A Presbytera’s Master’s Thesis on Spiritual Therapy and Disability

Now here is a resource! In fact, this, in my opinion, is the best Orthodox Christian piece of writing on disability yet! 137 pages. If that sound like too much, the table of contents is on pages 5 & 6, and you may choose a section of interest to you.

PERSONHOOD, HUMAN BROKENNESS AND THE THERAPEUTIC CALLING OF THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCH: A PASTORAL APPROACH TO MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES AND DISABILITY by Presbytera Clare Cagnoni:

http://repository.mcd.edu.au/12/1/Masters_Thesis_Clare_Cagnoni.pdf

9 Responses to “A Presbytera’s Master’s Thesis on Spiritual Therapy and Disability”


  1. 1 Meg September 20, 2010 at 10:55 PM

    Some people said that sickness is under a curse.
    I found a website- http://preparehisway.com/weekly_blog/view/660/can_christians_suffer_from_the_curse_

    I’m disabled but I’m a little confuseed about this. My question is how are the disabled fit in God’s kingdom?

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  2. 2 armsopenwide September 21, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    I cannot give you an official Orthodox Christian answer because I am not an ordained clergyman; I’m simply a tonsured reader. But I can make some observations. That site you mentioned is not an Orthodox Christian site, and so I would not put stock in it. The following is first the big picture, and then, hopefully, a more specific answer.

    Adam and Eve chose to seek to be like God their own way, rather than his. The LORD had warned them they would die if they did this. And they did, first spiritually, and then, eventually, physically. For both of them and almost all human beings, their last moments were moments of physical disability. And when they were banished from the garden, an angel guarded the tree of life, so they would not eat of it and live forever. Now this was a merciful response by the LORD; to live forever in a fallen state is not a blessing.

    Had Adam and Eve resisted Satan’s suggestion, and entered into the process of growth toward the likeness of God according to God’s way, they would have grown up into participation in divine life. They were like innocent children needing to “grow up to salvation,” so to speak.

    This death, first spiritual and ultimately physical, has effects which corrupt us. We fear it, and defensively and selfishly take care of number one, rather than lovingly sacrifice ourselves for others. This is sin. Jesus said that loving God and our neighbor encompasses all the commandments; conversely, lack of love is at the root of sin. (Hoarding, or love of money, as St. Paul said, is closely associated with this root of sin.)

    Sin breaks down loving community, and corrupts us all individually, body, soul, and spirit. Generation after generation, as mankind increased, the effects of sin accumulated among us, body, soul, and spirit. And all creation rebelled against mankind, who has failed to be its good stewards. Animals flee from us, the ground yields weeds. Our bodies yield genetic defects. How we think and feel goes awry; we stew over worst case scenarios. For each of us, this dysfunctionality takes its toll, and we age and die.

    (We all are dysfunctional in ourselves in some way, whether we are considered disabled or whether we pretend to be fully normal.)

    Yet still we are made in the image of God, though it is obscured by our sins. Within us is the equipment to press on toward life in God’s likeness. However, our sins, personal and corporate, are too much of a barrier for us to attain this goal on our own. So God sent His Son, God the Word, to become flesh, human, to restore the human race by forgiving our sins, lead us in paths of righteousness (Psalms 23), toward the goal of Divine likeness, toward participation in God and His Divine energies, in the Holy Spirit.

    In Christ, we have this by faith. Even as we age and die, physically, those born again by water and the Spirit trust that the seed of indestructable life within these failing bodies of ours will one day come forth as a new body in God’s eternal kingdom. And as St. John writes of our life in this world, “we purify ourselves as He is pure.” We learn to love more and more, as God defines love. St. Paul’s 3rd chapter in his first letter to the Corinthians speak of how our Holy Spirit inspired efforts will bear fruit in the heavenlies. Those who sow sparingly will reap sparingly, and those who sow bountifully will reap bountifully. (2 Corinthians 9)

    Now specifics. Positively, God graciously gives all of us various gifts. No one has it all. We are made to be interdependent. Even people considered disabled have gifts to give. One label for this is “multiple intelligences.” One might ask how profoundly intellectually disabled are gifted. Hans Reinders’s book “Receiving the Gift of Friendship: Profound Disability, Theological Anthropology, and Ethics” tackles that one in an in-depth way. He’s a non-Orthodox Christian theologian, but I would affirm his effort. But I would also refer to St.Paul’s 12th chapter in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he describes interdependence within the Church.

    “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you;’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body [of Christ] which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts with greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor. 12:21-26)

    But please, read the entirety of chapters 12 & 13. To me, it is the answer to how people with disabilities “fit” in God’s Kingdom. This passage also needs to be read with the eyes of faith. Human beings, even Christians, fail, but the Holy Spirit is continually working to make the Body of Christ work this way.

