Archive for February, 2010

the hard lot of immigration detainees, especially those with mental illness

I have learned through a friend who was in immigration detention 9 years, and from others he encouraged me to visit, that the lot of immigration detainees is a hard one, with many hurdles, and with no (or few) helpful resources and people to help them. Many live with great fear and anxiety that they will be sent back to situations in their homeland which will be dangerous; they will be facing the wrath of the authorities, cruel authorities. 

The laws and regulations that govern the cases of the immigration detainees are stacked against them. They are guilty unless they can convince their immigration judges that they are innocent. I attend one of these hearings. The judge actually seemed to take pleasure in sending a young man who confessed Christ as his Lord back to Egypt, where Christians are persecuted. As a country we are certainly not living up to our stated ideal that all men are created equal,.

Here is a New York Times article that illustrates one such situation, a Chinese immigrant suffering from mental illness:

May God grant that we as a people rethink our approach to immigration detainees, and begin to treat them in a humane way.


the story of an adoption

A few years ago an Orthodox Christian website published a request for a couple to adopt Pasha Kurov, a Russian boy with disabilities.

My wife and I are advisors of a group home; the organization provides us a one bedroom apartment. We don’t have children of our own. I took a moment to consider the possibility of adopting this child.

I thought, “We could put up partitions in the living room and create a little private space there.” But my wife and I agreed that this probably wouldn’t work. The space was too small; the agencies would never agreed to it. (There are other obstacles, such as our age; it was wishful thinking.) But I resolved to pray for the young man, that someone would step forward.

I heard later that a couple did just that, and I rejoiced. But then later I also heard that Pasha had been moved, and the couple hadn’t yet found him. So I renewed my prayers for Pasha.

And then recently I found that David and Dawn Heatwole, Orthodox Christians from Hagarstown, MD,  had successfully adopted Pasha, and also his brothers  Asa and Ethan, a few years later. Here’s the story from the Orthodox Church in America website and also from the website of the St. Catherine Orthodox Church in Hagarstown, MD.

“. . . He sets the poor on high, far from affliction, and makes their families like a flock.” – Psalms 107:41 (106, LXX)

Because this story will last on the Heatwole’s Parish site only so long, I would like to save it as a resource here; it is testament to the Church and to all people of God’s concern for each and every child, every person, with disabilities:      

Asa and Ethan Heatwoles’ adoptions were finalized on September 17, 2007!  Ethan and Asa join their brother, Pasha, and parents, Dawn and David.  Family and friends gathered together for dinner and celebration at Ruby Tuesdays in Martins-burg.  What a joy it is to watch the family grow.  This was their 2nd and 3rd adoption this year!  Three down and two (Adam and Justin) to grow!   O LORD OUR GOD, who by Your beloved child, our Lord Jesus Christ, called us children of God through adoption and said, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son: Look down from Your holy dwelling place upon these Your servants and unite their natures, confirm them in Your love; bind them through Your benediction; Be the mediator for their promises, that their love which they have confessed to You be not torn asunder and be kept sincerely even to the end of their lives, For unto You are due all glory, honor and worship, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] — A few years ago, a notice was posted on the web site of the Orthodox Church in America seeking adoptive parents for a friendly little Russian orphan, Pavel Kurov — affectionately known as “Pasha.”

After two and a half years of search, complex and demanding paperwork, starts and stops, Pasha has been adopted and arrived at his new home in the US at the end of January.

Now the son of David and Dawn Heatwole, members of Saint Catherine Mission, Hagerstown, MD, Pasha, who suffers from a rare neurological condition called sacral agenesis, just celebrated his eighth birthday surrounded by his new family and friends.

“Although it was a very long wait, filled with blood, sweat and tears, looking back we are reminded that ultimately God is in control and HIS timing is perfect. This became very visible to us once we came home with Pasha,” remarked David, Pasha’s new dad. “Pasha seems very happy although still very shy. He is adapting well overall and we are excited to see his progress. We are amazed at how creative he is. His first big project was to make a Batman outfit all out of paper, even the cape.”

“He has really taken to David!” Dawn adds. “He loves his Papa!!! It’s so cool to see! … He’s picking up a little English and learning the alphabet. He’s smart!! He’s soooooo cute!!!! I wish you all could meet him! Thanks for your prayers.”

The Heatwoles extend their thanks to everyone who prayed for the successful completion of Pasha’s adoption.

Besides making Pasha feel comfortable in his new home and enrolling him in school, medical tests to determine the extent of his disability and the appropriate treatment are on the Heatwole’s agenda. Those who would like to help the family and be part of a support group for Pasha can e-mail the Heatwoles at

To access the original webpages:

The Story of the adoption of a Russian Orphan- Pavel Kurov

The Story on the Parish Church Family Life Page (with a picture): 


“The Desperate Situation of Children with Disabilities in Russian Institutions,” Sergey Koloskov

While Russia is traditionally Orthodox Christian, the society is still recovering from the Soviet era. There are grave problems; the nation is fighting for it’s soul.

