Archive for April, 2010

Homeschooling Special Needs, Orthodox Style

A homeschooling conference took place March 11-14, 2009, at Antiochian Village entitled St. Emmelia Orthodox Homeschooling Conference:

Here’s the info packet for the conference:

Here’s one of the workshops, pertaining to addressing disability:

Homeschooling With Special NeedsMary Klopcic

From the Speaker biography section of the information packet:

Mary Klopcic is an Orthodox mother of 12 children, 5 adopted with special needs, 7 homemade. She has homeschooled all of the children from the beginning with an eclectic approach. The Klopcic homeschooling challenges incorporate down syndrome, autism, mental retardation, expressive/receptive language disability, RAD, PTSD, hearing impairment, ESL issues and a host of learning disabilities into their daily lives and learning. In addition to meeting her own family’s schooling needs, she also runs CHESK, a local support group for moms homeschooling kids with special needs and is the listmom for SNOH, a yahoo group for Orthodox faithful homeschooling children with special needs.

Here’s the Yahoo group page for SNOH, where one can sign up:

On Ancient Faith Radio’s Frederica Here And Now, Khorea Frederica Matthewes-Green interviews Mary. (January 29, 2009) To listen:

A written version of the podcast:

Here also is a response to the St. Emelia’s Homeschooling Conference, by Barbara Shukin, author of “Journaling Through the Liturgical Year:”


Hans S. Reinders’ “Receiving the Gift of Friendship”

A review of the book Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics, by Hans S. Reinders. (2009) Though he is not an Orthodox Christian, he incorporates the writings of His Eminence John Zizoulas into his work as one of the keys to the aim of his work, along with a quote from St. Symeon the New Theologian.

Dr. Hans Reinders

Briefly (the book is 379 pages), his acquaintance with a person with profound intellectual disabilities- Kelly,  stimulated Dr. Reinders to explore the basis by which we may assert with confidence that Kelly is indeed human. Not that this basis is a human perspective- he carefully lays a theological foundation to show that her humanity has a Divine basis.

His quest finds resonance with these words by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:

Just as Plato sought the perfect society by looking at the condition of the human person “writ large,” so we must discover in the human person the very qualities that will enable us to transcend division and achieve not mere unions of cooperation but the fundamental unity that links every person to one another.

 In “Religious Communities in the European Union, (Brussels, 09/04/2008)” Chapter 4, “Church and World: Global Perspectives,” P. 163, In the world, yet not of the world : social and global initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and John Chryssavgis, ed., Fordham University Press, NY: 2010.

Reinders’  book is deep. The philosophers and theologians discussed in the book (along with their views on personhood) include Aristotle, St. Iranaeus, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, Barth, as well as a contemporary writers who have also explored aspects of the subject.

 In the first two parts, Reinders struggles against all arguments with implications that humanity is based on functionality. Ultimately it is the love of God and His gift of human life that form the basis for personhood. It isn’t achieved, not in the initiation nor in the consummation- the “telos” of our life on this earth. Those who have accomplished nothing are still human persons.

His Eminence John Zizoulas’ writings on Trinitarian and ecstatic being and on ecclesial and relational personhood are discussed in detail. Reinders takes issue with certain phrases in his work, chiefly in regard to how

“man can henceforth . . . affirm his existence as personal not on the basis of the immutable laws of nature, but on the basis of a relationship with God which is identified with what Christ in freedom and love possesses as the Son of Good with the Father.” (Being as Communion, P. 56, italics added) from Receiving the Gift of Friendship, P.269

For Reinders, this very movement to affirm one’s existence leaves out persons who are profoundly disabled.

But for the Orthodox Christian, man, even fallen man in the utter weakness of the bondage to and fear of death, retains free will. A relationship with God involves synergy, cooperation, faith working through love, in Christ.

For to everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask more. (St. Luke 12:48)

And would not the corollary be that to him who has been given little or nothing (case in point- a person with profoundly disability), little or nothing will be required  of him? Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos, of blessed memory (†1994), says of persons with developmental disability, that “their souls are already saved [. . .] without making any efforts [they] have earned Paradise.” (3 Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain, 1998) 138)

Ultimately, though, its not what we do, but what we are that will be decisive. We will, though, be judged for our works. (2 Corinthians 5:10). “Out of the heart proceeds . . . [thoughts, works!]” (St. Matthew 15:18-20) 

Many Protestant Christians believe in monergy, in which God alone acts in conferring grace. We Orthodox hold that this compromises the human free will. As our Lord Jesus Christ says,

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.  (Revelations 3:20)

Reinders, though, never uses the word “monergy.” He emphasizes that in our relationships, with God and others, including persons with profound disability, receiving is the key, rather than giving.

