|This past Sunday, Orthodox parishes all across the United States took part in Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday. This day of awareness aims to inform Orthodox Christians on the ministerial work being done in prisons and how they can participate. |
The impact of this ministry is far-reaching and it transforms lives. Fully supported by the Orthodox faithful, we as a Church are able to meet the commandment of our Lord to “visit Him” in prison. We are so grateful to all the parishes that participated and passed a tray to support our work. The picture below is from our friend, Mark, who gave a talk at St. Ignatius in Franklin, TN – one of the many Orthodox parishes that took part in Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday.
And it’s not too late! Your parish can still do an awareness Sunday or you can still make a gift to support this vital work. Here are just a few figures to help show the importance of our ministry to those in prison.
Here are just a few figures to help show the importance of our ministry to those in prison.
Our 2020 Impact So Far
From January – July 2020, Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry can report:
Mail & Replies Sent: 8,535
Packages of Spiritual Materials Sent: 498
Catechism Study Guides Sent: 219
Icons Sent: 8,638
Postcards/Weekly Letters Sent: 7,702
Bibles & Books Sent: 603
While Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday has passed, it is never too late to still support this ministry and play an integral part in ensuring that we as a Church are able to visit Christ in prison.
Give Now: https://theocpm.org/donate/
Before offering some thoughts on how OCPM conducts catechesis for people in prison I would like to take the opportunity to recognize those Orthodox clergy and laity who work tirelessly where they are able to help our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated. Despite their sacrifices there is still a difficulty which must be faced: the largest numbers of Orthodox Christians in parts of the United States where people in prison tend to be the fewest while those places with the largest numbers of people incarcerated tend to be in places where Orthodox Christians are fewest in numbers. It is out of these latter areas that OCPM receives the greatest number of inquiries about Orthodox Christianity. Many of these people are either requesting to be catechized or will end up asking to be taught the faith. How do we as OCPM respond to these requests for teaching?
Primarily, catechesis is done by OCPM through a series of studies and personal correspondence. The personal correspondence allows for answering specific questions by the student which needs a fuller explanation than our materials offer. Besides this personal correspondence we offer a 6-part study series of which the first 4 studies contain questions to help guide the student through the material. The six-part series is as follows:
Part 1: A Seeker of Truth, Saint Hilary of Poitiers
Part 2: The Preaching of the Apostles, Saint Irenaeus
Part 3: Orthodox Christian Catechism
Part 4: A Treatise to Prove That No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself
Part 5: Orthodox Faith (4 vol. set)
Part 6: Challenges of Orthodox Thought and Life
Part 1 is a basic introduction to Trinitarian theology done through a study of the journey of St. Hilary of Poitiers (4th century) to Orthodox Christianity. Part 2 is a study of the 2nd century writing by St. Irenaeus, The Preaching of the Apostles, which is just what the name states: a presentation of the content of the Christian Faith handed down from the Apostles. Part 3 is an actual Orthodox Catechism which includes a study guide to help the student better understand the Catechism material. Each of these first three courses contain the answer key for the lessons in the back of the study guide so the student can grade their own work.
First, it is a somewhat novel experience for someone in prison to be trusted to do the right thing; however, this approach minimizes postage cost for the student as well as simplifying the process. Part 4 is a treatise by St. John Chrysostom which serves a two-fold purpose: to help the student begin applying the Faith in their own life as well as teaching the student how to stop being a victim and take control of their own life. Part 5 is “the Rainbow Set” done by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory and provides a fuller description of the history, worship, and spirituality of Orthodox Christianity. Part 6 rounds out the studies by showing the student some of the challenges they will likely face as an Orthodox Christian.
For those people who are in a prison or jail where there are no Orthodox services or classes being offered by an Orthodox priest or volunteer, they can write to OCPM and we can provide them with our free study courses as well as the guidance we offer through corresponding with them.
