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Press Releases

Nicholas Petrogeorge Appointed Executive Director of Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry

The Board of Trustees of Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM), an agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishop of the United States of America, has announced the appointment of Nicholas Petrogeorge as Executive Director. Board Chairwoman, Eugenia Ordynsky, stated, “We are blessed to have a talent like Mr. Petrogeorge join OCPM as we implement our strategic plan and move to the next level.”

Nicholas comes to Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry with a decade of experience in non-profit leadership, fundraising, strategic planning, and program development. Nicholas has served as a Major Gifts Officer with FOCUS North America and most recently with Charlotte Rescue Mission. The son of a priest, he and his wife, Stephanie, reside in Charlotte, North Carolina and are members of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church.

“Our Church acutely needs this ministry as it not only enables care for the incarcerated, but also provides a healthy challenge to serve and embrace all who come seeking the Lord, regardless of background. I look forward to building on the immense work of my predecessors,” Mr. Petrogeorge shared.

Mr. Petrogeorge succeeds Fr. Stephen Powley, who retired as Executive Director, but continues on staff at Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry as a prison ministry trainer and spiritual advisor. Fr. Stephen has served in prison ministry for 35 years, with most of those years as a career chaplain. The OCPM Board of Trustees is extremely grateful to Fr. Stephen for all of his hard work over the years on behalf of OCPM and looks forward to working with him further as he continues to train priests across the country.

Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry serves those who are incarcerated and their families, and provides resources, training and support to our ministry partners and shares the love of Christ and His Church with them so that lives are transformed, and God is glorified. Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry provides in-prison ministry, church outreach and training, aftercare, and correspondence programs to more than 3,400 men and women across the United States.

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Beyond the Bars Blog

Christ is Risen! A Bright Week Message from Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord,
and, whether first or last, receive your reward.
O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy
O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Resurrection of our Lord means death is conquered!

Throughout this Bright Week we celebrate, rejoice, and exalt our Lord for His sacrifice and ultimate victory over darkness and death. Like many of us who were physically removed from our church communities this Pascha, those in prison also celebrated the Lord’s Resurrection in their hearts. They were also able to share a very small amount of communal celebration through a special Paschal message from OCPM in the mail.

This week we also reflect on the lessons we learned during Holy Week – for instance, that true repentance from the heart, as we saw from the Good Thief, means Christ will remember you when deciding who will enter His Father’s Heavenly Kingdom.

While we cannot enter the prisons and jails right now, we are still able to reach the prison population through our David C. Patton Correspondence Ministry program. For most, this will be their only hint of the Paschal season from the outside. Thank you for remembering and praying for them and we wish you all a Joyous Feast from everyone at OCPM.

Truly He is Risen!

 

Give at: theocpm.org/donate

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Beyond the Bars Blog

Memory Eternal: Remembering Father Gervasios, the “Saint of Prisoners”

A true example of Orthodoxy recently passed away. Born George Raptopoulos, people called Father Gervasios “the priest of the poor,” “angel for the sons of the prodigal son,” and the “saint of prisoners” as he had an impact on countless lives all over the globe.

The Orthodox Times notes that since 1987, Father Gervasios’ Ministry of Prisoners “has released more than 16,000 prisoners in need, paying their fines and giving more than 5,000,000 euros, money raised from peoples contributions.” Though most people he helped were in Greece, he also visited male, female, and juvenile detention centers in Egypt, Albania, Bulgaria, France, USA, Jordan, Israel, Italy, Cyprus, Madagascar, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, and Russia.

The same article quotes Father Gervasios as saying “If I die in a prison it will be the biggest gain for me. I want to die on duty, either on the way to a prison or on my way home. Christ died for the love of man. This is the finish, the perfect and the excellent.”

An Associated Press article from 2014 on Father Gervasios describes how in Greece, individuals convicted of offenses which carry a maximum five-year sentence can purchase their freedom, at an average rate of 5 euro per day during that time.

“With the rich at a clear advantage, Greek Orthodox priest Gervasios Raptopoulos has devoted his life to paying off the prison terms of penniless inmates.”

For those who do not qualify to purchase their freedom, Father and his ministry would provide inmates with funds to buy necessities such as “toilet paper and soap when the often meagre supplies provided by prison run out.”

“I went to prison because I was selling bread rings without a license,” said 60-year-old ex-inmate Dimitris Germanidis. “He paid the fine, and bought off my sentence and so I walked free. … He helped without knowing me, he didn’t even know who the money was going to.”