Here is an expose by Sergey Koloskov, a parent of a Down’s Syndrome child, of the situation of children with disabilities in Russian institutions. While the Church makes efforts, there are many deplorable situations:

Note: This article was written in 2001; progress has been made since then; but this sad picture still exists in far too many places, not only in Russia, but throughout the world.

An update: Russia: Children with Disabilities Face Violence, Neglect; End ‘Orphanage’ System; Support Family Care

Another assessment of the current situation: Despite progress over the last 25 years . . .

The Struggle: Russia: Are efforts to help thousands of ‘abandoned’ children being resisted?

A good story: This Russian orphanage is fighting to keep its disabled kids out of mental asylums 

MERCY: a Russian volunteer movement

sacred spring

Life is harder in Russia than in America, materially. But Russia is an Orthodox Christian nation, traditionally at least, and that Tradition is continuing to revive after the Soviet era, which tested Orthodox Christian Russia to the limit, a limit which from a human standpoint did not seem to be “reasonably” endurable.

When I read Solzenhitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” (Book 1) several years ago I could only read one chapter a week simply because I found it overwhelming. But our loving and faithful God alone knows our limits and our possibilities as peoples made in His image, called to shine forth in His likeness.

Here is an English translation of the website of the Russian ministry MERCY. They seek to serve those in need, including people with disabilities:

Here it is in the original Russian:

and Japanese:

and Arabic:

and Greek:

Google’s translation site for all others:

warm words from Challenge Liturgy participants

Participants, parents, and pastors share what they appreciate about the Challenge Liturgy, an Orthodox Christian Divine Liturgy (with a reception following) celebrated at the Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Port Washington, NY. one Saturday a month.

This ministry has been featured before, but this article brings out how the people involved feel about it.

Challenge Liturgy in Roslyn Heights serves churchgoers with disabilities and their families

And once again, here is their page at the home parish:

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.> (at the time this article was written)

The Accessible Church
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.

A comment on this article from 11/28/2009:

Incredibly accurate and true, true, true! I advocated for Equal Access at a church in Westfield, Massachusetts that underwent $3 million+ in renovations. The parish members (building committee) turned their back towards me because they thought that churches were exmpt from providing All Inclusive Access.

Massachusetts is unique thruought the country because it has an Architectural Access Board that is triggered by building code, not the American’s with Disabilities Act like the building committee thought. They were required to create an Accessible baptism and an Accessible route to the stage along with proper Accessible parking.

Thank you Father John for writing such a concise piece about the failure of churches to provide Individuals with Disabilities Equal Access to “our” churches.

Sincerely, Scott Ricker

2009 Russian Orthodox Church Disability-Related News


(Russian Orthodox Church- The Department for Church Charity and Social Service of the Moscow Patriarchate)

