By Gregory Hohnholt. Originally at tennesseean.com
It was the Lord’s Day. We were at prayer. The smell of incense was wafting up from the censor; the beautiful hymnology of the Orthodox Church was filling our ears with wonderful melodies and theological delight. The faces looking at mine from time to time in the altar were beaming; the previous years’ Paschal grace still lingering on them from a month ago. The prayers were being offered as the homily had just been delivered.
A rather dapper young man, of newly turned 7 years of age entered the altar in a bit of a scurry from the side door, known as one of the “Deacons’ Doors.” He was wearing a freshly pressed blue Oxford shirt, a nicely ironed pair of khaki pants with brown shoes; his hair being very neatly slicked down and parted to the side. With his big blue eyes he looked up at me from the very side of the altar table, just minutes before the Great Entrance was to take place with the bread and the wine to be offered to God Himself, and he, the boy, with a quivering voice and worrisome eyes said, “Baba, I’m late!”
“Baba” is Greek for Dad, and that dapper young man was one of my twin sons, Thomas. He had come to help serve in the altar with the others during Sunday Divine Liturgy. The joy he experienced that day was known; it overflowed to the point that I can still feel it myself.
I am the priest of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church here in Nashville. The reason I’m making such a big deal of Thomas’ arrival to the altar to serve, is because at age 3, he was diagnosed with autism.
Thomas has come an exceptionally long way since that initial diagnosis. Special needs parishioners are among the “least of these my brethren” referred to in Matthew’s Gospel (Ch. 25).
Essential to his progress in Church life has been consistency; since Thomas was 40 days old he has barely missed a Sunday. My wife, Sofia, has prayerfully worked with not only his developmental progress with school and home, but his spiritual progress in Church as well. Family life in the Church is about entering Paradise together.
The positive help from the different Church communities I have served in has been extremely important. In the difficult days and trying times we found relief and healing in the love of the Church.
We have known quite a few special needs folks along the way in the Orthodox Church, not only with autism but other challenges as well.
Some serve in the altar like Thomas did that day, others participate in worship in other ways.
That particular Sunday was truly a feast day; Thomas radiated the whole day long in the joy of serving, of taking part in worship in a very real tangible way.
His face beamed and his eyes twinkled, and all I could say was, “Glory to God!”