My dear brothers and fellow companions,
It is not so long ago that our local Church decided to deal with what every society diligently wants to forget: the inmates of penitentiaries.
We got our vehicle loaded with rice and utensils and we visited as many prisons as we knew. This happened for days. If you asked me what prison feels like, I would say that it is the place where hope has died. An oxymoron indeed!
Instead of evil, crime and corruption of all kinds being the complete absence of life and hope, in the face of the horrors the inmates suffer in prison, all the above seem like paradise. Maybe that is why they eventually return to their fake joys.
I do not think that a cup of rice will turn hell into a place of repentance; I do not think that one move will change the whole system. But, at least it will show a suffering human being what Church is, that is, the faith that even if you are sunk in your personal death and annihilation, someone may want to save you. As a great Greek once said: “if you can’t kill the beast, at least, don’t get used to its presence”.
In the midst of this endeavor, a thought was born in my mind. Unable to forget the desperate voice of the prison director that they were losing people every day due to lack of food, I kneel down with tears in my eyes, I cross myself and ask for help:
Φώτισε, Θεέ μου, σε παρακαλώ κάποιους ανθρώπους για μια ακόμη φορά να γίνουν συγκυρηναίοι μας. Εσύ είσαι Αυτός που είπες: ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην, καὶ ἤλθετε πρός με…“Enlighten, O God, some people to become our supporters once more. For you are the One who said, “ I was in prison, and you came to me…””
It is noteworthy that a main criterion for our salvation is our response to the presence of evil, especially to the convicted evil. The Evangelist does not say that if someone is unjustly in prison, only then should you visit them, He remains silent on this! Rather, the scriptures want to illustrate that even if one is justly imprisoned for the most heinous crime, in the eyes of God they may be holy if they have repented. This is how God puts us to test, and sitting on His throne at the time of the Last Judgment, He will exclaim, “ As blind they acted and as my images repentant they stand at my right hand.”
That is why He commands us to leave the stone on the ground and throw to our brothers the flowers of love. To prove in fact that we are His, mad for the world, mad for His love. Thanks be to God! Wherever we hear of His justice, we only expect His mercy as punishment!
This is the mercy that I have been receiving from all friends of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity for the last three years of my service in Southern Madagascar.
I humbly kiss your merciful hands.
† Prodromos of Toliara