But then what of “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)?

St. James does write, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak . . . (St. James 1:19a) This places priority on receiving.  And again,

Elder Paisios stressed that our acts are worthwhile only if they are done out of a grateful predisposition. He always urged us not to struggle out of self interest, but rather out of responsive gratefulness. Even our faith in God should be based on our gratefulness.

from Responsive gratefulness in spiritual life in

 For Reinders, the social contribution of persons with profound disability, realized for those who are in a relationship of friendship with them, is a personal lesson in the reality that

every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights …(St. James 1:18, and the Divine Liturgy!)

 All we have is from God, all we know is what we’ve learned from others. Every moment of our existence, everything we have, is from God. Trust is the key; we trust Him, and in others, too, for the expertise we lack in so many of the things we take for granted. As Jesus says,

Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. -St. Matthew 18:2

And does this not mean childlike trust, a total dependence upon our heavenly Father’s continual sustenance? This is how I understand Reinders’ meaning. And is this not in accord with how we worship and how we believe?

Reinders also brings forward the worldwide ministry of L’Arche,  in which persons who commit themselves to relationships with persons with intellectual disabilities find themselves- from their own testimonies- that  if they “stick it out” through the inner struggle that such a commitment entails- they experience illumination through their realization of their own brokenness, and of the Healer of their brokenness.

The winner of the 2009 North American Antiochian Orthodox Christian oratorical contest, Joel Schaefer, shared a similar experience he had in his week at the Special Olympics Camp at Antiochian Village: Oratorical Festival Winning Speech 2009

Reinders’ affirms the Holy Spirit as “the transforming Friend.” (P. 310, from James Houston, The Transforming Friendship, p. 118) Reinders writes, “Why this transformation must be extrinsically [from outside, or above] grounded is brought out clearly in a saying that has been attributed to an ancient voice, Symeon the New Theologian:

When the three-personed Diety dwells within the saints and is known and felt to be present, it is not the fulfillment of desire, but the cause and the beginning of a much greater and more fervent desire. (from Hymns of Divine Love, tr. George A. Mahoney {NJ: Dimension Books})

 As Orthodox Christians we can affirm that all good is from above, without subscribing to monergy. The glorious truth of man’s creation in God’s image- a gift of Grace in itself- is incompatible with the view of fallen man as totally depraved and ultimately unable to respond to God at all. We’re made in God’s image! But it is also only through the Holy Spirit’s agency, by which we abide in Christ, according to the great love of the Father, that our responses (or even our unavoidable lack of responses, as in the case of persons with profound disability)  become building blocks toward the fulfillment of our “telos,” (goal and destiny): likeness to God, the realization of the “image.” (We will be saved together; together we will comprise the Kingdom of God.)

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. – John 15

Persons with profound disability are fully human, but it is not normative humanity, and all of us, fallen as we are, share this predicament with them. Only in our Lord Jesus is normative humanity; He is the authentic human Person. (And He is God from all eternity- fully human, fully God, one Person. Glory to Him!) In the Son, “the express image” of the Father, (Heb. 1:3) we may have likeness to God. And how we come to this telos through Christ differs for each person, according to what each of us has been given. Our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (St. John 14:6)

Ordering information for the book:

Dr. Hans S. Reinders is the chairman of the European Society for the Study of Theology and Disability 

A  review, by Professor Wayne Morris, an Anglican:

And here is another response to the book, from another non-Orthodox Christian theologian- and a mother- “The ethics of a Down Syndrome “cure:”

A 2001 book by Reinders: The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society: The future of the disabled in liberal society: an ethical analysis

Does the Orthodox Church adequately support their members with disabilities?

Does the Orthodox Church adequately support their members with disabilities?,17922.0.html

This is the discussion question from the Orthodox discussion webpage.

SCOBA: Disability and Communion

The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) issued a statement on June 25, 2009 on Disability and Communion.

Very well done. It is a word from my Leaders, the Shepherds of the flock of true worship. It is the WORD to my word.

So let’s obey our leaders, and implement its mandates in our parishes. And since there is no copyright on the page of the statement, and their apostolic words go forth to the ends of the world, here it is reproduced  in its entirety from this web page:

Disability and Communion

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Embracing People with Disabilities within the Church

To all of the faithful clergy and laity
of the Holy Orthodox Church throughout the Americas,

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

1. Understanding Disability, Embracing Persons with Disability

Persons with disabilities comprise the largest minority group in the United States, with almost 20% of the population facing disability in one form or another. Disability affects people of all backgrounds, nations and races, of both genders and any age. A disability stems from an impairment that is either congenital, or the result of disease, injury, or the developmental and aging processes.

