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.” ( https://armsopenwide.wordpress.com )
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