Archive for the 'Christ' Category

St. Elizabeth Convent: “Can There Be Enough of Love?”

by Darya Chechko.  With Brother George (Drozd), an educator in this department:

To access the post:

“Can There Be Enough of Love?” Our Ministry at Special Department for Children in Mental Health Hospital

. . . no parents, no families, life in a residential institution in difficult conditions, [in] constant need of something… But at the same time, [the] children are especially alive. Their suffering souls are very responsive. . . . From the human viewpoint, everything is bad because they have nothing, but from God’s [viewpoint] – things are completely different. . . .

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Orthodox Christian Worship: Experiencing the Mysteries

Our Orthodox Christian worship has been crafted by the Holy Spirit to touch all who come- including those with developmental disabilities whose intellectual capabilities are limited to concrete thinking (and have trouble with abstract reasoning) as well as those who lack certain senses.

Alongside the rich theology of our liturgy there are concrete actions, music, fragrance, icons, and more. There are words relating to everyday life and words that carry one through the Incarnate Christ into the ineffable heavenlies. The Holy Spirit can address the heart through all, or some, or even just one of these modes. The symbols of Orthodox worship- lighting candles, making the sign of the cross, kissing icons, prostration, and the like are enacted by all.

The “spiritual sensuality” of our Divine Liturgy offers mentally retarded persons much to respond to: there is repetition, concreteness, physical contact; the staples of their unique pedagogy (method of learning) inhabits the services.

Two pertinent articles by Father Stephen Plumlee: The Handicapped and Orthodox Worship

 & Some Practical Suggestions for Parish Ministry To People With Special Needs

Even if persons with developmental disability lack the potential to ever reason abstractly, their experience of the Mysteries     

Holy Friday Shroud, By Theodosia_Poulopos, 1598

(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.

Father 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 a 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.

See also Children with Special Needs and the Orthodox Christian Family , by Father Steven P. Tsichlis

Orthodoxy and Biomedical Ethics

To access the entire interview with Father Nikolaos,

an Orthodox Christian Monastic:

ORTHODOXY AND MODERN LIFE

An interview with a Greek Orthodox Monk on a range of subjects, including Orthodox Spirituality, Orthodox Worship, Orthodoxy and Nationalism, Orthodoxy and Modern Cosmology, Orthodoxy and the Environment, and the section posted below, which contributes to our focus here:

Orthodoxy and Biomedical Ethics

N.K. Let me now touch a topic which concerns your knowledge and experience as a natural scientist.  I would like your views on Orthodoxy and contemporary scientific and technological developments in the biomedical world.  I think these developments are staggering and generate a host of very important ethical and social problems as well as high expectations.  Has Orthodoxy anything to say about these things?

Fr. N.H. Each subject of bioethics constitutes in itself a separate topic for discussion.  It would be a mistake for me to touch on this subject, sice the Orthodox Church has not yet expressed an official point of view.  And I will not do so.  However, I will say a few general things, first on the subject of reproductive technologies and secondly on euthanasia, which has already been legalized in countries such as Australia and the Netherlands.sAccording to Orthodoxy, biological life is a great gift from God, but not the greatest.  The greatest gift is spiritual life.  Whether a man lives 50 years or 70 years, it does not make any difference; he is a big nothing in history and a zero through the centuries.  Since the center of life is God, biological life being a gift from God is indeed valuable, but true life is the spiritual one.  Some Christians, by emphasizing man and present time, make life on this earth disproportionately significant.  According to the Orthodox point of view, the center is God and the future, the eternal future.  We are more what we will become, gods by grace, than what we now are, human beings; what we have been called to become, saints, than what we are now involved in, sins; what constitutes our life in the Kingdom of God, the eternal future, than what determines our passing through this world, the transient present.  Thus, biological life acquires a priceless value due to the existence of spiritual life; and the present becomes equally important due to the future.

