ST. GREGORY THE THEOLOGIAN’S ORATION 14 –
ON THE LOVE OF THE POOR (I of III)
St. Gregory the Theologian begins, “brothers and sisters, poor with me– for all of us are needy of divine grace … accept my words on love of the poor that you may be rich in God’s Kingdom.”
We all have weaknesses- disabilities, if you will- none of us can achieve the likeness of Christ on our own, we are but individual members of Christ’s Body (1 Cor. 12); and divine grace must be sought prayerfully for all our efforts. St. Gregory continues, listing the various virtues, seeking
“the supreme virtue and award it first place.” (14.1)
He begins with
“faith, hope, and love, these three” (1 Cor. 13)
and after listing many others, he says they are
“all summed up by ‘contemplation’ and ‘action.’ Each is … one path to salvation … there are many dwelling places with God. (John 14) … And if, following the commandment of Paul and Christ Himself, we must suppose that love is the first and greatest of the commandments, I must conclude that love of the poor, and compassion and sympathy for our own flesh and blood, is its most excellent form. … we must open our hearts … to those suffering evil for any reason at all, according to the Scripture, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.’” (Rom. 12) (14.2-6)
How does he come to this conclusion? Later, he will bring forth a passage from the Scriptures [Matthew 25:31-46] as the basis for his claim. A little later he makes a statement:
“For most people, only one thing causes misery: something is lacking.” (14.9)
Would a person with a disability then necessarily be in misery? As St. Gregory said from the very beginning, we are all poor; we are all gifted –by God– in some ways and lacking in others. Nobody “has it all.” But all are declared to have a place and a role in the Body of Christ, according to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. “Those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, or if one member is honored, all members rejoice with it.” (12:22-26)
We must ask ourselves if we are living up St. Paul’s vision of parish Church life in regard to our weaker members, particularly people with disabilities. While the Orthodox Faith is the fullness of the Faith, I for one regularly fall short of it in practice.We weep with those in physical pain and also with those whose emotional pain we understand, but do we not often fail to sense the heartaches of people- brothers and sisters in the Faith- to whom we have a hard time relating? And this fear of “the other, the different, the deficient” creates barriers. Those who suffer this “misery [from what] is lacking” includes people with disabilities, especially those with invisible disabilities. And we often fail to find these folks the roles that they can fill. And they are sensitive to this lack of esteem.
Perhaps we do weep with them, but fail to rejoice with them in what they can do. A disability would be a lesser misery if the greater honor that St. Paul called for upon “those members of the body which seem to be weaker” were being bestowed. But if it is not, it becomes a greater misery.
This is a call for a closer attention to a conscious assignment of appropriate roles for the “weaker” members in the local parish.
from Gregory of Nazanzius, Brian E. Daily, S.J. ed. Routledge, 2006. Pp. 76-80