Matushka Wendy Cwiklinski has Bachelor’s degree in Instrumental Music Education from Northeast Louisiana University. She studied at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and recently graduated from Fordham University with a M.A. in Religious Education, with an emphasis in Youth and Young Adult Ministry. She is married to Fr. Jerome Cwiklinski, who recently retired from serving as a Navy Chaplain. They are the proud parents of 5 children, who have explored the country during their military moves, living in California, Chicago, Washington DC, Alaska, and Rhode Island. Their last move to Southern California has lasted for 15 years!
As the parent of special needs children, church was often a challenge for us. While most of our time was spent serving smaller military chapels, a trip to a parish usually promised to be stressful – as my husband was serving in the altar and there were 5 children to tend to. With children on the autism spectrum, sometimes they were just in perpetual motion – much to the dismay of some parishioners around us.
The following is a serialized version of a paper I wrote for my M.A. in Religious Education at Fordham University: Embracing All God’s Children: Orthodox Theology Concerning Disability and Its Implications for Ministry with Special Needs Youth in the Orthodox Church. The full paper can be found online: fordham.academia.edu/WendyCwiklinski
Part 4: Creation/Imago Dei/ Living Icons
If we consider ourselves to be living icons – made in the image of God, then it is our mission to treat every person as if they are God: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Can we set aside a person’s obvious or invisible disability and see the real person that the disability is attached to? Are we fully welcoming of less than perfect people in our midst, either in worship or socially? Too often, those who are considered weak are made to be outcasts – who are we to deny the Love of God to them? It is a lesson that is often missed, because God speaks to us in many ways, especially through the disabled.
Man created “in the image” is the person capable of manifesting God in the extent to which his nature allows itself to be penetrated by deifying grace.
Never confuse the person, formed in the Image of God, with the evil that is in him: because evil is but a chance misfortune, an illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the Image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement. – St. John of Kronstadt
Created to be Part of Community:
The story of creation as presented in the Book of Genesis, tells us that God does not exist as the sole occupant of the universe. Each year during Lent, the Book of Genesis is read during the Presanctified Liturgies on Wednesday and Friday. Our Lenten journey begins with stories of the creation, and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise
The creation narrative in the book of Genesis teaches that “God created us in the divine image” (Genesis 1:27). According to St. Irenaeaus, “Every person carries a divine spark, an inherent dignity from God. However distinctive each child is, everyone is a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and shares in the same potential.” St. Paul explains that it is one’s uniqueness that likens a person to God, that we have “different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit…To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (I Cor. 12:4-7)
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him. (Gen 3.18)
Orthodox iconography never depicts God alone: He is always depicted as part of a community. The icon of the Holy Trinity rendered by Andrei Rublev is also known as the Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. In this icon, we see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit gathered around a table that is set for a meal:
Often given to commemorate a marriage, here is another icon of the Holy Trinity that includes images of Abraham and Sarah.
Christian Community as Family
In an Apostolic Exhortation release in November of 1981, Pope John Paul II clarified the calling of the Christian family
The Christian family is also called to experience a new and original communion which confirms and perfects natural and human communion. In fact the grace of Jesus Christ, “the first-born among many brethren” is by its nature and interior dynamism “a grace of brotherhood,” as St. Thomas Aquinas calls it. The Holy Spirit, who is poured forth in the celebration of the sacraments, is the living source and inexhaustible sustenance of the supernatural communion that gathers believers and links them with Christ and with each other in the unity of the Church of God. The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can and should be called “the domestic Church.”
St. John Chrysostom imagined that, as Christians, we would all be part of a society ”…where rich and poor or mine and yours no longer exist, where everyone is part of a great family and where everyone contributes to the salvation of someone else.”
Full Members of the Body – Belonging
Unlike their peers in Catholic and Protestant Christianity, children who are baptized and chrismated in the Orthodox Church are fully participants in the community from the time of their baptism. There is no intellectual impediment to membership, no waiting for the “Age of Reason” to participate in the age/intellect related rites of passage of First Communion and Confirmation as required in Catholic and Protestant churches. Infant communion is unique to the Orthodox Faith, a “normal” and usual part of the practice of our faith. There is one Eucharistic Liturgy on Sunday, an expression of the unity of the faith. When the priest invokes “Blessed is the Kingdom” at the beginning of every Liturgy, we are, as the envoys of Prince Vladimir observed, “in heaven”. Liturgy is much more than just a communion service – it is a sacrament in itself, the fellowship of the believers who gather in a joyous celebration of Christ’s redemption of the world.
 (Lossky 139)
 In Genesis, God appears to Abraham and Sarah:
…he looked up and saw three angels standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought and wash your feet. Rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it and make cakes. Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. – Book of Genesis, Chapter 18:1-8
 (Pereira 111)
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