Disability is a daily and, in many ways, a natural occurrence. We are all touched by disability in the form of illness or injury or difficulty at some point in our lives. Since we all hold the treasure of God’s life in fragile earthen vessels (see 2 Cor. 4:7), each of us is vulnerable to disability, whether by circumstance, by genes, by disease, by accident, or by age. Such disability might include chronic disease, vision or hearing impairment. However, for some people, such a physical, mental, sensory or emotional impairment substantially limits their daily activities.

Yet a person with a disability is not necessarily handicapped except through physical and attitudinal barriers created by others. Handicaps are in fact the barriers that we create for people with disabilities by excluding them socially and physically. There are many persons with disabilities even in our own parishes; nevertheless, our parishes have not reached out sufficiently to adults and children with disabilities in its ministry. Indeed, the reality of disability is often shrouded in silence or shame because the presence of disability challenges basic assumptions and stereotypes. Therefore, it would be useful for us to recall the fundamental theological principles that should guide our pastoral ministry and practical response as we realize our mission as Church to be a welcoming communion. “God shows no partiality.” (Gal. 2.6) “For the Lord does not see as we see; we see the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16.7)

2. Humanity in the Image of the Trinitarian God

One of the most repeated phrases in our liturgy is the Trinitarian nature of our God: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The God we worship is characterized and defined by communion or interdependence, not exclusion or independence. In our pursuit, then of a model response to disability concerns, we affirm a God of love and hospitality, in the manner of Abraham and Sarah welcoming the three angels (Gen. 18) reflecting the unity of the Trinitarian God. In this respect, the Church, too, is called to become the image of the Trinity, a unity of persons in communion, a place where everyone is welcomed.

Humanity – created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1.26) and comprising an icon of Trinitarian communion – is enriched and defined by the unique gifts and differences of every person. No one is created perfect, and all of us strive toward perfection in the crucified Jesus Christ, who alone is the perfect “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1.3) and the complete image of man – fully divine and fully human. Therefore, it is only in the Body of Christ, as a corporate image, that each person becomes an equal and indispensable member. Every member, those with as well as those without disabilities, bring specific and special talents to the Church. At the same time, we need one another in order for our gifts to be revealed.

Thus, in the Church, we learn to honor and to complement one another. However, such completion or perfection (theosis) is always a constant striving, never fully accomplished in this life. For, “just as the body is one and has many members … so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12.12) Indeed, “the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Cor. 12.22) There are two points that we should notice in St. Paul’s words: first, that certain parts may “seem” weaker, but in fact are not actually weaker; second, that weakness is not the characteristic of an individual but of the entire Church. This means that, when people with disabilities are in any way excluded from our parish life, then the entire body is incomplete. “We all bear one another’s burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6.2) When St. Paul speaks of the weak, he is continuing a long biblical tradition that God chooses the vulnerable for the sake of bringing wholeness and healing to the entire community.

We often forget that the application of the word “membership” to persons is of profoundly Christian origin, and it is only in the Church that it assumes full and authentic meaning. St. Paul implies that members of the Church resemble organs of a body, essentially different from and yet essentially complementary to one another. Membership differs from mere inclusion in the collective or political sense. We are not a full community without one another. If we exclude or overlook one member, then we do not simply reduce the community; in fact, we inflict injury on the very structure of the Church.

3. Christ as Healer and Savior

Ultimately, the way that we embrace people with disabilities reflects the way that we perceive the incarnate and crucified Word of God. As Christians, the God we worship is characterized and defined by assuming flesh and lying utterly powerless on the Cross. Christ came to “reconcile and tear down the middle wall of separation.” (Eph. 2.14) As disciples of Christ, we are called to consider society’s walls, as well as the walls which we set up and which separate us from our neighbor. For these all too human walls contradict the ministry of Christ, which is a ministry of reconciliation and healing. It is unfortunate that, in our day, people with disabilities still encounter such walls, whether through physical barriers or through prejudicial attitudes; indeed, it is unconscionable that our parishes often tolerate or perhaps even contribute to such exclusionary conditions.

The healing miracles of Jesus, which are recounted in the Gospels, are primarily concerned with the reconciliation of persons to their communities, rather than merely the cure of physiological conditions. Jesus did not distinguish between physical healing, social restoration and the forgiveness of sins. For example, the man with leprosy is offered the opportunity to return to his community (see Mark 1.40-45), while the paralytic is forgiven his sins (see Mark 2.1-12). Forgiveness of sins implies removing the stigma imposed by the prevailing culture, where disability was associated with sin. Thus, disability is principally a social issue, while healing is the removal of social barriers.

