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

Incense in the Orthodox Church: An ASL Explanation

September 24, 2011

Sub-deacon Tigran explains the use of incense in Orthodox worship in ASL (American Sign Language). Captioning is available on the video for the ASL deficient:

Armenian Orthodox Ordain First Deaf Sub-Deacon

June 25, 2011

On Sunday, June 26, 2011, Armenian Orthodox acolyte Tigran Khachikyan will be ordained as a sub-deacon at St. Leon Armenian Church in Burbank, California by H.E. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian.

This is a first for the Armenian Church in that Tigran is the first Deaf person to be ordained in the Armenian Church. I believe he is also the first Deaf person to be ordained in any Orthodox jurisdiction in the USA. More on his ordination to the sub-diaconate can be read here. Tigran has also been a strong advocate for the Deaf community in the Los Angeles area.

I have had the privilege of meeting Tigran and I feel sure his ministry will be a great asset to the Armenian Church. For example, he has produced a series of videos in American Sign Language explaining the Orthodox faith that are very well done. Here he explains the significance of lighting a candle in Orthodox worship:

I hope this will encourage other Orthodox jurisdictions to commit to ministry to the Deaf here in the USA, as such is long overdue!

Many years to Tigran in his ministry in the Armenian Church!

Update: here is a video from Tigran’s ordination to the sub-diaconate:

For further reading:

Orthodox Christians Who are Deaf and Blind

St Mark the Deaf

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:

Who is God? Part 2 in ASL

December 4, 2010

My friend Tigran Khachikyan continues his series on “Who is God?” This is part 2. It’s presented in American Sign Language and captioning is available for the ASL impaired.

Other videos:

Who is God, Part 1

The Holy Tradition

Revelation, Part 1

Revelation, Part 2

Orthodox Christians Who are Deaf and Blind

November 17, 2010

I remember once visiting an Eastern Orthodox parish in Phoenix, Arizona and during the Divine Liturgy I realized the woman sitting in the row ahead of me was deaf. Not hard of hearing, but stone deaf. I caught her attention and starting signing in ASL (American Sign Language) to her. It turned out she had gone to the same Deaf school as my parents and was a classmate of theirs. I asked her if she wanted me to interpret some of the Liturgy to her? She told me no. She had been going to this parish for over 30 years and never had an interpreter before–nor had anyone ever offered one.

I marveled at her simple faith for I wonder if I could have persevered with so little understanding of what was happening at the services. One could argue, perhaps successfully, that her faith was stronger than many of the hearing people and that her understanding of the mystery encountered during the Liturgy was more profound.

Still, I felt bad that she had never had an interpreter all these years. I thought of my own parents who also are deaf. They were not, at that time, at a stage where I felt they would respond to an invitation to come to Liturgy. But, if they did, how would they be received? Thus began the realization that here in North America there really is very little ministry to the deaf in Orthodox parishes — even in large metropolitan cities with larger deaf populations.

Now, this is not the case in Russia. Here for example, is a Russian news report of Tikhvin Icon of Our Lady in Moscow- a parish that serves both the deaf and the blind. The report is in Russian, but don’t let that bother you. At about 21 seconds into the video the report shows the parish and part of a liturgical service:

Services are chanted in Slavonic and simultaneously translated into Russian Sign Language. The people in the parish do the responses in sign language as well.

This parish was also featured in another news report. Besides ministering to Deaf, they also make an effort to make the blind more welcome:

A conventional Orthodox service can leave blind and deaf people feeling lost. But one church in Moscow has changed all that by catering for its congregation’s special needs.

Most of the congregation at the Tikhvin Icon of Our Lady Temple are deaf or blind, and it is only thanks to the pioneering efforts of the church that they are able to come and express their faith.

The church was founded by Archdeacon Pavel Troshenkin and over the last eighteen years the team of priests has continued his work. They have worked with the deaf community to evolve the sign language that they currently use in worship.

The services are for everyone – and the ability to go there and worship and be able to mix with people from outside the blind and deaf community is part of what makes this church so important for those who attend.

“In our family, children are hard of hearing. Taking my children to a usual church was impossible. They simply wouldn’t understand. The first time we came here, my husband and I knew instantly that this was our church,” says parishioner Elena Mifeyenkova.

The church was chosen for these special services because there are no columns, so the priest can be seen from any point during the sermon. Confession is held in sign language in a screened-off section, and whereas in most churches the icons of the religion are purely visual, in this church the blind are able to touch them.

“In a usual church, icons are only available visually. This is the first church that makes relief icons accessible to blind parishioners,” says President of the European Deaf Blind Union Sergey Sirotkin. “I asked people why this could not be done before, but got no answer. I was told icons were only intended for visual perception, and that spiritual interaction was only possible through eyesight. I think, though, that this is wrong,” he believes.

People who come to the Tikhvin Icon of Our Lady Temple to express their faith say they are happy to have such a special place of worship, but until there are other churches like this, they will remain some of the few who can. [Go to the website for the news report to see another video of this parish — this report is in English.]

Orthodox services are interpreted into Greek Sign Language, as this example of the Trisagion (“Holy God”) from a Liturgy in Greece:

As I said earlier, very little work has been done with the Deaf in mind in Orthodox parishes here in North America. But, such is possible as the examples from Russia and Greece show. I pray the day for deaf ministry amongst Orthodox here in North America is not far away.

St Mark the Deaf

July 15, 2010

H/T: Mystagogy

St. Mark the Deaf -- Feast day January 2nd

We know very little of Saint Mark the Deaf (some calendars have him as Mark the Deaf Mute) other than what is written in the Synaxarion probably from the 13th century on his feast day of January 2nd:

Saint Mark the Deaf was an ascetic that lived a righteous life and died in peace.”

The following stanza is written as well:

Mark did not hear an earthly word, and before he left the earth, his earthly ears were extracted.”

In Rethymno, Crete there exists the only church dedicated to Saint Mark the Deaf not only in all of Greece, but in the entire world. It is located on the grounds of the Holy Monastery of Saint George Arsaniou. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited this chapel in 2003 and served here a Divine Liturgy, praising the fact that the Divine Liturgy was done in sign language.

Though Orthodoxy has many deaf saints, Saint Mark the Deaf has become the patron saint of the deaf. Among other saints who were deaf, there is St. Cadoc (Cadfan) Llankarvansky (+580), St. Drogo (Drew) (+12th cent.), St. Meriadoc (Meredith) (7th cent.), and St Owen Ruensky (Eugene) (+684). Other Orthodox churches in Greece and throughout the world also have services in sign language as well, especially in Russia. Among them is Simonov Monastery in Moscow.

The Trisagion (“Holy God”) from the Divine Liturgy translated into Greek Sign Language:

The Nicene Creed and the Our Father in Greek Sign Language: