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Ivodor Kovachev – the chaplain in Sofia Central Prison

Photo: private archive
Ivodor Kovachev is a confessor working in prison with those deprived of freedom. For 18 years now people with thick criminal records have been sharing with him their internal struggles and contradictions, revealing their souls and innermost secrets, and looking for hope and meaning in their lives. Mr. Kovachev spent a few years studying criminal psychology, before graduating in theology. Practice, however, was the thing that helped him most in finding the right path to the hearts of these people. Nowadays confessors in Bulgarian prisons are few but before 1944 chaplains were present in prisons, hospitals, and the army. The practice was stopped with the coming of the communist rule in this country. Here is more from Ivodor Kovachev, himself:

“I think that faith needs to be expressed in public", Ivodor Kovachev explains. I believe it is something personal and secret, something intimate, but if faith is true, it could affect positively all aspects of society. 18 years ago I realized that the Sofia Central Prison offered no religious support for inmates. Then we did a concert there and asked how many of the prisoners would like to be visited each week. Nearly 80 people joined the project immediately. So we started with a general meeting once a week. Now gatherings take place 3 or 4 times a week. We work with both large and small groups. These activities turned into a serious mission for me.”

Besides the Sofia Prison Ivodor Kovachev pays visits to the prison in the nearby village of Kazichene. He says that the only way to reach the hearts of people behind bars is showing them trust and readiness to give them a second chance, even though the vast majority of society thinks they do not deserve it.

“This requires time,” the chaplain says. “Time in which to face their skepticism, distrust, arrogance, ridicule if you will, or brutal rejection. You have to listen to insults and yet always greet these people when you pass by them. It takes a lot of patience. I do not want to remember the times when I wanted to put an end to this saga, but I used to say to myself: ‘You can always quit. This is the easiest. Don’t do it today!"

Sense of mission and belief that faith in God must have a practical dimension, are the things that give Ivodor Kovachev the necessary power to continue. According to him, the decision to do good is an easy choice. "Many people decide to do good, but stop because they soon encounter the first obstacles and difficulties along the way," he adds. Sense of ruined lives is the most common of the internal battles of prisoners, Ivodor Kovachev says. 

“I have found out that it is enough to trust one whom nobody trusted before; to encourage them that a different life is possible. Another very important thing is to tell them: ’I will stand by you as you walk this road and this time it will be different than before, different than the way to prison." That's why we work with some of the ex-prisoners when they are freed. That's our goal – to help them and give them a chance to be different and create their new environment. We have a house near the center, where we accommodated an Iranian. He is a Muslim who had a thick criminal record, containing kidnapping, murder, and drug trafficking. But this man found Christ in prison and that surprised psychologists and all the prison guards. They used to say ‘If there is someone who does not deserve a second chance and will never change, it's that guy. "For indeed his record is full of things that should not be mentioned. But this man met Christ and was so changed that eventually the social worker who worked with him wrote such a report, which made the prisoner cry when he read it. We found accommodation for him and he started to create his new environment. He began meeting with Afghans who speak Farsi and tell them of his change. They began to turn to faith, too. I have been following his transformation for the past 4 years, in prison and outside. It is very beautiful to see how a seed of trust and faith in God enters the heart and how it grows and completely transforms the man,” the chaplain says.

The boss of the bankrupt pyramid "Life Choice" Michael Kapustin; Ukrainians Alexander Rusov and Alexei Kichatov, accused of the murder of Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov, and others are just some of the people who met Ivodor Kovachev in prison and experienced serious metamorphosis. The path towards transformation, however, is hard and long. 

“Some of the prisoners come to me just out of curiosity or to meet other prisoners, but then they hear the word of God and something happens - explains Ivodor Kovachev. - I believe it and I've seen something going on inside their hearts. Sometimes it does not happen at once. For example, the Iranian citizen Ali, whom I told you about came to our meetings out of respect to me, listening to the words, but saying he was a Muslim and did not want to change anything. They let him out of jail but after another crime he was back again. But then he finally decided to change his life. He found a New Testament in Farsi and began reading and regularly attending our meetings with a completely different attitude. That was when his transformation started to happen. Another boy who was tried for murder was several times in prison before that. He came to the meetings and finally he also started a radical change in his life. A man without faith is usually a man without a right system of values", the chaplain says. 

English version: Alexander Markov
По публикацията работи: Rumyana Tsvetkova
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