Archive for March, 2008

Joy of the Disconsolate

Snow had fallen suddenly. It covered the ground, hiding even the smallest sign of the frozen puddles. Oh Lord, if only someone would help to carry these bags – thought Valentina Tckhanovich in despair, as she tried with difficulty, to maintain her balance on her walking sticks. The icy road from the shop to her home seemed to her, with her disability, impossible to overcome.The anonymous crowd passed her by carelessly and disappeared into the falling dusk…. “Maybe I can help you,” she heard suddenly, and thanks to Lydya Pronin, she reached home safely. The meeting also led her to the Parish of Our Lady, Joy of the Disconsolate. It was 1993. . . .

(by Alla Matrenczyk) Read more:

Here is the entire website of this ministry in Minsk, Belarus (there are select parts available in English):

It would seem to be a a very wide ranging ministry. Note under “Social Work” there are two workshops for persons with developmental disability (translated “mental retardations”).

the tangibility of Christ

(Pervasive in the Orthodox Church Worship and Life)

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life- the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us- that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1st Epistle of St. John 1:1-3)

Indeed! And of what does this fellowship with the apostles consist? Is it not a sharing, with the apostles, now in Glory, of the continuing tangible manifestation of and participation in Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, and in the other Mysteries and sacramentals, and in the life of the Church in its mission to the world as well?

Yes, the apostles walked with the Lord during His sojourn on earth. But we, by faith, share in an equally tangible union with Christ. In the Orthodox Church, through the sacramental priesthood, we have an organic connection with the apostles and every generation of the saints. And in the sacraments or mysteries Christ is tangibly manifested.

We are called to a deep respect to our leaders, our bishops and priests, and to obedience to them. (Hebrews 13:17) We are also- each one of us- called to uphold and defend the Faith . In the 7th Century St. Maximus the Confessor, for instance, stood against the heresy of his Hierarch, preserving the Faith. And consider Fr. Joseph Huneycutt’s recent critique of our Ecumenical Patriarch’s new book: )

The tangibility of Orthodox worship is not merely a nice distinctive we experience, but a most precious and illumining dimension of our life in Christ, which the non-Orthodox Christians, by and large, are missing. I know, because I was there. From the perspective of Orthodox worship, the meaning of “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (St. John 6:53b) becomes most clear. In fact, our prayerful and tamgible worship– sacraments, architectural traditions, icons, vestments, candles, incense, traditional gesturals (sign of the cross, bows, prostrations, kissing, etc.), chants, and the prayers – is the wellspring for discerning the Truth in the incarnate Christ.

Lex orandi, lex credendi: (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith)” is a traditional saying that further brings out the importance of receiving the manifestation of our Lord Jesus in the right order, as it were-

FIRST, experiencing His tangibility in (1) prayerful worship: in the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist, as well as in Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Holy Anointing, etc., (2) in hearing the preaching of the Word, and (3) in the “Liturgy after the Liturgy,” our service in the Church, among our neighbors, relatives, friends, and enemies, and in all God’s creation.

And this service certainly includes (as a priority!) persons with disabilities. (Luke 14)

and THEN discerning our beliefs, our “creed” (credendi) The Holy Fathers explicated the Holy Scriptures experientially, dynamically. And they sorted out doctrinal disputes in Councils- not systematically, but as the need would arise (in the appearance of soul-destroying heresies) They were always reluctant to introduce anything new, preferring ancient precedents based on the sayings of tried and true teachers of old.

Fr. Chris Metropulos concisely explains “Lex orandi, lex credendi” here:

Towards the very end of Divine Liturgy, the faithful receive the command, “Let us go forth in peace.” This connects our Life in the Heavenlies, in Divine Liturgy, with our weeklong practice of Christ’s co-suffering love and presence and victory.

This is the “liturgy after the LiturgyHis Grace Bishop Kallistos Ware explains what this means here: Ion Bria also writes, with some theological rigor, concerning the “liturgy after the Liturgy:”

Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis, in “Wealth and Poverty in the Christian Tradition,” writes a word of caution concerning the phrase “liturgy after the Liturgy:”

I am uncertain whether the concept of “liturgy after liturgy” has been helpful to protect the ethos of Orthodoxy from collapsing into a kind of sacramentalism that disconnects eschatology form history; and, I share the concern of those who express fears that this notion gives preeminence to the ethical implications of the Eucharist at the expense of its ontological and doxological character. Perhaps, it would be much more prudent to affirm that the ethos of the Church is simultaneously shaped through the celebration of the Eucharist, the proclamation of the Word of God and the mystery of the poor brethren. None of them should be considered as a substitute for the other or that in itself and apart from the other can communicate the fullness of the church’s ethos.

