Fully Human: Toward Full Participation of People with Disabilities

By Monk Raphael (Brown)

The Holy Martyr Photini is the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at Jacob’s well in a place called Sychar. Christ and St. Photini had a conversation.  St. Photini’s encounter with Christ changed her life. This profound and life changing conversation began with a simple request. “A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink’” (John 4:7 NKJV).  St. Photini could have ignored the request of Jesus. St. Photini could have chosen to tend to her task, get the water that she required and return to her home.  St. Photini chose a different response to the request of Jesus.

Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus     answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:9-10 NKJV).


Like the Samaritan woman, our days are filled with tasks that require our attention. Unexpectedly,  Christ comes alongside us. Christ invites us to turn our attention towards Him. Right in the middle of our mundane tasks, Christ invites us to participate in a potentially life transforming encounter. At Jacob’s well, St. Photini talked with Christ. In the place where we are at the present moment,  Christ comes to us. Christ reaches out to us. Again and again, Christ invites us to respond to His abundant loving kindness.

When I was tonsured a monk, I was named after St. Raphael of Brooklyn (1860-1915).  As a young man,  St. Raphael studied at the Theological School at Halki. The title of his 1886 thesis was The True Significance of Sacred Tradition and Its Great Worth. St. Raphael began with 2 Thessalonians 2:15,  “Brethren,  stand fast and hold firm to the traditions that you were taught whether by word or our letter.” Then, in the opening section of his thesis, St. Raphael wrote, “Of these two ways of transmitting divine truth,  the one by word, that is, living voice, constitutes sacred Tradition, [and] the other by letter, that is, writing, constitutes holy Scripture, in both of which all Christian truth that is, divine revelation, is contained.”  In Greek, St. Raphael used the phrase ζώσης φωνῆ translated as “living voice” to describe Holy Tradition. Some people may imagine that Holy Tradition is irrelevant,  old,  dusty and dead. St. Raphael believed that the Holy Spirit moved in and through Holy Tradition to help bring us closer to God.  For St. Raphael, Holy Tradition is a living voice which speaks to the depth of our heart and soul.

Attentiveness to the living voice of Holy Tradition is a theme of the early fathers of the church. A striking example is found in the writing of St. Papias. Regarding St. Papias of Hierapolis, St. Nicolai Velimirovic wrote:

 He was a disciple of the holy apostles and a Patristic writer. From him we have testimony concerning the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the four Maries and the Lord’s brothers, as well as one incomplete manuscript:  ‘A Commentary on the Words of the Lord.’  He died in about 130.


St. Papias wrote:

But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretation, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord of faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,--what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John,  or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.


In this passage,  St. Papias declares that he received the living voice of Holy Tradition from the Apostles.  Within the Orthodox Church the living voice of Holy Tradition is handed on from one generation to another generation.  Each person is given the opportunity to hear the power of the living voice and so be changed,  becoming a new person in Christ.  Through the church,  in every time and place,  Christ works for our healing and our salvation.

Obstacles of one kind or another always confront us.  The good news is that our most merciful Lord is always near,  helping us in our struggles.  St. Tikhon of Zadonsk exhorted the serfs to cherish their freedom and high dignity in Christ:

Though you are called slaves, you are freemen in Christ; in your body you work for men, but your souls are free from the works of sin; you have no freedom and nobility like your masters, but your souls are bejewelled with Christian freedom and nobility. Rejoice,  for the inheritance of the sons of God awaits you also. …They will leave all that they possess. Remember the poverty of Christ! Poor people, you beloved sufferers, do not faint in your hearts;  here you suffer with Lazarus,  but together with him you will dwell in the bosom of Abraham!


At first glance,  this passage describes a paradox. How can those who are experiencing slavery be free? And yet,  I find the mystery of this paradox in our life in Christ to be a deep well-spring offering us hope for our struggle. Given my cerebral palsy, as my age increases; my mobility decreases. The passage quoted above reminds me that Orthodox Christians are not held captive by our circumstances.  As Orthodox Christians our hope rests in God and not in ourselves.  No matter our exterior condition,  our interior life offers to us the possibility of true freedom in Christ.  Once more,  we encounter the transformative power of the living voice. For example,  St. Tikhon of Zadonsk taught,  “When you read the Gospels,  Christ speaks to you;  when you pray,  you are speaking to him. O sweet colloquy,  joyous and amiable colloquy!  God speaks to man,  the King of Heaven converses with his corruptible servant!”  Our gifts,  our weaknesses,  and our struggles shape the contours of our particular circumstances. Day by day, we turn to Christ for help as we strive to grow as persons created in the image and likeness of God.  Prayerful repentance can use the particular circumstances of our lives to help us grow in Christ by the power of Divine grace through the sacraments of the church,  in particular Holy Confession and Holy Communion. Christ proclaimed:

 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I  will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will  grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:20-22 NKJV).


The Feast of the Holy Martyr Photini,  the Samaritan Woman

Saturday, February 26, 2022