Archive for November, 2008

physical attributes of Priests- a conversation

I would like to share a conversation on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship mailing list (which I am a part of) regarding the physical attributes of Priests. I will omit the names of the two persons conversing. (a layperson and a Priest) This conversation does not represent the official position of the Orthodox Church on the Priesthood and disability, in terms of the canons involved and their interpretation in the Orthodox Church in the early 21st century. But it is valuable and instructive as a conversation.

Question (layperson):

i was just talking with a romanian friend who’s son is hoping to enter the local high school for those wishing to join the priesthood (or become iconographers or choir directors)   i was asking her what the entrance test is like for this high school and she said one component is a physical exam.  partly to check for physical disease or ailments that might pose problems with ascetic practices, but also to check for any physical deformites.  she said it was based on an OT law about the priest not being marred in any physical way.  I immediately asked her if my son (who was born with an undeveloped ear) would then not be eligible to be a priest, and she said only if he had an operation to repair the ear. she didnt have very much theology to justify this, but she said even people of short stature or obesity or who had been in an accident would not pass the physical.
i was wondering if this is the case in other countries and if so, what is the reasoning behind such discriminating laws.  as a mother of a bright, energtic,faith-filled son, it is incomprehensible for me to think he would be denied following the vocation of priesthood because of a physical anomaly.

Answer (Priest):

The canons do prohibit anyone with a physical defect of abnormality from being ordained to the priesthood.   That would be true in Orthodoxy everywhere.   I cannot say to what extent the canon is enforced.  Also

I’m not sure totally what “defects” would exclude a person from being ordained, the canons may in fact specifically list them.   I’m guessing that because of the actions of a priest in the liturgy, he would be expected to have 2 healthy legs and 2 healthy arms and hands, could not be blind, or mute, probably not deaf.
I think it is based as you stated in the Old Testament ideas of the priesthood.  Just like the goat, bull or sheep to be offered had to be without defect, so too the offerer was to be without blemish.   In Christianity I think it has to do with the way in which the priest is somehow  to be an image of Christ himself.   A person with a physical defect would have been seen as either representing Christ imperfectly or representing a defective Christ.
I am not defending the thinking to you, but am postulating that this idea about the priest evolved over time.  Today we have a different set of values regarding handicaps/disabilities and also different ideas about what the priest images or what he represents.   So yes, some of our values would be in conflict with some of the values of the ancients.  We do emphasize things they would not, and vice versa.
It all has to do with an idea of what the priest is “imaging” or represents.  If he is being thought of as somehow standing for God or Christ, it was thought he must be without visible defect.  This was there idealism about what the clergy represent.
And again, I have no idea whether or not bishops enforce this or whether today this would be another canon that might be overlooked.  It would I think depend on the nature of the “anomaly.”   We tend to be more functionary than symbolically minded, so we might not have a negative reaction to a priest with an anomaly if it doesn’t really impede his function in the liturgies.
As an aside – when we built our new church facility, we had a raised altar area, with two steps leading up to it.  The local building inspector did not want to approve it because it did not meet handicapped accessible codes (there being no ramp or elevator for such a person to get into the altar).  One of the parishioners told the inspector that in our tradition a handicapped person would not normally be serving at the altar, and so there was no need for handicapped accessibility.  The inspector dropped the issue because of our being a church.   But I think many Orthodox churches would have altar areas that are not handicapped accessible.

Follow-up Question (layperson):

thank you so much, Father [X], i was hoping to hear from one of the priests on the list.  Your answer does shed some light, but also leaves me with many other questions.  What if a priest wears glasses, does he then not represent a perfect, unblemished Christ?  What if after being ordained, a priest loses a limb, or is confined to a wheelchair later in life, is he then prohibited from serving as a priest?  I know i am showing my very western, rational roots with all this questioning.  Most of my experience of orthodoxy has been in Romania, where physical anomalies are viewed very differently than in the west, so i am trying to discern what is cultural and what is orthodox.
in regards to the steps to the altar, in our church here in Romania, the Eucharist is offered on a raised altar area.  We have many old people with canes, walkers, etc that come up (with support from others) the one step to receive the eucharist, but in our church in the states, the priest stands on the floor level, below the step and there offers the Eucharist.  i remember being at a church in another part of our town here, where a woman, with the help of others, carried her child who was confined to wheelchair, up the steps of the church (probably 10-15 steps) and to the altar to receive the holy mysteries.  almost as difficult as lowering someone through the roof!
thank you again for your patience with my ignorance and my persistent questions.

