On July 31, 2022, the Sunday after the feast of St. Silas, the patron saint of prisoners, hundreds of Orthodox churches in the United States from all jurisdictions recognized Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday in a national effort to better serve our incarcerated brothers and sisters in Christ. Different parishes came up with different ways to increase awareness in their communities, listening to testimonials from prisoners who have come to the Orthodox Church, sharing icons handwritten from prisoners, or simply reflecting on Christ’s imperative in Matthew 25 that whatever we do to “the least of these” we are doing to Him.
The Very Reverend Father Aaron Warwick of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Wichita, Kansas, recognized Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday by inviting two of his parishioners to speak, a former prisoner who had been served by OCPM while he was in prison and a current employee of OCPM, and then sharing from his own experience doing prison ministry.
“Those of us who have been involved in prison ministry, have seen our Lord face to face. We see Him in the light shining in the eyes of the incarcerated when we sit at the table of fellowship with them, offering them the Holy Sacraments and honoring them as part of the Body of Christ. We see Him in the shame and humiliation so many inmates and former inmates suffer in society, just as Christ suffered the shame and humiliation of the Cross.”
However, for Father Aaron, prison ministry is not simply being with someone in their suffering but witnessing a person’s genuine transformation—and what a glory that can be.
“Because of the dignity and respect with which these men and women are treated by Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry,” says Father Aaron, “and because they come to learn that they, too, are made in the image of God, we see the resurrected and triumphant Christ when these children of God overcome so many obstacles and become exemplary Christians, worthy of our emulation and respect.”