In our days, strange things are happening in regards to the subject of life. While we extensively talk about the value of life, we systematically pre­vent births in our “civilized” world.  While we agonizingly spend a lot of money on health and prolongation of our life span, we legalize euthanasia.  Thus, a conflict is created in the field of reproductive technologies.  One group of technologies says “no,” where nature says “yes,” such as abortion, contraceptive technologies, sterili­zation.  And another group says “yes,” where nature says “no,” i.e. I.V.F, artificial insemination, etc.  It seems the struggle of science is not a struggle for life, but a struggle against nature.  How can we keep silent and not demand the establishment of certain criteria which will determine the degree of human interference in the beginning of life, in the birth of the soul?

A similar contradiction exists in the subject of the end of life, such as euthanasia, where pain fights against time; pain, which is ours, a consequence of our original sin, against time, which is a gift from God to us.  Time is a divine blessing, a lot more than pain is our enemy.

Death as an event, marking the beginning of eternity, is much more important than the way it occurs in this life.  The state of the soul in eternity is what finally counts in death, and not the state of our body during the last moments in this transient life.  This can generate patience, tolerance and love for the people around us, care and trust in God’s will, respect and humility in the acceptance of our trials as His gifts.  That is why, euthanasia is the worst spiritual death according to the Orthodox Church.

Of course, there is an opposite side to this.  Do these supportive respiratory technologies prolong life or prevent death?  And do we have the right to prevent death when it is on its way, and let someone live an ambiguous life?  These are matters that need to be discussed.

As you are aware, the Church has a different logic on these subjects; the logic of the salvation of the soul, the logic of God.  Hence, the salvation of a sterile couple can emerge from the trial of their sterility.  Natural sterility can lead to spiritual fertility.  Couples who do not conceive children can con­ceive God.  The Church accepts medical intervention within the spirit of the expectation of God’s will, rather than of having a child to whom we will offer the inheritance of our selfish love.  Usually, we want a child, and not “chil­dren,” for ourselves in this world and not for God in eternity.  The heart of the matter is not that a couple wants to have children, but it is why they want to have them.  The Church sees children as spiritual extensions of God and not as our own physical products.  The beginning of life brings the beginning of the soul.  Every single soul is a breath of God.  The beginning of life is as sacred as the form of life itself.

And this brings me to the topic of genetic engineering. Today, genetic engineering extensively discusses, but also plays games, with the beginning as well as the form of life.  The creation of new forms of life occupies a central position among its interests.  The subject of the human genome project as well as of gene therapy have been widely publicized.  Scientists hoped that, by 1995, a complete mapping of the human genome would have been accom­plished, that is the specific determination of the genes’ position inside DNA, as well as the therapy and prevention of diseases through the replace­ment of the problematic genes.  However, things are not so easy.

Suppose, science manages to achieve its goals in the field of genetic engineering.  Why should man change the form of life?  What is the point of predetermining the color of our child’s hair, when we haven’t experienced God at all?  As I have already said, our life is more what we will become than what we now are.  So, we will have spent all our life in this world without the perspective of eternity.  The Church does not agree with this, as she believes in the respect of life as a gift from God, not as the source of good.  The utmost good is the manifestation of God in our life.

N.K. If technology and science allow a couple to diagnose a life-long handicap at the embryonic stage, what do you think would be best for the couple to do?  To prevent that child from being born or proceed to treatment if possible?

Fr. N.H. The possibility of treatment is a good solution, as it would assist the quality of life along with its production.  But as you very well know, in all cases of prenatal examination, the question is whether to prevent birth or not, whether to allow a handicapped child to be born or not.  Why can’t our “civilized” society bear to bring up a handicapped child?  To take care of it, to support the parents and spiritually edify the family and friends?