Follow-up Answer (Priest):

Many priests wear glasses these days, so obviously it is not considered an impediment to ordination.  I don’t know what the canons specify or what the ancients would have thought about that.  But at least in theory it does represent an imperfection, but not one that would stop a priest from functioning.
As for a priest who loses a limb or becomes confined to a wheel chair – I don’t think the canons remove him from the priesthood, but he would not be able to serve at the altar.   We have a retired priest in our area who is confined to a wheelchair and comes to church from time to time and does not serve at the altar, though we do give him communion at the same time as the rest of the clergy – we take it to him where he sits in the nave.  He is still considered to be a priest, but would not physically be able to do the liturgy.
I’m sure there are priests who became temporarily disabled – broken leg or arm for example – and I don’t know what happens in their parishes while they recover from their injuries. I would think the main concern of the priest would be dropping the chalice due to the injury, and so some might not want to serve.  But in places where priests are too few, I’m sure some exceptions are made to allow a disabled priest to serve.  Modern people are often more practical than idealistic.

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible Gift!

Reprinted from Nov. 21, 2007 Thank You, Lord, for our daily bread- what we need, when we need it, from Your loving hand. On Thanksgiving, the day after, and forevermore.

The CD Akathist of Thanksgiving, sung by the choir of the St. Ignatius of Antioch Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Madison, Wisconsin (not as a performance but as a prayer) was written by Archpriest Gregory Petroff in a Soviet Prison Camp, where he passed through the shadow of death into the eternal loving Presence of God. In the midst of great terror and privation, he found within the illumination to grasp “the beauty of the universe … the festival of life … the bread of eternal joy.” Here is an excerpt:

“Glory to you, for every sigh of my sadness … for every moment of joy … for the fragrant lillies of the valley and the roses … for the morning dew, shining like diamonds … I kiss reverently the footprint of Your invisible tread … for the last rays of sunlight … for rest and the gift of sleep … for providential encounters with people … for the love of relatives, the devotion of friends … for our tireless thirst for You … Who have broken the spirits of darkness … for the genius of the human mind … for the life-giving strength of work … Who grant my wishes when they are good … for Whom there is no such thing as a hopeless loss … Who send failures and sorrows to us so that we might be sensitive to the sufferings of others … Who have raised love higher than anything on earth or in heaven … for providential coincidences … for the guidance of a secret inner voice … for revelations in dreams and when awake … Who destroy our useless plans … Who humble pride of heart to save us … for the unfathomable life-giving power of grace … Who have raised up Your Church as a refuge of peace for an exhausted world … Who breathe new life into us with the life-giving water of Baptism … Who restore the purity of immaculate lillies to those who repent … Glory to you, inexhaustible abyss of forgiveness … Who led us to heaven … Who have loved us with love immeasurable, deep, Divine … Who have surrounded us with light, and with hosts of angels and saints … Glory to You , all Holy Father, Who have willed us Your Kingdom … all Holy Son, the Way the Truth, and the Life …all Holy Spirit and life-giving sun of the future age … Glory to You for everything, O Divine Trinity, all bountiful … unto ages of ages.”

“Thanks be to God, Who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:57) To order copies of this CD or to read the Akathist of Thanksgiving in its entirety see this website:

Orthodox Christian apologetics

(New sites will be added as they are discovered)

First, here is a website that defines apologetics from an Orthodox Christian standpoint, Click on: Apologetics – OrthodoxWiki

Click here to access Apologetics on the Greek Archdiocese website: Apologetics — Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

And click here for Khorea Frederica Matthewes-Green’s offerings on Christian apologetics:

More Orthodox Christian apologetics websites

1. Here’s a site devoted to the testimonies of people who have journeyed from no faith, other faiths, and from the myriads of Christian denominations to the Orthodox Christian Faith- Journey to Orthodoxy. To access, click on

2. Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiriesa tremendous amount of information here; more incisive, scholarly, laying out the differences: 

3. A Brotherhood of Orthodox Christian Apologists

a. (main page)


c. David Withun’s You Tube page-

d. Seraphim’s blog and You Tube pages- &



4. Found another one: 

5. A Personal Apologetic: Impelled by the Scriptures into the Orthodox Church 

6. Fr. Zacharia Boutros (a Coptic Orthodox Priest) The Hope of All Nations Christian-Muslim comparative theology 

7. Orthodox Christian Faith 

And lastly, I offer you a quote, from a site that has been since taken offline, Answers for South African Greek Orthodox Christians that speaks to the issues that are addressed on this website:

The person who has accepted Christ, been baptized and received the Holy Spirit begins a new life which is expressed in love good deeds. Á person is not saved by faith alone but by faith, which expresses itself through good deeds. Á person is not saved by faith alone but by faith, which expresses itself through love as St. Paul, writes. . . . .

