Someone from my Parish asked me some time ago why the Orthodox Church doesn’t allow service dogs in our Churches. In this weblog an Orthodox Christian who has a service dog weighs in on the issue. It’s not a precise and full answer, but it is an answer that brings a sense of resolution in that it comes from someone who has a stake in the matter.
For this answer, see the comments (the sixth one, by turtlemom3):
Here’s the part of the comment which addresses the situation in the Orthodox Church (which is only part of her response to a person from another Christian group who has a personal issue in regard to the use of service dogs in their church:
… I know in the Orthodox Christian Church, there is a pretty hard and fast rule about dogs being inside the Church – because of certain sacramental and canonical considerations. While they don’t make a lot of sense to those of us who have service dogs, I respect their stand, and don’t bring Emmy with me when we go to Church – I don’t want to banish her to the Narthex.
I’m publishing this quote because Turtlemom’s experiences in these matters are a valuable resource in regard to persons with disability in the Orthodox Church.
It is a sign of Christian maturity that she can say what she does without understanding the whys and wherefores of the policy.
Orthodox Christians do not need to “master” situations with their minds to be at peace with their Church. Life in Christ is in so many ways such a wondrous mystery that we can, as St. Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances,” even those contrary to our wills, for we know, ultimately, that God has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Update- A recent (12/23/12) clarifying response to a query by me from Turtlemom:
I deeply regret being so late responding to your comment on my post, and coming here to comment on some of your posts.
You mentioned the Canon forbidding dogs from Orthodox Churches. This was decided when dogs were not clean, not well thought of, There were Old Testament Biblical proscriptions about dogs, and Revelation says dogs will be prohibited from Heaven.
Yet, dogs are a creation of God, just as bears (St. Sergius of Radonezh and St. Seraphim of Sarov), and ravens (St. Elijah). Just as hinds (St. Basil the Elder and St. Macrina), and lions (Saint Mammes); otters (St. Cuthbert); stag (St. Eustathios); leopards (Abune Gebre Menfes Kiddus); snakes (Abba Aregawi). There are numerous other examples.
As far as dogs and saints, there is Paul the Hermit who was accompanied by a wolf.
A blog by a woman who has researched the Orthodox Church and animals:
http://members.tripod.com/~Near_to_God/ – especially the post:
In our parish, a blind woman brings her guide dog to services. There is no scandal as the dog leads her up to receive Holy Communion.
Much about dogs in church depend upon the individual priest and bishop. [Italics not original to the quote.]
Anyway, that’s what I’ve gleaned. I have not taken my service dog to church because I am physically unable to attend services. But, should I become able to attend, I will take Emmy. She is the soul of discretion and good behavior – as are most service dogs.
This clarification might seem to contradict the former statement, but the fact is, the Orthodox Church is not primarily about law, but grace. The canons of the Church are meant to provide the people of God with a structure that will lead them to salvation, avoiding harmful practices. But they are not rigid rules. Our hierarchs exercise what is called economia in regard to them, interpreting them for each person and situation so as to further spiritual growth for the people involved.
Just as our Lord Jesus, as recorded in St. John’s Gospel, chapter 8, dealt mercifully with the woman caught in the act of adultery (the people seeking to stone her to death pointed out to him that they were simply about to do what the Law says), so our holy Bishops seek the salvation of the persons under their charge in their interpretation of the Church’s canons.