Archive for October, 2009

2009 disability film festivals

Here is where they are, with links to the venue and  the film titles:

Toronto, Canada:

Athens, Greece:

Austin, Texas:

The Breaking Down Barriers Film Festival in Moscow, Russia is every other year- on the even years. But here is their website:

“The Accessible Church”

From the Orthodox Church of America’s online Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries’ Parish Development Page, by Permission:

  The Accessible Church by the Very Reverend Father John Matusiak, rector of St. Joseph Church, Wheaton, IL; managing editor of the publication “The Orthodox Church;” and secretary of the Orthodox Church of America’s Diocese of the Midwest.

The Accessible Church
By Fr. John Matusiak
The rights of people with handicapping conditions first received the support of federal law with the enactment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Title V, Section 504, prohibits discrimination against qualified persons with handicapping conditions in federally-assisted programs or activities solely on the basis of disability.During the years immediately following enactment, administrators and advocates learned that non-discrimination is more difficult to practice with the disabled than in cases of racial or sexual discrimination. The reason is that people with disabilities may need different treatment than others for equal access to public life. That realization prompted demonstrations at Health, Education, and Welfare offices across the country and led to the development of the Section 504 regulation in 1977.For the most part, churches have ignored the needs of the disabled, and many church buildings are virtually inaccessible. Steps, pew placement, inaccessible washroom facilities, and insensitivity to the needs of the disabled in general have posed problems for decades. Yet as we consider the means by which the Orthodox Church in America can effectively evangelize, grow, and reach out to everyone — including the disabled — we should consider accessibility one of our top priorities, as every parish can expect that one out of four of its members will be handicapped at some point in life. A major attitudinal barrier to overcome is the idea that people with disabilities are people in need. As Orthodox Christians we should strive to see people as having abilities instead of disabilities, capable of offering leadership and a host of other talents to the Church and community. The parish which truly seeks to evangelize as Christ commanded will welcome all people, as Christ Himself did. 

 Building Language

Let’s consider a few facts.
The disabled persons are not necessarily handicapped. A handicap exists when the disabled person cannot overcome a barrier. Therefore the responsibility for accessibility is in those who create barriers or who should remove such barriers once their presence is recognized.

Buildings send messages in what might be termed “building language.” The message that church buildings need to say is “welcome.” A church building or parish hall with countless steps, inadequate sound systems, or inaccessible facilities surely does not extend a warm invitation to the disabled.

We may fool ourselves that proposed structural changes are planned only for the permanently disabled people. Not so. At any moment many able-bodied parishioners are recovering from illness or are temporarily in casts or on crutches. Further, every parishioner is growing older. These are all conditions which benefit from “barrier-free” access to our church facilities.

One of the purposes of the Church is the maintenance of Christian fellowship. We assume that it is a person’s desire to continue active involvement in worship and in fellowship as long as life will allow. On the other hand, every parish has its list of homebound parishioners who are no longer active. The decision to be homebound is theirs. They perceive that, given their disability, to leave home and enter the church building or hall is too difficult. If every church building could be barrier free, the greater part of the perceived difficulty will have been removed.

 Assessing Needs

An Accessibility Audit is one of the easiest ways of discovering architectural barriers, and considering the different ways in which these barriers can be removed is usually quite simple.
Determining costs, procedures, and the time involved in removing physical barriers is more difficult. But with such information in hand, decisions, plans, and implementation take place at whatever pace a particular parish accepts.

Awareness-building might proceed more quickly if able-bodied parishioners used a wheelchair or crutches to tour their parish facilities in order to experience first hand some of the problems faced by disabled persons.

It is also essential to recognize the fact that we are long past that time when the need for accessibility developed. The long list of those now considered shut-in makes that self-evident. We need also to remember that removing existing architectural barriers will not, of itself, return to active parish life those who are comfortably established in their home-bound lifestyle. Those for whom we are becoming barrier free are, primarily, those who are presently active and those becoming active as time goes on, the one out of four who will become disabled at some point in their lives. Our goal should be to extend their time of active participation for as long as possible.

What Is An Accessible Church?

An accessible church is one that has overcome:
The physical or architectural barriers that make it difficult for people with handicaps to enter or to participate fully;

The attitudinal barriers that keep them from feeling welcome. Of the two, the attitudinal barrier is the most difficult to overcome. Once awareness, sensitivity, and understanding are achieved, the removal of physical barriers becomes an easy task.
Attitudinal barriers might be more easily overcome if we kept the following points in mind:

People with disabilities also have many gifts and talents given to them by God. We are all called to be stewards of our own gifts and to encourage others to share theirs as well.

Disabled people should be included in parish leadership roles. When planning programs, learn firsthand the needs of the whole parish.

Parishioners may have relatives with handicapping conditions who are anticipating or experiencing attitudinal or physical barriers. Listen to their fears or anger and involve them in the process of change.

To assure that people with visual disabilities can fully participate in liturgical services, contact your local society for the blind. For little or no cost they will gladly assist you in producing prayer books and other religious literature in Braille or large-type.

