Orthodox Prison Ministry Transforms Lives

Chaplain Patrick Tutella Addressing Clergy and Laity in California.

Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM) ministers to people in prison, their families, and those who have been released from prison, responding to the Lord’s call, “I was in prison and you visited Me.” (Matthew 25:36). OCPM is an agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, the official Orthodox prison ministry in the country.

Since January 2013, Leadership 100 has awarded nearly $75,000 to OCPM in two grants. The first grant, for $20,372, funded the training of Orthodox clergy in target cities and regions. In the same way that clergy visit hospitals and nursing homes, Orthodox clergy who are trained and willing to visit people in prison are an essential part of the Church’s ministry.

Through its Leadership 100 grant, OCPM trained more than 200 Orthodox clergy in 2013 from Houston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Northern California, Chicago, Minneapolis, Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Denver. While many of the clergy were from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, other Orthodox jurisdictions were also well represented. In many of these cities and regions, parishes hosted events for OCPM to speak with laity too, informing and inspiring them to become involved in prison ministry.

While Orthodox men and women in prison are cut off from society, OCPM wants to ensure that they are not also cut off from the Church. Visits by Orthodox clergy are vital to the healing and repentance of these men and women, and only the clergy can keep them connected to the Sacramental life of the Church, hearing their Confessions and offering them Holy Communion.

There are also non-Orthodox men and women in prison who are seeking the Faith. Visits by Orthodox clergy help them learn about the Faith and can lead them on the path to becoming Orthodox. OCPM has many examples of people converting to Orthodoxy in prison.

OCPM’s clergy training prepares priests and deacons to minister to families of people in prison and the formerly incarcerated. While the subject is a sensitive one in some Orthodox communities, Chaplain Patrick Tutella, Director of OCPM,  says that many Orthodox parishes are touched either by having a parishioner in prison or parishioners who were formerly in prison. “Preparing clergy, and in turn laity, to welcome all people into the parish, including those who were incarcerated, is an important part of the OCPM training,” he adds.

The second Leadership 100 grant, for $54,310, was for ministry to prisons through publications, another critical component of OCPM’s outreach. The mailing of religious materials to people in prison includes Icon prayer cards, Orthodox Study Bibles, readings of the Desert Fathers, and catechism courses. In 2014 OCPM expects to receive more than 700 requests from people in prison, asking for religious materials. The grant from Leadership 100 will make it possible for OCPM to replenish its stock of Orthodox books and respond to these requests.

Chaplain Patrick relates stories that demonstrate just how important it is to send these materials into prison. “A man who is just beginning to discover Orthodoxy wrote a letter to OCPM regarding an Icon of the Theotokos that OCPM had sent him.  He wrote that the picture of the Virgin Mary helped to quell an uprising in the facility where he is imprisoned. ‘Just a simple picture of Mary,’ he reiterated in his letter.  Another man, born into a Greek Orthodox family, expressed his profound thanks for being able to have access to a prayer book during his incarceration.”

OCPM’s outreach is empowering and transforming people in prison “by the love of Jesus Christ, His Saints, and the Holy Orthodox Faith,” concluded Chaplain Patrick.

Caption: Chaplain Patrick Tutella Addressing Clergy and Laity in California.

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