Archive for May, 2008

small is beautiful

It doesn’t have to be charity versus social engineering; Orthodox Christians can, with discernment, participate in certain movements in the world that improve the lives of poor people as well as people with disibilities-such as microfinance.

Orthodox Christians can dream dreams, and see visions- and they can be both very down to earth and practical and bold as well. Our children and fellow parishioners with disabilities also have abilities, and may, with a little help from their brethren, begin a profitable venture! For instance- In one of the other Friendship Community houses, one of our people began a business shining shoes. Of course, the venture can be anything that serves a real need.

Microfinance involves very small loans, which can be at low or no interest, given to people with meager resources in order to begin a small business and earn a livelihood. The first websites listed below explain this “movement” or vehicle of opportunity. Finally, a website will be listed which in which issues related to microfinance and persons with disability are dealt with.

The Microfinance Moment Microfinance Resources Coming to America: , , , Lending and Befriending

Microfinance and Disability

Microfinance and disability links in Zanzibar!

IOCC has supported some microfinance ventures: &

Microfinance isn’t alms. But it enables people to support themselves by their own industry. Is this not better- and more charitable- than simply giving the same persons what they need? Of course, there are those whose disabilities are more severe, who cannot support themselves by their own means in any way, for whom alms are most appropriate. Both of these approaches have their place.

Greece: the center for social advancement, medical prevention, & research, Panagia Philanthropini

There is a ministry in Greece- based in and from monasteries- which, among many other ministry efforts, serves persons with disability. Their mission:

The Center is dedicated to spreading the message of God’s love and saving grace to all human beings. Given the Orthodox Christian faith teaches quiet acts are of supreme importance and not words, this vibrant message takes the practical form of medical and educational services, scientific research, charitable and spiritual ministries. These activities constitute the means by which the Center seeks to serve the needs of human beings in the Twenty First Century and beyond. Panagia Philanthropini

Here is their website, presided over by the Most Holy Theotokos: (Icon from

And here is one of their ministries, addressing dyslexia:

For an explanation of the Panagia Philanthropini icon, see

Children of Chornobyl

The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in northern Ukraine has resulted in many tragic personal stories of disability resulting from the radioactivity that flooded the region at the time of the accident. Here is the website of the organization devoted to helping those affected: Let them tell their story. But I will share with you one effort they are making to improve an orphanage for children with disabilities:

An Historic Visit to the Orphanage at Zaluchya (from )

On October 23d, a delegation of some 40 Orthodox faithful from across the United States and Europe traveled to the Zaluchya Orphanage to meet with the residents and to survey the progress that has been made in CCRDF’s campaign to improve conditions there. Under the leadership of His Eminence Archbishop Antony, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (USA) has become the leading sponsor of an intensive campaign launched by CCRDF to overhaul the conditions at Zaluchya and in the Znamianka Orphanage in Kirovohrad Oblast (province) to ensure that the orphans receive more humane treatment. Archbishop Antony toured the Zaluchya dormitories and playrooms, blessing each child and helping the pilgrims to distribute gifts for the orphans. To learn more about this joint campaign, please contact CCRDF or contact Natalie Kapeluk at the Ukrainian Orthodox Youth Ministries office at (412) 488-9664.

Full Story (PDF Document): Also:

photo by Joseph Sywenkyj

photo by Joseph Sywenkyj

Medical Programs / Helping Disabled Orphans

CCRDF assists three orphanages for disabled children in Zaluchya, Ivano-Frankivsk region, Znamyanka, Kirovohrad region and Pugachev, Zhytomir region. This program is sponsored by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of USA and since its inception major renovations have been comleted at the orphanages. CCRDF has delivered mattresses, special needs equipment, physical therapy equipment, and new appliances to the orphanages. Each summer, volunteers from the United States and Ukraine come to play with children and help at the orphanages.

the 3 Holy Hierarchs: advocates for persons with disability

St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom are honored in the Orthodox Church as the Three Holy Hierarchs- their wisdom concerning Divine truth and Divine living is counted to be a touchstone for 3 holy hierarchs- Sts. Basil, John, Gregoryall future generations- the first two for Theology  proper, the latter for applied Theology. And a little digging into their lives and writings will reveal each of them as great champions for persons with disability.

The Three Holy Hierarchs, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom  (from left to right) 

On my previous post, at the bottom, I listed several websites on St. Basil the Great; the very fact that he and the other two holy hierarchs are not modern- with the attendant modern prejudices that we have a hard time recognizing, being immersed in them ourselves- makes their wisdom important for us.

