A parish priest had a dilemma when he learned that a sex offender, who was interested in Orthodoxy, was being released to the neighboring state which he bordered. No church in either state wanted him. The godly priest, took a chance. He presented a document to his parish which required that this sex offender sign. It stipulated that at no time was he to be with a child alone in the church and that he would, at all times, be accompanied by an adult. This was not being unkind. This would prevent the possibility of his being falsely accused and would give peace to the parents of every child. The parish agreed. It cost them several families who left in anger. Those families missed out on being part of a MIRACLE!
Various families would pick him up and drop him off after coffee hour. Eventually he was baptized into the Orthodox Church and became a member of this priest’s community. This parish understood that the Church is a hospital where we come for healing (we all fall short of the glory of God as every one of us is a grievous sinner); that the congregants are the nursing staff, nursing the sick back to good spiritual health through their prayers and love of God and each other; and that the priest is the spiritual doctor who administers spiritual medicines, i.e. the Sacraments of Confession and Communion. We are all spiritually ill and need the prayers of the Church. Our illnesses have different names: liars, gossipers, thieves, fornicators, adulterers, bearers of lack of forgiveness, resentments and hatreds, etc.
In time, he decided to move to New Orleans. While there, he wrote a letter to the community thanking them for helping him to heal through their love for, and acceptance of, him. Then Hurricane Katrina struck with a vengeance. He lost everything. One phone call back to that priest who had baptized him brought him home to the community that chose to love him and pray for his salvation. In fact, they raised the money for his airplane ticket to return. James continued to thrive in this loving community.
At his funeral, the priest read aloud from James’ journal pursuant to his instructions. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church. He addressed those that had left the parish in anger and hatred for him, telling them that he loved and forgave them, having prayed for them every single day of his life. He instructed the priest that he wanted those men to be the pallbearers at his funeral.
The priest was faced with another dilemma! James died destitute. Who would pay for his funeral? Miracle of miracles; those men whom James had asked be made his pallbearers paid for all his funeral expenses and the parish made his Mercy Meal! This is what love looks like. This is love clothed in mercy and blanketed with forgiveness. It might interest you to know, that some of those who left the parish because of him returned when they saw into his heart through his death! The priest and the sex offender walked side-by-side through the doors of the church to teach us all about Christian love!
-Written by Joy Corey, a prison ministry volunteer