We often reduce the significance and scope of forgiveness to guilt and redemption. Yet, the Greek word for forgiveness (synchoresis) implies much more than this, pointing to a sense of sharing and fitting together within community. Furthermore, all of us require such forgiveness and reconciliation within the community. Perhaps this broader interpretation of forgiveness will help us disassociate disability from sin, guilt and physical healing. What is called for is a sense of solidarity with all members of the Church, rather than an expectation of similarity with worldly images and stereotypes, whereby people emphasize either cure or acceptance of a condition.

4. Pastoral Ministry: Practical Implications

The Church’s role is to embrace the reality of humanity in all of its depth and breadth, including the reality of people with disabilities who are often excluded, rejected, or abandoned. For, “truly, anything that we do for one of my brothers and sisters, however, insignificant, we do it for Him.” (Mt. 25.40) The integration of persons with disabilities within the Church gives testimony to God’s love as expressed by His disciples and is a model for society where disabled people suffer from humiliation and marginalization.

Beyond the experience of marginalization, most disabled people are also economically disenfranchised, experiencing some form of deprivation in living and employment conditions. Moreover, their care-givers make considerable sacrifices, often unnoticed, experiencing manifold demands on their time and resources. In addition, disability can cause social discrimination, whereby people with disabilities experience loneliness and isolation. Bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6.2) implies, first, noticing the suffering of others and then discerning ways of responding appropriately. Supporting people with disabilities involves removing emotional barriers, refusing to consider disability in a patronizing manner either as a test from God or the target of our pity. When our Lord was asked about the man born with blindness, He responded that “neither he nor his family sinned …” (John 9.3) Each of us is born into the world, with the gifts as well as with the weaknesses that we have, “in order that God’s works might be revealed in us.”

Therefore, welcoming every baptized Orthodox Christian to full parish membership makes the community whole and enriches all of us as God desires. Indeed, embracing persons with disabilities is a proclamation of the Gospel message. For, we are all called to “welcome one another, even as Christ has welcomed us.” (Rom. 15.7) All of us, with and without disability, are invited by God to a full life of faith and ministry, including worship, leadership, education, and service.

The most evident expression of the community is the common worship of the congregation. Orthodox worship is rich in color, sound, smell and movement, appealing to all senses and all persons. Therefore, we should examine especially carefully, then, whether we consider ways in which people with disabilities are encouraged to participate in our services, in our choirs, or in the many non-verbal elements of our worship. More fundamentally, we should examine whether the entrances to our buildings and the pathway to receiving Holy Communion are accessible to all members of the Church. Moreover, we should examine whether our liturgical and pastoral services are welcoming to those among us with challenges in movement, hearing, sight, or speech.

Furthermore, to feel truly welcome in our parishes, persons with disabilities must not be excluded from leadership roles. We should explore ways of involving people with disabilities in administration by inviting them to serve on committees, by offering assistance in transportation, or perhaps even by changing the venue of a particular meeting. We should consider every appropriate opportunity and dignified manner with which to include every member of the community in liturgical occasions and catechetical classes.

No one should be excluded from the manifold aspects of the church’s education (whether children, adults, or the elderly) or the community’s pastoral ministry (such as visitations and fellowship). There should also be provision in our seminaries for training and informing future clergy regarding aspects of inclusion for people with disabilities. Responding to issues of disability reflects the willingness to respond to the vulnerability of life itself. An inclusive paradigm of ministry is a crucial step in dispelling misconceptions and assumptions regarding disability, while rendering all areas of parish life accessible and possible to persons with disabilities.

5. Beyond Inclusion to Communion

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, was the first comprehensive civil rights legislation to protect people with disabilities. Yet, beyond legal obligation and civil conduct, responding to and including people with disabilities are not options for us as Orthodox Christians. This includes, for example, providing curb cuts, adequate ramps, sufficient handicapped parking, wide doors and aisles to accommodate wheelchairs. It is our personal and collective obligation to strive for the transfiguration of all people and all things in the heavenly vision of unity.

Humbly learning the proper language and appropriate behavior is part and parcel of our vocation as children of the living God and disciples of the risen Lord. It involves identifying and increasing the visibility of people with disabilities – those using canes, walkers, wheelchairs or service dogs. The key in relating to people with disabilities is always communion and openness, not mere compassion or pity. The only rules are sincere love and genuine respect. We are called to look at the person and to remember that the disability is only a part of the whole person. Thus, the first and most valuable gift that any community can offer a person with disability is recognition, rather than rejection. Our mission is, in humble cooperation with the Holy Spirit, to render the Church as a whole body, a human reflection of Trinitarian communion, an earthly image of the heavenly kingdom.

