November 17, 2013
The thief was hanging on the cross, just a few meters away from the Cross of Christ, on Golgotha. Deeply repentant, he said to the God-man: "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." Christ responded to his sincere remorse, and said: "Verily I say unto you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."
He was the first Saint who entered Paradise. The Holy Thief of Golgotha is honored by the Orthodox Church, but never has a Sacred Church been dedicated to him. A month ago, the Holy Thief of Golgotha acquired his first chapel in the world. It is located in the "embrace" of the Orthodox Missionary Philoptochos Sisterhood "Hosia Xeni" in Thessaloniki, and he is now the patron saint of the Ministry for the Release of the Poor and Prisoners.
The "soul" of both the Sisterhood and the Ministry is Archimandrite Gervasios Raptopoulos. For 36 years Father Gervasios has been standing beside the prisoners of the world, regardless of sex, race or creed. His Ministry has become known in all corners of the globe and his work has been recognized by everyone. Besides this, he has received numerous awards and his fame reached to the Committee of the Nobel Prize.
But his Ministry was deprived of a patron saint. Many years passed until the Holy Thief of Golgotha was chosen. Father Gervasios did research and was surprised to find that there was no church in the world dedicated to the first Saint of Orthodoxy. "We put an order to erect at the headquarters of the Sisterhood and Ministry a small church in memory of our Saint. So we have a chapel to pray within for all the prisoners of the earth and to light a candle for them. It is also for those who died in prison both within and outside Greece. We can perform in our own chapel, every year on a certain day, a memorial for the repose of their souls", he told the press on Sunday. He told us that it was impossible to erect a Sacred Church. "The cost would have been enormous. So I chose a prefabricated chapel. A prefabricated small church, always with the permission and blessing of Metropolitan Nikodemos of Cassandreia", added Father Gervasios.
With great effort, sacrifice, giving and many gifts from the faithful, the chapel was placed in the courtyard of the Sisterhood in Perea, Thessaloniki. The first Liturgy took place on the feast of the Holy Thief of Golgotha, on October 12th.
Since then the Saint is the patron saint of the Ministry for the Release of the Poor and Prisoners, which has released more than 15,000 prisoners by paying at least four million euros. The restless elder receives faxes every day from police stations and prisons. They inform him of some indigent prisoner who cannot get out and unable to pay bail. Immediately they assess the situation and pay the money. "It's people who are in detention centers for minor offenses. We set a limit of 400 euros for each release. The lowest amount we payed is 8.10 euros and concerned a fellow human being who had to buy two days of the total penalty which had been imposed. Of course, we consider each case separately. So we payed 9,900 euros for one who was convicted who had suffered three strokes and his detention in prison would mean certain death," he told the press.
Who is Father Gervasios
Gervasios (in the world George) Raptopoulos was born in 1931 in Aimiliana, Grevena. In 1950 he graduated the Theological School of Aristotle University. He was ordained a clergyman and then became an Archimandrite. He served in the Metropolises of Sidirokastrou Serres, Thessaloniki, Serres and Nigriti and Cassandreia. In 1966 he founded the Sisterhood "Hosia Xeni" and in 1978 the Ministry for the Release of the Poor and Prisoners. He has visited every Greek in a prison in Albania, Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Madagascar, Romania, Russia, Australia, Fiji, etc.
Translated by John Sanidopoulos.