Recently our God-loving bishops met in Chicago, and one of the conclusions they came to is that the Orthodox jurisdictions in this country could unite in humanitarian efforts. (“matters of spiritual and moral concern”) In the Gospel parable, when the invited guests gave excuses for not coming to the banquet, who were the first persons the servants were told to invite as replacements? Persons with disabilities. This certainly speaks to our mutual Pan-Orthodox humanitarian aims. A pan-Orthodox coalition for the support and enablement of persons with disabilities; how can we make it happen? The full SCOBA statement:
Archive for December, 2006
Today the Church celebrates her through whom the Word became flesh- the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. She was chosen for a reason. God providentially, by grace in the time of the Law, raised up a remnant, a line of faithful, blameless ones. It is to be noted that her cousin Elizabeth was counted blameless before God. (Luke 1) The Virgin Mary was the cream of the crop, as it were.
Many former Protestants who become Orthodox struggle with the Church’s supreme veneration of the Theotokos. While it isn’t the worship that belongs to God alone, it can “feel” that way.
This is how I have come to terms with this in my morning prayers:
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, O Virgin Theotokos; blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls. . . . Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou O God; through the Theotokos save us. . . . Most Holy Theotokos, save us.”
In this way the final petition to the Theotokos is contextualized, and is offered in peace, with veneration and affection. The pure one “saves” us by her birthgiving and prayers. And for this, as the Church says, we cannot honor her enough.
This is how one former Protestant deals with his “attitude disability” to the Theotokos. Those of us who grow up outside the fullness of the Faith acquire habits of mind, heart, and action foreign to Orthodox Christianity, and even if we become convinced, we must expect our healing, our “abling,” to take time.
And those of us who have experienced, for extended periods of time, extremely dysfunctional forms of Christianity, will require more time. These experiences, while making for dramatic conversion stories, are in actuality very disabling spiritually. I myself spent 4 years with a group called “The Church of Bible Understanding” from 1974 to 1978. Its leader was “gifted” (from the infernal regions) at verbal abuse; it was a zealous but mean-spirited bunch- a most terrible combination. I have inner struggles today, I believe, because of those days. But in Christ there is a sure source of healing, which proceeds at the pace the Master, in His infinite love and wisdom, sets.
And the Body of Christ, both the members who share our present pilgrimage and those who are in His Presence, especially His Mother, the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer) are there for us, to aid us in the many ways in which they have been “abled” to do so. And so let us honor Her (the Mother of us all!) and all of them fittingly.
No matter how disabled a condition a person is in, no matter how disordered a person’s behavior, that person is made in the Image of God.
The Orthodox Church does not teach that we have, through Adam’s (and our) sin, lost the Image of God. But we have lost our likeness to God. The Image has been muddied over. Baptism into Christ is a renewal of the Image, and also the beginning of our journey toward restoration to Christ’s Likeness in our hearts, minds, and behavior- healing, salvation, sanctification, theosis. To have a relationship with Christ, to be united to Him, to say, “Abba, Father,” with Him, means that all this is His plan for us, without differentiation. The Holy Spirit effects this, as we freely cooperate with Him.
And this cooperation is necessary because free will is an inherent aspect of being made in the Image of God. And that the Image of God is “there” in fallen man, and not lost, is shown in Holy Scriptures: Genesis 9:6, for one. And Matthew 25:31-46 also suggests this in Christ’s identification with “the least of these.”
He stands at the door and knocks; we must open the door.
Just as we must choose to make Him the focus on His birthday.
Dead in sin, disabled by sin; alive in Christ, “abled” by Christ.
Of course, this has to do with the universal “disability” we share with the first pair, Adam & Eve. All human dysfunction flowed from their tragic choice. Now most functional disabilities are through our genes or by accident; its not the person’s fault. But it does relate to the consequences of our common falling away. And so its our common concern, before God, Who has provided the means for our ultimate physical and spiritual healing- His Son.
Spiritual Orders in the West (Roman Catholic) tend to specialize more than in Eastern Orthodox monasticism. L’Arche is a spiritual order focusing on community with persons with developmental disability. And their literature expresses the healing value of a lifetime commitment to this form of service.
But it would be a mistake to generalize Orthodox monasticism as focusing solely on worship and prayer (especially the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”). Our Lord told us that in our giving we should not let the right hand know what the left is doing. I would expect that much love toward people in need happens in Orthodox monasteries around the world. And I would expect that it would not be published. And this is as it should be.
Silent Night, Holy Night . . . Glory to the newborn King! Christ is born. Glorify Him!
The Nativity season for Orthodox Christians does not begin with shopping the day after Thanksgiving, but with fasting toward confession and repentance for 40 days, so that we may be illumined concerning the meaning of Christ’s Incarnation and birth for ourselves and all around us. In an Orthodox country this is somewhat supported by the culture, but in America there must be adjustments in light of our call to love the many people around us who are not Orthodox, for they too are bearers of the image of God. What this means for each of us will be shown to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as we are alert to His voice.
