Letter from Chris

As Orthodox Christians, we are told to “remember death”. In prison no one needs reminding that every new day could be their last.

Several years ago, Chris was recommended by another participant as a person with “a good heart but no family that wrote him”. The Good-NewsLetter is probably the only mail he gets.

When Chris was moved to a new prison he lost touch with his friends and had to start over, something that is particularly difficult in prison. Inmates are not allowed to write other inmates, so old friendships are hard to hang on to.

As part of our ministry we occasionally send a “SHOUT OUT PAGE” with pictures, greetings, artwork and poetry, helping friends stay connected to each other. Please pray that the Theotokos encompass Chris beneath the precious veil of her protection, delivering him from every form of evil by entreating Christ, her Son and our God on his behalf.”

Letter from Moses

Walter heard about our prison ministry in a miraculous way. About 10 years ago, on the receipt for his Christmas Box from his mother it said, “With love from your friends at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church”! Months later, when he heard the announcement for Father Onouphry’s monthly visit, he came running to see him and find out what Orthodoxy was all about. He was later baptized taking the name Moses, for Moses the Ethiopian.

Moses was moved to tears in August when he received a card from us on the first anniversary of his daughter Aundrea’s untimely death. When his fellow inmates asked him what was going on, he told them that “His church family remembered” and took the opportunity to share the hope he has found in the Orthodox Faith.

Moses was moved to a prison near Fayetteville and, thanks be to God, found a priest in the area who brings him the sacraments a couple times a year. In addition to losing his daughter, Moses has had several heart attacks. We have participants all over the state and need to connect more priests and Orthodox prison ministries to our friends in prison.

Please remember Moses, his mother Clarisse and his grandsons, Avion and Amillio in your prayers for the living and add Aundrea to your personal prayers for the departed.

Your identity is Christ

September 27, 2017
The Universal Elevation of the Precious and Life-Creating Cross of the Lord

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!

In the epistle reading today for the Exaltation of the Cross, St. Paul states: “For the preaching of the Cross is, to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God.”

St. Paul later in the passage says,

“. . . the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty . . . .”

For those of us who are regulars here at St. Nicholas, this fact about which St. Paul speaks is well known.

I have spent quite a bit of time lately in my sermons pointing out examples of how the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. And the last time Metropolitan Jonah was here, he made a very simple, but direct, statement on this topic of the cross when he said, “when we take up our cross, expect to be crucified upon it.”

According to the world, our existence should be managed to avoid conflict and inconvenience. Yet, we know from experience that so many of our obligations—as Orthodox Christians, in the spiritual life—are quite inconvenient; we’ve all established, confirmed, and verified that. We live it; at least we try to. And it’s not easy.

But, here’s the good news! While we are called to crucify ourselves on the cross, we must always remember that our sins are also nailed to the cross! This fact should cause us great joy when we actively engage in self-examination, and ultimately, self-crucifixion. Because when we dredge up and expose our darkest passions, and become disgusted with ourselves, we should always remember that we need to complete our crucifixion by nailing our sins to the cross of Christ. And we do this by asking—and receiving—forgiveness of our sins.

This should be for us a wellspring of joy, because if we ask Christ to forgive us, we will receive forgiveness! And with His help, we will proceed on the journey of repentance, carrying our cross! Indeed, this should cause us also to dig deeper in repentance and self-examination because this is the process for us to purge ourselves of our sins and passions.

But unfortunately, in the process, I think that we don’t allow ourselves that medicinal joy as often as we should—the joy that comes when we truly perceive that our sins, once forgiven by Christ, once nailed to the Cross, are as far from us as the East is from the West, and are blotted out—making our souls white as snow, just as we are when we come out of the baptismal font.

And I think the reason why we don’t allow ourselves to comprehend the depths of forgiveness is because often we can’t get past the spiritual trauma we experience from engaging in spiritual warfare, especially when we have fallen into sin in momentary defeat.

The key is that when we have been knocked down, we should not stay down.

St. Macarius of Optina says: “Do not allow the spark of discord and enmity to smolder. The longer you wait, the more the enemy tries to cause confusion among you.”

In other words, once we see our sins, we needn’t wallow in them. We need to get to confession and purge ourselves, and unburden ourselves.