Christianity has a long and unfortunate history of excluding hearing-impaired persons. St. Augustine, an early Christian writer, declared that deaf persons could not be Christians because they could not “hear the Word.” Past mistakes do not justify continued insensitivity. Since it is generally impossible to offer services with sign language interpretations, consider better sound amplification, which can be accomplished by installing a “loop” system in the pews. Your local society for the hearing-impaired will provide information about mechanical means of access.

Non-sighted persons will want to move around parish facilities independently. Ushers or greeters can express their welcome by orienting them immediately to steps, doors, and corridors.

Several modifications may need to be made for equal access by those in wheelchairs. Can they move freely around the church? Are some pews shorter than others thereby allowing persons in wheelchairs to be part of a row rather than an appendage of the worshipping congregation?

When your parish has learned to integrate people with handicapping conditions into its life of service, you may want to explore new opportunities for outreach and evangelization by noting in parish publications, phone directory listings, and advertisements that the church building is accessible to the disabled. It is a proven fact that the disabled will more readily join churches which are accessible.

Because of its history of barring those with disabilities, the Church is challenged to seek out people with handicapping conditions and invite their participation in a common ministry. Elimination of architectural barriers, as vital as it is, is not enough. An on-going ministry to the disabled should be an integral part of every progressive parish.

The Desert Beckons

(Even as the Good Shepherd presents Himself as family member (Church & otherwise), friend, neighbor, the least of these, enemy, etc. to be lovingly served in cruciform self-denial)

Even as I have struggled to keep the fullness of the Faith in focus while I do this resource page, this project can tend to take center stage for me, at times to the detriment of what belongs there: continual repentance. This is a call to a reorientation, a refocusing, in light of this truth:

The sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart God will not despise.

– Psalms 50:19 (LXX) from The Orthodox Study Bible

For three years I have worked at writing new posts a couple times a week.

I plan, from now on, to post things as I find them, as well as re-posting some previous posts,  some of the more important ones for longer periods.

I may also make an effort, as the Lord gives light,  at bringing forth posts with more depth.

Also in my heart is the goal to give more attention to face-to-face encounters to which I am called. The computer has a way of monopolizing precious time.

You may find the Very Reverend Fr. John Matusiak’s 1983 essay  “The Accessible Church” or the SCOBA Statement on Disability and Communion posted in the longer inactive intervals.

What does the “Desert” mean to Orthodox Christian lay people? St. Antony sold everything and went to the Desert to do spiritual warfare for the Lord. He waged a fierce battle and the Lord helped him, and many others followed in his footsteps. The desert will mean something different for most of us.

How does one remain in the world and emulate the Desert Fathers? Is it  the simplification of one’s life- as much as it is possible- to the one thing needful that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of? Perhaps thats the heart of it, but what would it entail? Inward travel, without a doubt. Downward as well, with our humble Lord, in relinquishment, service, witness, carrying our crosses to our Gethsemanes, our Golgothas- trusting in the Lord to raise us up.

As much as is possible, love the desert and the immaterial life, and fly from your material possessions to the fold of the poor. Simplify your life so as to be freed from worldly anxiety, so that your life might have meaning. – Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos

Here are some websites I have found which relate to “The Desert.” I’m going to be giving these resources and some others like them some time and thought and prayer, and I would invite you to do the same:The True Desert is Within, Fr. James Coles

The Desert and the World: Learning from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Fr. John Chryssavgis

The Community of the Desert and the Loneliness of the Cities, Monk Moses

Orthodox Christian Spirituality and the Prayer of the Heart or the Jesus Prayer, His Eminence Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos, Metropolitan of Korea

The Weblog Word from the Desert

Gifts of the Desert: The Forgotten Path of Christian Spirituality, Kyriacos C. Markides

Dogs and other animals in our service

A fellow Orthodox Christian blogger writes about service dogs and her life with the one she recently acquired. Here is her page on service dogs. Click on: And here is her blog which describes her life with a service dog:

Many of the saints interacted with animals in mutually supportive ways. At times God directed animals to serve saints, such as bringing food to them. Here is a post, Saints and Animals on SAFCEI by an Orthodox Christian, Stephen Hayes, on the subject, with a list of references at the end:

Here is a brief description of the book, Animals & Man: A State of Blessedness by Joanne Stefanatos, from the Holy Cross Bookstore:

Finally here is another story about service dogs from AssociatedContent.Com:

Reprinted from October 2008

Fullness and Focus

The Orthodox Christian faith ultimately encompasses the entire counsel of God for eternity. The faithful will never fully understand the essence of God  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, nor in this life the many aspects of His plan exhaustively. We worship the Lord with wonder and awe in the Mystery of the Faith. The Lord will guide us into all the Truth with the divine energies we possess by virtue of our union and communion in Him- our daily Bread- as well as with the insights He sees we need to proceed with each day. The Kingdom of God is within us, now. Through our Lord Jesus Christ and His Body the Church we experience the Fullness to the degree that we have prepared ourselves to do so.