The Holy Scriptures require interpretation, in consideration of both the original context and one’s present context- where we live– in order to be a living Word, obediently applied. The Orthodox Church does not give free rein to just anyone’s interpretation. For one, in Hebrews 13 we receive the charge to “obey your leaders.” And so we have bishops and presybters (priests)- who have been found trustworthy- to guide us. And they not only consult one another concerning issues; the insights of those leaders from previous generations in the Church whose wisdom and godly life were exemplary are given great weight in the discernment process. And in the Orthodox Church the decisions of councils of bishops, especially ecumenical councils, are given the greatest weight. Indeed, they are binding.

The “chrysostom” in St. John Chrysostom literally means “golden-mouthed.” This refers to his sermons, which have been largely preserved for succeeding generations to attend to and act upon. St. John was the Archbishop of Constantinople in the early 5th century; he got in trouble for telling the truth to people in high places and was exiled for it- aged and ailing, he died enroute to a harsh place in the mountains; his last words: “Glory to God for all things!”

When St. John Chrysostom preached on St. Matthew 25:31-41 he spoke of the passage in glowing terms: “unto this most delightful portion of Scripture [to] which we do not cease continually revolving …” (And here it is, below: )

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘”Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’    . . . . ‘Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40)

St. John Chrysostom also says,

If you ever wish to associate with someone, make sure that you do not give your attention to those who enjoy health and wealth and fame as the world sees it, but take care of those in affliction, . . . in critical circumstances, . . . who are utterly deserted and enjoy no consolation. Put a high value on associating with these, for from them you shall receive much profit, . . . and you will do all to the glory of God. God Himself has said, ‘I am the Father of orphans and the protector of widows.

(Psalms 67:6)’” (Paul Harkin, ed. Ancient Christian Writers: St. John Chrysostom’s Baptismal Instructions, 6.12, pp. 97 to ninety-eight)

So when he urges us to give priority to relationships with people in need, this is a word thoroughly grounded in the Holy Scriptures. St. John Chrysostom always stood to study the Scriptures, in reverent, trustful fear of God. See Inspiration  above for more from St. John Chrysostom:

Here is my post with all the websites on St. Basil the Great (at the bottom): St. Basil said, “The bread you retain belongs to the hungry. The extra clothes you lock in your closet belong to the naked.”

And here are the web addresses for my 3 posts on St. Gregory the Theologian’s Oration 14, “On the Love of the Poor: 

charity versus social engineering?

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upom those in the tombs bestowing life!

Our Orthodox Christian faith is, at times, not politically correct. We are called to a more enduring standard than that. Accordingly, the spokespersons of disability movements will tend to judge our Church according to the views that are held to be correct in the universities, which study issues pertaining to disability; these views are seen to be “the cutting edge.” The holy Apostolic Catholic (Orthodox) Christian Tradition is not, unfortunately, “the bottom line.” I’m speaking of the secular world-outside the Church. Of course, this approach can filter into the Church, and it must be weighed in the balance decisively.

And I would add, though, it is our responsibility to listen to the concerns of folks in the disability movements, whether in the Church or not, and interpret and apply our Christian Tradition in ways that are loving and appropriate to the lives of people here and now. What harm is there in saying or writing “spokespersons,” for instance? (Actually I know an esteemed Antiochian Orthodox Christian Priest who argues mightily against it, and his arguments have some weight. But this is beyond the scope of the concerns I am about to address.)

Here is an article I’ve known about for some time which addresses “Inclusion” in Cyprus from a Symposium in Glasglow, Scotland in August, 2005, by Simoni Symeonidou, of the University of Cambridge:

If you want to simply see what he has to say about the Orthodox Church, scroll down to ‘HIDDEN’ CURRICULUM, ‘HIDDEN’ SEGREGATION and read the next few paragraphs. (However, in all fairness, it is better to read the article from beginning to end, if one wants to understand his point.)

To sum up his complaint, he feels the Orthodox Church of Cyprus, in its constant exhortations of the faithful to practice charity, hinders progress toward inclusion “and the development of social welfare policy.” Charity is associated with “pity.”

Are these legitimate concerns? To be sure, they are. If alms are given without the sense that the persons receiving them is equally “made in the image of God,” but rather than in a condescending fashion, there is a failure of love, of “charity” rightly defined. Alongside alms, a warm-hearted advocacy of equal opportunities for disadvantaged persons to achieve their full potential and develop their God-given gifts in the Church and in society is called for by our glorious God, Who Is Charity, or Love. (1 Epistle of St. John 4:8 )

But let’s be honest; we all fall short. Personally, I think we American Orthodox can learn a lot from Orthodox Christians in traditionally Orthodox countries, in regard to charity, including efforts specifically related to persons with disabilities. Perhaps as a whole, their societies fall very short of the goal; but certainly there are local efforts that please the heart of God, which are as incense before Him.

