Archive for May, 2010

Does the Orthodox Church admit to the Eucharist those who are mentally impaired?

This question is one the subjects explored on a discussion board on Here’s the discussion:,15282.0.html

There are many responses from around the world from Orthodox Christians, almost 100% positive on the question.


Orthodox Worship adapted for the deaf & blind in Moscow Church

Last September I shared a post from Incendiary: a daily living reproach which they have before their eyes, entitled Icons for the Blind:

This was in regard to an Iconostasis with 3-D icons (which people with visual impairment may touch) in a Parish Church in Lipetsk, Russia.

There is also a Parish Church in Moscow, Russia with both 3-D icons for the blind and sign language for the deaf: the Tikhvin Icon of our Lady Temple. Read and view (by means of a 2 minute long video) the story on RT: Sign Language of the Cross:

experiencing the Mystery of Christ

(beyond simply thinking about Him)



Even if persons with developmental disability lack the potential to ever reason abstractly, their experience of the Mysteries (the Sacraments) can be just as rich as those who can reach that stage. For the Mysteries have Divine depth, and always beckon one forward to greater participation and fuller comprehension of their import. For the experience ultimately transcends conceptualization.

Fr. John Breck, in “Down Syndrome at Pascha,” in his book God With Us: Critical Issues in Christian Life and Faith, describes Marie, a woman who had Down Syndrome, at the Holy Friday service: (pp. 66-67)

She was entirely dressed in black. Her face was streaked   with tears, her head was bowed, and her arms hung down at her sides. As she approached the shroud, she slowly made the sign of the cross three times, prostrated herself before it, and for a moment kept her head to the floor. Then she rose, kissed the face and then the feet of Christ, and finally venerated the Bible and the Cross. “

Marie’s heart was prepared for the worship of God and the honoring of the symbols which reveal Him. One who would seek transformation and renewal in the divine Image, to truly touch the hem of Christ’s garment with a pure heart in the same way as Marie, would also need to prepare himself; this involves the devotion of time and effort. The transformation itself is the gift  of God, Who Is Love, and also, a divine and holy Fire.

For further reflection: divine love & holy communion 

For information on the Orthodox Church, see Discover Orthodox Christianity 

In regard to persons with diability and the experience of the Mystery of Christ, See also Fr. Stephen Plumlee’s 1986 article, from the Orthodox Church in America’s Parish Development site: The Handicapped and Orthodox Worship

picture from the website of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church

From WORD Magazine: “Ian and the Family of Believers”

An excellent article by an anonymous parent of a son named Ian with autism; they have had good experiences in their Orthodox Christian Parish, in terms of receiving support and encouragement.

The multi-sensory (chants, incense, icons, etc.) and repetitious, unchanging nature of Orthodox Christian Liturgical Worship has proved to be effective means of gaining and holding young Ian’s interest. And the fellowship after Divine Liturgy has also been helpful toward Ian’s socialization.

Life in a family with a member who is disabled is a struggle- typically, significantly more so than for the rest of us who count ourselves fully “abled.” A compassionate Orthodox Christian Parish community will serve as a spiritual hospital for such. And indeed for all.

The article can be accessed on Pages 4-5 of the March 2010 WORD Magazine, a publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America:


Arms Open Wide to Persons with Disability


our Lord Jesus Christ


Jesus said, “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed.”(Luke 14:13-14a) St. John Chrysostom had much to say about this in his sermons. And St. Paul also addresses this same call in relation to Church life: “The parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (1 Cor. 12:22)

My wife Margaret and I have been advisors for persons with intellectual disability for an organization in Lancaster County, PA, Friendship Community, for many years. There have been joys all along the way, but there have also been struggles.  But we have pressed with this life, strengthened from above to do it. Thanks be to God.

In 1999, accumulating questions on the variety of ways Protestant churches “stand on the Bible” led me (and Margaret) to visit St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church. In the following year, these questions were put into the perspective of the Apostolic Tradition by Fr. Peter Pier, and we were received into the Church by Chrismation on Lazarus Saturday, 2000.

Finishing the Antiochian House of Studies’ St. Stephen’s Course in 2005, the opportunity to pursue the Masters of Arts in Practical Theology beckoned me; I felt that our years in the group home ministry and Orthodox theology intersected in a way that called for expression. And so with God’s help I wrote “St. John Chrysostom and the Socialization of Persons with Developmental Disability: Patristic Inspiration for Contemporary Application.”

To see, click on: THESIS

St. John Chrysostom was, as Fr. Georges Florovsky noted, “the Prophet of Charity,” a champion of the poor, of those who struggle in this world. All the fiery, golden words he preached on this theme have direct application to persons with disability. He emphasized in no uncertain terms that our attention to weak and struggling people is crucial to our life in Christ and our “good defense before [His] fearful judgment seat.”

The thesis draws out specific aspects of Church life in respect to persons with developmental disability- liturgical worship, family support, Christian education, and the incorporation of gifts. The words of John Boojrama and other leading lights of our Faith are weighed in light of this specific ministry imperative. The thesis brings out how “the liturgy after the Liturgy,” our continuing sense and practice of Church family life in the hours and days between services, will show the genuineness of our unity in Christ’s Body and Blood. The Lord Jesus indicated in St. Matthew 25:31-46 that how we respond to those who are different or in difficulty- persons with disability being the case in point- is a key to His final evaluation of us.