Let it be so among us.

Dr. Dmitry Avdeev, Orthodox Psychotherapist: online articles

 Dr. Avdeev has written a number of very pertinent articles available in English and other languages online, such as Orthodox PsychotherapyForming of a Christian attitude towards mental disorders and methods of their treatment, and Pastoral Psychiatry 

He is an Orthodox Christian, and applies His Faith to his profession. From what I have read his site is certainly a substantial Orthodox Christian disability resource. Here is his website: Dr. Dmitry Avdeev, M.D., Ph.D. (If the site appears in the Russian language, click “English” in the upper right hand corner for the English language.)

words from Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos

from Spiritual Counsels I: With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man

published by the Holy Monastery of the Evangelist John the Theologian, Sourot, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Page 238: Geronda, will the mentally impaired be well in the next life? Will they have a normal mind?

Elder Paisios’ answer:

No matter how much mind one carries, lots of it or just a small amount, in the end it will turn into pulp. When it reaches Heaven the mind will become intellect. [translated from the Greek “nous”] In Heaven, the theologian Saints and the mentally impaired will not differ in their knowledge of God. God may even be more generous to the latter, because they were deprived of so many things in this life.

P. 317:

A person may not be very good looking, or they may have some handicap. God knows that such flaws will help people spiritually because God is interested more in our soul than in our body. All of us have our qualities and shortcomings- small crosses to bear, nothing big- that help us save our soul.

For information on this book:

Picture from

Also, from my thesis, “St. John Chrysostom and the Socialization of Persons with Developmental Disability: Patristic Inspiration for Contemporary Application, P. 2: Elder Paisios says this of persons with [severe and profound] developmental disability:

their souls are already saved [. . .] without making any efforts [they] have earned Paradise.”

 (from Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain, 1998) 138.)

I interpret this saying as referring to individuals who are more severely developmentally disabled. For I would think that the corollary toto him to whom much is given, much is required,” would be that to those persons to whom less, or little, or very neglible abilities  have been given, less, or little, or next to nothing- and for some, even nothing- is required.” And there are those who are really given next to nothing at all- those with profound developmental disabilities.

This will be explored in an upcoming response to a book by Hans S. Reinders, Receiving the Gift of Friendship, later this month.

But as to those who are more mildly or moderately disabled, according to  St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on The Rich Man and Lazarus, they may have a gentle reckoning before the Lord, in regard to how they have exercised their faith through love with the modest share of abilities and gifts they have been given in this life. (Galatians 5:6) As some are given more, some less, St. John asserts that there would certainly be different standards of judgment for each. He preached this in regard to the rich and the poor; but there are numerous kinds of riches and poverty.A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (St. Luke 12:15) 

What I think about these weighty matters is of little account, but the words of the Holy Scriptures, St. John Chrysostom, and Elder Paisios on these things are certainly worth earnest consideration.

for more from Elder Paisios:

Many years, newly chrismated Elizabeth!

   (or Mothers and Daughters) 

St. Anna and the Theotokos

St. Anna and the Theotokos

On Palm Sunday 2010, a young lady was chrismated into the Orthodox Church.

What is chrismation, you may ask? Father Michael J. Burben explains: 

The young lady’s patron Saint is St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. Her mother has a weblog, Abide and Endeavor. Here is her post, Many Years to Princess: 

Here is a picture from that post, of Elizabeth, her sponsor, and her Priest:


the newly chrismated Elizabeth

May God grant you many years, Elizabeth!

Here are some more posts by her mother, Juliana, concerning Elizabeth: 

Some of the things one discovers about Elizabeth is that “she does extremely well with her work-related (Food Service) reading and school reading.” . . .  

She can be an enthusiastic worker: “She has really enjoyed her summer job. I could tell because she was up early every workday, ready to head out the door.” . . .  

And she likes to sing: “Princess is up in her room singing along with her latest country music CD.” . . .  

Elizabeth the New Martyr

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr

Also, she “loves the retro purses.”  

Here are some posts from Abide and Endeavor that discuss Down Syndrome: 

Icon of St. Anna and the Theotokos from (Dec 9/22)

Icon of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr from Jim Forest’s Flicker Photostream: 

I’m going to include Juliana’s Abide and Endeavor in “Online Orthodox Christian Families” in the Resources.


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