Together with our Orthodox brethren, Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry reflects on the legacy of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip. He was instrumental in the development and growth of OCPM and has always been close to our hearts.
When OCPM Founder Fr Duane Pederson was ordained into the Orthodox Church in 1991, he had already been active in prison ministry for more than 25 years. It was with the blessing of Metropolitan Philip that Fr Duane continued to work in prison ministry after his ordination. “Usually you’re ordained to an altar, to a parish,” said Fr Duane. Yet His Eminence ordained him to continue ministering to people in prison and on the streets. “His Eminence had the foresight to step out and include the incarcerated as part of the Church.”
It was with Metropolitan Philip’s blessing that men in prison were catechized. The Virginia H. Farah Foundation played a timely role by funding the costs of Orthodox books and icon cards that were sent into prisons. As a result, said Fr Duane, “All these prisoners started to become Orthodox. We began to find cradle Orthodox who had been hiding in the prisons as well.”
Seeing that there were men in prison who wanted to be received into the Church, Metropolitan Philip gave Fr Duane a parish—one without walls—and named it Holy Apostle Silas. He gave Fr Duane an antimins (a consecrated altar cloth necessary for celebrating the Eucharist) to use when celebrating the liturgy in prisons. With his new parish Fr Duane was able to baptize men in prison. ”His Eminence was willing to care for those who had no parish,” said Fr Duane.
It was because of Metropolitan Philip that the Antiochian Archdiocese established a department of prison ministry in the early 1990s with Fr Duane as its head. As word of the department spread, Fr Duane was contacted by Orthodox prison workers in other jurisdictions who were seeking connection with their Orthodox brethren. In 1996 the Orthodox Christian Mission Center organized the first pan-Orthodox conference of prison workers in St Augustine, FL and invited Fr Duane to chair the conference.
As the idea of a pan-Orthodox prison ministry began to grow, Fr Duane recalls a formative experience he had while visiting an Antiochian man in prison. There were other Orthodox men in the same prison—Greeks and Russians—but because Fr Duane was under the auspices of the Antiochian Archdiocese, the prison wouldn’t let him visit these other men. He was struck more than ever by the need for a united, Orthodox prison ministry under the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). ( The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America has since assumed the work of SCOBA).
“Metropolitan Philip gave his blessing in 2006 to gift OCPM from the Antiochian Archdiocese to SCOBA. He gave that gift to the entire American Orthodox Church,” said Fr Duane.
“Over the years, he gave his support by really wanting this ministry to succeed. And allowing it to succeed,” recalled Fr Duane. “His Eminence was willing to take a risk and step out where others had not. Even [in the face of] criticism, he was willing to stand up and care for those who weren’t being cared for.”