As to “the mystery of the poor brethren” he writes,

Christians, based on Matthew 25:31-46, believe that Christ is sacramentally present in the poor and the needy.

Fr. Emmanuel quotes a number of the Church Fathers, including St. John Chrysostom, who concludes, concerning the matter of providing for those in need in relation to expenditures on Church furnishings,

Don’t neglect you brother in his distress while you decorate His house. Your brother is more truly his temple than any Church building. (On Matthew; Homily 50:4)

You can read the entire essay here:

And, to extend the implications of “Go forth in peace,” here is an article by Fr. Michael Plekon, “Becoming the Jesus Prayer,” which considers all the ways our goal of praying unceasingly can find expression in the many situations we may find ourselves in, which of course includes all the people, needy and disabled in a variety of ways, whom Christ may call us to pray for and serve and even die for. The lives and sayings of St. Seraphim of Sarov, the 20th century Orthodox writer Paul Ekdokimov, and St. Maria of Paris are brought forth as living examples of both becoming the Jesus Prayer and the liturgy after the Liturgy:

And finally, here is a portion of an Orthodox Parish (St. Raphael of Photo of some of the core parish members.Brooklyn Antiochian Orthodox Christian Mission of Iowa City, Iowa) website concerning Growth & the Sacramental Life- Worship & Love & Prayer, which beautifully brings out the practical ways this Life together in Christ has unfolded in their lives:

Of course, growth is not primarily in numbers but in our shared life in Christ, in working out our salvation together, through the Sacraments and fellowship of the Church.  . . . for more, click on:

In conclusion, one might say, “The rule of prayer is the rule of faith and love, in Christ- God with us- both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, Amen.”

the tangibility of Orthodox worship

Our worship has been crafted by the Holy Spirit to touch all who come- including those with developmental disabilities whose intellectual capabilities are limited to concrete thinking (and have trouble with abstract reasoning) as well as those who lack certain senses.

Alongside the rich theology of our liturgy there are concrete actions, music, fragrance, icons, and more. There are words relating to everyday life and words that carry one through the Incarnate Christ into the iconostasisineffable heavenlies. The Holy Spirit can address the heart through all, or some, or even just one of these modes. The symbols of Orthodox worship- lighting candles, making the sign of the cross, kissing icons, prostration, and the like are enacted by all. (Picture from )

There is no need for separate services. The “spiritual sensuality” of our Divine Liturgy offers mentally retarded persons much to respond to: there is repetition, concreteness, physical contact; the staples of their unique pedagogy (method of learning) inhabits the services.

Search the resources and read Fr. Stephen Plumlee’s The Handicapped and Orthodox Worship. (In the full list of Orthodox Christian Writings, under “The Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries” in the PARISH DEVELOPMENT section. 

See also Kathy Lisner Grant’s view at

participation in the Mysteries

Even if persons with developmental disability lack the potential to ever reason abstractly, their experience of the Mysteries (the Sacraments) can engagedbe just as rich as those who can reach that stage. For the Mysteries have Divine depth, and always beckon one forward to greater participation and fuller comprehension of their import. For the experience ultimately transcends conceptualization.

pictured on the left: an engaged couple. Marriage is one of the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church.

Fr. John Breck, in “Down Syndrome at Pascha,” in his book God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith, describes Marie, a woman who had Down Syndrome, at the Holy Friday service: (pp. 66-67)

She was entirely dressed in black. Her face was streaked with tears, her head was bowed, and her arms hung down at her sides. As she approached the shroud, she slowly made the sign of the cross three times, prostrated herself before it, and for a moment kept her head to the floor. Then she rose, kissed the face and then the feet of Christ, and finally venerated the Bible and the Cross. “

Here’s a word from the publisher on the book as well as the site through which one may order it:

Of course, one must be baptized and/or chrismated into the Orthodox Church to participate in the Church’s mysteries. Here is an article that addresses our beliefs in this regard: For more on the Orthodox Church, see also

the Church in Russia caring for people

(Russian Orthodox Church) Russia is vastly different from the U.S.A., but there are things we could learn from them, as we (the Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S.) ourselves work toward developing a systematic way of working together in common service to the needy people around us.

