New Book Supports Prison Ministry

March 25, 2010

SVS Press’s endearing and best-selling title, Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father (1893–1973), has provided an unexpected but vital support to prison ministry. The English and Spanish language versions of the title have been distributed to more than 15,000 inmates in U.S. prisons, through a partnership between the press and a private foundation.

Since 2001, SVS Press and The Human Kindness Foundation in Durham, North Carolina have cooperated in a venture to provide prisoners with the moving book, which recounts the spiritual struggle of a Russian Orthodox Christian priest in a Soviet gulag. The book’s theme of victory in Christ over human depravity has offered untold spiritual solace and strength to prisoners.

However, the joint venture had unlikely beginnings. And, the success of the cooperative program could not have been easily predicted.

The Human Kindness Foundation was founded in 1973 by Bo Lozoff and his wife, Sita, and based upon principles quite unrelated to Christianity. While visiting an incarcerated relative, Mr. Lozoff had noted prisoners languishing in their cells. So, the Lozoffs decided to design a program to transform prison cells into places of “inner freedom.” The program was based upon exercises normally performed in a yoga ashram, and the Lozoffs referred to inmates as “prison-monks” instead of “convicts.” Thus began the “Prison-Ashram Project” under the auspices of The Human Kindness Foundation.

In December 2000, a supporter of the foundation happened upon the title Father Arseny and recommended it to Mr. Lozoff, who then contacted Theodore Bazil, director of SVS Press. “This story is such an excellent example of the transformative possibilities in a prison environment,” wrote Mr. Lozoff, “I hope we can find a way to make the book widely available to prisoners.”

As a result of that conversation, The Human Kindness Foundation ordered 10,000 copies to distribute to U.S. prisoners (and, subsequently, 5,000 more!). Inmates who read the book often sent poignant letters to the foundation and the press, expressing how the story had touched their lives. One inmate wrote:

I am a federal prisoner facing many years in prison, and had lost all hope. The story of Fr Arseny restores my faith and greatly helped me. Thank you for making his story available. I think without inspiration, I would be dead already. Many Blessings. May God guide us all. Peace.

The press then began reaching even more prisoners with a Spanish-language version of the title, Padre Arsenio, 1893–1973: Sacerdote, Prisionero, Padre Espirit, published in January 2009. The Human Kindness Foundation so far has ordered 600 copies of the Spanish-language version for distribution.

To order the book from the SVS Press Web site, or to inquire about the Spanish edition, please visit www.svspress.com, or call the SVS Bookstore at 1-800-204-2665. Additionally, a companion volume titled Father Arseny: A Cloud of Witnesses is available for readers who already have enjoyed the riveting story of Father Arseny’s prison years. To hear background about the person Father Arseny in a radio podcast by our Associate Professor in Systematic Theology, Dr Peter C. Bouteneff, please visit http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/sweeter.

Source: http://www.svots.edu/svsprisonministry/

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