SVS Press title Father Arseny reaches thousands of U.S. prisoners
Through one of its most endearing and best-selling titles, Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father 1893-1973, St Vladimir's Seminary Press (SVS Press) will reach more than 15,000 inmates incarcerated in U.S. prisons and offer them much needed spiritual solace and strength.
Since 2001, the press and The Human Kindness Foundation in Durham, NC have cooperated in a venture to provide prisoners with the book, which recounts the spiritual struggle of a Russian Orthodox priest in a Soviet gulag and his victory in Christ over human depravity.
The joint venture had unlikely beginnings. The Human Kindness Foundation was founded by Bo Lozoff and his wife Sita, who initially developed a set of spiritual practices tailored to a prison environment in accordance with their day-to-day routine in a yoga ashram. Mr. Lozoff hit upon the idea of instructing inmates to treat their prison cells as private ashrams-instead of places just to "do time" until their release-upon visiting a relative who was incarcerated. Mr. Lozoff wanted the inmates to taste "inner freedom," liberation that they could experience even while in jail. He referred to inmates as "prison-monks" instead of "convicts." Thus, the "Prison-Ashram Project" began in 1973.
In December 2000, a supporter of the foundation happened upon the book Father Arseny and recommended it to Mr. Lozoff, who then contacted Mr. Theodore Bazil, Manager 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."
Subsequently, Mr. Lozoff ordered 10,000 copies to distribute to U.S. prisoners, who often sent poignant letters to the foundation and the press, expressing how the story 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."
This summer, The Human Kindness Foundation ordered 5,000 more copies of the book for distribution, and expressed new interest in a Spanish translation of the book, which will be released by SVS Press in January 2009.