Setting the Prisoners Free: The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry

After having a wonderful and very spiritual, filled visit with my wife, she was in a tragic auto accident and was killed. I was called to the chapel and was told of my beloved wife’s death. I hit the floor with despair. My wife and I were one. She was in this life "perfect." But even though my physical man grieves, my spiritual side rejoices. For the Lord gave me His little lamb, then He took her. I trust His judgment. He is and always will be my Lord no matter what! Thank you for praying for me your son . . . your letters mean so much. May God Bless You!
Fr. David Ogan | 26 August 2009

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound.

(Isaiah 61:1)

Let me introduce myself as the pastor of a small but growing parish whose patron is St Silas. If you were to walk into our parish, you would meet some interesting people seeking the Orthodox Faith. We have every ethnic group you could imagine. You also would meet some that are tattooed, some who may be missing a tooth or two. We have bikers and ex-gang members, people you might want to avoid if it were not for the fact that they are now living their life for the Lord. We have as well folks who might pass for your own neighbors.

Our parish invites those who desire to come and worship the Holy Trinity — those who desire to pray, to repent, and to learn of the true God, so that they can live a life devoted to the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ, our forgiving God. Welcome to the parish of St Silas — a parish without walls.

I am Father David Ogan, and I am director of the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM). Our vineyard encompasses the prisons of North America, and our ministry extends beyond the borders of our continent. OCPM ministers to those who have been wounded and deceived, cut off from the “free” world.

We at OCPM mail out Orthodox materials and correspondence to more than six hundred prisons. Our letters may be the only mail some of the prisoners ever receive while incarcerated. I recently received an impassioned plea from a young inmate who said, “Father, please pray for me, it is so hard in here.” He told of a young inmate stabbing an older inmate while he was sleeping. Another hurting soul wrote, “You know Father David, living in prison for the last 11 years does not qualify me to be an expert — but I never lack the wonder of God’s plan. I always thank Him for everything good and bad.”

I have a packet of letters that I keep with me that I call the “Prisoner Pearl Packet.” When I find myself frustrated or discouraged, I go through my packet so that I can remind myself of why this ministry exists! In one letter I keep close to my heart, one of our parishioners wrote:

After having a wonderful and very spiritual, filled visit with my wife, she was in a tragic auto accident and was killed. I was called to the chapel and was told of my beloved wife’s death. I hit the floor with despair. My wife and I were one. She was in this life “perfect.” But even though my physical man grieves, my spiritual side rejoices. For the Lord gave me His little lamb, then He took her. I trust His judgment. He is and always will be my Lord no matter what! Thank you for praying for me your son . . . your letters mean so much. May God Bless You!

I was humbled beyond words. My brother’s light and love emanated through this letter.

How We Got Started

The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM) was established in 1991 under the auspices of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, with Father Duane Pederson as founding director. Father Duane’s thirty-eight years of experience ministering to hurting young people, both in prison and on the streets, uniquely qualified him to bring the message of repentance, confession, and salvation to prisoners seeking hope, encouragement, and caring. In 1993, the Holy Apostle Silas was named patron saint for the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry.

In October 1996, the first Convocation for Orthodox Christian Prison Workers was held in St Augustine, Florida. The Convocation was blessed with the presence of Bishop BASIL Essey of the Antiochian Archdiocese. In 1999, for reasons of health and exhaustion, Father Duane requested that Metropolitan PHILIP appoint a new head for OCPM. I was named the new director, and Father Duane continues to serve as consultant to my staff and me as needed.

At the request of Metropolitan PHILIP, Father Duane has initiated a prisoner aftercare program. Though housing is not provided through this program, Father Duane ministers daily through spiritual and practical guidance, encouragement, friendship, and caring. As of March 2001, he is in regular contact with forty-three former prisoners and their families, and the number is growing. Many contact him daily for spiritual guidance and direction. In addition, Father Duane continues his weekly individual correspondence with eighty-seven prisoners, with some of whom he has corresponded for more than thirty years.

What We Do

How do we pastor the flock of Saint Silas? We visit prisons, and we help to train others to do this as well. Hundreds of men and women hunger for the Holy Apostolic Faith. We are here to train you to go into the prisons that may be in your local area. We have available Orthodox catechetical materials especially designed to train potential prison workers.

We also provide icon prayer cards, catechetical workbooks, and Orthodox prayer books that help the imprisoned faithful. Aside from the Bible, the most requested books are the Orthodox Christian Journey series, consisting of four books — Orthodox Christian Journey, Orthodox Christian Catechism, Orthodox Christian Prayerbook, and Orthodox Christian Readings. All are written in everyday American language, easily read and understood, filled with profound truths of the Holy Orthodox Faith. A self-directed study book to be used in conjunction with Orthodox Christian Catechism is also available. By using these materials, many prisoners transform their prison cells into prayer cells.

We provide pastoral visitation by mail. Each and every week, we mail to approximately four hundred inmates a letter of pastoral and spiritual instruction, using the homilies we hear during the Divine Liturgy on Sunday.

We also are thrilled that we have a wonderful tool for our congregation called the Prisoner Education Project. We have 175 inmates enrolled in this program, in cooperation with St Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. To be a true follower and student of the Kingdom, one must begin with repentance. Although we teach our students “theology,” we also teach them “kneeology,” how to bend the knees of their hearts first, so that the seeds of Orthodox theology can grow.

How We Got Started

We humbly submit the needs of this ministry to our Heavenly Father and rely on the family of God to help us to fund this missionary activity here in North America. What might you offer so this ministry can grow and become more vital?

First, help us in praying for those in prison and their families. We can mail to you the names of our flock so that you can intercede in prayer for them, these men and women who live in a very dark and dangerous environment.

You can also help us to pastor our congregation. God may be calling you to be a witness of His love. The fact is we are all called to love sinners as well as saints. We can help equip you to go into prisons so that you can bring searching souls out of the prison of sin into the light of God’s freedom.

You can help us by financial giving. You can give directly, or by ordering out of our catalog, where you have a selection of twenty-two icon prayer cards plus various Orthodox books and pamphlets that are suitable for church and family use.

Through the prayers of St Silas, we ask that God be merciful to us and save us. Amen.

Source: St.Vladimir’s Seminary

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