Imago Dei in Eastern Orthodox Statements: Implications for Inclusion of People with Disabilities

The concept of imago Dei is arguably the most important and foundational concept in Christian theology for what it means to be human. Various interpretations of imago Dei carry varying implications, especially for individuals with disabilities. What does one’s interpretation of the image of God mean for individuals with intellectual disabilities, and what does this in turn mean for their participation in the church? In the past two decades, official entities of the Eastern Orthodox Church have released two documents addressing imago Dei and thus potentially impacting the inclusion of people with disabilities in the life and educational pursuits of the Church. In 2008, the Russian Orthodox Church released a statement titled, “The Russian Orthodox Church’s Basic Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights.” In 2009, the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America released a document titled, “Disability and Communion: Embracing People with Disabilities within the Church.” This paper examines how each document views the image of God and its ramifications for people with disabilities, especially within the church. I argue that the theology of imago Dei in these documents differs, resulting in conflicting views of people with disabilities. While the latter honors those with disabilities, the former runs the risk of having an alienating effect upon them. In order to resolve these discrepancies and welcome people with disabilities into every aspect of the church, the Orthodox Church should continue to develop and express its theological arguments regarding imago Dei and its significance for all people.

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