We are created for those good works that are done in Christ and for Christ. ÁÌl others are counterfeit; they cannot pass inspection in God’s sight.

The early Church was a show place of good works done for Christ. Having been made a new creation in Christ, those early Christians began to produce new deeds that astounded the pagan worlds. In one of the earliest apologetic works preserved, Justin the Martyr (d. 165), writes:

“We used to value above all else money and possessions; now we bring together that we have and share it with those who are in need (cf. Acts 4:34-37). Formerly we hated and killed one another and, because of a difference in nationality our custom we refused to admit strangers within our gates. Now since the coming of Christ we all live in peace. We pray for our enemies and seek to convert those who hate us in unjustly “(l Apology xlv).

Tertullian (160-220) said: “It is our care for the helpless, our practise of loving kindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only’ look,’ they say, look how they love one another” (Apology xxxix).

“And let our people run to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful.These words of St. Paul found eager expression in the lives of the early Christians who as we see from the history of the early Church:

É. gave alms to help the destitute (even poor Christians were urged to give through fasting);

2. supported widows and orphans;

3. supported the sick, the infirm, the poor, and the disabled (even establishing hospitals in many cities)

4. cared for prisoners and slaves

5. found work for those who were unemployed;

6. cared for those who journeyed;

7. cared for the victims of great calamities.

Now it is up to live up to this high calling.

Dr. Sameh A. Mitry

Dr. Sameh A. Mitry was a Coptic Orthodox Christian who inspired many. In

Dr. Sameh A. Mitry

Dr. Sameh A. Mitry

the prime of his life he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. An examination of the following sites reveals a man who responded to this midlife onset of disabiliy with faith, patience, and uninterrupted love and service to others, a response that serves as an inspiration to others in similar circumstances.

It should be noted that an extended pdf file entitled “The Sam We Knew” is embedded in the following website. It contains many more testimonials to this man’s life, including his response to disability. Click on the following to access his story:

My Father – Dr. Sameh A. Mitry 1945-1999 »

2008 Disability Film Festivals- Athens, Moscow, Toronto, and Austin, Texas

The first two festivals are in traditionally Orthodox Christian countries, and this may or may not be reflected in the offerings:

Athens, Greece:

Documentary and Disability, 2nd International Festival – Athens

Moscow, Russia:

Breaking down Barriers – Disability Film Festival – IV

Toronto, Canada:

Abilities Arts Festival – A Celebration of Disability Arts and Culture

Austin, Texas:

Cinema Touching Disability

To be honest, I haven’t viewed the films. I am simply sharing these festivals and the movies they offer as an option, as we are entering the colder months in the northern hemisphere. Orthodox Christians affirm the reality that all persons are made in the image of God, so that we can look for Divine sparks in all creative efforts. But of course, all persons sin as well, distorting the Vision of the Likeness of God. And so we are called to watch with discernment.

Insights from St. John Chrysostom

(November 13 – The Feast of St. John Chrysostom)

The spiritual fathers [Parish Priests (as well as godparents, Sunday School teachers, etc.)] and the parents of children with disabilities are called to “give alms” in a sense much greater than the giving of money (though not to the exclusion of such giving!) – they are called to raise up their spiritual and natural children to be all they can be- to socialize them- with God’s help and by His power- into active participants in the family and the Church (and through the latter, ultimately, into the Kingdom of God). St. John Chrysostom (which means golden-tongued) had much to say about this.

The late John Boojrama of blessed memory also emphasized the importance of interaction- at Church and at home- with the symbols of the community- the sacraments, icons, the readings and the prayers- which illumine more and more as they are handled, experienced, and practiced.

