Archive for December, 2006


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:

the Mother of God

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.

the Image

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.

In Christ

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. 

a silent spiritual fast

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!

Spiritual Fasting

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)

Autistic Scholar

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)


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