Confronting Poverty and Stigmatization: An Eastern Orthodox Perspective

John D. Jones [1]

Department of Philosophy, Marquette University

Would you see His altar also?...This altar is composed of the very members of Christ, and the body of the Lord becomes an altar. This altar is more venerable even than the one which we now use. For it is ...but a stone by nature; but become holy because it receives Christ's Body: but that altar is holy because it is itself Christ's Body....[which] you may see lying everywhere, in the alleys and in the market places, and you may sacrifice upon it anytime...When then you see a poor believer, believe that you are beholding an altar. When you see this one as a beggar, do not only refrain from insulting him, but actually give him honor, and if you witness someone else insulting him, stop him; prevent it.[2]

[Vagrants are the] "vast heap of social refuse - the mere human street sweepings - the great living mixen that is destined, as soon as spring returns, to be strewn far and near over the land, and serve as manure for the future crime crop of the country."[3]

The 'problem of poverty' has been, and is today, defined primarily in terms of the moral values of work. Those who fail to support themselves or their families through work...without a socially approved excuse at a socially approved job...are defined as deviant....Moral degradation of the poor is used as a negative symbol to reinforce the work ethic. [4]

In developing a Christian, and in particular an Orthodox Christian, engagement with or response to poverty, one might expect to begin with poverty in its ordinary sense as an economic category.[5] Naturally, one would try to clarify what is meant by poverty: no small task given conflicting conceptual models of poverty such as inequality, absolute deprivation, relative deprivation, lack of money, etc. Moreover, to complicate matters, some notions of economic poverty can be analogically extended to other forms of deprivation so that we can talk about social or political poverty.[6] One would, of course, consider the teachings of Christ, Holy Scripture, and the Fathers concerning poverty and, hence, one would be lead to the broader issue of our relations to wealth among ourselves and with reference to God. In so doing, we would expand the notion of poverty to characterize both our general ontological dependence upon God and our nature as corrupted by sin. One would also develop a variety of spiritual or religious conceptions of poverty - poverty of spirit, renunciation of possessions, etc. - that bear more or less analogous notions to everyday conceptions of poverty. Moreover, one would at some point have to deal with a fundamental Christian ambivalence toward everyday life: an engagement with everyday life in which poverty is an evil and an ascetic renunciation of this life in which poverty is a good.[7]

In the Orthodox Christian faith, all such concerns are ordered toward our participation in the life of the Trinity, that is, the transfiguration and deification of human life both now and in the next life. To be sure, this transfiguration and deification is utterly dependent on God's grace; but it also requires our cooperation (synergy) grounded in a recognition of all humans as icons of Christ.[8] Accordingly, we are led to consider the special manner in which Christ is present in the poor. So St. Maria Skobtsova "told her collaborators that all their charitable activities should be guided by the conviction that the human person 'is God's image and likeness, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the incorruptible icon of God.'"[9] This insistence on what is often called the 'dignity' of the poor is important given the widespread human tendency to denigrate and stigmatize the poor. Joel Handler has shown quite decisively how American public policy toward the poor is driven by the invidious distinction between the 'reputable' and 'disreputable' poor.[10] A cross-cultural study of poverty by Deepa Narayan showed widespread complaints by the poor concerning the humiliation, shame and denigration to which they are subjected, even by those who ostensibly acted to help them.[11]

It is this matter - the stigmatization of poverty and stigmatization in general - that I want to make a starting point for considering an Orthodox Christian engagement with poverty. The stigmatization of poverty is closely connected with the psycho-social dynamics of stigmatization in general.[12] While stigmatization itself is not necessarily associated with poverty in its social/economic sense, it constitutes its own form of poverty since, as we shall see, those who are stigmatized are imputed to be impoverished, that is, fundamentally defective, as persons. The stigmatization of economically poor people as such exacerbates and intensifies the suffering to which they are subjected. The stigmatization of economically poor people on account of conditions conceptually unrelated to poverty - such as mental illness, AIDS, addiction, or physical disability - likewise intensify and exacerbate their suffering as poor. Conversely, protest against the unjust evil that stigmatization imposes on people who might not be not poor also, and for the same reasons, entails protest against the stigmatization of the poor.

