“I Knew I Had God With and In Me”: How to Celebrate Theophany from Behind Bars

The over 1,300 people in prison we serve are used to receiving spiritual “blessings” in the mail, but February is a special month. February is the only time everyone receives an icon sprinkled with holy water. 

Prepare and quiet yourself, the “Blessing of the Cells” service pamphlet begins. Set up your icons, and place the icon card of the Baptism of Christ in a prominent position. The icon cards we send have all been blessed at the service of Holy Theophany. The sacramental blessing is ready to be shared. Bookmark the service Scriptures in your Bible. Pour a small amount of clean water into a clean cup or utensil. 

After our brothers and sisters behind bars read aloud the same prayers and Scripture readings we say in our parishes, the Blessing of the Cells begins. At this time, with reverent attitude and serious intent, hold the Icon of the Theophany in your right hand and the cup of water in your left. Sprinkle drops of holy water around and on your living and sleeping area, and on all your belongings, saying, ‘This dwelling is blessed in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ 

Inmates sing just as we do. “When Thou, O Lord, was baptized in the Jordan…” How loudly would the hymn echo in those cement walls? Once each wall is blessed with holy water and the sign of the Cross, inmates are directed to end the service: drink all of the remaining water, calling yourself a Servant of God, blessed in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

“Prison cells are dark, lonely, foreboding places,” says one former prisoner. “Whether you are in a solitary cell or a bunk room with dozens, you know your area is never yours.” All that would change when he would receive his icon, dip it into the water, and sprinkle the blessed water on all he had, giving thanks to God. “But the real transformation would occur when I would drink the remaining blessed water,” he says. “Each year, with that simple act, I was reminded and knew that I belonged to God, not to the prison system. Being reaffirmed in that knowledge each year enabled me to get through another year of prison, because I had God with and in me.”

When Christ humbled Himself to be baptized by St. John the Forerunner, we proclaim a double blessing: Christ was blessed in baptism, but Christ Himself blessed the waters of the Jordan River, and through it–through our planet of rivers and oceans and rainfall–Christ blessed all of Creation. Nowhere, not even a prison cell, is beyond His blessing.

Share this story

Receive inspiration in your inbox