ROBYN PASSANTE, The Island Packet
Published Saturday, November 5, 2005
The Rev. Peter Telencio will lead the congregation at Holy
Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church on Hilton Head Island.
The retired Army colonel and chaplain commutes from Columbia
each Sunday to fulfill his responsibilities.
Erin Painter/The Island Packet
asked what it's like to jump out of a plane, the Rev. Peter
Telencio scrunches his eyes shut tight.
he opens them and smiles.
jump I did I was scared," says Telencio, an Orthodox
priest and retired U.S. Army chaplain. "Every time
I jumped, I got closer to God."
about 50 times closer to God than when he left his first
parish assignment and joined the military back in 1975.
Telencio, who retired from the Army in 1999 as a colonel
-- the first Orthodox chaplain to attain that rank -- is
a veteran of more than 50 jumps with the 82nd and 101st
he's taking another leap of faith, this one back into parish
leadership at Holy Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church on
Hilton Head Island.
Telencio's delight, it's a far cry from the steel mill town
in Pennsylvania where he started his religious career.
was nothing there for me. I was too young," he says
of the depressed area to which he was assigned at age 23.
"The parish was dead. I was burying more people than
I was bringing in."
knew that area well, having grown up in an Orthodox children's
home in eastern Pennsylvania. He and his seven older siblings
were sent there after his mother had a nervous breakdown.
He was 18 months old and remembers nothing about his mother,
who died some time later. His father, though unable to care
for the children, saw them occasionally over the years.
siblings were reared by a Russian Orthodox priest and his
wife, whose home was next to a monastery, a place Telencio
loved. His sole ambition was to become a priest.
was in the stars," he says.
once married, ordained and assigned to a church, Telencio
couldn't help but think there was even more he wanted to
he thought of his four older brothers, serving in three
separate branches of the military. Something inside Telencio
clicked, and at age 25, he joined the Army, melding his
calling into the ministry with his love of the military
to shape one impressive career.
(military) ministry was fantastic," Telencio says.
"I wouldn't trade it for the world."
energetic young chaplain was eager for action right from
wanted to serve in Vietnam, but they were all pulling out
right after I joined," he says.
would come soon enough though. In 1983, he served as a Russian
interpreter in Grenada for the 82nd Airborne and the Justice
Department. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his work
there, a mission he says is still too secretive to discuss.
says his favorite assignment was the three years he served
as a chaplain and Russian interpreter in Berlin during the
reunification of Germany.
was history in the making," he says. "We were
responsible for defending Berlin."
was the first Orthodox chaplain to become director of combat
development for the U.S. Chaplain School in Fort Jackson,
S.C., in 1994, a title he held for five years. He determined
doctrine, training and logistical requirements for the school,
and was responsible for long-range planning for the utilization
of the military's chaplains.
priest says he accomplished a lot while serving on the administrative
end of the chaplaincy program. But he remembers with fondness
the years he spent in the field, counseling soldiers.
get to appreciate the value of religion on the battlefield,"
he says. With more than 200 faith groups represented in
the Armed Forces, chaplains and soldiers alike also "learn
to respect each other's denominations," he says.
look at that cross ... and they don't care what denomination
you are. They're just glad you're there with them,"
as an Army chaplain comes only when you believe in the military
and the soldiers as much as you believe in God.
need to be totally dedicated to the mission of the military,"
he says. "You've got to be with the soldiers."
example of that dedication is parachuting with the troops
-- which isn't required of chaplains.
got to volunteer for it," says Telencio, who did just
that, partly because he was "young and dumb,"
and partly because he knew it would instill trust and respect
from his troops.
wouldn't jump anymore," he says, smiling. "I'm
moving 13 times in 23 years, Telencio's wife, Martha, and
two sons were ready for some permanence. So at his family's
urging, he retired from the Army in 1999.
to say, I didn't want to retire," he says. "I
would go (back in) tomorrow if I was re-called."
he adjusted to civilian life fairly easily, becoming administrator
at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Columbia.
November 2004, he started leading services twice a month
at Holy Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church. But in July
he was temporarily assigned to another parish.
there's no priest to lead the liturgy, the members still
gather for prayers and readings, says founding church member
Rick Haight. But it's not the same.
drop off, some go to other denominations," Haight says.
now Telencio's back, driving from Columbia each Sunday to
preside over worship services for the congregation, which
has about 20 families. He sees great things for the tiny
church, which rents a few rooms in Heritage Plaza on the
south end of the island.
think it's got a lot of potential. This church was never
given a consistency of services," he says. The church's
last "full-time" priest, the Rev. Nick Trivelas,
traveled from Charleston.
wants to start an outreach ministry, but for now his focus
is marketing the church. He and Haight are sure potential
parishioners are out there.
the only (Orthodox church) right in this area," says
Haight, who's been trying to build the membership and maintain
cohesiveness since the church was founded in 1990. The congregation
includes followers of several Orthodox denominations, including
Greek, Antioch, Russian and Bulgarian.
key thing is finding people," Telencio says.
anyone can find followers, it's Telencio, whose made a career
remembers all those times he stood with the 82nd and 101st
Airborne troops in those nerve-wracking moments before parachuting
into danger. It's too noisy to pray aloud in the plane,
so he'd huddle the soldiers while still on the ground to
ask God for protection.
he'd voluntarily load up with the others, take off, and
fall from the sky.