St. Silouan, whose memory we celebrated a few days ago, says this about our falls into sin:

“Do not fall into despair because of stumbling. I do not mean that you should not feel contrition for them, but that you should not think them incurable. For it is more expedient to be bruised than dead. There is, indeed, a Healer for the man who has stumbled, even He Who on the Cross asked that mercy be shown to His crucifiers, He Who pardoned His murders while He hung on the Cross. ‘All manner of sin,’ He said, ‘and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men,’ that is, through repentance.”

Indeed, Elder Thaddeus of Vitrovnica says, “There is no sin that cannot be forgiven except the sin of not repenting.”

Having said all of that—what can be said to seal these words of encouragement into our hearts, so that we can tap this wellspring of joy? Well, I can’t think of a better truth than St. Paul’s words when he was pondering his own sinfulness. He said to the Romans:

“I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who does it, but sin that dwells within me.”

That’s amazing and very deep!

Here we have the golden key to our problem of not experiencing the joy of forgiveness. You see, St. Paul is absolutely not taking his sinfulness as his own identity. Indeed, he is seeing the sinfulness as a foreign intruder, as something separate from his true identity. Basically he is saying to his sinfulness, “that’s not me”!

Now, when we fall into sin it doesn’t mean we aren’t culpable—yet, we can see the profundity in St. Paul’s statement, and—I believe—there is a great deal of liberation that can come from this truth, if we can accept the reality of what St. Paul and many other fathers after him are saying here—especially the Optina elders.

In fact, I believe this attitude—understood properly in the context of our True Identity—which is Christ—can lead us to grasp the statements made by our saintly fathers, who all basically say that we should not wallow in our despair, but rather rush to the Cross—because the same cross that we carry as our struggle, is the very same Cross upon which Christ nailed our sins!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!

Letter from Shane

Shane is one of 40 or so participants in our prison ministry. He has received our mailing and corresponded with me for about 3 years now. This is the first paragraph of the longest letter he has ever written. It is the first time he really opened up. He shared his pain, frustration and, in response to my request for snake stories, a childhood memory about catching snakes at camp. My letters and the Good-News Letter are the only mail he gets these days.

I wrote him back and I told him that he was in a better state than those who think they are “worthy”; that it was for SINNERS that Christ came and I backed my words up with Bible quotes. I told him the story of the first man saved—St. Dismas the patron of this ministry! I told him about some of my own struggles, about things I’ve read or listened to and everything else that came to mind to give him hope and incline him to repentance. I also sent him the Canon or Repentance.

Please remember Shane in your prayers and ask God to help him see that what I told him is true: that there is no limit to God’s mercy and all of heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. Pray that God grants our brother Shane tears of repentance and that he turns back to the Lord!

There are many ways you can support our efforts and receive the blessings of “visiting those in prison”. Pray for the Prison Ministry and all our participants. Commit to putting a dollar or 2 in our jar donation jar on the candle table every week. Consider becoming a pen pal to an established member of the group! Ask Mary-Jo for details.

Letter from Nathan

Nathan is one of 40 or so participants in our prison ministry. He attended many meetings with Father Onouphry, but then he was moved way across the state. He wrote this letter the day he arrived back at Alexander Correctional and, as you can see, he is excited that he will see Fr. O again.

Every month I check addresses before mailing the Good-NewsLetter, and every time 2 or 3 have been relocated. Several of Nathan’s moves were to Raleigh, where he has received medical treatment for a brain tumor and other ailments.

If you’d like to send an Orthodox Study Bible to Nate, or contribute toward other expenses, please see Mary-Jo. We keep a donation jar on the candle table and welcome all donations.

We mailed our latest GNL last week. There are a few Copies available on the candle table.In the past 12 years, we have baptized 6 souls into the Church and there are several more, like Nate, who long to be baptized, but are out of our reach; the harvest is ripe but the workers are few.

Letter from Elijah

Elijah is one of 40 participants in our prison ministry. Read the rest of his letter; it is posted on the bulletin board in the hall.

We send a monthly “Good-NewsLetter” and carry on personal correspondence, encouraging and educating men and women who are looking for meaning in their lives. In the past 12 years, we have baptized 6 souls into the Church and there are several more who long to be baptized, but are out of our reach; the harvest is ripe but the workers are few.

Share in the blessing of “visiting those in prison” by supporting our efforts with a small donation. We have a jar on the candle table. Donations help with printing and postage and occasionally we raise enough to send books.