St. Gregory the Theologian’s Oration “On Love of the Poor” (2 of 3)

St. Gregory the Theologian

St. Gregory’s specific example of the poor are the lepers. The shunning lepers endure, even by their families, has been based on fear of getting the disease from them. Nevertheless, St. Gregory rightly condemns the inhuman way in which they were driven away even from water sources. St. Gregory notes that despite their condition they are made in the image of God and have been baptized into Christ just as everyone else in their Christian region has.

“And what about us, … disciples of the gentle and kindly Christ, who … ‘bore our weaknesses’ … so that we might be rich in divinity? What about us, who have received such a great example of tenderness and compassion? How shall we think about these people, and what shall we do? Shall we simply overlook them? Walk past them? … Surely not, my brothers and sisters! This is not the way for us, nursed as we are by Christ, who brings back the one gone astray, seeks out the lost, strengthens the weak; this is not the way of human nature, which lays compassion on us as a law, even as we learn reverence and humanity from our common weakness. (14.13)

While Orthodox Christians in the Western Hemisphere would like a unified American Church, an Orthodoxy that would speak to America, rather than to traditional ethnic loyalties, it would be unfortunate if we failed to screen out the cultural baggage which is already here, the kind of values that make the evening TV offerings- especially the commercials- such a wasteland. Inadvertently, such values can creep into our Church life.  Materialism- the craving for more, more, more- is one such false value.  Or, for another instance, if we allow ourselves to be image-conscious, we may choose, for the sake of appearances, to exclude people with certain disabilities who are part of our local parish from roles for which they are capable, roles that God has fitted them for. They would sense this and suffer because of  it. And as St. Paul says, “if one member suffers, all suffer.” St. Gregory writes, sarcastically, on such attitudes:

We simply must be- or be thought to be- people of refined tastes, furnished well beyond our needs; it is as if we were not ashamed … not to be slaves of the belly and the regions below it! … this spiritual sickness … comes from our choice [and] goes with us when we are brought to the next [life].  (14.17-eighteen)

I am called to distinguish myself from the large, expansive lifestyles the advertisers try to drum into my head. I am called rather to receive the Kingdom of God like a child, with simple trust and wholehearted delight. And to preserve this simplicity, I need to downsize as needed. How about you?

Shall we not finally come to our senses? Shall we not cast off our insensitivity- not to say our stinginess? Shall we take no notice of human needs? Shall we not identify our own interests with the troubles of others?  … nothing human is lasting … The prudent ones, then are those who do not rely on present circumstances, but make their treasure in what is yet to come, and whoo … love that human kindness that never passes away.” (14.19)

Let the one who … flourishes in the best of circumstances support the one who is bowed over beneath the worst.” (14:26)

In the context of St. Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 12 about spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ, this is not simply a call to charitable giving. This is a call to partnership in the Faith with, among others, people with disabilities.

from Gregory of Nazanzius, Brian E. Daily, S.J. Routledge, 2006. Pp. 83-90

Icon from Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music: May 9: Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, 389


2 Responses to “St. Gregory the Theologian’s Oration “On Love of the Poor” (2 of 3)”

  1. 1 “For you have the poor with you always” « Arms Open Wide Trackback on August 8, 2012 at 9:42 AM

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