I scour the Internet for these efforts. But many, I’m sure, are adverse to broadcasting their good works- for good and blessed reasons.

Scholars devote themselves to analyzing their specialties, to breaking them down into their parts. They employ their highly honed critical thinking skills in the process. Uncovering weaknesses in systems, toward a theory that would enable better systems, is their goal, for the most part. It is a noble task that can bear good fruit. (as long as the scholar abides in Christ!)

But one thing I appreciate about the Orthodox Christian Church is how we focus on putting it all together, which is synthesis, rather than analysis: for instance, our “remembrance” of our “telos,” our latter end; seeing salvation in terms of deification, union with God, restoration to the Divine likeness, rather than examining and debating the place of each facet in this jewel and its place in the progression of our eternal life (such as the Protestant wranglings over the relation between justification and sanctification).

We are called to focus daily on the hard work of faith and repentance, and are also called to a charity that includes all, as we proclaim in each Divine Liturgy: “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee, in behalf of all and for all.” This is not pity.

As the Holy Scriptures proclaim, this charity is in small things, which are like mustard seeds, “the smallest of seeds,” which germinate and grow to give shades to birds.

We simply don’t start with social welfare policy. An Orthodox Christian effort to forge a public policy to be implemented in society will probably have to make compromises with groups and ideologies which will prove to be many flies in our soup. Sometimes our parish and community efforts grow to be more notable pan-Orthodox efforts. But that’s the Holy Spirit’s work; we sow seeds, and tend them.

Joseph Pearse wrote a book recently entitled “Small is Still Beautiful,” which captures this approach well, in terms of its societal implications: also

St. Basil

St. Basil the Great

Let the scholars scrutinize, but when it comes to putting Charity in perspective, give me St. Basil the Great: (quotes on charity) & (overview with many links) & (on hesychia) & (biography & works) & (on lamenting my sins) & (the Anaphora prayer from the Liturgy of St. Basil) & (on St. Basil’s leadership and personal involvement in monastic charity) & (on Christian behavior) & (various works by him and on him; hymns to St. Basil) & (short biography on St. Basil & St. Gregory the Theologian and the source of the icon displayed above)

children with special needs & the Orthodox Christian family

Father Steven P. Tsichlis  wrote this short and insightful piece which combines a respect for the dignity of the child with disabilities with the gravity of the situation of the family with a child with special needs, as well as the need for the rest of us to reflect before blurting out something unhelpful. Here it is: 

There’s a lot of content on this parish’s website (the list on the right of the page) For instance, under “People,”  “Special Folks” at St. Paul’s: 

You were expecting people with disabilities? Well, I fooled you. Instead, two remarkable older ladies are featured. They, too, are indeed special. The word “special” has a much wider application than it’s connotations in the disability community. And it can be used to segregate rather than honor people with disabilities. There’s a real need for fresh expressions to get across messages to other people’s hearts. So let’s work on it!

Reprint (with revisions) from April 2007

from Metr. Gregory of St. Petersburg, 1904

. . . 7. You are pleased when people help you when you are in need. Therefore strive yourself, as much as you can, to help your neighbor in all of his needs. For alms (all good deeds) doth deliver from death, and shall purge away all sin. Those that exercise alms and righteousness shall be filled with life (Tobit 12:9) the Word of God tells us. Here we must follow a special rule. Namely:
a) We must first, before helping other people help those whom God’s foresight has united us with, i.e., parents, relatives, authorities, benefactors, those under our authority, and fellow believers. St. Paul says concerning the first group, But if any provide not for those of his own house, he hath denied the Faith, and is worse than an infidel (I Tim. 5:8). Concerning fellow believers the Apostle teaches: As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of Faith (Gal. 6:10).

b) Among the above, before others, come to the assistance of those who are especially in need, that is the ill and disabled. . . .

Even if you cannot give them what they specifically need, then at least visit them, serve them in some way, and comfort them. Act in this way even if they are totally ungrateful to you, for Love does not seek its own (I Cor. 13:5), and the Lord will reward you. . .

from How Should We Conduct Ourselves in Relation to Other People? By Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg (1904). Read the entire treatise at the blog Orthodox Christian, the source of this exhortation:

Illustration from


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