In the months and years leading up to our discovery of the Orthodox Church, while working in a Protestant Christian group home system – Friendship Community, a residential provider for persons with developmental disability, in which my wife and I still live and work- the writings of Jean Vanier strengthened my sense of mission for our life with our friends in this community.
Specifically, in Vanier’s book, Community and Growth, he challenges those called to this kind of ministry to fidelity, to long-term relationships with persons with developmental disability, in which their genuine humanity and brokenness will lead us to a palpable, illuminating, and redemptive sense of our own brokenness, our own sinfulness. And this will bring us to our knees before the One Who can heal and save us- Jesus. http://www.patloughery.com/2009/05/20/community-and-growth-summary-paper/
As St. Antony the Great said, “in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it” and “Our life and death is with our neighbor.”
The desire to explore this matter from an Orthodox Christian perspective (appropriating Vanier’s vision and implementing it with other Orthodox Christians) remains.
Jean Vanier, Raphaël Simi, and Philippe Seux are the three men who founded L’Arche. Here is a brief history, from their website:
Following the suggestion of his mentor Father Thomas Philippe, a Dominican priest, Jean Vanier, son of a former Governor General of Canada, decided to invite Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux to live with him in a small house which he named L’Arche, the French word for the Ark.
In the 1960s, the rapidly growing community in Trosly attracted young people from all over the world who were keen to share their everyday life with a growing number of people with an intellectual disability.
Here is what L’Arche is about: http://www.larche.org/a-l-arche-community-is-who-we-are.en-gb.21.0.news.htm
And here is what Faith and Light is about: http://www.foietlumiere.org/site/english/039.html
L’Arche is a residential community; Faith and Light gatherings are once a month, for encouragement and Christian inspiration. Roman Catholic Christians founded these ministries, but people from other Christian groups are welcome and encouraged to take part, including members of the Orthodox Church.
Of course we Orthodox and the Roman Catholics have a long history of interaction, some of which is decidedly tragic. We worship differently, we understand the Faith differently. Yes, there is much we share; we were united for the first thousand years of Christian history. But we Orthodox hold that the differences are not in regard to peripheral matters; they touch the very foundation of the Faith, and truly divide us. We declare this with sorrow.
And so overtures from the Roman Catholic Church to minimize these differences and receive the Eucharist together are declined. We, sadly, cannot accede to a “big tent” approach.
The claim of the Pope of Rome to be supreme Pontiff over all, with infallibility in certain statements, the decision to insert the “filoque” into the Creed without the received consensus of an Ecumenical Council, and the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, are the most prominent differences. But there is also, generally, a difference of ethos. To be truly united and in communion with the Roman Church would indeed be heavenly. But for the love of the truth, we must remain true to Who and how we worship, and what we believe. If the Roman Catholic Church reconsiders those things that are problematic, then reunion will be in sight. Love hopes and believes all things.
Our goal as Orthodox Christians is to form local Orthodox Christian societies which will shine the light of Christ to all around:
And toward this will we are strive.
But in many places we are few and far between, and our resources are insufficient, in these localities, at the present time, to be comprehensive Orthodox Christian societies. Yet we are called to a light for Christ to the suffering, needy world around us- now. The need is there now.
And so we resort to provisional arrangements as we work toward the local comprehensive Orthodox Christian societies that His Grace Bishop Thomas calls for. As His Grace Bishop Thomas and Subdeacon Symeon have written,
“In reality, Orthodox Christians will likely to find themselves working alongside non-Orthodox, including those friendly toward the Faith and also those hostile to it.”
If there was an Orthodox Christian group home system in my area, my wife and I surely would have made the move to it, notwithstanding our love for the people we have lived and laughed and worked with all these years. We would have then maintained those relationships as best we could.
But there isn’t one, and so we press on with Friendship Community, thankful that it is not simply secular, and for the Christian values that we do share. And we’re very thankful for the friendships we have there with the people we have come to know and love. And had our involvement been with L’Arche, we would be thankful for all these things there as well.
In light of our goal- local, comprehensive Orthodox societies- the parameters of our ecumenical cooperation with Protestants and Roman Catholics will be provisional, and carefully limited to efforts that would not contradict our way of worship and our doctrine. But for the love of those in various kinds of need, many of us feel the call to enter into these partnerships. They may be provisional, but for some of us, it is our life, for the foreseeable future. Of course,
Who is so great a God as our God?
Thou art the God who workest wonders.
One hopeful development that promises Church arrangements that will help
facilitate better cooperation among Orthodox Churches is the pre-conciliar conferences that have been taking place toward an Ecumenical Council – which seem poised to create ways and means to escape the thorny jurisdictional issues that have been hindering our cooperation. Together, we have more resources so as to become local Orthodox Christian societies. See http://www.ocl.org/
Here are some instances of other Orthodox Christian interactions and appropriations of the vision of Jean Vanier, as well as Faith and Light:
This from the Faith & Light USA East Newsletter- Vol. 11, No. 2, Dec. 2007:
The Family of Friends Richfield, MN Community meets monthly in the community room of the apartment in which many members live. They also meet twice a year at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church where they are invited to join the service, act as hosts at morning coffee and then stay for their regular monthly meeting. In October St. Mary’s will host Family of Friends meeting and then serve them a typical Greek meal to conclude the afternoon. The Family of Friends is also associated with St. Richard’s Catholic Parish where they are included in theregular activities of the parish such as usher’s altar servers, gift bearers, and hosts at morning coffee. Both St. Mary’s and St. Richard’s financially support the community . . .
An account by Jean Vanier of the the 38 Faith & Light communities in Syria:
The 38 Faith and Light communities in Syria are full of life: many young people sharing the joy and pain of people with disabilities and their parents. They are a mixture of Catholics and Orthodox, encouraged and supported by their respective bishops. They form a real family. . . . I gave two short days of retreat for l’Arche and Faith and Light and their friends. I was touched by the pilgrimage to Homs with all the Faith and Light communities in Syria, (about a thousand people in all), the four bishops (2 Roman Catholics and 2 Orthodox) leading a procession. . . . http://www.foietlumiere.org/site/im_user/134sept_04.pdf
From the Summer 2008 newsletter of St. John the Compassionate Mission, an Orthodox Christian mission of mercy in Toronto, Canada, “21 Years and Counting! Breaking Bread With Jean Vanier” (scroll to page 2): http://www.stjohnsmission.org/summer2008.pdf see also http://www.stjohnsmission.org/
Here’s an appropriation by a Russian Faith and Light Community of the Orthodox Christian Monastic Tradition, in pictures: Pilgrimage to Borodino Convent:
And from the website of St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA- http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles.php – a number of interesting articles, including one- right in the middle of the list- by Jean Vanier. (Also take note of the article above it for a more authoritative- and hopeful- statement on our Orthodox Christian relationship with Rome.)