The following three verses, which really should be read in their larger context, speak to the Fullness:

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell.” (St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:19)

And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 1:22-23)

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” (St. John 1:16)

Our God has raised up for us loving Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, as guides for us as we seek this fullness. They are living icons of Christ, centrally in the Divine Liturgy, in which we receive the Body and Blood of Christ and experience the Kingdom of God, and throughout or days as we seek to share this joy with those we encounter in our daily lives. We are the light of the world.

But fallen in sin, we also seek healing and restoration to the Divine Likeness through recognition of our inner poverty, by mourning, by confession to our spiritual fathers, and by repentance and amendment of life in the Divine power of our absolution and in the communion in Christ’s body and blood. This personal focus is central for Orthodox Christians. As the chief of sinners, I am to focus first on taking the beam out of my own eye, which is all the bad attitudes by which I survey the world as I hold onto the vestiges of my fallen life. “O Lord make haste to help me; O God make haste to deliver me!” (Psalm 70:1) Salvation is a gift, and also a process.

Arms Open Wide focuses on stories and resources for persons with disability, which is one aspect of life among many others. As an aspect, it is not the fullness. If I would focus all my efforts completely on this resource page and living its focused message I would be a heretic, for “heresy” comes from a Greek word meaning only “part of the truth.”

Nevertheless our Lord Jesus Himself directed His disciples to go only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. This was their mission for that moment. Christ became human, dwelling bodily in a finite material form. Through the Most Holy Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, the Infinite sojourned in a limited space. This is a great Mystery.

And since we the people of Christ’s Body the Church, which is His fullness, also sojourn in a limited space, we do “our part” where we are, with the gifts He has bestowed upon us, even as we participate, without fully understanding it, in the great Mystery of the Fullness of God.

I the writer and you the readers are taking a moment to focus on Orthodox Christian resources for persons with disability, hopefully, within this fullness, keeping in perspective the place of this aspect in the Fullness of God. The chief resource for doing this, again, is our God, Who shepherds us through His loving Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.

As St. John the Theologian wrote, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Even good things can become idols when taken out of perspective-even our service projects.

Forgive me, everyone, especially my beloved Lord Jesus, if anything on this weblog has served to distort the Fullness of our Faith. In truth, much of what is written is my apprehension of the Truth as it should be; my own life fails to match the words. I write of socialization as one who longs for full, healthy socialization, and for deification in Christ. But I have a long way to go. And so how can the words be adequate to the Truth? Forgive me.

That said, let us all seek with all our hearts to dwell and rejoice in the fullness of Christ and His Church, and consider, act, and enjoy all things in the Light of His Fullness.

Read here what Father Stephen has to say about The Fullness of the Faith at Glory to God for All Things:

focused service

Orthodoxy means “right worship.” Our worship informs our understanding. Both the Divine Liturgy and the “Liturgy after the Liturgy,” our service to others, informs our understanding, our beliefs, our creed. Ultimately that service to others will serve as a basis for judgment:

31 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 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: 35 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; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

And who is “the least of these?” Persons with disability are not mentioned; rather, it is the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick people, and the prisoners and strangers. Of course this is taking the passage in a strictly literal sense; it is understood that these categories of people represent every category of people who are minimalized, depersonalized, devalued by others, whether they be persons with disability or anyone who is being ignored.

And upon closer examination we find that our Lord isn’t speaking in terms of categories of people, but of real, live flesh and blood people, in whom He dwells.

And there is a personal, subjective dynamic in play here as well- Who do I prioritize in my life and who do I put at the bottom of my list?

This disability resource page addresses just one aspect of this entire picture- people with disabilities and those in relationship with them.

Why? Orthodox Christianity is the fullness of the Faith; we don’t pick and choose whom we will love, do we? The person we encounter, friend or foe, is the one we are called to love.

So why this specialized site? Simply because working in a group home for persons with developmental disability is the opportunity that was presented to Margaret and me decades ago, and we ran with it, so to speak. This is where we live. This is what we know. And so we do what we can from this local, specialized sphere where we live with persons with disability.

The Word became flesh– John 1. The incarnate Christ did not travel very far in His earthly life; He focused on the people of Israel. And this was necessary, somehow, for the fulfillment of His mission to unite heaven and earth in Himself. And he calls all of us to specific efforts as well.

And just as He also healed and touched the lives of Samaritans and Gentiles, we are also called to be there for people we encounter other than those for whom we are primarily responsible – the sick, strangers, prisoners- whoever comes our way.

But He had a mission and has given us missions to be responsible for, and this blog relates to mine. To be incarnate entails being local. Of course in Christ, the parts become whole, while remaining parts- 1 Corinthians 12.

But Matthew 25 challenges us all to reflect the likeness of Christ and love the whole world- as it passes by our locale.

Reprinted from September 2008

An Adoption Story

There are three adoptions stories, some information on the adverse effects of abortion and an encouragement to “Choose Life,” a word on “The Sacrament of Marriage,” as well as details concerning the ministry of Martha and Mary House on the website listed below.

The first adoption story concerns a child with special needs which are not specified.  This is the story that will come up here:

The patron Saint of the Martha and Mary House is the Grand Dutchess Elizabeth of Russia:


Blog Stats

  • 122,708 hits
October 2009
« Sep   Nov »

%d bloggers like this: