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Arise, Take up Thy Bed and Walk

Our Ministry to Those with Special Needs

by Bishop THOMAS (Joseph), Peter Schweitzer and Subdeacon David Hyatt

Disabilities which cause cases of special need do not discriminate between races, socioeconomic status, nationality, gender or age. In the United States, people with disabilities are the largest minority group comprising nearly 20% of the population. According to the World Health Organizationi, there are more than 54 million Americans with a physical, sensory, or mental disability of any kind. Across our world, the estimates are that nearly 15% of the human population is affected in some way by a disability that causes special needs in order to function in society, reflecting an increase from 10% in 1970. If these numbers are correct, it is a statistical certainty that our God-protected Patriarchate has a similar number of faithful who desire to pray, learn and serve within our parishes. The needs are among us and surround us in the societies in which we live, the only question is whether or not we will respond in loving action to provide improved accessibility to our inquirers, catechumens and faithful with special needs.

Any Orthodox Christian discussion of those with disabilities or special needs requires an understanding of suffering. In the growing secular societies that surround us, human suffering, disabilities, illnesses, and special needs are tragedies to be overcome and remedied in this life. Otherwise, human life is rendered meaningless and absurd. This is how the contemporary world views suffering and disability. If suffering can’t be overcome, disabilities banished, psychological problems medicated, the human enterprise is considered pointless. Of course, this is not the Orthodox understanding of human life or its purpose.

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