St. Elijah’s Monastery in Iraq
The abandoned, sixth century St. Elijah’s Monastery of Ninawa province, Iraq, once a center for the regional Christian community, served the Army chaplain community, June 11, and brought two old friends back together in study and prayer.
Seven years prior, 1st. Lt. Brandt Klawitter, chaplain with the 14th Transportation Battalion, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Hermann, Mo., native, and Capt. Matthew Christensen, chaplain with the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment and a Kalispell, Mont., native, studied biblical archaeology together, but never imagined that one day they would walk within the deteriorating walls of a possible archeological cache and pray at its altar.
It seemingly happened by chance.
As Klawitter scanned his ID card at the entrance to the dining facility at Contingency Operating Base Diamonback, Iraq, he looked up to see his friend, Christensen, wandering around looking for coffee.
The two had no idea one another was visiting troops at COB Diamondback at the same time. Klawitter’s office of operations is at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, and Christensen’s at Contingency Operating Base Taji, Iraq.
They caught up over breakfast.
Klawitter and Christensen met during postgraduate work in 2001 at Concordia University in Seward, Neb. They had Greek and Hebrew classes together. They continued studies at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.
They also started Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course together.
“We were friends so we signed up for the same summer,” Klawitter said. “We rode down together in his minivan to Fort Jackson, S.C. I babysat his kids before. His Family came out to my Family’s house. He helped my dad and I put in a rail fence.”
Klawitter described Christensen, who was previously a diesel mechanic in the Army, as accomplished and squared away.
“He grew up in the mountains of Montana,” Klawitter said. “His dad runs mules and horses up at Glacier National Park.”
Christensen described Klawitter as both a people person and an intellectual.
“If you have any kind of issue, he’s one of the guys you could call at anytime,” Christensen said.
Klawitter said it is a real blessing to have a good friend in Iraq.
“He’s one of those friends you trust in, you depend on, you’ve been through different life experiences with,” Klawitter said. “I give him a call every once in a while just to say ‘hi.’ When we get together, we compare notes about what’s worked and what’s not.”
Of course, this time around the chaplains did more than just catch up; they visited a 1,500 to 1,700-year-old building together, the oldest, still standing Assyrian monastery in Iraq.
1st Lt. Geoffrey Whitaker, garrison chaplain for Regimental Fires Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Murphy, N.C., native, leads weekly St. Elijah’s monastery tours at the southwest corner of COB Marez, a base connected to COB Diamondback.
He put together a VIP tour for Klawitter, Christensen and their chaplain assistants.
“The tours boost interest in spirituality,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker has been working to build interest in stabilizing the monastery to preserve the building and the Christian heritage it holds.
Recently, the RFS mayor’s cell’s coordination with Iraqi and U.S. agencies has paid off, as St. Elijah’s has made an Iraqi government list of sites to be preserved.
“The Iraqi facilities engineering team is working on a full blown plan with diagrams, a timeline and cost of materials,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker said the monastery is Iraqi history. As such, the Iraqis should lead the process of preservation, with Americans only helping.
“In this day and age you don’t think of Iraq as having much to do with Christianity,” Klawitter said, “but there actually is a history over here, just like in Turkey there is a ton of Christian history.”
Klawitter said St. Elijah’s was something adventurous to check out.
“A lot of Soldiers now don’t go outside the wire and see much of the Iraqi culture and history,” he said. “To see something of cultural value, of religious significance, it reminds you of another side of this land that doesn’t have to do with the present war.”
Klawitter and Christensen said during the visit they felt tied historically to the Christians who came before them to the monastery.
They said they thought back to their biblical archaeology class and wondered what they might dig up if they actually had the chance to excavate.
Story by Sgt. Chad Menegay
Table of contents for Military Chaplains
- Jesus Walks the Battlefield
- Father Martin C. Hoehn
- Church: Chaplains are heroes, too.
- Chaplain Gave All-Chaplain (Major) Henry T. Vakoc
- Father Vincent Capodanno
- Father Elmer Heindl
- Father Heindl Saved America
- Father Leo – Saving Souls in Iraq
- Father (Capt.) Emil Kapaun
- Priest Called to Serve – in the Army
- Former Stunt Man Makes Leap to Airborne Ministry
- Female Chaplains Serve God and Country
- West Point Priest in Iraq
- Father Tim Never Surrendered
- Guard Member Earns Chaplain of Year Award
- Aiding God and Country: Chaplain Assistants
- To one Marine chaplain, karma is everything
- New Zealand chaplain making a difference to Afghan orphans
- St. Elijah’s Monastery in Iraq
- Captain Dale A Goetz KIA
- Mass celebrated in a far away land
- Serving God and the troops in Kyrgyzstan
- A breeze and a Bible changed her life
- Our Best: Spc. Heather Lane
- Military service a testimony of faith
- Father Emil Kapaun to be awarded Medal of Honor
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This entry was posted on Monday, June 28th, 2010 at 10:00 am and is filed under History, Antiquities and Ruins, History, War on Terror, Iraq, War on Terror, Iraq, Rebuilding, War on Terror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.