Their need is, frankly, greater, and the resources are more meagre, and certainly this situation drives the earnestness of their efforts. Of course the Russians are still gathering themselves for the effort, as evidenced in the details of their highly comprehensive Roundtable Diakonia: Coordinating social work site:

And here is a story within this website illustrating the efforts to bring orphans a full life, connected to the Church: A Road to Church:

million man marchAnd we may be underestimating the need in the U.S. since so many of us live in the suburbs, where the most intractible problems of our society are not in our daily field of vision. These men are marching for a reason:

photo from The Million Man March, 1995 [Joacim Osterstam / Flickr] &

So this Russian resource page is presented here as an example of earnest planning and coordination to meet the needs of people, including those of persons with disability.

St. Nicolas and Camp Chaika

There is a Canadian ministry, Christian Horizons,  that works together with a Russian Orthodox parish, the Church of St. Nicolas in Lebazhye, Russia, to provide a summer camp for children with disabilities.

Here is the websites of Christian Horizons: and the Church of St. Nicholas in Lebazhye: :  (*for English version click on the underlined title at the bottom of the page) There’s really not a lot of detail on the camp, but one can look around at Christian Horizons, which is not, except perhaps in Lebazhye, Orthodox Christian. But there is a very profound statement on the Church site concerning the camp:

At any time, in any social atmosphere, there exists the problem of a “transitional age”. Our program’s activities are directed toward social rehabilitative assistance for young people who have intellectual developmental disabilities. For this category of people, social adaptation issues are most challenging. What will their fate be after leaving the orphanage at the ages of 18-25? Statistics show that about 90% of such young people fall victim to alcoholism, drug addiction, or lead otherwise unethical lives. Without a religious-moral foundation, such youth spend all their energy “finding themselves” on other foundations.

Improvement in the spiritual and social-moral climate and quality of life in institutions for those with mental disabilities is bound with correct religious-ethical training. This means investment of positive Christian input in the early development of residents of the orphanage, not only temporarily or externally, but in answer to the deepest yearnings of the resident’s spirit. The sensation of belonging to the Church is more important than the feeling of belonging to a family. A family can disintegrate, but the Church – cannot. Aware of oneself as a member of the Church, the resident will never feel lonely in the world, or homeless: he is aware of himself as resting in Christ’s hand, in the hand of God. The strengthening of a such spiritual consciousness in a child is the most important task of religious-ethical training.

There is definitely much more to this ministry than a fun summer camp. The goal is to give orphans a home, an eternal home, through the Church, and to strive to provide them every opportunity to be adopted by our heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

holy is normal

The society at large is shaped by all sorts of pernicious influences, as evidenced by so much of what appears on our TV’s, both in the shows and the advertisements. And for many, these things are “normal.” But for us, our models are the Lord Jesus Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints of the Church, including the martyrs, the desert fathers, and the “fools for Christ;” they are the ones who are normal, in the Divine perspective- the one that counts– regardless of what our society thinks. (from the last post, “Socialization: Living Stones“)

Of course we must hear from the Lord (through our bishops and also in the many other ways in which He speaks) how we are called to live out the Church’s Tradition and the words of the holy Fathers in our cultural context. Are we really being called to the desert? Perhaps we are, but not literally.

Fr. John Chryssavgis, who wrote the booklet The Body of Christ: A place of welcome for people with disabilities, also wrote The Way of the Fathers: Exploring the Patristic Mind. Click here for a description of the book:

The Fathers of the Church provide for us inval;uable perspective -from outside our own cultural setting- on all matters pertaining to the Christian life.We must not lose the challenge of their message, the stark, bracing truth of their words.

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when thy see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.”                        – St. Antony the Great

Are we there yet? What do you think?

Having begun to address how we can look at the question of “Normalization” from a Patristic context, here is a section of the website, developed by the Protestant Christian psychologists James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance M. Messina, Ph.D., on normalization as it relates to children with special needs. It actually has less to do with conforming to the world’s standards and more to do with giving these children a life with dignity.

But the group home system in which my wife and I work goes through a state inspection each year. Now this system, Friendship Community, was begun by Mennonite Protestant Christians. From time to time, there have been conflicts over values- over what is “normal.” Once, for instance, it was whether we could forbid “two consenting adults of the opposite sex” from being in one’s bedroom with the door shut.

Another time we were told to take the locks off our refrigerators, even though there were people in our home with serious appetite control problems. Soon after that one of them seized the opportunity to start chugging down bottles of salad dressing. It created health problems for her.Apparently, snacking between meals is a “right.”

Normalization can be a good focus, but it can also be used as an imposition of values foreign to the Christian faith.

Lent has begun, and the “right” to snack has been curtailed for Orthodox Christians. And this frees us to focus on our life in Christ more intensely. This is the disposition that brings “times of refreshment,” so that we may inch closer to the sanity of the Saints, for whom holy is normal.


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