One of my recommendations in the thesis is that an Orthodox Christian website addressing these issues should be developed. Fr. Ted Pulcini, the first reader of the thesis, encouraged me to develop one. Beginning with a prayer, it took shape, and came to be: “Arms Open Wide: Orthodox Christian Disability Resources.” ( )

Christ stretched out His loving arms on the Cross for us; His arms are open wide for persons with disabilities and their families. Beyond the list of websites, ministries, and writings are the Inspiration and Posts pages. “Inspiration” consists of select verses from Holy Scripture and quotes from St. John Chrysostom; “Posts” are occasional, short writings, related to the subject for the most part. Comments are very welcome. May the Lord use this site to encourage many to press on toward reflecting the likeness of Christ, with arms open wide to persons with disabilities and to all.

– William Ephrem Gall

focus on Greece

Here are some excerpts from a Greek report, which though not from the Orthodox Church itself, is very illuminating. It is entitled on “Welfare, Church, and Gender in Greece,” by Effie Fokas & Lina Molokotos Liederman:

“Beyond state benefits and the informal but important care provided by the family, social needs that are not fully satisfied by the family or the state are usually filled by private or voluntary sectors (international organisations with Greek branches, such as the Red Cross, SOS Children’s Villages, etc.) and the Church. Therefore, the Greek case is a good example of the Southern European welfare model, with a classic underdeveloped state welfare sector coupled with the important role played by the family and women in providing essential social care. In this bi-polar model, the Orthodox Church is a third source, offering a wide array of social services, including the provision of support services for women and the family (see part II). The Greek example is schematically described as a triangular welfare model (state-family/women-church), in which the family and women seem to act both as providers and receivers of social care.” p. 298

“Finally, there are a variety of state financed programmes for persons with disabilities (such as disability benefits and boarding houses for semi-independent living and full-time living for disabled persons, as well as, activity centres and summer camps for persons with disabilities) and other vulnerable groups (refugees and asylum seekers and Greek Roma communities) in collaboration with NGOs.85.” (P. 301)
“Before highlighting the Greek Church’s actual social work, it is important to note a tendency for it to not publicly promote its welfare work, primarily because it takes place at the level of local interaction between the parish priest and individuals. Furthermore, the Church considers publicising its social work to be contrary to the principles of philanthropy and the Orthodox ethos.190 Therefore, the Church’s organisations and monasteries involved in social activities also tend usually to act locally and informally and, thus, to avoid any type of public visibility of their social work, seemingly being more interested in offering social services rather than receiving public recognition for their work; in this way, they also tend to have an inward focus and operate in a closed network with minimal cooperation with other non-religious organisations involved in similar activities.” P. 318
“The Church’s social services are put into action by local parish priests and other religious and non-religious staff (paid and unpaid laymen and laywomen), working for the Church in various capacities. Moreover, the Church benefits from a large network of volunteers it has created; according to 2001 statistics, the Church has an active network of approximately 23,000 people who are utilised and mobilised on a regular basis, offering their services to the great variety of social services provided by the Church … including … “Christian Solidarity“: charitable funds established by the Archdiocese of Athens and other metropolises; they provide locally, at the parish level, material and other types of support to a variety of individuals (elderly, single mothers, people with special needs, etc), suffering from poverty and financial and social exclusion, such as shelter and food (”soup kitchens”/sisitia), scholarships, child and elderly care, blood donations, etc. In 2003, there were 1,839 such funds. … People with special needs: assistance to individuals with special needs (for example, the blind) including medical care, financial assistance, psychological counselling, institutional care, training and professional occupation and leisure, as part of a wider effort to improve their insertion and integration into Greek society. Some local metropolises, which are active in this area, employ a large number of individuals with special needs (such as in the painting of icons, in gardening, in cooking and kitchens, etc). (pp. 319-322)

The original report does not seem to be currently available online; here is a bibliographic reference to it:

MOLOKOTOS-LIEDERMAN, Lina, FOKAS, Effie, “Welfare, Church and Gender in Greece”, in Welfare, Church and Gender in Eight European Countries. Uppsala, Institute of Diaconal and Social Studies – University of Uppsala / Ed. Ninna Edgardh Beckman, 2004, p. Uppsala, Institute of Diaconal and Social Studies – University of Uppsala / Ninna Edgardh Ed Beckman, 2004, p. 288-338.

For more from Effie Fokas and Lina Molokotos Liederman, scroll to the end of the post.

And here are some previous posts of interest concerning Greek disability resources for convenient reference:

from Nov. 9, 2007: more Greek disability websites « Arms Open Wide

from Dec. 28, 2007: Theotokos Foundation (Greece) « Arms Open Wide

from Nov. 8, 2007: In Greece « Arms Open Wide

from Nov. 6, 2007: two Greek-American contributions « Arms Open Wide \

Here is some more material on and from Effie Focas: : (“Greek Orthodoxy and European Identity“)

Islam in Europe: Diversity, Identity and Influence – Google Books Result (click to access)

Religious America, Secular Europe?: A Theme and Variation – Google Books Result (click to access) And here is a review of this work:

An Essay: “Religion in the Greek public sphere” by Effie Fokas:

Also, from Lina Molokotos Liederman:

The ‘Free Monks’ Phenomenon: Music and Modernity in Contemporary Greek Orthodoxy:

The Greek ID Card Controversy:

Orthodox Diakonia Coordinator:

Orthodox Poet Scott Cairns on finding purpose in pain

Scott Cairns

 The Orthodox Christian poet Scott Cairns wrote a book on this subject

The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain

It is a book that may be profitably compared and perhaps contrasted with a similar book by C.S. Lewis:

The Problem of Pain:    

And here is a video of Scott Cairns discussing the subject of his book. It’s one hour, 25 minutes long. It doesn’t simply address suffering in general; the event of the  tragic destruction of thousands of people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 is discussed at length:   

He is by the way, a prominent poet. For those of you who would like to hear him read his poetry:


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