With the permission and blessing of Fr Nifon of the Holy Monastery of St Nektarios, Glyfada, we have translated a pamphlet he provides about prison ministry and the help they give. If you are able and would like to, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to provide you their bank account details specifically for this ministry or if you would like the monasteries contact details (keeping in mind they are a little hard to get on the phone).
My dear subscribers of the APOSTOLATE OF THE PRISONERS “The Holy Thief Of Golgotha”,
While my heart is still beating, before the last day comes, the hour and the moment that will strike its last beat and my soul will fly to the glorious shrines of my beloved Jesus, my Savior Christ, who came down here in the parish of earth, with the sole purpose “to save everyone and deliver the knowledge of truth” (A’ Timothy 2, 4), in fact “he called the sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9, 13) and “asked and saved the lost ones” (Luke 19, 10), I’d like, as an expression of infinite gratitude, to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
No human being, whoever he/she is, can conduct the apostolate alone, without friends, without associates and subscribers listening, such as the APOSTOLATE OF THE PRISONERS “The Holy Thief Of Golgotha”, towards the discredited society of the prisoners in the prison, both inside and outside of Greece, where our God drove us one way or the other and no matter how far from Greece, this prison remains. From the borders of Siberia, to the North Pole, to the Indian Ocean, to the Atlantic and to the Southeastern Pacific Ocean, close to the South Pole. Also in the prisons of Fiji Islands.
The love that Jesus gave me for the prisoners, who he calls “his little children” (Matthew 25, 40), made me to not count any effort or expenses, in order to visit the Prisons of any country. I tried there, with my accompanying associates, to give them a little joy with my speech and many gifts, either in kind or in cash, as contributions to the Poor Funds for the basic needs of the needy prisoners. Though the most important contribution, I always thought was the word of God, because He touches their souls. What does a prisoner seek, away from his own people and from society? A warm word, coming from our hearts, like good morning. Do you know what it means for a group of Greeks, from the distant and small country like Greece to visit them and say good morning to our fellow prisoners? We sent to a prisoner financial assistance, with the wish: "Happy Name Day to you", he called us to thank us for the money we sent and added: "I’ve been in prison for ten years and you are the only ones who thought of me and sent me wishes for my name day. You took my heart. Thank you and God bless you always".
My theme has always been love. A word that deeply moves the prisoner and makes some cry, while makes others happy. There is no greater wealth than love. Someone with knowledge and wisdom said: "What to do with knowledge, when you do not have a heart?". Everything is about the heart, it is about love. Like the love of the Good Samaritan. What am I saying? Like the heart of our Christ. When I completed confession of a prisoner with a life sentence and my companions came and kissed him with love, he confessed: "Today, for the first time in my life, I learned what love means"!
Love unites. It doesn’t separate. It forgives, it doesn’t hold onto evil. Love means that one tolerates the troublesome fellow human being, he isn’t irritated. He does not think of evil, but only of good. He is never jealous or envious. Hungry is the one who loves and gives his bread to the other hungry, so that they may be satisfied. He is thirsty, so that his neighbor could drink. And even if they hurt him, the man of love prays to God to do them only good. Do you remember Jesus on the cross? Drowned in blood and in spite of the horrible pain from his wounds, full of love, he speaks to God and says: “Father, forgive them, they don’t understand what they’re doing” (Luke 23, 34). This is the greatness of love, which according to the Apostle Paul "never fails" (A. Kor. 13, 8).
But our ministry does not only talk about love. We proceed to do acts of love, with packages for all the prisoners, each weighing 5-6 kilos, containing twenty items that serve all the needs of the prisoners. We also organise for the release of poor prisoners for minor penalties (the type that can be paid for), whose number so far (2-2-2017) has reached 16,100 from 90 countries of the world, at a cost of 5,250,000.00 Euros.
Who is the sponsor? You are the only sponsor of our ministry. You, our dear subscribers, people of the middle class of our homeland. You alone feel the harsh ordeal of the prisoners, who live between four walls all these years.
