Several years ago I mentioned a somewhat miraculous opportunity to enter a prison and receive an inmate into the Orthodox Faith. I described the event in the blog: Must Have Been An Angel. It seemed to me an angel must have opened the doors of that prison, and the hearts of some of the prison administration, to allow the celebration of the Liturgy and the Chrismation of the inmate.
Now, five years later, Daryl’s entrance into Orthodox bears its own fruit as he became godfather in prison to another inmate, Michael H. Michael’s sojourn to this moment has been an arduous one, wandering in the wilderness of Sin, the haunt of demons, for many years.
In Your Name, O Lord of truth, and in the Name of Your Only-begotten Son, and of Your holy Spirit, I lay my hand upon Your servant, Michael Polycarp, who has been found worthy to flee unto You, and to take refuge under the shelter of Your wings. Remove far from him his former delusion, and fill him with the faith, hope and love which are in You; that he may know that You are the only true God, with Your Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and Your Holy Spirit. Enable him to walk in all Your commandments, and to fulfill those things which are well-pleasing to You; for by doing these things, he shall find life in them. Inscribe him in Your Book of Life, and unite him to the flock of Your inheritance.
Michael’s own confession which he made before the baptism was perhaps the worst I’ve heard in more than 30 years of listening to confessions, and also the best. He had written out a serious examination of conscience, aided by the work he is doing through Alcoholics Anonymous. His life was not one in which he could say with the Pharisee, “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). His had not been a life of indifference toward God but rather one of hostility to the Creator. And yet, in prison, he found in his godfather a man who had something which created a thirst in him. So he renounced evil and Satan in order to follow Christ.
The Lord bans you, O Devil: He Who came into the world, and dwelt among men, that He might overthrow your tyranny and deliver men. Upon the Tree, He also triumphed over the adverse powers, when the sun was darkened, and the earth shook, and the graves were opened, and the bodies of the Saints arose. By death He annihilated Death, and overthrew him who exercised the dominion of Death, that is you, the Devil. I charge you by God, Who revealed the Tree of Life, and arrayed in ranks the Cherubim and the flaming sword which turns all ways to guard it: be banned. . . . Fear, begone and depart from this created one, and do not return, nor hide yourself in him (her), nor seek to meet him (her), nor to influence him (her), either by night or by day, either in the morning or at noonday; but depart to your own infernal abyss until the great Day of Judgment which is ordained.
Michael found strength and inspiration in the Holy Martyr Polycarp, whom he chose to be his patron saint. When he spat upon Satan one could witness his faith, determination and steadfastness.
God, holy, awesome and glorious, Who is unsearchable and inscrutable in all His works and might, has foreordained for you the penalty of eternal punishment, O Devil. The same God, through us, His unworthy servant, commands you, with all your hosts, to depart from him who has been newly sealed in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God. Therefore I charge you, most crafty, impure, vile, loathsome and alien spirit, by the power of Jesus Christ, Who has all power, both in heaven and on earth, Who said to the deaf and dumb demon, “Come out of the man, and do not enter a second time into him:” Depart! Acknowledge the vanity of your might, which does not even have power over swine.
Meanwhile in the large room in which we were standing to do the baptism, the Wiccans and Satanist who have equal access to the same space were engaged, just a short distance away, in their own ceremony, drumming as they did their service. For the prison is in some ways a microcosm of society, and in some ways it enables and intensifies some who want to defy authority. It is the haunt of personal demons for many who reside within those dorms. While some were invoking pagan spirits and demons, Michael was renouncing them in his life.
O Lord and Master, You created man in Your own likeness, and gave him the power of eternal life. You do not despise those who have fallen away through sin, but provide salvation for the world through the incarnation of Your Christ. Likewise, O Lord, deliver this Your created one from the bondage of the enemy, receive him into Your heavenly kingdom. Open the eyes of his understanding, that the illumination of Your Gospel may shine brightly in him. Assign to his life an Angel of light who shall deliver him from every snare of the adversary, from encounter with evil, from the demon of the noonday, and from evil thoughts.
I don’t remember ever the words of the exorcism having such meaning and power as they did in that chapel, in which gods and demons of all kinds are summoned in prayer. The entire baptism took on a whole new meaning and power done in the multi-purpose room on the lower floor of a prison building. No squeaky clean church nave, quiet and full of icons. Rather people milling about, some curiosity seekers stopping to observe or amuse themselves. One small icon lost in the vastness of the room’s space. The Wiccans and Satanists doing a drumming prayer service in an opposite corner of the room. In the room next door inmates playing rock band instruments for entertainment. No innocent baby, new born and fresh and innocent of sin. No doting grandparents cooing at the baby. True sin, a well experienced sinner, and real repentance. There were 3 other inmates there for Michael’s baptism, and as they chanted each “Lord, have mercy”, it was not a well tuned choir, but men who each knew why receiving mercy from God is such a gift.
Expel from him every evil and unclean spirit which hides and makes its lair in his heart
“the spirit of deceit, the spirit of evil, the spirit of idolatry and of every covetousness; the spirit of falsehood and of every uncleanness which operates through the prompting of the devil. And make him (her) a reason-endowed sheep in the holy flock of Your Christ, an honorable member of Your Church, a consecrated vessel, a child of the light and an heir of Your kingdom, that having lived in accordance with Your commandments, and preserved inviolate the seal, and kept his garment undefiled, he may receive the blessedness of the Saints in Your kingdom.”
“A child of light.” Those are the words which Michael told me illumined his mind at the moment. He had never thought of himself as a child of light, but suddenly he realized how good it was to embrace Christ and to receive the light from Him. He said a joy and peace came over him as he entered into an experience of God’s Kingdom. He looked forward to entering the baptismal waters – he was in the third day of his fast which he had undertaken for this moment.
But show this water, O Master of all, to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the washing of regeneration, the renewal of the Spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. For You have said, O Lord: “Wash and be clean; put away evil things from your souls.” You have bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the Spirit. Therefore, O Lord, manifest Yourself in this water, and grant that he who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he may put away from himself the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he may, in like manner, be a partaker of Your Resurrection; and having preserved the gift of Your Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed to him, he may receive the prize of his high calling, and be numbered with the firstborn whose names are written in heaven, in You, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.
If we only do infant baptisms, we can easily miss the power of the words and symbols of baptism – the newness of life replacing the “old man.” When we baptize an adult, we experience the words in a powerfully transfiguring way.
O Lord, through holy Baptism, You have given to Your servant remission of sins, and have bestowed upon him a life of regeneration. Likewise, the same Lord and Master, ever graciously illumine his heart with the light of Your countenance. Maintain the shield of his faith unassailed by the enemy. Preserve pure and unpolluted the garment of incorruption with which You have clothed him, by Your grace, the seal of the Spirit, and showing mercy to him and to us, through the multitude of Your mercies.
The garment of incorruption is Christ Himself whom we put on in baptism. The glorious original garment which Eve and Adam lost when they sinned and were left standing naked before God, and ashamed. So the candidate for baptism comes before the Lord, exposed in his confession of sin, his soul naked before God, repentant but no longer ashamed. For God forgives the repentant sinner and joyfully covers him with the best robe, the garment of salvation, as the forgiving father does to the repentant and returning prodigal son (Luke 15:22).
So we proclaim at the baptism service the Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Romans:
Brothers and Sisters,
Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:3-11)
I too was joyfully renewed by the baptism of Michael, seeing the transfiguring might of the Kingdom of God present even in our prisons, even among sinners, even when demons are near. Christ our Lord said:
“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
“I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:7,10)