Thomas Kotopoulis, 66, also shared his story. “A fine had been issued against me,” he said. “Every day, the police would come to my home and say that, if I couldn’t raise the money I would go to jail. On the very last day, Gervasios came to help. It’s like he descended from heaven.”

In his retirement from the priesthood, Elder Gervasios still regularly travel to prisons to minister to those who were incarcerated. He would tour once a month to hand out “gift bags with clothing, a religious icon and toiletry items such as shaving materials, soap, shampoo and toothpaste.”

In 2012, 2013, and 2014 Father Gervasios was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for charity and social offers.

OCPM will use his example as guidance and motivation in our never-ending mission: To serve those who are incarcerated and their families, and provide resources, training and support to our ministry partners.

May Father Gervasios’ memory be eternal, not only through his good deeds but the good deeds inspired by his legacy.

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News

Entering Lent Strong: 2020 OCPM Semi-Annual Board & Strategic Plan Meeting Complete

This year, from the 13th-15th of February, board members and staff met in person or by video conference in Houston, Texas working throughout each day towards implementing the vision of the OCPM mission: To serve those who are incarcerated and their families, and provide resources, training and support to our ministry partners.

Since last year, both board and staff members also began implementation of their strategic plan which intends to strengthen our ministry so we can better serve the men and women who are incarcerated and Christ.

Agendas pertaining to OCPM’s board and strategic plan were productive and successful. As we soon will start Lent and have a long year left, the OCPM is prepared to serve those who are incarcerated and inspire those who are not to remember them as Christ asked us to.

 

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News

Fr. John Kowalczyk delivers workshop at Drexel Medical College

For the third year in a row, Fr. John Kowalczyk gave a three hour workshop at the Drexel Medical College 27th Forensic Conference, held on Wednesday, December 4th 2019.

Fr. John Kowalczyk stated the following: “Working with mentally ill inmates who are in the (RHU) Restricted Housing Unit or Solitary Confinement, one will be confronted with inmates who have been isolated from the normal prison setting.” Fr. Kowalczyk stated, “One has to minister with compassion and unconditional positive regard with an open heart and become an instrument in restoring his humanity with kindness and dignity. This restoration will aid and help restore purpose, direction and meaning into his already broken life.” Fr. John has been involved in this “Out-of-Cell” program with inmates for the past five years in SCI Waymart.

During the Three Hour Workshop, Fr. John made the following five educational objectives:

  1. Examine the trauma of the mentally ill inmate who finds himself in solitary confinement.
  2. Explore the impact of a chaplain with a caring heart as a necessary tool to work through this isolation of the RHU.
  3. Analyze the concept of guilt and feeling of helplessness from a spiritual dynamic when the mentally ill inmate finds himself isolated, broken and separated from his familiar mental health unit.
  4. Recognize the importance of offering prayer when one appears out-of-control and the life of the inmate appears unmanageable.
  5. Integrate positive memories and family religious celebrations as a means of healing during this time of isolation and try to maintain this caring and pastoral relationship.

 

 

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News

Fr. Stephen’s Interview at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary

Fr. Stephen Powley and Fr. John Kowalczyk recently visited St. Tikhon’s Seminary to present OCPM to the seminarians and minister at the local prison.

The St. Tikhon’s Seminary hosts an Ancient Faith Podcast series called “The Spirit of Saint Tikhon’s” where Fr. Stephen spoke about the powerful work of the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry. Listen to the  interview Father had with Subdeacon Maximos by using the following link:

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/sost/meet_fr_stephen_powley_from_ocpm

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News

Fr. Stephen Powley and Fr. John Kowalczyk Visit St. Tikhon’s Seminary to Present OCPM & Minister

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

STM Refectory

10/2/2019

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.

 

In Christ,

The OCPM

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Beyond the Bars Blog

Letter from the Chairman of the OCPM Board of Directors

Dear Supporters of OCPM:

The human touch: a hug, a pat on the back, or a handshake. The human interaction: laughing together, talking together, or crying together. We take them for granted. But there is a group of people in our country who rarely experience these. They might experience the touch of someone’s hand, but it is only to place shackles on them in order to transport them from one dim place to another. It is not a loving hand. It is not a caring hand. It is a hand of a prison officer doing his job. But they are human beings and God loves them like all the rest.

Let us not forget those most often forgotten by society. If you recall the lepers of biblical times, they were the outcasts of society. They had to announce at a distance that they were unclean by shouting out: “Unclean…Unclean!” They too were people who were not experiencing the human touch from another person, that is, until Jesus came along. In His love for all human beings he reached out to touch even the lepers of that time.