40 years. So many years. A lifetime! Only you, the unpretentious and the poor, inside you burns the candle of love towards the Good Samaritan of the parable. To our Savior Christ. A rich person, generally, doesn’t feel the pain of poor and prisoners. The exceptions are little.
I remember that the first years in Serres, where our ministry of love and offering started, in 1978 towards the society of prisoners, when unpretentious and poor women of Serres and the surrounding areas, not having to offer money, offered their gold jewelry that they had from their weddings: Rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, which we liquidized in goldsmiths, turning them into gold and not into works of art. Other women also offered gold coins! Christian woman, originating from Serres, but living in Constantinople, visited the Holy Temple of the Holy Cross of Serres, where we had our main office of the APOSTOLATE OF THE PRISONERS and offered us gold that I saw for the first time. When I asked, they told me that it was a "headscarf" that covered the head and forehead, decorated with coins, hanging around of it. I asked her name, to send her a receipt after the liquidation, but it was impossible. "Remember Lord God of the subscribers with the contributions of love towards the society of the prisoners, in his kingdom. Always now and forever and ever."
In 1987 we had to rent 80 buses in order to transport the gifts organised to 4000 Christians from Serres, not including in this number dozens of cars!!
Since then, the APOSTOLATE OF PRISONERS has spread its wings of love to all the Prisons in Greece and since 1992 to the Prisons of the world, while the first visit was to the Central Prison of Nicosia in Cyprus, which was attended by 99 Christians, as much as the capacity of the aircraft, which we leased for this purpose.
The years passed by. From Prison to Prison, in Greece and outside of Greece. There were prisoners everywhere, regardless of the crime a prisoner committed, we saw the man detained, as the doctor would also. He loves a man as a man, that's why he fights against any disease. The crimes are punished by justice with imprisonment. However, a person does not cease to be a human being, a creation of God, even a prisoner. Let’s just think of the convicted Thief, the one on the right of the Crucified Jesus, who, with his repentance on the cross, was the first to win paradise (Luke 23, 39-43).
Who can deny that the thousands of prisoners, men and women, who heard the word of God for salvation, did not repent of the crimes they committed, willingly or unwillingly, during their lives? Especially from the 16 100 prisoners released so far with your help, known and unknown, who, however, the righteous judge of us all, Jesus Christ knows?
May I give you one example? There were two Muslim prisoners. They only spoke and understood a little Greek, but they listened to the speech about the savior God. They received the packages and also they kissed the hand of the priest. Then we broke our Easter eggs and wished to each other "Christ is Risen, Happy Easter and freedom to all". Then they left. They didn’t open their packages while they were in their cells. They sat and wondered: "We are not Christians. Why did they give us the same gifts they gave to Christians? What kind of love is that from Christians? Our Koran does not say such a thing...". An hour had passed. At some point they opened the packages on their beds. So many things! Shoes, clothes, underwear, socks, soaps, towels, shampoo, laundry detergent, Greek sweet bread (tsoureki) etc. They couldn’t take it in and cried! So much love. This is about love. It makes even the most indifferent and cruel souls cry.
And then? They both made the same decision, to become Christians. They were taught about Christianity from the priest of the Prison. Once they completed the Catechism, they were baptized Christian Orthodox. The name they both wanted was: Gervasios!
My dear supporters, you realize that the person in charge of the APOSTOLATE OF PRISONERS "The Holy Thief of Golgotha" and therefore responsible for the utilization of all your donations, is none other than me personally. Believe me. Even one euro that a supporters deposits in the National Bank of Greece, once 10 000 euros that an anonymous subscriber deposited, in the memory of his father and 30 000 euros that the Holy Synod sent, the last days, before the Archbishop of Athens and of whole Greece CHRISTODOULOS passed away, I made sure that these amounts of money were treated as sacred. All your donations, donations from your savings, were exclusively spent for all the needy prisoners. There were a few times, when we sent money to Foreign Orthodox Missions in Africa, because they needed a sum to fulfil basic needs of prisoners in Prisons there. We have repeatedly published relevant photos in the issues of "Christian Pulses". In the Prisons of foreign countries, (Egypt, Albania, Bulgaria, France, USA, Jordan, Israel, Italy, Cyprus, Belarus, Lithuania, Madagascar, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia…) where we have been visiting the last 40 years, we carry on spreading our ministry of love and offering towards the society of prisoners, while we also offer them footwear, clothing, etc. or deposit $1000 to the Poor Fund of the Prison. Neither I, nor my companions, nor the working staff, who are the dedicated sisters of the Orthodox Monastic Christian Fraternity "THE HOLY FOREIGNER", ever received even 1 euro. None of our visits to Prisons of our homeland or to other countries were paid from the donations. Only the interpreters were an exception when they followed us from our homeland. The same applied to a few affiliates in foreign countries. An exception has also been our fellow beings, who are seriously ill and contribute, in various ways, to our work of the ministry.
