the practice of a thankful heart

from a comment on the article Saying the Jesus Prayer, by Albert Rossi

Jesus Prayer

. . . I’m disabled at 55 but recovering more and more each day as I practice having a thankful heart. And I, too, find the very best rest and therapy in Jesus, imagining myself being carried like a little lamb close to His chest and listening to His heartbeat. And I’ve been through situations that are just horrendous, so we WONT describe them. Still, I remember that text that says the a spirit of fear doesn’t come from God but of boldness (I forget now, darn it) and it ends with a SOUND MIND. And I thank God for these things. And I thank Him for leading me and loving me and guiding me. And I try to Practice His Presence like Brother Lawrence all day and all night long wherever I go, wherever I am. Yes, I try to submit to His will by praying the Jesus Prayer in every situation and being His loving presence to those around me even if I don’t say one word about Him to them. And if I think of myself as someone He can use when maybe He doesn’t have too many others to use, I don’t care so much whether I look foolish or wise to the other people. I’m just glad He used me to do something for Him. And there’s one pearl of great price that has helped me to do this more consistently than anything else so I will share it with you. Yes, I’ll offer the most priceless pearl I’ve found in the 33 years since I converted to the Eastern Orthodox Church because I believed in the Spirit that I had found a viable link, the real successor to the churches that formed around the Apostles right after Pentecost and under St. Paul during his missionary trips. This pearl is the Jesus Prayer after the saying of Blind Bartimaeus who cried out “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me.” And the version used for centuries is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Repeating this prayer in the morning and trying to remember HIM all day long changes the day and changes me.” It reminds me that He’s always with me.
It allows me to murmur His Holy Name in the depths of my being like the Name of my Spouse as I’m dreaming of Him or caressing Him. And it enflames my soul with love for Him. (What more could I ask?) Then this love transforms me, because He is the only one who loves. I will always be learning and desiring to learn because He first loved me. This is the only way I know to increase my desire to submit all that I am and have to Him, My Beloved, My Savior, My Yeshua, My Jesus, My Christ, My King, My Lord and My God.

Respectfully submitted, Judy, the wounded sinner who’s so in love with Jesus

the image of the prayer rope is from Lessons from a Monastery 

Understanding, Diagnosing, and Coping with Slow Processing Speed By Steven M. Butnik, Ph.D.

From Twice-Exceptional Newsletter: Understanding, Diagnosing, and Coping with Slow Processing Speed By Steven M. Butnik, Ph.D. 

“Twice-Exceptional” refers to gifted children with learning problems:

Coupled with high intelligence, these children also may have one or more learning disabilities, attention deficit, autism spectrum disorder, emotional or behavior problems, or other types of learning challenges. From (What is 2e?)

I can relate to this. In any case, those who have intellectual gifts can benefit greatly from Dr. Butnik’s article, which enables parents to help their “2e” children negotiate the major hurdles they face in achieving as much as they can (and want) to accomplish, intellectually. 

Of course, the ultimate goal Orthodox Christians seek is not intellectual accomplishment, professional success, and riches, which are most highly prized in “modern” secular society, but loving union with God – theosis, which will be for all of us an eternal quest to draw ever closer and closer to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, with ever-increasing joy and longing.

Picture from Norwich Writers’ Circle 

Catherine’s Pascha: Wheelchairs and Sidewalks

The following blog post conveys one mother’s experience in regard to her daughter’s difficulties with negotiating sidewalks in her wheelchair. To access:

Catherine’s Pascha: Wheelchairs and Sidewalks

This mother also wrote a picture book for children: Catherine’s Pascha, which illustrates a girl’s experience of Orthodox Christian Pascha, which is an expression, a celebration, of the great joy and deep gratitude of Orthodox Christians that our Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and granted us eternal life. (Some Christian communities call this Easter.)

Here are some reviews and a trailer:


Picture from: 

Hans S. Reinders’ “Receiving the Gift of Friendship”

A review of the book Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics, by Hans S. Reinders. (2009) Though he is not an Orthodox Christian, he incorporates the writings of His Eminence John Zizoulas into his work as one of the keys to the aim of his work, along with a quote from St. Symeon the New Theologian.

Dr. Hans Reinders

Briefly (the book is 379 pages), his acquaintance with a person with profound intellectual disabilities- Kelly,  stimulated Dr. Reinders to explore the basis by which we may assert with confidence that Kelly is indeed human. Not that this basis is a human perspective- he carefully lays a theological foundation to show that her humanity has a Divine basis.

His quest finds resonance with these words by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:

Just as Plato sought the perfect society by looking at the condition of the human person “writ large,” so we must discover in the human person the very qualities that will enable us to transcend division and achieve not mere unions of cooperation but the fundamental unity that links every person to one another.

