To access 3 Articles on this subject from the Moscow Patriarchate’s “Round Table: Education for Change and Diaconia” click on the following website: http://www.rondtb.msk.ru/info/en/deaf_en.htm
Archive for August, 2007
The spiritual fathers [Parish Priests (as well as godparents, Sunday School teachers, etc.)] and the parents of children with disabilities are called to “give alms” in a sense much greater than the giving of money (though not to the exclusion of such giving!) – they are called to raise up their spiritual and natural children to be all they can be- to socialize them- with God’s help and by His power- into active participants in the family and the Church (and through the latter, ultimately, into the Kingdom of God). St. John Chrysostom (which means golden-tongued) had much to say about this.
The late John Boojrama of blessed memory also emphasized the importance of interaction- at Church and at home- with the symbols of the community- the sacraments, icons, the readings and the prayers- which illumine more and more as they are handled, experienced, and practiced.
St. John Chysostom’s sermons also provide a wealth of insights for those called to provide socialization to persons with disabilities, whether mental or physical, young or old. The following quotations from St. John Chrysostom and commentary on them are from my (the editor’s) thesis:
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Our model, Jesus, reveals the true dimensions of almsgiving. “And we all, [. . .] beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). The lifelong struggle from egocentrism toward consistently reflecting the likeness of Christ through love is the process of Theosis, salvation in its ultimate sense. Our call to love impels us to do all that we can in order that those around us also find their place and role in the Church, the Body of Christ, the Ark of salvation, including those one might deem “less honorable [and] unpresentable . . . On the contrary, the parts of the body which are weaker are indispensable [and are given] greater honor [. . .] that the members may have the same care for one another” (emphasis added) (1 Cor. 12:22-25). ” (pp. 1-2)
In his expository homilies on 1 Corinthians and Matthew, St. John Chrysostom preached on several passage that directly involve the subject at hand, the Church and her members’ ministry to the least of these, and their place in the Church. In his homily 5 he addresses the text, “not many mighty, not many noble [are chosen. Rather,] God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise” (NPNF, 1, 12, 5, on 1 Cor. 1:26-27, 22, c.1). St. John says, “persons of [. . .] great insignificance [are chosen] to pull down boasting” (23, c.2). He warns the self-confident that faith saves, not reasoning ability (24, c.1). Lines of reasoning can lead one into subtle traps away from God. The Faith, received with trust, is a sure foundation (25, c.1). As the Lord says, we must become like a child. In this respect, persons with developmental disability may have something to teach. (9-10)
Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). St. John Chrysostom comments that jostling for position, vanity, and ambition are foreign to the childlike disposition; children are generally uncomplicated and humble, and eager to be taught (NPNF, 1, 10, 58, 360, c.1). St. John says the Lord means by “children” men who have these qualities, who are similarly “simple and lowly, and abject and contemptible in the judgment of the common sort” (360, c.2). To the Lord’s warning that it is better to be drowned with millstone around one’s neck than to cause “one of these little ones” to sin (Matt. 18:6), St. John says, “for many feeble-minded persons have suffered no ordinary offence from being treated with slight and insult” (360, c.2). (p. 11)
Persons with developmental disability typically exemplify, into their adult years, the childlike qualities Jesus calls for, and are thereby icons by which these qualities may be learned. But often their simplicity is despised, for cleverness serves to advance selfish ambitions, which retain a fierce grip on the heart unless the cross and the Kingdom are seized with violence. They thus suffer neglect to the detriment of their sense of belonging and their development, and those who neglect them, unless they repent, face the judgment of God. (p. 11)
St. John Chrysostom says, “In the spiritual marriage [. . .] our Bridegroom hurries to save our souls.” Whether a person is ugly, or an outcast, an ex-convict, disabled, or burdened with sins, the Bridegroom tends to their healing (Bapt. Instr., 28, h. 1.15). He pours upon them His gifts, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is active in the weakest members of the Church. (p. 16)
St. John Chrysostom says that just as priests have a flock to feed, “[. . .] every one of us also [. . .] are entrusted with a little flock [. . .].” He speaks chiefly of the family; the man is to lead his sheep “to the proper pastures.” St. John exhorts him to seek, from the beginning of each day, to single-mindedly “do and say something whereby he may render his whole house more reverent.” St. John also directs the woman to seek “that the whole household may work the works of Heaven.” (p. 19)
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). St. John Chrysostom, in the explication of this admonition, in order to combat the “bad example from popular entertainments,” says, “Let us give them a pattern to imitate; from their earliest years let us teach them to study the Bible.” The Bible characters would become their models, and Hannah, who “commended Samuel into the hands of God,” would be a model for the parents. “(p. 19)
from “St. John Chrysostom and the Socialization of Persons with Developmental Disability” Patristic Inspiration for Contemporary Application” by Bill Gall. To access, click on THESIS
Here is a short-lived blog of an anonymous Orthodox Christian with disabiliies:
” On the Road to Antioch A place for Bible study, prayers, fellowship, the exploration of the history of Christianity, my struggles as a disabled woman as well as the joys of being an Orthodox Christian. ” http://ontheroadtoantioch.blogspot.com/
There’s no indication of why the blog stops abruptly on March 30, 2005. Her last post was an expression of shock at our U.S. judicial system’s decision to not get involved in the Terri Schiavo case- in effect, to let her die. She had some thoughts on how to protect oneself in light of our society’s failure of Terri, and it was a family-based approach.
Her words are worth consideration.
Blog description courtesy of I Lift Up My Eyes Ministries: http://psalm121.ca/news.html :
As a follow-up to Dr. John Boojrama’s insights shared in “Fathers are crucial,” here is a short list of resources for strengthening the marriage relationship of the parents of children with disabilities. Resources (some secular) gleaned from Orthodox lists are listed first, and then some non-Orthodox resources, to be utilized with the blessing of one’s spiritual father:
INFORMATIONAL (On the Family in General)
The “Family Life” Section of the OCA Resource Handbook: http://oca.org/resource-handbook/familylife
Touchstone Magazine’s Conference “Praying and Staying Together” on tape: http://www.orthodoxtapes.org/touchstone.html#pray&stay
Provided by the North American Antiochian Christian Archdiocese Department of Marriage and Parish Family Ministries
TOUGHLOVE INTERNATIONAL, 9-5 (EST) M-F……..1-800-333-1069 For parents of children with behavioral problems, local support groups
Please contact Kh. Maggie if you have a special need that is not listed here. She maintains a database of over 30,000 national referrals.
1- 402-445-0150 (10-2 CST, M-TH)
From OCAMPR- the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, And Religion: http://www.ocampr.org/index.asp
1. Referrals: Rev. Fr. George Morelli, Ph. D., Carlsbad, California , Stephen Muse, Ph. D., Columbus, Georgia , *William David Holden, LPC, CCAS, Boone, North Carolina (click on the name for info)
2. Links from OCAMPR:
American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
American Association of Pastoral Counselors
http://www.aapc.org/ (“denominational affiliations” are noted, but not indexed, (indexes are either alphabetical or geographical)
The only resource which I have found so far which specifically focuses on “exceptional families” (and offers marriage support) is secular and located in New Jersey: The Kairos Institute. http://www.kairosinstitute.org/families/ It sure sounds Orthodox Christian, but there is no online indication that it is, or that the support offered is in accord with the Orthodox Christian life. But obviously someone cared enough to create an organization for families with members who have disabilities, and if they can do it, we could also do it. They also may be available to Orthodox Christian counsellors to touch base with on issues specifically related to such families and couples who are struggling with various issues.
The goal of socializing children with disabilities into life in society and in the Church was addressed by the late Dr. John Boojrama of blessed memory in his book “Foundations for Christian Education.” (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press) Dr. Boojrama identifies the father’s spiritual health and the health of the parent’s relationship as the key factors in successful socialization of all family members. And this certainly applies to families with members who have disabilites as well. So one would think that it would be easy to find Orthodox Christian resources that focus on supporting the spiritual health of fathers (of families). But I am not finding this. Am I missing something?
Actually it could simply be that when I search for “fathers” in Orthodox websites, I get barraged with so many sites on the Holy Fathers of the Church, that I can’t find anything addressing family fathers in they haystack!
So where are fathers of children with disabilities to go for support for the issues they face? Some with children whose disabilities are more severe really need this. I have found reources for support, but they are not Orthodox Christian resources. The insights and guidance received in these would need to be discussed with one’s spiritual father and other trusted mentors in the Church.
And this principle has wider implications. In our society there is pressure to abort babies shown by pre-natal testing to have disabilities; there is also the expectation that family members who are “a burden” will be institutionalized. Individual rights and individual fulfillment are emphasized; sacrifices for the sake of family members are questioned. 15 years ago a counsellor, when I told him that my father, near the end of his life, asked me to take care of my mother when he died, (I was their only child) asked me if I resented this expectation. Now I’m not exactly sure where he was coming from, but isn’t it a strange question? And this was a Protestant denominational counselling center.
So if a father of a child with disabilities, out of need, seeks out a support group outside the Orthodox Church, I certainly would applaud his effort to fortify himself for his uniquely crucial role. I would only add, verify that the support received is in harmony with Orthodox Christian values.
UPDATE- A search on “fatherhood” yielded some Orthodox results for fatherhood in general. The Orthodox Church in America’s online Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries offers an article on the “Spiritual Aspects of Fatherhood: http://yya.oca.org/TheHub/Articles/TheChurchonCurrentIssues/FatherHood.htm Additionally, Touchstone Magazine, whose editors include Orthodox Christians, including Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, held a conference a few years ago entitled, “Return to the Father’s House: God the Father & Human Fatherhood,” which was recorded and available through Orthodox Christian Tapes: http://www.orthodoxtapes.org/touchstone.html#fathershouse Some of the talks Touchstone has available in written form online: http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:kvRtNOX7kDAJ:www.touchstonemag.com/archives/issue.php%3Fid%3D91+Orthodox+Christian+OR+Church+%22fatherhood%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=98&gl=us
These resources offer Orthodox perspective on the more specific resources & writings for fathers of children with disability listed below.