I leave now with a clear conscience from this life in the future one, having remained consistent in my principles, which I received from my spiritual Teacher and Father, the blessed Metropolitan of Florina, AUGUSTINOS N. KANTIOTIS, during 1945-47, when, back then, this preacher, sent from God, spread His word and through him I got acquainted, believed and loved Jesus, with all my teenage heart, the Savior of my soul.
Do you remember sad and aching Myrrhophore Magdalene? Left alone, weeping over the empty tomb, she saw a man in the garden, between Golgotha and the Holy Tomb. "She though she saw the gardener and said, Mister, if you have taken him tell me where, so I will go and get him" (John 20, 15).She thought that he was a gardener, so she said to him: "Mister, if it was you who have moved Jesus from the grave, tell me where you put him, and I will go and get him". But he was not a gardener. He was the resurrected Jesus, in the form of a gardener. And she recognized him, when He addressed her with His familiar voice: "Mary" (John 20, 16).
Do you also remember the two companions, Luke and Cleopas, who were traveling towards Emmaus on the evening of the Lord's resurrection? At some point, a hiker came close and talked to them, until they reached Emmaus. He was Jesus in the form of a hiker. And they recognized Him at the dinner, when He blessed it and immediately vanished.
Each prisoner is Christ "in another form". In general, Christ is the "other form" of every human being. Abbot Apollo said: "Did you see your brother? You saw the Lord, your God". You help Christ, my dear supports and not a prisoner. On the Day of Judgment, when Christ comes to judge the world, He will say to each one of us who helped a prisoner: "I was in prison and you came to me" (Matthew 25, 36). And we will say, "When did we see you in prison, and come to you?" And then the Lord will answer: "Since you helped those brothers of mine, you helped me" (Matthew 25, 40). I assure you that everything you did for each one of these insignificant brothers of mine, you did to ME.
And now I say goodbye to you. I leave you. You won’t see me anymore, those who saw me, neither will I see you from now on. Now we will meet again "in the house of our father" (John 14, 2). And it will happen, what Jesus begged God, His father, to do, during His Hierarchical prayer. What did Jesus ask his father to do? "Father, I want to be where those you gave me are, in order for them to see the glory..." (John 17, 24). My Father, I want, where I am, to be with those you gave me, in order for them to see and enjoy my glory.
Finally, allow me to, all of you, my dear supporters, to kiss you on your foreheads and wish you, from my heart that loved you very, very much, that we shall meet in the sweet presence of our beloved Jesus and Savior Christ.
The APOSTOLATE OF PRISONERS "The Holy Thief of Golgotha" will continue to spread love and contributions to the society of prisoners, through my clerical successor, whom I hope the Lord will send...
And you, my dear supporters, please listen to the word of the Apostle Paul: "Let not the good doers perish" (Gal. 6, 9). Do not stop doing good deeds, no matter how many difficulties arise.
All rejoice and we will meet again in the heavenly kingdom of our Christ. AMEN.
Archim. Gervasios John Raptopoulos
Servant of Prisoners
Father Nifon of the monastery of St Nektarios, Glyfada, devoutly loves and undertakes the continuation of the work of father Gervasios.
Fr Nifon paying his last respects to Fr Gervasios
Fr Gervasios visiting prisons in Fiji.