We have the wonderful opportunity to truly “touch” some the outcasts of our society today: the precious men and women in prisons and jails across our country. We can touch them through the ministry of OCPM. Please remember this ministry which reaches out with the love and light of Christ to “touch” the lives of those precious souls.

Jesus tells us that when we “touch” those in prison, we have “touched” Him. Recall those words He spoke as He separated His sheep from the goats: “I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:36). You can “touch” those in prison through your gift to OCPM. Please be generous as you continue your spiritual journey in the gift of life God has given you.

In Christ,

Eugenia Ordynsky

Chairman of the OCPM Board of Directors

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News

OCPM Attends Meeting Regarding the Homeless at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese

Last week, 10 pan-Orthodox ministries came together at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese for a two-day meeting addressing homelessness. Executive Director Fr. Stephen Powley and Director of Operations Paul Politis represented the OCPM.

There were three main objectives purposed:

  1. To learn from one another, highlight strengths and areas for growth, and create ties for greater collaboration by establishing a common language and approach when educating our faithful about and responding to homelessness and poverty;
  2. To develop and release a comprehensive report detailing the work of each organization, including information for parishes and the faithful on “getting involved”;
  3. To capitalize on the collective experiences and data of the organizations present and create educational resources for the faithful to learn about homelessness and poverty in the USA. The goal is to destigmatize those who live in poverty and create a foundation for more compassionate and knowledgeable service provisions.

The meeting was headed up by Nicholas Anton, the Director of the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical, and Inter-Faith Relations for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and by Spyridoula Fotinis the Programs Coordinator for this department.

Fr. Stephen and Paul were able to present what can happen to men and women coming out of prison when the Church is not there for them. As well, they also presented the great need that exists for families of those sent to prison. They also presented the positive side of what can happen to men and women when the Church is there for them when they are released from prison.

All the ministries provided a great deal of information and inspiration. They also shared some of the outstanding work with homeless folks going on across the country. OCPM may be able to place some folks coming out of prison with some of these ministries as we move forward.

Here is the common multi-faceted understanding that we arrived at:

“As Orthodox Christians, we are called to love our neighbors by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, etc. (Matthew 25:35-40) in a relational way that recognizes the humanity of each person. The value and dignity of each person must be recognized in every moment of serving another human being. Our theology and identity as Orthodox Christians inspires and informs our witness as opposed to witness for recruitment or proselytization. Instead, we must be the Church and shine Christ’s love in our service to others through Christ-centered empowerment, illuminated by the relational nature of the Eucharist. We recognize that we are each broken and are all spiritually homeless in need of Christ. Beyond a physical house to find shelter in, each person requires to be served as a whole human being in need of a home; spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally with dignity and respect.”

The results of the two days of meetings will be forwarded to the Church and Society Committee of the Assembly of Bishops USA for further review and possible adoption.

In Christ,

The OCPM

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News

Fr. Stephen Represents OCPM as Keynote for Youth and Family Conference in Dallas Texas

Father Stephen Powley was recently the keynote speaker for the Youth and Family Conference hosted this year in Dallas, Texas from July 25-27. Father addressed their younger-aged group of around 150 people aged 15-32 years old. 

The conference, which saw around 550 people, was themed “Celebrating the Abundant Life: The Orthodox Christian Way.” Father Stephen spoke three times additional times, hosted a workshop, and addressed the conference during the opening ceremony and panel discussion.

Father gave three talks with three PowerPoints which all dealt with what is or is not an abundant life in Christ and how people in prison are finding and living that abundant life in Christ. 

Here are the titles of the sessions with theme THE ABUNDANT LIFE:

Session #1 – IS IT ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE OR WHO YOU ARE IN LIFE?

Session #2 – IS IT ABOUT WHAT YOU OWN OR HOW MUCH MONEY YOU HAVE?

Session #3 – WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GREATEST OBSTACLES THAT CAN HINDER OR DESTROY OUR ABUNDANT LIFE IN CHRIST? IS THE ABUNDANT LIFE ABOUT WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW OR WHAT GROUP YOU BELONG TO?

For the workshop, Father Stephen used our new OCPM book: The Prison Diary of Saint Perpetua with a manuscript emailed out to all the attendees. This primed the many who attended the workshop. Father reports they “were so very attentive throughout each presentation. These young people continue to amaze me in their desire to serve the Lord and make a difference in this world.”

At the very end, the conference presented Father Stephen and OCPM with a check for $2000!

The OCPM is truly thankful for the gracious hospitality and generous donation to this ministry!

In Christ,

The OCPM Team