Archive for November, 2009

“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.

thanks be to God for His inexpressible Gift! (IV)

 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:

Also, here’s three gems from Fr. Stephen at Glory to God for All Things:

Philotimo- Responsive Gratefulness:

Give Thanks in All Things

The Act of Giving Thanks as a Way of Life:

A word of thanks to his Eminence Metropolitan Philip

Earlier this year the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops (SCOBA) put forth a statement on Disability and Communion, which is listed first on the blogroll to the right on this site: SCOBA Statement.

Since his Eminence’s favorite charity is Al-Kafaat (Abilities, in Arabic) in Lebanon, which educates people with disabilities toward vocations and productive lives in society, and also considering his support for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Teen SOYO’ Special Olympics ministry, I think it would be safe to assume that he must have had a substantial role in the development of the SCOBA statement (Disability and Communion).

And for this we thank you, your Eminence.

This year at the Parish Life Conference of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic, Metropolitan Philip, as he was proceeding toward the doors to our Conference sanctuary, stopped and stood before me. It would have been fitting and proper for me to greet him, but I stood there tongue-tied. Writing comes easily to me, but speaking does not. Still, it was boorish, and I regret my silence. But now, belatedly, I would like to express my appreciation for him and all he does for us, including the statement Disability and Communion.

Also, I would add a thank you to His Grace Bishop Thomas for his blessing to proceed with this website. Thank you, your Grace.

Homeschooling- Special Needs, Orthodox Christian

On the site LetsHomeschool there is a page which are focused on special needs children: Special Needs Homeschool: 

On the list of pages in the right column of this site, scroll down to . . .

homeschool friends

Special Needs Homeschool, and there are four more pages which address homeschooling children with handicaps, ADHD, giftedness, and special needs, respectively. 


Here are two more sites pertaining to special needs homeschooling; the first is from a mother who is homeschooling her daughter, who has Down Syndrome:

Molly Homeschooling Special Learners 

And here are some sites of specific interest for Orthodox Christian Homeschooling: homeschooling as Orthodox Ideas for an Orthodox Homeschooling program

Orthodox Christian Classical Homeschool (Yahoo Group)

Anaphora Press: Transitioning into Homeschooling

Anaphora Press: Orthodox Curriculum- Children’s Garden of the Theotokos 

Morning Coffee Blogspot: “Homeschooling” search

Yahoo Group: Orthodox Home Church School 

Homeschool Journey Online Resource List for Parents and Teachers Especially for Parents

Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education: Orthodox Christian Parenting

Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education: Two Articles on Orthodox Education- Public School & Homeschool

St. Raphael School: Serving homeschooling Orthodox families 

Classical Learning Resource Center & Ancient Faith Podcast: Anne Van Fossen on the Classical Learning Resource Center

Facebook group: Orthodox Christian Homeschooling

Orthodox Christian Educational Resources: The Parents’ Handbook for Orthodox Christian Homeschoolers

A Chime of Hearts: Orthodox Homeschool

Thoughts About Homeschooling, by Father Chad Williams st-nectarios-homeschooling-resources 

Orthodox Mom: A New Adventure- Homeschooling

Four Handmaids Orthodox Christian Academy: An Orthodox Classical Home School in Texas 

St. Emmelia Homeschool Conference Association 

paidea classics

picture from

An Essay on Orthodox Christian Philanthropy

From Round Table: Education for Change and Diaconia

Origins of Christian Orthodox diakonia: Christian Orthodox philanthropy in Church history (informing our present service)

(An excerpt: )

Perhaps no better person exemplified in theory and in practice the philanthropic spirit of the Church than Saint Basil of Caesarea. In a profound and moving prayer, incorporated in the liturgy that bears his name, Basil called upon God to remember all officials and authorities; to nurture the infants and educate the youth; to support the elderly and comfort the fainthearted;

… liberate those who are troubled by illnesses; sail with those at sea; accompany the wayfarers; plead for the widow; defend the orphans, free the captives; heal the afflicted. О God, look after those who are on trial, or condemned to the mines, or to exile and bitter slavery, or in any way hard pressed, in want, in extremity and all who plead for your boundless compassion. Remember О Lord those who love us as well as those who hate us … for you, О Lord, are the help of the helpless, the hope of the hopeless, rescuer of the tempest-tossed, safe haven for sailors, healer of the sick. Be all things to all people, for you know each of us and what we would ask, our homes, our needs.


The Church, in the Byzantine era, including its monastic communities often provided the essentials of social security for a large segment of the population of the Empire throughout its existence. As already indicated, it took under its aegis orphans, widows, the old and the disabled, the stranger and the unemployed; it saw to the release of prisoners of war and of those unjustly detained. In time of pestilences, earthquakes and other natural catastrophes the Church played a major role looking after the needs of all. In addition to Basil, the father of institutionalized philanthropy, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Attikos of Constantinople, John the Eleemosynary of Alexandria, Theolyptos of Philadelphia, Athanasios of Constantinople are brilliant examples of the Church’s social teachings and service.
for a picture of the Rev. Dr. Demetrios Constantelos, click on:

Reprinted from August 2008

personal knowledge

There are professionals in the realm of addressing the challenges of disability, who certainly have studied their field, with purposeful interaction. There is much to be gained from their objective knowledge and experience.

And there are those who live with disabilities, and with loved ones with disabilities, who have personal knowledge of life with these challenges.

To  listen to their stories, to open one’s heart to them, and to respond as one can, opens new vistas whereby we may grow in our loving apprehension of the God Who emptied Himself for us, who receives our paltry efforts for the least of these (St. Matthew. 25) as done for Him. (as I count myself the very least)*

An Orthodox Christian mother, Alana, shares her heart in this way on the blog A Morning Coffee. Here are two entries that are both excellent disability resources:

How Can the Church Minister to the Chronically Ill:

Rambling Thoughts On Mental Illness:

Personal Knowledge. Stories. Parables. These are the things that move us.

(Facts can too, of course- if they fit into our stories)

*(the “least of these” in whose eyes? God’s or ours? It was uttered for the enlightenment of our eyes and hearts, by the Lord Jesus Christ our God, concerning His folks at the bottom, on the margins, with whom He most identifies- our God, so aggressively downwardly mobile, now glorified with wounds of love on His hands and feet, with the holy martyrs)

Another Special Needs Divine Liturgy Offered in Maryland

In addition to the Long Island Challenge Liturgy Ministry, there is now a Special Needs Orthodox Ministry in Bethesda, MD:

This Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the temple of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, which has lot of other ministries as well:


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