 In “Religious Communities in the European Union, (Brussels, 09/04/2008)” Chapter 4, “Church and World: Global Perspectives,” P. 163, In the world, yet not of the world : social and global initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and John Chryssavgis, ed., Fordham University Press, NY: 2010.

Reinders’  book is deep. The philosophers and theologians discussed in the book (along with their views on personhood) include Aristotle, St. Iranaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, Barth, as well as a contemporary writers who have also explored aspects of the subject.

 In the first two parts, Reinders struggles against all arguments with implications that humanity is based on functionality. Ultimately it is the love of God and His gift of human life that form the basis for personhood. It isn’t achieved, not in the initiation nor in the consummation- the “telos” of our life on this earth. Those who have accomplished nothing are still human persons.

His Eminence John Zizoulas’ writings on Trinitarian and ecstatic being and on ecclesial and relational personhood are discussed in detail. Reinders takes issue with certain phrases in his work, chiefly in regard to how

“man can henceforth . . . affirm his existence as personal not on the basis of the immutable laws of nature, but on the basis of a relationship with God which is identified with what Christ in freedom and love possesses as the Son of Good with the Father.” (Being as Communion, P. 56, italics added) from Receiving the Gift of Friendship, P.269

For Reinders, this very movement to affirm one’s existence leaves out persons who are profoundly disabled.

But for the Orthodox Christian, man, even fallen man in the utter weakness of the bondage to and fear of death, retains free will. A relationship with God involves synergy, cooperation, faith working through love, in Christ.

For to everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask more. (St. Luke 12:48)

And would not the corollary be that to him who has been given little or nothing (case in point- a person with profoundly disability), little or nothing will be required  of him? Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos, of blessed memory (†1994), says of persons with developmental disability, that “their souls are already saved [. . .] without making any efforts [they] have earned Paradise.” (3 Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain, 1998) 138)

Ultimately, though, its not what we do, but what we are that will be decisive. We will, though, be judged for our works. (2 Corinthians 5:10). “Out of the heart proceeds . . . [thoughts, works!]” (St. Matthew 15:18-20) 

Many Protestant Christians believe in monergy, in which God alone acts in conferring grace. We Orthodox hold that this compromises the human free will. As our Lord Jesus Christ says,

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.  (Revelations 3:20)

Reinders, though, never uses the word “monergy.” He emphasizes that in our relationships, with God and others, including persons with profound disability, receiving is the key, rather than giving.

But then what of “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)?

St. James does write, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak . . . (St. James 1:19a) This places priority on receiving.  And again,

Elder Paisios stressed that our acts are worthwhile only if they are done out of a grateful predisposition. He always urged us not to struggle out of self interest, but rather out of responsive gratefulness. Even our faith in God should be based on our gratefulness.

from Responsive gratefulness in spiritual life in

 For Reinders, the social contribution of persons with profound disability, realized for those who are in a relationship of friendship with them, is a personal lesson in the reality that

every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights …(St. James 1:18, and the Divine Liturgy!)

 All we have is from God, all we know is what we’ve learned from others. Every moment of our existence, everything we have, is from God. Trust is the key; we trust Him, and in others, too, for the expertise we lack in so many of the things we take for granted. As Jesus says,

Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. -St. Matthew 18:2

And does this not mean childlike trust, a total dependence upon our heavenly Father’s continual sustenance? This is how I understand Reinders’ meaning. And is this not in accord with how we worship and how we believe?

Reinders also brings forward the worldwide ministry of L’Arche,  in which persons who commit themselves to relationships with persons with intellectual disabilities find themselves- from their own testimonies- that  if they “stick it out” through the inner struggle that such a commitment entails- they experience illumination through their realization of their own brokenness, and of the Healer of their brokenness.

The winner of the 2009 North American Antiochian Orthodox Christian oratorical contest, Joel Schaefer, shared a similar experience he had in his week at the Special Olympics Camp at Antiochian Village: Oratorical Festival Winning Speech 2009

Reinders’ affirms the Holy Spirit as “the transforming Friend.” (P. 310, from James Houston, The Transforming Friendship, p. 118) Reinders writes, “Why this transformation must be extrinsically [from outside, or above] grounded is brought out clearly in a saying that has been attributed to an ancient voice, Symeon the New Theologian:

When the three-personed Diety dwells within the saints and is known and felt to be present, it is not the fulfillment of desire, but the cause and the beginning of a much greater and more fervent desire. (from Hymns of Divine Love, tr. George A. Mahoney {NJ: Dimension Books})

 As Orthodox Christians we can affirm that all good is from above, without subscribing to monergy. The glorious truth of man’s creation in God’s image- a gift of Grace in itself- is incompatible with the view of fallen man as totally depraved and ultimately unable to respond to God at all. We’re made in God’s image! But it is also only through the Holy Spirit’s agency, by which we abide in Christ, according to the great love of the Father, that our responses (or even our unavoidable lack of responses, as in the case of persons with profound disability)  become building blocks toward the fulfillment of our “telos,” (goal and destiny): likeness to God, the realization of the “image.” (We will be saved together; together we will comprise the Kingdom of God.)

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. – John 15

Persons with profound disability are fully human, but it is not normative humanity, and all of us, fallen as we are, share this predicament with them. Only in our Lord Jesus is normative humanity; He is the authentic human Person. (And He is God from all eternity- fully human, fully God, one Person. Glory to Him!) In the Son, “the express image” of the Father, (Heb. 1:3) we may have likeness to God. And how we come to this telos through Christ differs for each person, according to what each of us has been given. Our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (St. John 14:6)

Ordering information for the book:

Dr. Hans S. Reinders is the chairman of the European Society for the Study of Theology and Disability 

A  review, by Professor Wayne Morris, an Anglican:

And here is another response to the book, from another non-Orthodox Christian theologian- and a mother- “The ethics of a Down Syndrome “cure:”

A 2001 book by Reinders: The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society: The future of the disabled in liberal society: an ethical analysis

A Monastic reflects on having Alzheimer’s

The Orthodox Peace Fellowship has a discussion list on which the following was recently shared. Since it relates to what I wrote about how most of us will experience disability at the end of our lives in this world I decided to share it, omitting the names aside from the first initial.

It is a piece of priceless sanctified thinking. Think about it- would you rather die suddenly without reflection concerning your life and stance toward God or experience a disability which gives you time to reflect, especially on how fleeting the “treasures” of our present life are (which include our own human abilities given to us by God)?

Will we say with Job, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the Name of the Lord?” Or will we, as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “rage against the dying of the light?” (from the poem, Do Not God Gentle Into That Good Night)? Fr. A. shows the way to the never-ending sunrise:

This is a copy of a message I sent to good friends here who were
inquiring about the status of my Alzheimer’s Disease and were
wondering if it is even even appropriate to ask. After I wrote it I
though I would share it with you and a few others, and you may
share it with anyone you think might also be interested. Here is the message, below:

It’s quite all right for you to ask. I am very open about my illness, as is Gerondissa, and we do not hide anything or keep any secrets. And I have very little false pride about my limitations any more–I’ve already been through “that phase” and have been able to embrace my disease in the shadow of the Cross. More than that, I have begun the slow process of climbing up onto the Cross with our Lord, and sharing now
in His Passion. This is incredibly sanctifying; I don’t know how else to describe it. So although I don’t talk much about my illness, it’s not out of secrecy or pride or sensitivity, but only because I am keeping the Lord on the cross as close to my heart as I can. And He will get me through. It has frankly become as much a spiritual experience as a mental one.

So, I want to take this opportunity to share with you and Tim, since we haven’t really talked about it much. I have discussed it on several occasions with Dennis and Justina, and they are wonderfully and appropriately sympathetic and helpful. They are more than relatives; they are good friends. I will talk more about it with my other siblings when we have a family reunion this summer. My children are completely on the same page with me already, but for them it is too painful to talk about much.

This illness is the oddest feeling of being somehow detached and experiencing a slow metamorphosis from being one person into another; not dramatic, but disconnected, and yet still able to pray, read, do email, recognize others (although my short term memory and my malapropisms have gotten worse over the last week). But at the same time it’s oddly not depressing. (I went through the depressingstage last year.) In fact, I woke up this morning with Finn having crawled up and curled into my left arm, and at the same time I had the most intense longing for heaven, which made me very happy.

The neurologist told me some time ago that there is a small
percentage of AD victims who in some way consciously “know,” all the way through, what is happening to them, and he thinks I am one of them. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or not, but I do think it’s a blessing that I can share with others the various stages of this illness as long as possible. That sharing is helpful to me, and perhaps for others if they see that there is a spiritual way to “do” something that is otherwise so awful.

As you and Tim know, Alzheimer’s is a long and slow process, for which reason it’s called “the long goodbye.” But I read Patty Davis’ fine book about her father, President Reagan, “The Long Goodbye,” and she said that he remained cheerful, happy and polite as a three year old, right to the end. And I also know about the Alzheimer’s of some great and holy Elders of our time, who were able to serve Liturgy and say the Jesus Prayer right to the end, even when they nolonger recognized anyone else. So Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to be grueling and ugly, the way it is so often portrayed. I think that the perceived “terribleness” of this disease is at least in part a reflection
of our incredibility morally and spiritually bankrupt culture.

