Dean Franck is a first year student in the Master's of Divinity Program at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is also a participant of our Digital Disciples Program.
Some time ago the World Council of Churches released an article entitled “A Church of All and for All – An interim statement” regarding disabilities and healing. It presents an interpretation of Christ’s relationship with disabilities and healing and how they are seen according to our Faith in society. The article deals with a modern perspective of how our Church deals with these struggles, “When any one of us, or a group of us, is excluded because of some lack of ability, we are prevented from using our God-given gifts to make Christ’s body complete. Together, let us make the beautiful mosaic that God intends.” – Norma Mengel
The article goes on to state, “In this kind of theology, disability is a social construct, and healing is the removal of social barriers. From these perspectives, the healing stories in the gospels are primarily concerned with restoration of the persons to their communities, not the cure of their physiological conditions. For example, the man with leprosy in Mark 1:40-45 who asks Jesus to make him clean is mainly asking Jesus to restore him to his community. In like manner, in Mark 2:1-12, Jesus met the paralytic and forgave him his sins. Forgiving sins here means removing the stigma imposed on him by a culture in which disabilities were associated with sin. Hence this man was ostracized as sinful and unworthy of his society’s acceptance. In these healing stories, Jesus is primarily removing societal barriers in order to create accessible and accepting communities. The good news of the Gospel from this perspective is that it creates inclusive communities by challenging oppressive and dehumanizing systems and structures.”
It is our duty as Christians to uphold this inclusive communal experience for those who struggle with disabilities because the greatest pain for those with disabilities is often the lack of community. The article really caught our attention because of our experience with autism in the story that follows. The following is an excerpt of intimate experience with autism to offer insight to the challenges faithful with disabilities face.
In Sparta, Greece there is an old mansion down the road from the Evangelista Church. The house’s shutters hang crooked and the chickens run free beneath the orange trees in the yard. The basement is full of books. The little television in the dining room often plays the world news atop the bookshelf beside the round table with a handmade white lace table cloth where Father George takes his meals. Father’s wife passed on some years ago, so the sweet little Romanian house keeper cooks now. The seventy-something year old Father continues a vigorous ministry to the people of Sparta and the surrounding villages as though he were still a young man. Father stands close to six foot five tall and has a long white beard and hair with a strong brow and cheeks, a true mountain man whose greatest joy is to drink from the spring that gushes from the mountain in the village of his birth. The icons in the room are placed in various places all around as though the Holy ones, Christ, and Panagia, are there too.
As Father finishes his morning coffee, with tahini in it for strength, a huge man appears in the entryway to the dining room. He is smiling and spinning in circles waving and smacking ribbons and other shinny plastics in his hand. Father greets him with a deep cheerful “good morning” and a heartfelt chuckle. His son who is as large in stature as him has been autistic all his life, now he is in his forties and still needs full time care. The little Romanian woman comes over and greets him with such love. He smiles, laughs without front teeth behind his big curly hair and beard and he leans down with his cheek out to get a kiss from her. Then he smiles and spins and plays with his ribbons more and more. Father calls him over to the table and carefully opens a piece of paper with holy bread from the last time he prepared communion and feeds it to him. Such things are a mystery of God.
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