    And also, I would refer to two passages from Isaiah and Zephaniah, also to be received by faith:

    “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6a, RSV)

    “Behold at that time I will deal with your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.” (Zephaniah 3:19, RSV)

    Also, the Gospel of St. Luke 16:19-31, concerning the rich man and Lazarus. Especially verse 25. In this fallen world is much inequality, but in the Kingdom of God there is recompense. And as Jesus said to His disciples, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” And he meant this in the present tense.

    I’ll stop now. Sorry I couldn’t have been more concise.

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  3. 3 armsopenwide September 21, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    Here’s a short answer: “. . . those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. (1 Cor. 12:22) NECESSARY.

    In God’s eternal economy, even as it finds expression in the Church in this temporary life, persons with disabilities are NECESSARY.

    If it doesn’t seem that way, it is simply our human point of view. God’s point of view is what counts. We are not meant to know everything. Unless one becomes like a little child, with a trusting heart, one cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

    Orthodox Christians are not discontent with unsolved spiritual mysteries.

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  4. 4 armsopenwide September 21, 2010 at 6:09 PM

    Or as Presybtera Clare has expressed, all have the potential for full personhood. And we can get there by means of the therapy which the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church- the Orthodox Church- provides, in the context of loving relationships.

    The Shepherd of Hermas, an early Church writing, also speaks of the members of the Church as stones, chiseled by the Master, (or as the Epistles of Hebrews expresses it, being disciplined as sons) so that we may fit together to be built into a holy Temple. We must be chiseled, for round stones cannot be fitted together. A round stone would be one intent on being an individual, without reference to the community, the Church, and without self-sacrifice of personal preferences for the good of others.

    In these ways people with disabilities “fit” into the Kingdom of God.

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  5. 5 Meg September 22, 2010 at 5:34 AM

    But What about James 5:13-16?

    James 5:13-16(ESV)-
    13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him(A) sing praise.

    14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him,(B) anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

    15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And(C) if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

    16 Therefore,(D) confess your sins to one another and pray for one another,(E) that you may be healed.(F) The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

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  6. 6 Meg September 22, 2010 at 6:04 AM

    I Wanted to know about Deuteronomy Chapter 28. Some it it said about God sends curses by sickness if a person disobay God.

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  7. 7 armsopenwide September 22, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    From the Orthodox Study Bible’s notes on Deuteronomy 27:26 which introduces the blessings and curses of Chapter 28:

    “Under the Law, cursed is every man who does not abide in all the works of this law to do them. But under grace and truth (John 1:17), “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) and, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13)
    No one has ever continued in or kept the whole Law of Moses; therefore, we come under the guilt imposed by this curse. But Christ never transgressed the Law, and therefore could not come under such a curse. So He exchanged our curse for the one in 21:23. Since He was crucified on the cross, the curse of being hanged on a tree freed us from our curse for transgressing the Law. An innocent Man’s death delivered us from the curse, for by dying He delivered us who were dying (Commentary by St. John Chrysostom)” { http://orthodoxwiki.org/John_Chrysostom })

    Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2008. P 244.

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  8. 8 armsopenwide September 22, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    In Christ, we are freed from the curses for sin, including the sicknesses. Then why do we still get sick? Those of us who are baptized into Christ are under a new divine-human corporate Head, our Lord Jesus Christ, according to our life as new men (people), in Whom is perfection. And by the Holy Spirit we strive to realize this. But we still live in this world for a time, and struggle with temptation in our bodies, souls, and spirits, as well as the effects of this existence under the old corporate Head, Adam. We still get sick and eventually die, though not in a final sense, since Christ’s resurrection defeated death for us all. As St. Paul writes,

    “. . . we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves[,] groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perserverence.” (Romans 8:23b-25)

    Orthodox Study Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2008, P 1536.

    In summary, we groan as we wait for the sure promise of a new glorified body like Christ’s. See also 1 Corinthians 15 for more illumination on this, especially on the first man, Adam, and the second Man, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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  9. 9 armsopenwide September 22, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    And indeed, Confession and Holy Unction, which are mentioned in James 5, are major tools in the Church’s medicine bag for the healing of our souls and bodies. In the Orthodox Church these are two of the mysteries, or sacraments, along with Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist (Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ), Marriage, Holy Orders (Ordination), a many other physical means the Lord has given us to receive Him and the healing He intends for us. But while miraculous healing do happen, the healing of our souls and bodies is a process, in which we strive, and God is at work. (Phillipians 2)
    There are times when Holy Icons of Christ, the Saints and the Virgin Mary exude literally streams of healing oil by which many are cured of illnesses. My wife and I have witnessed an icon of St. Anna exude oil, and were given a vial of the oil, with which we can seek healing, soul and body, with earnest faith. Other baptized Christians may also be anointed with this oil. But I don’t think that I am to do it; our Priests administer holy unction.

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