With drugs and medical help, and very good care from Mother
T., I have had three years of relatively slow deterioration,
and I think that “slowness” will continue yet for some years. Right now is a different phase, though. I am very blessed to be in monastic life and here with Mother and the Fathers and Brothers just down the road, who also stay in contact and are very affectionately supportive. I feel safe and well cared for. There are many in my condition who cannot say that. Mother is a good friend, caretaker, intellectual and spiritual companion, but you and Tim will have to help her to harden her heart as time goes on and my symptoms become worse. I have
already spoken to her about this, too. She is very tender-hearted and quietly suffers over my illness, although she’s no drama-queen about it, as you can well believe. That’s not her style. She only quietly says, “I don’t like it,” and that, coming from her, actually says a great deal.

From a purely spiritual standpoint I want to share with you the insight I believe God gave me from the time of my diagnosis. My greatest and overriding sin — indeed, even vice — has always been pride. Pride of mind, of “knowing better” and judging others inappropriately, sometimes thinking of them as being less than I am. This is a most grievous sin, and one that many people don’t even recognize in themselves, but it is the one sin that will, above all, consign us to hell if we don’t overcome it! It was the sin of Satan, the sin of Adam and Eve.

I understand fully how I got this way. I have throughout my life beeninordinately proud of my mind, my intellect, my ability to thinkclearly about difficult and complicated things, to speak and write well, understand, process, and explain difficult things, etc. Growing up, I wasn’t good at sports, I wasn’t attractive to the ladies, I couldn’t dance, I was an intellectual bookworm and loner, I had no other skill than my brain, and I used it and developed it as far as I possibly could, although actually I wasn’t particularly academically brilliant, as all of
that just seemed like some kind of superficial “game” to me. But that was my path in life. And although I have put these gifts to the service of Christ and the Church, as best I could, the pride has still been there.

Now the Lord has offered me a chance to mortify and humble down that pride, by accepting without complaint the slow crumbling of my mind. And I do accept this, with my whole heart, even if with the occasional tear, as a gift from Him for my salvation. So it sometimes “feels” as though this dying of various parts of my mind is also a dying of self, a dying of ego, a dying to pride. And isn’t that the purpose of spiritual life, after all, anyway? The Lord looked down and saw that I wasn’t going to do it any other way, and so, because He loves me very much (unworthy as I am) and wants me to be with Himforever, He offered me this incredible opportunity to die to self. I see
this as a great, if sometimes painful, blessing!

Well, these are my few thoughts about it. Never hesitate to ask mehow I’m doing. I will tell you honestly. But never feel sorry for me,or pity, as I do not for myself, but rather rejoice for me that I am on a sure path to the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe this with all my heart.

– Fr. A

“The Desperate Situation of Children with Disabilities in Russian Institutions,” Sergey Koloskov

While Russia is traditionally Orthodox Christian, the society is still recovering from the Soviet era. There are grave problems; the nation is fighting for it’s soul.

Here is an expose by Sergey Koloskov, a parent of a Down’s Syndrome child, of the situation of children with disabilities in Russian institutions. While the Church makes efforts, there are many deplorable situations:

Note: This article was written in 2001; progress has been made since then; but this sad picture still exists in far too many places, not only in Russia, but throughout the world.

An update: Russia: Children with Disabilities Face Violence, Neglect; End ‘Orphanage’ System; Support Family Care

Another assessment of the current situation: Despite progress over the last 25 years . . .

The Struggle: Russia: Are efforts to help thousands of ‘abandoned’ children being resisted?

A good story: This Russian orphanage is fighting to keep its disabled kids out of mental asylums 

St. John the Merciful ☦610

St. John the Merciful

Our relationships with persons with disability- both inside and outside of the Orthodox Christian Church- require a quality and virtue that we pray for all the time- mercy. “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.” Sometimes we liturgically repeat it 100 times.

We ask His mercy, seeking to be transformed into His image and likeness, which of course includes mercy. And in Him we become merciful to others.

Today, November 12, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast day of a 7th century Chalcedonian Patriarch of Alexandria, St. John the Merciful. Read about him below at Orthodox Wiki to find out what Christlike mercy looks like in a “merely human” being. (The Lord Jesus Christ is a fully human, but not merely human, Being from all eternity, being fully Divine.)

For more on St. John the Merciful:

John the Merciful – OrthodoxWiki

St. John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria 

MYSTAGOGY: St. John the Merciful on the Judgments of God and the Judgments of Men 

An Orthodox Christian ministry in Toronto, Ontario named after him and inspired by him:

St. John the Compassionate Mission

icon from Ramblings of a Redneck Priest: Johnny B. Merciful 

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