In addition to our common fasting from food and drinks, Isaiah the Prophet writes, “Is not this the fast that I choose . . . . to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; . . . and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? . . . . If you pour yourself out for the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness, and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, . . . and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” (Isaiah 58:6-7, 10-11, RSV)
This way of life must attend our dietary restrictions if our fasting is to have real meaning. We must, as St. Ephrem writes of Christ, in our richness become poor, pouring ourself out, as it were. This applies to giving appropriate gifts, and to our relations with those who are lower in worldly status than we are.
Christ became man to save all of us- everybody, really (2 Tim. 2:4) - who have disabled ourselves spiritually (with physical consequences) by sin. (This includes people who are also disabled in some way through no fault of their own.) And he will retain His humanity, His identification with us, for all eternity. And in like manner we are certainly called to maintain giving, empathetic personal relationships with those around us who need our help: our strengths to bolster their weaknesses, and their strengths to bolster ours. This how we become persons in the likeness of Christ. This is why St. Paul counts the gifts of weaker brethren as indispensable. (1 Cor. 12)
The reality of healing personal relationships between persons with disability and others can happen within families, in group home systems, and really, anyplace where people rub shoulders. But the people at L’Arche have expressed this as well as anyone. (See resources or the blogroll for their web address)
Will Turnbull, Millersville University of Pennsylvania Class of 2006. His degree is in English.
Elizabeth Field, addressing the December graduates, turned to Will and said, “Will Turnbull, with great courage you have broken through the stereotype of the labels that once chained you. Because of your efforts, you have opened the door of opportunity for other autistic scholars.” Ms. Field, a 1974 Millersville graduate, is the director of the Iowa Regional Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics laboratory.
“Unable to speak or write, Turnbull is the central region representative for Pennsylvania Autism Self-Advocacy Coalition. He communicates through a special computer. Turnbull said he plans to use his degree to continue educating people about autism.” (Intelligencer Journal, Lancaster, PA, Monday, December 18, 2006)
Just as we all have our limits, our disabilities, we all have our strengths. As St. Paul shows in his first letter to the Corinthians, even the “weaker” brother’s gift is indispensible (12:22) (“Weaker,” like “the least of these,” is really from the human point of view; whatever gifts we have, natural or spiritual, are from God, and we are equally human in His eyes.)
The theory of Multiple Intelligences illustrates this. Nine intelligences have been identified: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalist, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and existential. And there are probably more. A person with disabilities has abilities. One or more of these intelligences are his natural gifts. And God gives spiritual gifts which may or may not align with the natural ones.
He who has eyes to see, let him see; he who has ears to hear, let him hear- each person’s possibilities. In the RESOURCES:
7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences; Revised and updated with information on 2 NEW Kinds Of SMART, by Thomas Armstrong, PH.D.
by St. Ephrem the Syrian
(6) Your mother is a cause of wonder: the Lord entered into her
and became a servant; He who is the Word entered
– and became silent within her; thunder entered her
– and made no sounds; there entered the Shepherd of all,
and in her He became the Lamb, bleating as He comes forth.
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty
(7) Your mother’s womb has reversed the roles:
the Establisher of all entered into His richness,
but came forth poor; the Exalted one entered her,
but came forth meek; the Splendrous one entered her,
but came forth having put on a lowly hew.
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty
(eight) The Mighty one entered, and put on insecurity
from her womb; the Provisioner of all entered
– and experienced hunger; He who gives drink to all entered
– and experienced thirst: naked and stripped
there came forth from her He who clothes all!
Praise to You to whom all things are easy, for You are almighty
from “The Harp of the Spirit,” tr. Sebastian Brock. Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 1983. Hymn 11, pp. 35-36
“The Word became flesh” (John 1), putting on insecurity. Remaining the Almighty, the “All-abled” put on, as it were, limits. These limits are a participation in the universal human condition. We all have abilities and we all have limits, weaknesses, disabilities. The Son of God not only has sympathy with us in these, He’s with us in them. “God became man, that man may become God. [divine]” – St. Athanasius the Great
On the blogroll on the right, which is in alphabetical order, scroll down to WelcomingPeopleWithDisabilities to find “The Body of Christ” which is actually an order form for the booklet “The Body of Christ: A place of welcome for people for people with disabilites” by the Greek Orthodox Priest Fr. John Chryssavgis. How one approaches this entire matter is summed up in those 15 pages. He speaks of the Church as Communion, the realities of disability, the gifts of people with disabilities, the centrality of the Cross and our inter-dependence, the physical and emotional burdens on families that calls for our support. There is an inspiring story from the Saying of the Desert Fathers about Abba Agathon and his encounter with a person with disabilities. Fr. John concludes, “Whenever I reflect on persons with disabilities, I think primarily of persons, not of disabilities.” This booklet is the place to begin to orient oneself to the theme of this weblog. Its the one and only published work on the subject by a member of the Orthodox Christian clergy that I know of. Does anyone know of more?