By Abbot Tryphon, October 6, 2019
I was in prison and you came to Me (Matthew 25:36)
I served eight years as a volunteer Orthodox chaplain within three Washington State Prisons in Monroe, WA. With the goal of bringing the love of Christ to those, who, for whatever reason, found themselves serving hard time, I found my eyes opened to the importance of truly believing in the biblical concept of forgiveness.
Among the three prisons, I particularly remember Twin Rivers Correctional. With well over two thousand prisoners, these were the sex offenders who were deemed too dangerous to be in our communities, but possible candidates for therapy. I came away from Twin Rivers with little hope there would ever be a cure for pedophiles, but I did learn that even these people where worthy of God’s forgiveness. I also came to believe that even the worst of offenders were redeemable in the eyes of God.
Many, if not most, of these sexual predators, had themselves been violated as children, so how could we simply abandon them to their perversion without making any attempt to reach out with the saving grace that comes with a relationship with Christ. Although I was blessed to baptize a number of these offenders into the life of the Church, I still remain convinced they should not be allowed to have contact with children, following their release. Nor do I believe they should be free from supervision when attending services in our parishes. That said, I do believe they can receive Christ’s forgiveness, and that they are worthy of my love, as their brother in Christ.
Most men and women who are incarcerated in our nation’s prisons are there for economic or drug crimes, and, if given the chance, can live productive lives in society, once released. The possibility of entering into society as truly reformed men and women, can only come about if we provide encouragement, material support, transition and reintegration services, while they are in prison, and when they are released. A solid Christian education, couched with spiritual guidance and the sacramental life of the Church, are essential for the prisoner, for, just like the rest of us, transformation of the self comes only with the grace of God, through the life of His Church.
We cannot leave these men and women to fend for themselves, for without Christ, they will be lost. It is not our place to judge them, for the courts have already done that. Once they have been sentenced, it becomes the Christ commanded role of the Church to reach out to them. The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, sponsored by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, is doing just that. They are always in need of volunteers, and the impact of such ministry can be life altering for any one of us.
I remember the very first words I would offer to new prisoners when they would come into the prison chapel, meeting me for the first time. “You reside in an all-male institution (the prison), and I reside in an all-male institution (the monastery). You live in a cell, and I live in a cell (monastic cell). You are in this prison because of your sins, and I am in the monastery because of my sins. You must live a life in repentance, just as I am living a life in repentance.”
It is also imperative that we make every effort, both as individuals, and as parish communities, to help find jobs and housing for Orthodox prisoners, once they have been released. It makes no sense to expect them to live a respectable and godly lives on the outside, if they are breaking and homeless. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we judge them for their past, and refuse to let them be an integral part of our parish life. As followers of Christ, we can do nothing less, then to love them, just as Christ loves them.
With love in Christ,
~Abbot Typhon, The Morning Offering, https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2019/10/prison-ministry/
About Abbot Tryphon
The Very. Rev. Abbot Typhon All-Merciful Savior Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. The Monastery is under the omophore of The Most Rev. Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Situated in the heart of a beautiful forest, surrounded by the Salish Sea, the monastery is reached by ferry from either Seattle, or Tacoma, Washington.