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Care for the Elderly and Infirm in an Orthodox Setting

Bp Thomas Joseph and Peter Schweitzer 

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. (Psalm 71:9)

Proper and loving care for the elderly should be a Christian concern for each of us.  Whether we have aged or infirm parents or loved ones, we all know elderly people who need our attention.  As Orthodox Christians, we have a duty to them before God.  We have a duty to look after their physical and most importantly, their spiritual needs.

While elected officials grapple with the financial and moral questions concerning healthcare, the elderly population continues to grow. In 2010, one-sixth of the adult U.S. population was older than 65; by 2030, about one-fourth will be.  This presents a pastoral challenge for the Orthodox clergy and laity.  All too often our elderly, infirm, and dying are isolated, in some cases abandoned.  They may be found in nursing homes where no one visits them and they are unable to attend church services.  In many instances, priests are not aware of their circumstances and they are left without confession and the other salvific Mysteries of the Church.  When they repose, they may even be cremated as opposed to given a proper Orthodox burial.  This may be the result of a family’s ignorance of Church teaching or a desire to reduce the costs of a funeral.  (An Orthodox funeral does not have to be an expensive affair.  There are Orthodox resources available that substantially defray costs while at the same time remaining faithful to our spiritual traditions.)

Countless holy fathers relate to us the importance and blessing of a holy death, that is one for which an Orthodox person is able to receive the Holy Mysteries, repent of past sins, and ask forgiveness of others.  Of course, such a blessing requires work on our part.  We can no longer presume that we live in tightly-knit communities where extended family members look after one another.  Orthodox parishes must fill this void by creating communities of prayer and repentance where physical and spiritual support are offered.  We have written a supporting article on just such a community that has formed in Clearwater, Florida.  The ministry provided by Most Holy Theotokos Rescuer of the Perishing is replicable so that Orthodox communities across the country can support one another and take care of the physical and spiritual needs of the elderly and dying.  We know of one such ministry in Father Josiah Trenham’s parish of Saint Andrew in Riverside, California where members of the parish look after the final needs of Orthodox brothers and sisters in their final hours on earth.  For more information on that wonderful ministry, please visit: http://saintandrew.net/burialsociety.html

The spiritual blessings of taking care of the elderly and the dying are untold.  We can think of few other works we can perform that can have a greater impact on the eternal salvation of an Orthodox brother or sister. 

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