaplain Commander Gudmund Waaler.(from left) Royal Norwegian Navy Chaplain LCDR Hans Kenneth Sundsbø, Fr. Jerome Cwiklinski, Fr. Theodore Svane, and Senior Navy Chaplain Commander Gudmund Waaler.Our alumnus, Fr. Theodore [Thor] Svane returned to Norway in June 2017, after his five-year sojourn in America, which included internships with the Diocese of the West of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), both at St. Seraphim of Sarov Church, Santa Rosa, CA and at St. Katherine Mission, Carlsbad, CA. During his time in California, Fr. Theodore came in contact with former Orthodox chaplains, including the late Mitred Archpriest Michael Margitich, a retired U.S. Air Force Chaplain, and Archpriest Jerome Cwiklinski, who retired from active duty with the U.S. Navy in 2014.

Father Theodore, a former sailor and chaplain assistant in the Royal Norwegian Navy, was always intrigued by the ministry of the Lutheran chaplains he supported, in what was then a state-church enterprise. Increased diversity within Norway’s military ranks caused the Lutheran Church to relinquish its exclusive institutional role, thereby granting access to other faiths. Along with contracted Catholic priests, Fr. Theodore is now one of a very few non-Lutheran clergy serving among Norway’s 55 armed forces chaplains—and the only Orthodox Christian doing so.

Though Fr. Theodore also wears a uniform, his cassock is more and more a familiar sight on Bergen’s Naval Base (Norwegian counterpart of Norfolk or San Diego), the homeport to Norway’s fleet. Like his Lutheran colleagues, Fr. Theodore provides prayer, spiritual counsel, and a ministry of presence while teaching ethics—a prescribed role for Norwegian Chaplains—to his assigned units. His unique liturgical and sacramental role will have a much broader application throughout the armed forces.

Unless at sea, Norwegian chaplains are not obliged to provide worship on their bases; instead they help foster support in the civilian community by assisting at neighboring parishes. Thus, Fr. Theodore is able to assist at Holy Transfiguration Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, but he hopes to establish an all-Norwegian language Orthodox mission. The Orthodox Church in Norway includes approximately 35 parishes of seven jurisdictions. Father Theodore belongs to the Russian Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Father Jerome and Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski recently were hosted in Bergen, Norway, by Fr. Theodore and his family. During their stay, Fr. Jerome met Navy chaplains and their assistants, including the Senior Navy Chaplain Commander Gudmund Waaler. Father Theodore had worked as Gudmund’s assistant in their respective early Navy careers. Even then, Chaplain Gudmund discerned Fr. Theodore’s vocation, and he is especially proud to see it come to fruition during their mutual active service.

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