I know a family with a tetraplegic young boy.  He is now ten years old and has become very heavy to carry and move around.  When you see him, you cannot but feel sorry for him.  However, this child has awaken in the hearts of his parents feelings, not only of pain, but of humility, love, unselfishness, self-sacrifice; feelings related to their spiritual growth.  The parents do not even want to think that their little boy might soon die.  Even if they suffer, they adore him.  This is a common experience.  I don’t know if there are any parents who wish their handicapped child would rather die.  However, if these parents knew of their child’s defect through a prenatal examination, most probably they would have prevented this birth, and thus make our world even poorer in love and richer in selfishness.  We would have one angel less to remind us that we live in a fallen world anticipating the everlasting and divine world to come.

Death, whether we want it or not, will exist.  The only definite inher­itance we all carry and pass on to our children is the stigma of death.  Which illness or impairment can be worse than death?  The Church suggests another kind of prenatal examination.  The one that makes couples realize that they do not give birth to a life in this world, but to a soul in the world of eternity.  In this sense, a child is a soul, a little angel, a breath of God, which although carries the stigma of sin, yet it generates humility, not despair.  We will not prevent a pregnancy, because the abortion of an embryo from its mother’s womb, is the abortion of its soul from God’s embrace and of our own soul from His will.

N.K. I discern in what you say that Orthodoxy does not hold an anti-scientific position and is not set against research in these fields, but research must know its limits?

Fr. N.H. Who would say the opposite?  These limits must be well de­fined and not negotiable.  For instance, the Church cannot accept the fact that in order for a child to be born, we must kill a dozen other fertilized eggs, which are embryos.  And it is not only the Orthodox Church that is set against this, but also anyone who believes in any god cannot accept it either.

N.K. But even a completely secular view on these issues, which is not based on any metaphysical considerations, faces severe ethical dilemmas in this area?

Fr. N.H. Certainly.  And for this reason most of the existing centers for bioethics are not religious, but academic, secular.  People are afraid of these delicate issues.  Unfortunately, we realize the consequences of our actions, only when we reach the result.  We can neither prevent, nor predict.  And we play games.  What do we need these games for?

N.K. Is this a progress according to the Orthodox tradition?

Fr. N.H. What, playing games with life?

N.K. Research is always dangerous since the result is unknown as you yourself know.

Fr. N.H. The problem is not research.  The problem is the application of research on man and life.  I read in a newspaper clipping that a sperm donor has more than 200 living children and God knows how many dead ones.  He gave his sperm through which thousands of eggs were fertilized.  This man now has 200 children with various women and thousands of dead embryos.  What is the use of all this?  To get paid for giving out his sperm?  To play with nature and life?  The sperm is sacred.  It has another purpose, which we should respect.  There’s a lot to be said on this subject.

N.K. First, I would like to ask you if the Orthodox Church has any solutions to suggest?  And secondly, you, as an Orhtodox monk, as a priest who has knowledge on the subject, can you detect the ethical consequences of the recent biomedical achievements?

Fr. N.H. The Orthodox Church and tradition do not aim at giving preset solutions to problems, but rather at creating a certain mind-set, a way of think­ing out of which the solutions will clearly emerge.  On the contrary, the West­ern world codifies its ethics.  The Orthodox tradition is not preocuppied with what we will do, but with how and what we will become, with our inner change.  Our specific ethical actions do not necessarily lead to our inner spir­itual transformation, but rather they result from it.

Moreover, there is a growing interest on the side of the Church on these matters.  The national committees always invite reperesentatives of the Church who are involved in the subject of bioethics.  Here in this outpost of Mount Athos, we have established the first center for Biomedical Ethics in Greece.  Its intention is to collect related bibliography and create the grounds for academic discussions and understanding of these subjects; hence, an Orthodox point of view may gradually emerge leading the Church to specific positions, if necessary, and assisting society to proceed to relevant legislative regulations.  This indicates a particular respect for the seriousness of the existing problems, but also the tremendous possibility for the dogmatic theological truths to be expressed through the channel of this contemporary questioning and language.

