What is special . . .

about 1. persons with disability; 2. the Orthodox Church.

1. Our Lord Jesus Christ singled out persons with disability in St. Luke 14:13-14, & 21 for invitations to feasts (His feast, really). St. Paul writes, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. 1st Epistle to the Corinthians 1:27-29

And in the U.S.A. the special education movement began as an extra effort to see that people with disabilities would not be left out of the educational process. But the word “special” is going out of favor for at least one good reason- nobody, including people with disabilities, wants “special” arrangements provided for them when the possibility exists that they could participate with everyone else. It makes a person feel that the “special” arrangement is a way of excluding them because people are uncomfortable with them.

Not only this, but our society has taken an ominous turn; we now can test to see if an unborn child has disabilities. And if he or she does, there is social and institutional pressure to abort that child. How we measure quality of life says a lot about us, I’m afraid. How this relates to our use of the word “special” in regard to such children says a lot as well.

2. The way the Holy Spirit guides the Orthodox Church is special in relation to His work in creation and in people outside the Church. The Lord Jesus breathed on his future apostles and said,, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (St. John 20:22-23) On Pentecost that year, they (and those with them, apparently) received the tongues of fire as they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the languages of all the various peoples present that day at the temple in Jerusalem. (Acts 20:1-12) Some time later, the apostles and elders came together to decide the issue of whether or not Gentile believers needed to be circumcised. The decision that it was not necessary was written down, to be carried about and read to the whole Church everywhere, including the words, “For it seems good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, … .” (Acts 15:23-29)

The authority to bind and loose, which, effectively, means to interpret the Christian Tradition (including the Holy Scriptures) for the members of Christ’s flock, was passed from the apostles to the overseers (bishops) which they appointed. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, writing against gnostic heretics, in the late 2nd Century, affirmed what was already in practice in regard to the teachers within the apostolic succession against those outside it. And the Orthodox bishops of today are their successors; we trust the process- ordination by laying on of hands is a sacrament. They have the power to bind and loose.

And that momentous Day of Pentecost on which all the peoples heard “the wonderful works of God” was, in effect, a reversal of the scattering of peoples of different languages after the attempt to build the Tower of Babylon, recounted in the Book of Genesis. The worldwide fellowship of Orthodox bishops, with the priests, deacons, and people of God, the priesthood of believers, is the continuation of that gathering, of the undivided Church of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ.

Why just the Orthodox? Because the Orthodox Church carries on the Apostolic Tradition of gathering together the Church to decide crucial issues. One can take note that St. Peter did not unilaterally pronounce the decision in Acts 15; St. James spoke for all. And the churches were not told that they could interpret the Bible according to their individual consciences either. Someone has said it this way, roughly- the Orthodox Church has preserved the Faith, while the Roman Catholics have added to it and the Protestants have subtracted from it.

The seven ecumenical councils which occurred in the first millenium of the Church were gathered to rule out falsehood, not to develop doctrine, which was “once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1) Sadly, the schisms which resulted over Christology in the 5th Century, the “filoque” and papal supremacy in the 11th century (roughly) and the splintering into many groups which occurred by means of the Protestant “Sola Scriptura” approach to the Faith have made the Orthodox look like one of many churches. It is not; it is the undivided Church, the fullness of the Faith.

The Spirit of truth … will guide you into all the truth.” (St. John 16:13) This “you” – I must confess, I don’t know Greek- surely must be plural; Christ was speaking to the Twelve, and to the Church. “No prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 2:20) The Church and its teachings and ways is my life. Life together makes me a person, in contrast to individual existence.

Therefore, while it is surely true that the Holy Spirit is working in all creation and among non-Orthodox Christians, guiding them and revealing truths to them, leading them forward in love, “all the truth,” which is living and tangible and the enfleshment of all the holy words by the Holy Spirit, is found in one place- the Orthodox Church. It is special.

I invite all non-Orthodox people who have read this to come to an Orthodox Church and experience this. It probably will require more than one visit, though; it can be somewhat of a culture shock. Also, see the next post for a more comprehensive explanation of the Orthodox Christian Church.


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