The great need to share our Orthodox faith in the dark world of prisons

March 5, 2017

On the Sunday of Orthodoxy, March 5, 2017 priests from several jurisdictions and their flocks gathered at Saints Nicholas and Dimitrios Greek Orthodox Church in Vancouver, BC to celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

Fr. Justin Hewlett of St. John of Shanghai OCA Church gave the homily, and a collection was taken for All Saints of Alaska OCA Church in Victoria, BC.

OCA Priests Fr. Matthew Francis of Holy Apostles and Fr. Michael Fourik of Holy Resurrection were also present. Subdeacon Barnabas Neufeld challenged the priests to support a new Orthodox ministry to persons in prison. Here is the text of his homily.

I am happy to say that I have been appointed to the Interfaith Committee on Chaplaincy by His Grace, Archbishop Irénée (Rochon) of Ottawa, who is the ruling bishop of the Archdiocese of Canada in the Orthodox Church in America.

This was only the first step: I then had to be approved by the Interfaith Committee which is made up of representatives from most faith groups in Canada, including several non-Christian religions (i.e. Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, etc.) Due to my experience and background, they voted to approve me, and I am now the first Orthodox representative to the Chaplaincy Services of the Correctional Service of Canada.

Part of my role is to assist with evaluating current Chaplaincy services. Every Chaplain no matter what their religious persuasion must find appropriate supports, and materials to serve every religious need. This often means identifying and recruiting volunteers of different faiths. It is my role to ensure that the religious and dietary needs of all Orthodox prisoners in Canada are being met. Another of my duties is to raise awareness of the great need for religious services to Prisoners in my own faith community: The Orthodox Christians in Canada. Once I am aware of an Orthodox prisoner, I work with the chaplain in that institution to find an Orthodox clergyman nearby to provide the necessary services.

As far as we know, there is only one Orthodox Prison chaplain in Canada, and that is Fr. Richard René who serves at Kent Institution and Mission Medium Security Institution. There are only three members of the Interfaith Committee from British Columbia: The Roman Catholic representative, the Buddhist rep and myself. The Roman Catholic rep, Dan O’Hara is only too happy to have me as a colleague, as he is familiar with the work of Father Richard René. Prison Chaplains in Canada are now employees of a Private Contractor, Bridges, and the Interfaith Committee on Chaplaincy provides guidance.

We attended a meeting with Ms. Anuradha Marisetti, the Pacific Regional Director of Corrections, and the Rev. Dr. Dwight Cuff, Pacific Regional Chaplain: Correctional Service of Canada. We explained some of our concerns that the contractor didn’t seem to understand the difference between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. For example, Correctional officials seemed to think an Orthodox inmate could make his confession to a Catholic priest! Government Policy stipulates that each prison must have access to both Catholic and Protestant religious services, but we explained how the Orthodox faith was completely different.

Then they asked us to join a team that will be evaluating the Chaplain at William Head Institution on Vancouver Island in March 15. Mr. O’Hara asked: What standard should we use? Dr. Cuff said: “The GOLD standard of Chaplaincy: the way Father Richard René does things!” Corrections is obviously very pleased with his work.

Fr. Richard has registered a BC Society called "St. Silas Orthodox Prison Ministry Society." It should be incorporated shortly, at which time he will set up a bank account. The next step would be to apply for charity status at
the federal level, so we can issue tax receipts. Anyone is welcome to donate now, but they should know that we cannot provide a receipt yet. New board members familiar with charitable societies would be welcome.

The three goals of the St. Silas Prison Ministry Society are as follows:

1. To provide support for clergy to undertake prison ministry to Orthodox Christian inmates.
2. To provide for the various spiritual and religious needs of Orthodox Christian inmates (books, items, teaching, services).
3. To raise awareness of the needs of Orthodox Christian inmates at the regional and national levels, specifically the Interfaith Committee.

Currently, Fr. Richard is serving Liturgy at Mission Medium Institution twice a month, with up to 12 men attending. Symeon Price, a member of St. Herman's OCA in Langley also goes twice a month to run an inquirer's group. They have two catechumens currently, and at least one cradle Orthodox returning to communion.

The St. Silas Society has the following needs:
1. Donations to support the education of one inmate, who is working on Orthodox studies by correspondence (St. Stephen's Antiochian House of Studies)
2. Prayer ropes (bracelet kinds)
3. Orthodox Study Bibles (Old and New Testament)
4. Paper icons
5. A seamstress willing to make an altar cover
6. A set of gold vestments to leave at the Institution.

A profound passage in Matthew Chapter 25 takes us to Judgment Day where our Lord separates His sheep, those who will inherit His kingdom, from the goats,
who will not, and He tells them by what measure we would be judged:
"I was hungry and you gave me food."
"I was thirsty and you gave me drink."
"I was a stranger and you took me in."
"I was naked and you clothed me."
"I was sick and you visited me."
"I was in prison and you came to me."

Please support our work prayerfully.

In Him
Subdeacon Barnabas (Barry) Neufeld
Orthodox Member, Interfaith Committee on Chaplaincy in the Correctional
Service of Canada
Home: #16 - 46689 First Ave, Chilliwack, BC Canada V2P 1X5 Home Phone (604)
793-9053 email: bcpoa@shaw.ca

Sunday of Orthodoxy

Back Row, L-R
Fr. Matthew Francis OCA Chilliwack
Fr. Justin Hewlett, OCA Vancouver
Fr. Nicolae Lapuste, ROC New Westminster
Fr. Roman Tsaplan, UOC, Vancouver
Fr. Michael Fourik, OCA Vancouver
Fr. Stephen Slipko, UOC, Surrey
Fr. Dorotheos Tryphonopoulos (retired) GOC Vancouver