St. John Chysostom’s sermons also provide a wealth of insights for those called to provide socialization to persons with disabilities, whether mental or physical, young or old. The following quotations from St. John Chrysostom and commentary on them are from my (the editor’s) thesis:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Our model, Jesus, reveals the true dimensions of almsgiving. “And we all, [. . .] beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). The lifelong struggle from egocentrism toward consistently reflecting the likeness of Christ through love is the process of Theosis, salvation in its ultimate sense. Our call to love impels us to do all that we can in order that those around us also find their place and role in the Church, the Body of Christ, the Ark of salvation, including those one might deem “less honorable [and] unpresentable . . . On the contrary, the parts of the body which are weaker are indispensable [and are given] greater honor [. . .] that the members may have the same care for one another” (emphasis added) (1 Cor. 12:22-25). ” (pp. 1-2)

In his expository homilies on 1 Corinthians and Matthew, St. John Chrysostom preached on several passage that directly involve the subject at hand, the Church and her members’ ministry to the least of these, and their place in the Church. In his homily 5 he addresses the text, “not many mighty, not many noble [are chosen. Rather,] God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise” (NPNF, 1, 12, 5, on 1 Cor. 1:26-27, 22, c.1). St. John says, “persons of [. . .] great insignificance [are chosen] to pull down boasting” (23, c.2). He warns the self-confident that faith saves, not reasoning ability (24, c.1). Lines of reasoning can lead one into subtle traps away from God. The Faith, received with trust, is a sure foundation (25, c.1). As the Lord says, we must become like a child. In this respect, persons with developmental disability may have something to teach. (9-10)

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). St. John Chrysostom comments that jostling for position, vanity, and ambition are foreign to the childlike disposition; children are generally uncomplicated and humble, and eager to be taught (NPNF, 1, 10, 58, 360, c.1). St. John says the Lord means by “children” men who have these qualities, who are similarly “simple and lowly, and abject and contemptible in the judgment of the common sort” (360, c.2). To the Lord’s warning that it is better to be drowned with millstone around one’s neck than to cause “one of these little ones” to sin (Matt. 18:6), St. John says, “for many feeble-minded persons have suffered no ordinary offence from being treated with slight and insult” (360, c.2). (p. 11)

Persons with developmental disability typically exemplify, into their adult years, the childlike qualities Jesus calls for, and are thereby icons by which these qualities may be learned. But often their simplicity is despised, for cleverness serves to advance selfish ambitions, which retain a fierce grip on the heart unless the cross and the Kingdom are seized with violence. They thus suffer neglect to the detriment of their sense of belonging and their development, and those who neglect them, unless they repent, face the judgment of God. (p. 11)

St. John Chrysostom says, “In the spiritual marriage [. . .] our Bridegroom hurries to save our souls.” Whether a person is ugly, or an outcast, an ex-convict, disabled, or burdened with sins, the Bridegroom tends to their healing (Bapt. Instr., 28, h. 1.15). He pours upon them His gifts, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is active in the weakest members of the Church. (p. 16)

St. John Chrysostom says that just as priests have a flock to feed, “[. . .] every one of us also [. . .] are entrusted with a little flock [. . .].” He speaks chiefly of the family; the man is to lead his sheep “to the proper pastures.” St. John exhorts him to seek, from the beginning of each day, to single-mindedly “do and say something whereby he may render his whole house more reverent.” St. John also directs the woman to seek “that the whole household may work the works of Heaven.” (p. 19)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). St. John Chrysostom, in the explication of this admonition, in order to combat the “bad example from popular entertainments,” says, “Let us give them a pattern to imitate; from their earliest years let us teach them to study the Bible.” The Bible characters would become their models, and Hannah, who “commended Samuel into the hands of God,” would be a model for the parents. “(p. 19)

from “St. John Chrysostom and the Socialization of Persons with Developmental Disability” Patristic Inspiration for Contemporary Application” by Bill Gall. To access, click on THESIS

St. John the Merciful

Our relationships with persons with disability- both inside and outside of the Orthodox Christian Church- require a quality and virtue that we pray for all the time- mercy. “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.” Sometimes we liturgically repeat it 100 times.

We ask His mercy, seeking to be transformed into His image and likeness, which of course includes mercy. And in Him we become merciful to others.

Today the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast day of a 7th century Chalcedonian Patriarch of Alexandria, St. John the Merciful. Read about him below at Orthodox Wiki to find out what Christlike mercy looks like in a “merely human” being.

(The Lord Jesus Christ is fully human, but not merely human, being from all eternity fully Divine.) Click here for the story on St. John the Merciful:

**John the Merciful – OrthodoxWiki**

And to see a current Orthodox Christian ministry in Toronto, Ontario named after him and inspired by him, click on:

**St. John the Compassionate Mission**


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