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)


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