Many ask us about the impact this sort of spiritual support by correspondence can have on people who participate. Perhaps the best repsonse to this question is to offer (anonymously) the content of a recent letter to OCPM:
When I first started my Christian walk, I was searching for faith, any faith. I thought I could wrestle my own understanding from the Bible through numerous, mostly Protestant, Bible studies, on my own. Until I found Orthodoxy, I was on a holy quest, but I was under my own sinful power and authority. I was trying to discover the holy and divine message of the Bible without the Church and community that received the Bible through the Holy Spirit. Thank you for helping me to find the true Church. When I parole in 2021, I will find an Orthodox parish church to continue my Christian journey. I have finally found what I have been searching for my entire life. Thank you so very much.
This fellow has gone through our 6-part study series while regularly corresponding with OCPM all of which helped bring him to this point in his life.
While face to face contact is a necessity at some point in their journey home, correspondence can help them a good distance down the road. Consider the New Testament as an example of the effectiveness of correspondence: virtually all of the writings are letters of a sort to a particular person or church. The Gospel of Luke was written as a form of catechesis for Theophilus (Luke 1:3, 4) . . . “it seemed fitting for me as well having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught [Gk. κατηχήθης]. Even correspondence ministry has an integral place in the teaching ministry of the Church in helping to guide people home to the Kingdom of God.
By Zossima Daugherty
Sunday July 26, 2020
Prison Ministry Awareness 2020
“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who suffer evil, as though you yourself were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3)
To the Reverend Clergy, Monastics, and Pious Faithful of our Holy Orthodox Church in the United States:
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Greetings and blessings to you all!
We are blessed to observe the Sunday before the feast of St. Silas, the patron saint of prison ministry, as Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday. This year we remember this sacred ministry on July 26, 2020.
Over the last several months, our communities have suffered from isolation and division as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and now, the backlash of the tragic racial injustices in our society. With so many people suffering from anxiety, seperation, depression, and anger, how will the Lord answer our prayers for peace? Usually, as men and women living in the world, we can most readily find the Lord’s answer in small, personal acts of love and mercy.
He tells us very clearly how we are expected to treat and heal one another in Matthew 25:
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
This mandate, like so much of the scripture, instructs us to proactively serve those in our community in love. Each of us can be the solution to the anxiety around us by doing the little things that are in our control with humility, empathy, and patience.
Part of this calling to serve includes those who are in prison, where true, deep isolation has enveloped our brothers and sisters incarcerated. In prison, the simple acts of kindness are magnified: a letter to someone serving a long sentence, a Bible Study in the local jail, making the wife of a prisoner feel welcome in church. These are the acts of proactive mercy our Lord calls us to that Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry and many of our clergy and parishes participate in every day.
As the Episcopal Moderator of Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, I respectfully request you observe this day of awareness. The Holy Orthodox Church, through Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, brings the mercy, forgiveness, and love of Christ to those people who need hope and healing living in the darkness of prison.
As Saint John of Kronstadt states, “the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.” Please remember and help our brothers and sisters in jails and prisons across the United States on July 26th. We humbly ask that after passing a tray for the ongoing work of your parish, you please pass a second tray on Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday for the work of the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry.
With much love and thanks in our risen Lord,
†Archbishop Mark of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, OCA
Confronting the evil of social injustice must be predicated on the understanding that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12). Social injustice is a failure to see Christ in our neighbor. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Everywhere especially applies to prison.
Uprooting the weed of injustice in prisons is a process that is not instantaneous. It requires the tools of forgiveness, reconciliation and creative restoration using one’s time, treasure and talent. St Paul counseled Timothy that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. (2Timothy 3:12). Breaking the roots of injustice requires suffering on both sides for righteousness sake. Nevertheless the outcome is unspeakable joy and blossoming friendships. We are all flowers in God’s garden.
To uproot social injustice in prison, one must first ask God for strength and direction. Then fast according to your ability. Then begin to reach out through random acts of kindness, unceasing prayer, and patient forgiveness. Love goes from heart to heart and strength to strength, regardless of melanin. Lastly, Isaiah 43:1 says, “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”
-Dr. Carla Thomas, Member of the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry Board of Trustees