Assembly of Bishops: Encyclical for Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday - 25 July, 2021
Assembly of Bishops: Encyclical for Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday - 25 July, 2021

Звернення Асамблеї Канонічних Православних Єпископів США:

25 липня 2021 року - Молитовно Згадуємо Людей у В'язницях

“Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Your name.” (Psalm 142:7)

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!

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States has blessed us 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 25, 2021.

After a year of isolation, we are experiencing the full joy of our freedom this summer. Many of us are making up for lost time: taking trips, seeing our friends, and most importantly, returning to our churches in person.

For our brothers and sisters in prison, it has been a hard year as well. Lockdowns meant many of the 2.3 million men and women incarcerated in the United States were in truly deep isolation without visitations from family, friends, and clergy. As restrictions now ease, we are called more than ever to exercise our own freedoms to serve those who have suffered emotionally, physically, and spiritually over these last months. Now is the moment to cherish our blessings by sharing them with those who our Lord has commanded us to see Himself in.

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matthew 25).

Along with those in prison right now, we can find the Lord in the faces of those who have been released from prison and are seeking to find community in our parishes and rebuild their lives through the Orthodox way of life. We can also visit the Lord in caring for the family members of prisoners. Indeed, the staggering rates of incarceration in the US make it is difficult to find an Orthodox parish in our country that does not have a parishioner deeply affected by the incarceration of an immediate family member.

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.

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.

As Saint Isaac the Syrian says, “A cruel and merciless heart is never purified. A merciful man is the doctor of his own soul because as a strong wind from his heart, he drives out the darkness of the passions.” Please show mercy to our brothers and sisters in jails and prisons across the United States on July 25th.

With much love and thanks in our risen Lord,

†Archbishop Mark

Andrei’s Story: Life in Prison, But Life In Christ

Andriy was 21-years-old when he left Ukraine to start a new life in America. Instead, he got involved in drugs, committed murder, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

It took Andriy some time to adjust to life in a maximum-security prison with its violence and restrictive conditions. He felt shame and guilt for his crime and had the added burden of being a foreigner in a foreign land.

Ten years ago, a friend recommended that he contact Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry. OCPM sent Andriy books, an Orthodox Study Bible, pamphlets and icons. He completed OCPM’s catechism correspondence course and regularly wrote to the ministry, which responded personally to his letters. “Without exaggeration, that changed my life,” says Andriy. “I developed a much better understanding of our faith, discovered the beautiful depth of patristic writings, felt the profoundly warm sense of peace when I read St. Isaac the Syrian.”

Andriy is now 50-years-old. He will never leave prison but he says he is confident that he can still live a life of peace. “Through the patient and compassionate presence of OCPM in my life, I feel the presence of the Church and the light of the Lord that shines even on this sinner, into this dark depth,” says Andrei. “Every day, as I get up before 4:00 a.m. to pray, I have a long list of reasons to thank the Almighty Lord. OCPM is high on that list,” he says.

As we recently commemorated Holy Week and the Passion of Our Lord, let us remember the repentant thief who hung on the cross next to Christ. That convicted criminal was the first person to enter Paradise. The Lord was only waiting for his sincere repentance and heartfelt cry to not be forgotten.

Today, there are 2.3 million incarcerated men and women in the United States, the highest incarceration rate in the world. Scores of these prisoners are ready to repent for their crimes. And they must find a way to reconcile lengthy or even life-long prison sentences.

Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry proclaims Christ to men and women who are incarcerated, many of whom are being introduced to the Orthodox Church for the first time. For Orthodox Christians whose lives have been upended by their crimes and prison sentence, OCPM helps them to return to the Faith, offering forgiveness and reconciliation. As a result, families are reunited, marriages are healed, and thousands of incarcerated men and women have a new sense of peace and restored order in their lives.

OCPM serves the spiritual needs of the incarcerated through a variety of ways. We correspond with thousands of prisoners and provide them with books, Bibles, pamphlets and icons. We catechize them in the Orthodox faith through special correspondence courses. We train Orthodox priests and laypersons to personally visit and counsel them in prison. And we lobby correctional facilities around the country to recognize the Orthodox faith so that Orthodox prisoners can receive the sacraments.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, our Lord sets out clearly the conditions for inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven. We satisfy the hungry and thirsty. We take in the stranger. We clothe the naked. And we visit the sick and those who are in prison.

We may find it easy to perform most of these commandments, but when was the last time you entered a correctional facility to visit a prisoner?

Thousands of men and women are languishing in the battlefield that is prison. Many have experienced the limits of what non-Orthodox ministries offer. They suspect there is more but they don’t know where to find it.

OCPM visits and meets prisoners where they are, with the fullness that is the Orthodox faith. Every year, we process thousands of letters from prisoners and personally respond to each one by speaking to their particular situation. We maintain relationships with prisoners across multiple prison transfers and we assist them in finding an Orthodox parish upon their release.

Prisoners like Andriy are no less part of the Resurrection of Christ because they are in prison. OCPM helps prisoners, no matter their sentence, to be connected with the healing power of the Orthodox Church.

Please find out more about how you and your parish can have a vital ministry to incarcerated men and women by visiting www.theocpm.org

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