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The harsh realities of prison life don’t go away around the holidays, and a person’s release from prison is by no means the end of his or her struggle.

But there are moments of real joy, too. Enjoy this simple and beautiful story Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry (OCPM) recently received about a man’s experience being ushered into a parish community after his release.

Two years into my 20-year sentence, I started writing Fr. Duane Pederson of blessed memory, and he introduced me to the Orthodox Church. The Faith was so healing to me while I was in prison, that toward the end of my sentence, Fr. Duane helped me get accepted into a small Orthodox skete to explore monastic life. I wasn’t just the novice; I was the youngest, too…which meant I was deemed the official snow-shoveler. 

Once they learned that I had worked in the prison kitchen, I graduated to being the cook. Around the Christmas season, this job came with a big responsibility. Every year, the skete hosted a huge Nativity celebration in a nearby church, when people from all over would come to pray and feast together. 

I started baking up a storm: Christmas cookies, cheesecakes, pumpkin and pecan pies. I knew other people would add to the potluck, too, but I pushed myself to make as many goodies as I possibly could. Would they like what I made for them? I didn’t know. After the feast was over, I was shocked to see every last one of my desserts were gone! Everyone had loved them!

This may not seem like much of a story, but believe me, for someone recently released from prison to find such a warm welcome from an Orthodox community–it meant a lot. Even though God eventually called me away from the monastic life, that first Christmas after my release has always stayed with me. May your Nativity be as warm and welcoming as it was for me!