St. Gregory theTheologian’s Oration “On the Love of the Poor” with commentary (3 of 3)

The Three Holy Hierarchs (L to R): St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great

“Some among us … develop vain and empty theories … They dare to say, ‘The suffering of these people is God’s work, just as prosperity is God’s work in us. … let them be unfortunate. It is God’s will. These people only talk about loving God when they feel the need to guard their pennies.” …. I, for one, am hesitant to explain this life’s trials as punishment for vice, or all human comfort as a reward for piety, … what seems to be unfair to us has its fairness in the plan of God. …. Some, … who detect great poverty on the part of Providence … although they think that the things beyond our senses are governed by it, they shrink from bringing it down to our level, who need it most. (14.29-33)

These were some of the wrong notions people in St. Gregory’s day concocted to ease their consciences for ignoring the suffering around them. One can detect a certain resemblance to non-Orthodox beliefs concerning predestination,  and also the prosperity gospel, that have a wide following in our day in the former view. The second notion resembles Deism, God as a clockmaker, who made the clock and then let it alone; this was widely held in the 18th century, and many of the founders of our country (U.S.A.) have been said to have taken this view. In any case, the attitude, “Get ahead, and don’t look back at the people left in the dust” seems to characterize the popular notions of “success” these days. Against such people, St. Gregory says,

“Let us admire those who are victorious through suffering  … Job … Lazarus … [and] learn to be dismissive of unjust riches, for whose sake Dives [the rich man] rightly suffers in the fire and begs a little drop of water for refreshment, and to praise a grateful and philosophic poverty, in which Lazarus is saved and enjoys rest in Abraham’s bosom. For this reason, to, then, kindness toward our fellow human beings and compassion toward the needy seem to be necessary: that we might restrain those who have such an attitude toward them, … making cruelty into a law turned against our very selves.

And so kindness is also an answer to error. St. Gregory goes on to quote the Holy Scriptures for support for his exhortations: Psalms 9:13, 26 & 35, 11:6, 36:26, 40:1, 111:5 (Septuagint Version- one ahead of the Hebrew) Proverbs 3:28, 15:27, 17:5, 19:17, Isaiah 1:18 & 58:7-8, Matt. 5:7, Rom. 12:8, Gal.. 2:8-10,   Heb 6:6, and especially St. Matthew 25:31-46, in which

“that ‘left hand’ has instilled fear in me, and the ‘goats'”  (14:35-39) He concludes, with St. Matthew 25 in mind:

If you believe me at all, then, servants and brothers and sisters, and fellow heirs of Christ, let us take care of Christ while there is time; let us minister to Christ’s needs, let us give Christ nourishment, let us clothe Christ, let us gather Christ in, let us show Christ honor … since the Lord of all ‘desires mercy and not sacrifice … let us give this gift to the needy, who today  are cast down on the ground, so that when we are all released from this place, they may receove us into the eternal tabernacle, in Christ Himself, who is our Lord, to whom be glory for all the ages. Amen.

St. Gregory the Theologian, who with St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, are called the Cappadocian Fathers, were most noted for being champions of the Divinity of Christ and the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity. But they also, with St. John Chrysostom, were and are champions of mercy, kindness, and attention to those in the Church and in society who had special needs. To be an Orthodox Christian is to be in agreement with these Holy Fathers, both in doctrine and in practice. May the fire of their convictions also be kindled in us, now and ever, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

from Gregory of Nazanzius, Brian E. Daily, S.J. Routledge, 2006. Pp. 95-97

Icon from: St. Juan Diego Reads, Sunday, January 29, 2012

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