Here are some potentially helpful non-Orthodox support groups for fathers of children with disabilities:
National Fathers Network www.fathersnetwork.org A national program dedicated to fathers of children with special needs. (The support groups are limited to certain regions, though online participation would still be possible)
Twelve Books for fathers of special-needs kids: http://specialchildren.about.com/od/inspirationalbooks/ig/Dads-Speak/index.htm
http://www.ldonline.org/article/5935 http://www.fathersdirect.com/index.php?id=15&cID=259 http://www.schwablearning.org/articles.aspx?r=734 http://www.cafamily.org.uk/fathers.html http://www.parenttoparentofga.org/spring0401.htm http://www.fathersdirect.com/index.php?id=15&cID=259
… from atheism to faith through a conviction concerning the sanctity of life gained by working with people who were profoundly handicapped (and becoming an Orthodox Christian):
Meet Johnnie Cowie and read his story on the webpage below:
from ORTHODOXY AND THE WORLD, a Russian Orthodox Church Website: http://www.pravmir.com/index.html
A wonderful initiative from Australia- a model for Orthodox Christians everywhere. It involves home-based care for persons with physical and intellectual disabilities. Click on the web address above and discovery what they are about.
” … Kathy Lisner Grant, an adult with autism, articulates the importance of finding a spiritual home in the Orthodox Church:
‘ … as a person with autism, the Liturgy appealed to all my senses. For my eyes, there were icons of the saints, the Theotokos, and Jesus. For my nose, there was the incense that the priest used. For my eyes, there was the music, because the entire service is sung. And for my mind, there was the theology, history, and lives of the saints, the Theotokos, the apostles, Jesus, and the Bible. I also like the vestment the priest wears.‘ (Grant, 2000, p. 245)”
from Religious and Spiritual Issues in Counselling Applications Across Diverse Populations, by Mary Thomas Burke, Jane C. Chauvin, Judith G. Miranti, Inc NetLibrary http://books.google.com/books?id=EhXEI2dNf6kC&pg=PA118&lpg=PA118&dq=(disabilities%7Cdisabled%7Cdisability%7Chandicapped%7Cretarded)+%22orthodox+christian%22&source=web&ots=bYDOvKbUbz&sig=10wCbetshD1JXpMQXljgoJid9Ok#PPA118,M1
In our group home we often have to turn to children’s resources in order to get something across to our adult individuals with developmental disability; a fire safety video last year, for instance. (State regulations mandate annual fire safety training for our individuals.)
Similarly, parents of children with disabilities have often found the children’s literature that is available to be lacking in children’s characters that have disabilities. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some books with such characters for children with disabilites to relate to?
Well, its happening. Aspiring writers with disabilities and parents of children with disabilites are teaming up with creative writers and major disability charities to encourage publishers to act on this matter.
Here’s the story from Liverpool John Moores University, June, 2006: http://www.ljmu.ac.uk/NewsCentre/81107.htm
His Eminence Metropolitan Philip, at the 2007 Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese Convention in Montreal, Canada, spoke of a ministry in the country of Lebanon- one that he is the most personally committed to supporting: Al-Kafaat. Al-Kafaat is the Arabic word for “abilities.” This ministry is a multi-dimensional support system for persons with disabilities. It is listed on the blogroll to the right. Here is the web address: http://www.al-kafaat.org/
The group was founded by Nadeem H. Shwayri (pictured below, in the middle) and his wife Lily. Here’s the story from their website:
In 1957, a young MBA-graduate while at this early beginnings in active life and enjoying a good position at a financial company, decides to renounce the stardom of businesses and stock exchanges, to devote his life and fortune to serving the poor and destitute. Born himself into a wealthy family, from a father who since age 14 forced into exile to the New world, thrived to fame and fortune in a story-telling epic of an “American-Dream”, and a mother, linguist and religious, proud and charismatic, whose presence bore unto the family a cast of strength and humility.
The young Nadeem Shwayri aged 21 and the same year his father passed away, declined his lucrative work involvement, and started, by himself, a small-time leather factory in one of the ill-serviced slums of Beirut. For companions, he chose among the “rejects” of the Society a blind, a crippled and a deaf, a triumvirate who by 1972 will develop into a large working family of 170, all with disabilities, delivering quality leather goods to 10 American and European destinations. The action undertaken will receive that same year, the highest of distinctions from the president of the Republic (Order of the Cedar).
Proof was made that any person with disabilities of any sort, if given the appropriate training and an adapted environment, can be productive and foster economic wealth to society. “Potentials, not Handicaps” became the mission statement of Al-Kafaàt (read “Abilities” in Arabic).
Since, Al-Kafaàt developed into a Foundation having earned the quasi-totality of the fortunes cumulated from the inheritances of both the founder and his wife. Most of the centers of the Foundation (6 of 7) have been erected on estates beheld from past family fortunes.
In 50 years, Al-Kafaàt has served over 25,000 persons with disabilities and social disadvantages, and brings, to our day, social, medical and educational rehabilitation, and fosters integration, to some 4.500 daily beneficiaries from all communities and walks of life.