Posted by: oldbelieving | June 25, 2009

Prison Bible Study

For the past 2 months I have been involved in a prison Bible Study at the local federal prison with a group called Yokefellowship. The rest of the guys in the group are Protestants and the inmates that come are a mix of Protestant and Catholic, thus I am the only Orthodox there. I am hoping to give them a taste of Orthodoxy without bashing them over the head with it. 2 Mondays ago was the first time I lead the discussion. I found an article from Death to the World that is very good, and some relevant Scripture passages. Then there are discussion questions. The group is meant to be very discussion-based, and since I am the only Orthodox, some of the discussion questions are things that we would take for granted, but other Christians do not usually see in the same way, such as the redemptive value of our own suffering. Let me know what ya’ll think!

Suffering Russia
I grew up in a society where just for mentioning the name of God you could be taken to prison, and where tyrants were elevated into idols of universal worship and people had no freedom to express their belief.
More than a thousand monasteries were in Russia before the revolution, and all of them were destroyed by communists, who killed over 60 million people. Hundreds of thousands were suffering in the concentration camps. Trying to kill the faith, communists closed the majority of the churches and religion was declared to be the “opium of the people.” The seeds of nihilism brought forth the fruits of ungodliness and lawlessness. People experienced living hell every day, and they had no way out. Nevertheless, many people chose the way of martyrdom, because they loved Christ. And their motherland once again was bleeding innocently.
That was in Russia – a land with deep Orthodox roots.
Another side of the same diamond – which is nihilism, the spirit of despair and ungodliness – appeared in America. The Prince of this world – Lucifer – chose another way to kill the spirit of Truth. He gave people external freedom in order to get their souls. And he has almost succeeded. Modern Christianity has lost the idea of suffering, the idea of the Cross, and offers a high-tech and “happy-life-without-thinking” substitute: Christianity without the Cross. And people buy it. The foe of humankind wants to convince us that we can be happy and live as we want, and that the only thing we can wish is that the others would be like us. But this happiness is nothing but “having fun,” and the goal is to take us away from the true path to God. But you cannot be happy if you don’t know what suffering is. You cannot love your fellow human beings if you don’t carry your cross.

Let us take our crosses and, with absolute abandonment of the ways of this world, let us follow Christ on the way to Heaven. Many difficulties will we face on this way. But let us not look for the easy ways. Because easy ways lead to the death of the soul, and we are called not to kill souls but to save them.
— Vladimir, Moscow, Russia¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬
Tertullian (c. 200 AD): “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”
Fr. George Calciu (+ 2006), Romanian gulag survivor: “Christ did not come to explain human suffering, or to eliminate it. Rather He came to fill human suffering with His presence.”

Matthew 7: 13″Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 16:24Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 25For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. 26For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 27For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (cf. Luke 6:20-26)

1 Peter 2: 19 For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

1 Peter 3:14But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. 17For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. 18For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

1 Peter 4:1Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin

1 Peter 4: 13But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy . . . 16Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

Philippians 1: 28And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. 29For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

See also: 1 Peter 1:6-9, 2 Cor. 1:3-11, 4:8-12, 12:7-10, 2 Thess. 1:3-5, Hebrews 10:32-36, James 1:2-4

Discussion Questions

1. Christianity has suffered heavy persecution throughout its history. Do you think this has happened/continues to happen for a concrete purpose, or is that just how it happened to turn out?
2. Do you agree that modern Christianity can be characterized as “Christianity without the Cross?” If yes, is this a good or bad thing?
3. What do you think it means to carry our own cross?
4. How could too much external freedom be bad for our souls? Can it be? How do you see the easy ways leading to the “death of the soul?”
5. St. Peter has a constant theme of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. How or why do you think this is necessary and/or beneficial for us and the Church as a whole?
6. If Christ suffered on the Cross, why should we also suffer for His sake?
7. Has there been a time when you felt God’s presence in the midst of suffering?
8. Do you feel that your time in prison has helped you to find God more clearly? Would you consider your experience here as suffering?
9. Why might the blood of the martyrs be the seed of the Church?

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Responses

  1. So how did the discussion go?

    🙂

  2. it went well, thank God. the inmates were very active in the discussion, sharing their stories of how they got in jail and what not. One guy said he didnt feel worthy to talk about suffering for God’s sake bc all the suffering he ever did was bc of his own mistakes — I was pretty impressed with that! Overall it went very well and several of them thanked me for the good discussion. Glory to God!


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