Deaf Outreach Resolution at Upcoming Orthodox Council

October 23, 2011

In an Orthodox parish serving the Deaf in Moscow, a priest signs one of the readings in Russian Sign Language

Here is something exciting for those of us who have been longing to see Orthodoxy in America make a firm commitment to ministry to the Deaf. One of the resolutions to be considered at the upcoming 16th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America (held October 31-November 4, 2011 in Seattle, Washington) is a call for the Church to reach out to the Deaf:

Deaf Outreach Resolution

WHEREAS we are called to spread the Word of God in many tongues (1 Cor. 14:9), yet the languages of a specific group of people throughout North America, namely, the deaf community, have been underrepresented, Whereas members of the deaf community, most of whom use sign language as their primary mode of communication, find it virtually impossible to enter into the liturgical fullness of the church,

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Holy Synod be requested to explore the creation of a deaf outreach ministry to help every level of the Orthodox Church in America more effectively meet the specific needs of the deaf community.

I ask readers to join in prayer that the Council in Seattle will embrace the resolution for this ministry which is long overdue for Orthodoxy in America.

For further reading:

Orthodox Christians Who are Deaf and Blind

St Mark the Deaf

Orthodox Church for the Deaf and Blind

The Lord’s Prayer in American Sign Language

March 2, 2011

A short, but well-done interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) into ASL by Armenian Orthodox acolyte Tigran Khachikyan:

My Two Worlds — Deaf & Hearing

April 9, 2010

A couple of readers have commented that the blog should also reflect some personal aspects from life, so here’s one installment in that department:

One of my earliest memories is asking my Grandmother to do something for me when I was about four years old: “Grandma, tell Mommy that I want her to make a chocolate cake today.” My Grandmother refused my request and made it a teaching moment: “David, you will have to learn to ask Mommy yourself.” Both my Mom and Dad have been profoundly deaf since birth. At the time, my Grandmother was living with us and I was starting to rely on her to interpret more detailed conversations with my parents. Grandma’s gentle rebuke taught me both responsibility and an early awareness that the language my parents used (American Sign Language) is a unique and complex language.

My Grandmother soon moved out and I started assuming the interpreting role for my parents that she had performed. When I was about six, our family got its first telephone. I can remember my Dad asking me to relay messages about loan payments and calling various stores for my Mom to see if what she wanted was in stock. Phone solicitors would recognize my youthful voice and would ask to speak with my parents. I can remember a couple of times when my reply “No, they can’t come to the phone–they are deaf” was misunderstood. Thinking I had said, “They are dead,” one solicitor said: “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” I calmly replied: “Oh, that’s okay. They’ve always been that way.” By the time I was twelve, I had interpreted loan contracts and how escrow worked when buying a home and had accompanied my Dad to a specialist when he had a serious sinus infection.

I really never thought that our family was different or that I was fulfilling an unusual role for a child. Once when I was in third grade, a classmate came home with me after school. As I introduced him to my Mom, I noticed his mouth was wide agape. Mom was pleasant to him and he sort of meekly waved to her. As we walked away to play he said, “You never told me your Mom is deaf.” I replied: “You never asked.” The same thing happened when my folks came to teacher conferences with me when I was in Middle School. My French teacher told the whole class the next day about my deaf parents. I didn’t like that sort of attention. As I got older, I tried to get out of interpreting for my folks. I could see there were two worlds: the deaf world and the hearing world. I didn’t want to be in the deaf world any longer.

I had never heard of the designation CODA (Child of Deaf Adult) until after I moved away from home and saw the Hallmark movie “Love is Never Silent.” In the movie, there’s a confrontational scene between the deaf parents and the hearing daughter after she’s moved away from home. During that scene, I broke down and sobbed like I’d never cried in all my life. In fact, I couldn’t even talk about that movie for a couple of years without starting to cry. I wasn’t angry with my parents.  Nor do I think I had an unlucky childhood. That movie began a process which helped me learn how important it is that I embrace who I am. I am in both worlds, both deaf and hearing.  My personality is different in each world.  When I sign to deaf people I’m no longer shy. If I see a deaf person signing, I want to go over and introduce myself. In the hearing world, I’m much more reserved. Since then, I’ve learned to recognize that I can live in both worlds at the same time.

I also came to realize that I can be proud of the unique childhood experience I received from my family. It has made me who I am. It has taught me some important lessons: that despite whatever obstacles one encounters in life, one should never give up – and that love is best experienced when it’s given liberally and unconditionally.

After that, I applied to work as an interpreter for a rural school district, got hired and have worked with Deaf and hard-of-hearing kids the past several years. Currently, I’m working towards getting my educational endorsements to be certified in this field. The Internet and high-speed cable modems allow me to call my parents (who live over a thousand miles away) several times a week and chat in ASL. This year Mom and Dad will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary!

The past 30 years has seen a vast improvement of services for Deaf. We now have videophone relay interpreters and laws in many countries mandate that interpreting services be provided for Deaf in many settings. Growing up in a Deaf family is a bit different these days, though many issues remain the same. There’s a recent effort to start a TV reality show, entitled “My Deaf Family.” It has its own Facebook page and in 9 days has over 10,000 fans. Here’s a trailer:

Many Churches now have interpreted services for the Deaf and there are a few Deaf congregations — where everyone involved from pastor to parishioner is Deaf. The New Testament is online in American Sign Language (ASL). For a humorous take on the Deaf world at Church, here’s a video by Andy and Ben Olson, CODAs themselves:

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much being done in the way of work with the Deaf in Orthodox parishes, at least from my online searches. A good series of videos on You Tube have recently been posted by Armenian Orthodox acolyte Tigran Khachikyan in ASL, who is himself deaf. Here he explains “Who is God?”:

One of my goals is to someday be able to post videos of parts of the Divine Liturgy with ASL interpretation. Perhaps that’s being done by someone already? I’d welcome comments from readers who have knowledge of such work among Deaf in Orthodox parishes.