Certainly, these are the channels through which we can say a few things; speak about the respect for life, about the soul and life as a breath of God; present ethics as a result of spiritual freedom and not as a recipee.  By analyzing the beginning of life, we have a better understanding of its end!  There has never been such a conscientious and detailed preoccupation with the phenomenon of life and death so far.  Our era gives us the opportunity to spread the everlasting message of God by using a new dialect.  After a few years, we can repeat the same message through a different dialect.  So, God can pass through the variety of channels we spoke earlier.

Under the Bed

The Holy Evangelist Luke

From the blog of Father Michael

John Lewis, formerly the Priest

at Saint Luke’s Orthodox Church,

Garden Grove, California: 

Under the Bed

 “I envy Kevin. My brother Kevin thinks God lives under his bed. At least that’s what I heard him say one night.

He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped to listen, “Are you there, God?” he said. “Where are you? Oh, I see. Under the bed…”

I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room. Kevin’s unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in.

He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor. Apart from his size (he’s 6-foot-2), there are few ways in which he is an adult.

He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.

I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different.

Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life?

Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed.

The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.

He does not seem dissatisfied.

He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work.

He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.

And Saturdays-oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day my Dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside.

“That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go!” Kevin shouts as he claps his hands.

His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.

He doesn’t know what it means to be discontented.

His life is simple.

He will never know the entanglements of wealth of power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.

His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it.

He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax.

He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others. His heart is pure.

He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue.

Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere. And he trusts God.

Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an “educated” person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion.

In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith.
It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions.

It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap . .. I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care.

Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God.

And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.

Kevin won’t be surprised at all!” 

 + Archpriest Michael John Lewis +

June 3, 1963 – August 15, 2011

May His Memory Be Eternal

Basic Guidelines of Welcome, by Summer Kinard

Invisible Child, by Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski

The name “invisible child” is both a descriptor of and a dedication to our children, who are invisible in the sense that their disabilities, though often severe, are hidden from view. Brain disorders, though biologically based, often are not obvious physically, so the invisible child looks like any other child. In addition, children with these disorders usually have normal intelligence. In fact, many are gifted, sometimes to a high degree, and because of this they are able to develop coping skills that further hide their differences, the result being that they may either not be identified or their struggles will be misunderstood. Because it typically takes such a long time for children to be diagnosed and receive appropriate treatment, they are particularly susceptible to falling through the cracks, dropping out of school, becoming suicidal, or entering the juvenile justice system.

 InvisibleChild.org

An article by Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski, which can be found in its entirety in the Orthodox websites section. She speaks as a mother of a number of children with invisible disabilities:

Church and the Child with Invisible Disabilities

When persons with blindness, or in wheelchairs, or with Downs Syndrome features come to our Church, its easy to identify them as people to help. But its a little harder to see them as people who can help. And its much harder to see, as Matushka Wendy writes, children with invisible disabilities, who look like everybody else, as image-bearers of Christ who just need  extra patience. The article and the website are a good place to start educating one’s self toward this goal.

See Also Matushka Wendy’s Master’s Thesis: Embracing All God’s Children: Orthodox Theology Concerning Disability and Its Implications for Ministry with Special Needs Youth in the Orthodox Church by Wendy Cwiklinski, 68 pp.

reprinted from January 2007 with edits

Charlotte Riggle: 14 picture books with disabled characters

Charlotte Riggle writes,

How many picture books have disabled characters?The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison analyzes the children’s books that publishers send them every year. Last year, they received 698 picture books. Just two of them – TWO out of 698 – had main characters who had disabilities.

To access the post:

14 picture books with disabled characters

If children would find disabled people in their books, when they meet disabled people in person, they won’t find them strange; they will not hesitate to approach and talk to them. And play with them.

Charlotte Riggle, in her post, reviews 14 such books.

Resources for books including disabled children: A Mighty Girl: People with Disabilities

Disability in Kid Lit

aTo access:

Honor Roll

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