 (Note: 04.09.2009 is September 4, 2009. Americans would write 9/4/2009, but there its date/month/year)
04.09.2009 — His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Mayor of Moscow presented sets of special books to children with defective vision On September 4 in the White Hall of the Refectory Chambers of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour a ceremony of presenting the sets of books to children with weak eyesight was held.
His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov headed the ceremony. The following persons took part in the ceremony as well: first deputy mayor of Moscow in the Government of Moscow L.I. Shvetsova, deputy mayor of Moscow in the Government of Moscow on inter-regional cooperation, mass communication and sport V.Yu. Vinogradov, head of the Department for Education of Moscow O.N. Larionova, head of the Department for social protection of population of Moscow V.A. Petrosian, head of the Committee on liaisons with religious organizations of Moscow M. Orlov.
In his opening speech Mayor of Moscow Yu. M. Luzhkov thanked His Holiness for support of such charitable actions and for participation of the Church in social charitable programs.
Addressing to the audience His Holiness Kirill said:“Dear Yury Mikhailovich, dear children! I have a great joy that you are here today, in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, I feel joy because when a child comes into contact with God, then joy, purity and strength appear. Every person has to overcome difficulties in his life. There is not a single person who would not have any vital difficulties. Sometimes we look at healthy, full of strength children from well-to-do families, and it seems to us: how nice these children live, it is well with them, it is well with their parents! But when you become making the acquaintance of such children and parents, it turns out, that they have a lot of problems and difficulties sometimes connected with very serious experiences. Every person has his own obstacle. God gives us some ordeals in life and when we overcome them we become stronger, more pure and we are coming closer to Him. Every person has such experiences: I have, Mayor has, your teachers have. You should well remember it and never consider yourself to be offended with your fate as nobody knows what will be at the end of one’s life. And that person does benefit who leads a proper life but not one who is most healthy and strongest. Thus with God you will lead your life in a proper way, with good tales you will lead your life properly, with a good book you will live your life properly, with good friends you will lead your life properly. I would like with all my heart to thank you, Yury Mikhailovich, the organizers of this festive, and those who arranged publication of these wonderful books which children with weak eyesight can read. May God give us an opportunity to be one family, and in a good family always one helps the other sharing by this one’s resources and talents. And we need you, dear children, not less than you need us. May our Lord save all of you!”
The blind children and children with weak eyesight from the specialized boarding school No1 performed a festive concert. Then the unique  illustrated embossed books were presented to the children. This morning before the ceremony of  presentation of books an excursion around the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was arranged for the children.
There are more than 5,5 thousand children with severe eye diseases live in the capital. Little children with eyesight pathology are trained by special methods in more than 50 kindergartens and 4 schools. More than one hundred children with depraved vision took part in  a festive event in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
The organizers of the ceremony were the Committee on telecommunications and mass media of Moscow and the Department for education of the city of Moscow. Moscow Patriarchate Press Service
02.06.2009 — Liturgy for persons with hearing impairment  in Kemerovo. Ten people took part in the Divine Liturgy for the hearing impaired. The Liturgy was celebrated on May 31 in the church of the icon of the Mother of God “The Healer of Sorrows” in the South region of the city of Kemerovo. This unusual service was celebrated on the initiative of the students of the Tomsk Theological seminary  Vladimir Khitya from Kemerovo and Sergey Popov from Irkutsk.
These students have been studying several years at the Tomsk courses of the sign language of the deaf. So they wanted to practice their knowledge. The administration of the Kemerovo regional department of the All-Russian society of the deaf  accepted gladly the offer of the students to cooperate in this field. In the opinion of the chairman of the department A. Ivashchenko, the majority of the society members consider themselves to be Orthodox. That is why it will not be right to deprive them of an opportunity to know more about their faith. Thanks to the service deaf people learned many words of religious themes, they came to know some Scriptural passages and learned several main prayers.
On the eve of the Liturgy on May 29 Vladimir and Sergey held Catechetical conversations for those who wanted to take the Sacrament of Baptism and told about the importance of this step, its sense and meaning. The baptism took place on May 30 in the church of the Mother of God “The Healer of Sorrows”. The 16 persons were baptized. The Tomsk seminarians  planned to celebrate the next Liturgy for hearing impaired persons in Kemerovo on July 25.
19.03.2009 — Orthodox educational program for the blind in Izhevsk. The St. Seraphim of Sarov Fund has been holding the grant support of the Orthodox education development and Orthodox initiative within several years already. One of the Fund’s projects is titled “Orthodox Initiative”. The administration of the Society of the blind in the city of Izhevsk prepared the programme “Orthodox education of blind invalids” and won the grant. Head of the department for social service and church charity of the Izhevsk and Udmurt diocese  archpriest Viktor Kostenkov informed about this initiative of the Society of the blind. Head of the Izhevsk municipal organization of the blind turned to the diocesan department for some necessary recommendations. Knowing that some sectarians visited the society of the blind Father Viktor offered an official cooperation between the diocesan department and the society of the blind, and also charitable financial support as stocking of library funds, and meeting the transport expenses to visit Orthodox churches. The agreement was officially registered on March 11, 2009 at the office of the Republic society of the blind. “Orthodox news. Izhitsa”/
18.02.2009 — The Stavropol Theological Seminary takes under its patronage autistic childrenOn February 14 some local parents with their children suffered from autism came to the seminary church of St. Ignatiy Bryanchaninov. There are different approaches to autism and among scientists as well. Some people consider it as a feature of personality, others as a serious mental disorder. In any case the absence of necessity in joint activity and communication, desire to avoid or limit contacts with people – all these create problems for their associates and for autistic people themselves, and most of all for children.
That is why the parents of autistic children turned to Archbishop Feofan of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz  and asked to help them in religious  and mental development of their children and their churching. With the blessing of the Archbishop the Stavropol Theological Seminary took under its patronage autistic children. On February 14 Archimandrite Roman (Lukin) held the moleben on the occasion of the beginning of a good deed at the St. Ignatiy church of the Stavropol Theological Seminary. After the moleben a discussion with the parents was held. Such meetings will become regular, and they will be held on Saturdays every week. Orthodox psychologists will help teachers and students of the seminary. Stavropol diocese site/Патриархия.ru
22.01.2009 — Christmas festive for mentally ill patients
Christmas celebrations were conducted  at some  mental hospitals  of Nizhniy Novgorod. Spiritual Father of the Pechery Ascension monastery hegumen Vassian took part in celebrations for mentally ill patients. The site of the Pechery Ascension monastery informed that Hegumen Vassian conducted Christmas celebrations at the city mental hospital No 1 (the department for recovering patients) and at the infantine department of the regional hospital. Some patients took part in a festive concert and after that hegumen Vassian gave out Christmas presents to adults and children. Патриархия.ru/Милосердие.Ru
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Patriarch Alexy's visit to an orphanage

From the exhibition which can be accessed from  the  PICTURES



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