Every year, OCPM Fr. Stephen Powley and Fr. John Kowalczyk make a trip to St. Tikhon’s Seminary. This year Fr. Stephen was able to visit with his wife, Ashley. As always, it was reported that their “hospitality was beyond words” as they were kindly provided a room and meals. This year, the visit took place from October 1-5.
Fr. John Parker, the Dean and Chief Operating Officer of the seminary has been involved with prison ministry as a parish priest visiting death row among other security levels.
Fr. Stephen gave a PowerPoint presentation to the seminarians. He reported that:
“As always, it was a wonderful time of sharing with them and seeing their excitement for prison ministry. These are future parish leaders and they are receiving an excellent prison ministry field education experience while at St. Tikhon’s.”
Here is the write up on their website from one of their seminarians: https://www.stots.edu/news_191004_1
TALES OF MIRACLES IN PRISON MINISTRY: OCPM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR VISITS STOTS
By: Subdeacon Peter Simko (‘21)
Saint Tikhon’s welcomed Father Stephen Powley, parish priest of Saint John’s Greek Orthodox Church in Pueblo, Colorado, and Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM). He discussed the reality of incarceration in the United States compared to other places in the world, as well as his own story of becoming a chaplain. He explained the experience prisoners have with combating the “flames of hell” as they seek to ascend the ladder toward the embrace of the Lord. The prisoners who seek Christ see His blood as extinguishing those flames.
Having been accepted as a chaplain, Fr. Stephen was told by a warden to “go do what chaplains do” (without much idea as to what that should be). The voice of Christ pushed him not to fear, but to engage the prisoners and embrace their personhood. Fr. Stephen explained that in ministering to those in prison, we are visiting and serving Jesus Himself.
Fr. Stephen noted, “the Orthodox Church has been on a collision course with people going into and coming out of prisons and jails.” He further explained how fallen men and women–terrible criminals, even–can and do become Saints. He used Saint Moses the Strong of Ethiopia as a prime example. Father spoke of the incredible transformations that he has experienced in his time working with prisoners–with both social and spiritual re-orientations. Fr. Stephen reminded the students that “a welcoming Church sees each individual as a person made in the image and likeness of God; it has unconditional love, trust, and realistic expectations.”Fr. Stephen spoke about an encounter he had in the chapel of Hosios Loukas Monastery. While praying, Fr. Stephen had a vision of a man locked up in a supermax prison. He eventually found that man and told him about his experience. The man had never expressed interest in Orthodox Christianity before, but after being introduced to the Faith by Fr. Stephen, the prisoner embraced the Truth of the Church.
He told us about His Eminence, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, tonsuring several life-sentence prisoners with developed spiritual lives into the monastic life. One prisoner, influenced by these new monks and their excitement for Great Lent, fasted for days and experienced a bright Woman as if in a dream, asking him to take her Baby. Father Stephen explained to the inmate that the Theotokos seemed to be asking the man to accept the Lord. Metropolitan Isaiah, after hearing the story, remained silent. He then turned to Fr. Stephen and said, “baptize him.” The inmate also desired this, and he entered into the Holy Church.
Fr. Stephen showed the seminarians a photo of what a baptism looks like within a prison. The students asked Father about how a new priest can get involved in prison ministry. He explained that the easiest way is to connect with a local incarcerated Orthodox Christian, but you can also connect with a local chaplain for a prison–and perhaps suggest teaching a course to inmates on Early Church history. Father reminded everyone that Saint Tikhon’s and OCPM have been working together for many years, and that Father John Kowalczyk is helping lead an exceptional program at the seminary. We are so grateful to the wonderful leaders who help lead the way for future clergy in ministering to those in prison.
Fr. John Kowalczyk, Fr. John Parker, and Fr. Stephen visited the prison where Fr. John Parker serves as Chaplain. Fr. Stephen reported back this wonderful story:
“We first met with the administrators of the prison, who all sang the praises of Fr. John’s work there. We made rounds and spoke with many of the men he ministers to each week. At one unit we visited with several men and one of them was a young man that I had met a few years ago. At that time, this young man was in trouble and it looked like he would have to do time in disciplinary segregation. Fr. John had been teaching him the Jesus Prayer and I was able to assist with that during my visit. When he appeared before the disciplinary committee, they asked him what he had to say. He bowed his head, made the sign of the cross, and said the Jesus Prayer. They did not punish him with segregation. Since that time, I am blessed to meet with him each time I visit there. This year was most humbling. Through his good behavior, he has moved to lower security. When we met, he opened our time with prayer…yes, the Jesus Prayer.”
We would truly like to thank Fr. John for his wonderful hospitality and for his beautiful ministry. He is a blessing to all the OCPM family.