Greek Orthodox Navy Chaplain, Father David C. Hostetler hosted the very first Japanese Epiphany Blessing of the Waters. Learn about the event, and meet Father David.
Japanese Epiphany Blessing
On January 6, Father David C. Hostetler, LT, CHC, USN a Navy Lieutenant and Greek Orthodox Priest, hosted the Japanese Epiphany Blessing of the Waters. The service, which took place in the East China Sea at Okinawa, was the very first Epiphany/Theophany service held in the country. The convert priest feels strongly that U.S.military personnel have the same religious opportunities that they do at home.
“I see part of my job as being to provide for our people as much of a parish life as possible. Few have ever really taken part in an outdoor Blessing of the Waters service — a service many American parishes celebrate, and none of the kids have ever had an opportunity to dive in search of the cross after such a blessing. The service is important because it is part of Theophany, the last part and fulfillment of the Nativity season.”
The Navy Chaplain said it was windy, but the water was warm.
“It had rained most of the morning, but the sun broke through the clouds just as we began to pray the prayers of blessing.”
He said that nearly all of the small congregation, and a few visitors — about 30 people — attended the celebration. Six boys and one girl, ages 6-14 dove into the waters in attempt to receive the cross, and its blessings.
“The kids all took off after the cross without hesitation, and though only one got it, the rest came back with him congratulating him and laughing together.”
All stayed for a beach barbecue.
“We were there until after dark. In fact, one of the guys finished grilling his souvlakia by the light of his iPhone.”
The congregants and guests included not only Greek Orthodox, but also Coptic and Russian Orthodox.
“Judging by the turnout (nearly everyone in our congregation) and the reactions (all positive) it was worth the effort. We plan to do this again next year.”
Meet Father David
Navy Lieutenant Father David C. Hostetler, lived in about five different states growing up. His parents served as officers in the Salvation Army, and were moved every 3-4 years. Right after high school, while living in the State of Maine, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served as a reactor operator on submarines. He married his wife, Nora, in 1994. In 1997, Father David was discharged from military service, and the couple moved to Chicago.
“After living in a four-flat in Ravenswood near the end of the Brown Line, we moved to the suburbs. My two oldest were born in Edwards Hospital in Naperville. I worked in Skokie and Aurora before finally landing a job as an operator at a ComEd (now Exelon) Nuke plant in Morris.”
His wife, now Presbytera Nora (Cokias), is a second generation Greek-American with roots in Mytilini and Patras. He began attending services with his wife at St. Athanasios Church in Aurora, and felt at home in the Orthodox Church.
“Over a period of time, I just felt more comfortable in — and more challenged at the same time — in the Orthodox Church. I am an Orthodox by conviction, having converted in 2000. I am a Greek by marriage.”
Father David began serving his parish in varying capacities, including assisting the priest in the altar during Divine Liturgy.
“I felt no place as at peace and properly at home than in the altar at church. I felt called to the priesthood also gradually, through my service.”
Becoming a priest
While working at Exelon, he completed a degree from Olivet Nazarene University, and received his calling to the priesthood. He quit his job, and entered the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston.
“I was made a deacon and then a priest by His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, the Chancellor for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, and he placed me in the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, from which I left to enter Active Duty as a chaplain.”
Orthodox military chaplain
Father David is one of three active duty Navy chaplains from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He said there are also about 10 Orthodox chaplains from the various jurisdictions in the Navy Chaplain Corps.
“There was an Antiochian Orthodox priest in Okinawa for nearly three years before I arrived. Amongst ourselves (Orthodox in the Chaplain Corps) we try to keep an Orthodox priest stationed at Okinawa because there is no other Orthodox Church on the island. I arrived on the island in March 2016 and will be here until 2019. By then, hopefully, another Orthodox chaplain will have arrived on the island to take care of our people here.”
Work in Okinawa
Father David’s congregation may be small, but his work is significant.
“I pastor a small community of Orthodox Christians here on Okinawa, made up of service members and DOD (Department of Defense) employees/contractors and their families. Additionally, I care for Marines and Sailors of all (or no) faith backgrounds in matters both personal and professional. In the Navy, chaplains enjoy an broad and well-protected confidentiality that allows service members to seek help or just talk about anything without fear of anyone finding them out.”
He said he hopes his work brings a little comfort from home to the military servicemen and their families currently stationed so far away. That’s why hosting the Japanese Epiphany Blessing of the Waters was so important to him.
“Being here, and the isolation from the wider Church and our family and friends in the states can, at times, be weighty. Since all of our congregation are going through the same thing it brings us closer together, and that has been one of the richest blessings. We all know each other and love each other and work together to help our fellow Orthodox service members. For example, recently an Orthodox Navy airman who came to Okinawa on deployment knew how to get a hold of me because of our Facebook page. We were able to get him a ride to and from Church every Sunday he was on the island, starting with the day after he emailed me. Gathering and serving the Church is just what we do here.”
Father David’s next duty station will be on a ship, and hopefully, he said, on the East Coast.
“Though we miss Chicago, and still watch the World-Champion Cubs whenever we can, we may not get to return until I retire from active service.”
For now, he’ll concentrate his efforts on serving military personnel in Japan.
“It’s my continued mission to make sure Orthodox parishioners serving our nation have the ability to fully participate in our Orthodox Faith.”