Over the past ten years, a small Orthodox parish in Moscow has created, almost from scratch, sign language for Orthodox liturgy.

"We are now ready to start publishing the first dictionary on videocassettes, CD-ROMs and in books," the parish priest, Pyotr Kolomeitsev, told ENI.

Many of the worshippers at his church, Our Lady of Tikhvin, are deaf or hearing impaired. At a recent service, the small choir sang for those who could hear, while for those who could not, a woman in a headscarf stood near the choir translating the hymn into sign language with rapid, vigorous gestures.

Standing behind the sacred doors—which in Orthodox churches separate the altar from the rest of the church—Kolomeitsev recited his part of the liturgy using both his voice and his hands, frequently pointing towards the ceiling to signify the word "God." And in a departure from Orthodox practice, he frequently faced the congregation rather than the altar, so that sign-readers could follow the liturgy.

One of the main achievements of his small community, Kolomeitsev said, was that it had succeeded in not being pigeon-holed as a church exclusively for deaf people. "The deaf live in their own world, in their ghetto, in their own sub-culture," he said. "They have their schools, their theatre, their clubs. Here, people all feel that they are in a normal church. We have not created another ghetto for them. We simply let the hearing-impaired into the Russian Orthodox Church."

Orthodox liturgy also appealed strongly to senses other than hearing, Kolomeitsev said, pointing out that he ensured his church had the finest icons and best incense.

While ministry to deaf and hearing-impaired people is well established in many Western churches, the congregation ...

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