Stigmatization raises a host of existential and spiritual issues not just about the poor but about those who stigmatize them. Although not labeled as such, the discussion of this stigma is central to St. Gregory (Nazianzus) the Theologian's Oration 14, "On the Love of the Poor."[13] It also plays a central role in St. Gregory of Nyssa's sermon, "On the Saying, 'Whoever Has Done It to One of These Has Done It to Me.'"[14]

The oration "On the Love of the Poor" begins with a review of various Christian virtues and concludes that of all the virtues,

following Paul and Christ himself, we must regard charity (agap) as the first and greatest of the Commandments, since it is the sum of the Law and the prophets; and its most vital (kratiston) part I find is love of the poor (philoptchia), along with compassion and sympathy for our fellow man. (sec. 5)[15]

St. Gregory then delineates various forms of poverty (ptcheia) with leprosy specified as its most extreme form. In delineating the suffering that accompanies these various forms of poverty, he notes the worst is experienced by the lepers, a condition such "that most people cannot stand to be near them, or even to look at them, but avoid them, are nauseated by them, and regard them as abominations so to speak. This is heavier for them to bear than their ailment when they perceive that they are hated because of their misfortune (sec. 9)." The 'poverty' to which the lepers are subjected is not simply 'economic.' It is constituted by a radical disaffiliation and marginalization from their social world that is grounded in their denigration and stigmatization.[16]

A particularly vivid passage from John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath illustrates the underlying logic of stigmatization. What follows is the conversation between two gas station attendants who have just sold fuel to the Joads after their entry into California:

"Jesus, what a hard looking outfit!" "Them Okies? They're all hard-lookin." "Jesus, I'd hate to start out in a jalopy like that." "Well, you and me got sense. Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain't human. A human being wouldn't live like they do. A human being couldn't stand it to be so dirty and miserable. They ain't a hell of a lot better than gorillas."[17]

In brief, the 'Okies' for these two attendants, like lepers for those who stigmatize them, 'are more like animals than humans.' This formulation constitutes the core of stigmatization: to see this, one need only consider the language and visceral reactions of racists, xenophobes, and misogynists among others.

Stigmatization, it should be noted, is not simply a matter of stereotyping. The latter essentially consists of hasty generalizations about the members of a group. Stereotypes need not be negative and typically they are not accompanied by the hostile, visceral rejection that is connected with stigmatization. Nor is stigmatization a matter of 'marking.'[18] In this latter case, we take note of a condition such as blindness, tuberculoses, or poverty, which we judge may be an obstacle in some determinate situation. We do this when we make special accommodations for a blind person to participate in some activity, to provide appropriate quarantine for someone with tuberculosis, etc. We legitimately engage in 'marking' as a part of our daily activities. We may not always be correct in marking individuals - we may mistakenly make unneeded accommodations for a blind person - but we certainly do not denigrate people simply in 'marking' them.

Stigmatization is qualitatively different from both stereotyping and 'marking':

It is the dramatic essence of the stigmatizing process that a label marking the deviant status is applied and this marking process typically has devastating consequences for emotions, thought, and behavior. Many words have been applied to the resulting status of the deviant person. He or she is flawed, blemished, discredited, spoiled or stigmatized. In the classic case, the mark or sign of deviance imitates a drastic inference process that engulfs impressions of the deviant target person and sets up barriers to interaction and intimacy.[19]

Stigmatization arises when people are so 'overwhelmed' by encountering certain conditions, that they are repelled by those who are subjected to those conditions.[20] An acquaintance of mine who could not bear to be near people in wheelchairs betrayed his underlying anxiety by remarking, "I'd rather be dead than confined to a wheelchair." We stigmatize various conditions because they fundamentally imperil us. We take them to be death-dealing.[21] We believe that to be subjected to these conditions would irrevocably ruin our lives and strip them of significance. To be subjected to them would involve being subjected to a 'living death': for those who stigmatize lepers or the poor, it would be better to be dead than to be a leper or poor. When stigmatized, then, people are defined or reified in terms of imputed death-dealing conditions. As 'dirty' - physically, morally, existentially and symbolically - the stigmatized provoke reactions of fear, disgust and loathing from those who stigmatize them.[22] The stigmatized then become experienced as fundamentally dangerous and deviant, and thus to be rejected and marginalized. From the standpoint of those engaged in stigmatization, the stigmatized cease to be fully human but, in the extreme, rather 'more like animals than people' and, thus, to be banished, or 'quarantined' and controlled. Whether or not stigmatized people are economically poor,[23] they are imputed to be 'poor' - that is, fundamentally defective - as persons. When socially legitimated, stigmatization often results in banishment or 'ghettoization' of those who are stigmatized. Stigmatization, then, does not consist simply in disliking people, not wanting to be around them, or even in morally censuring them for their actions. Stigmatization amounts to a kind of hatred of others[24] that effectively seeks to dehumanize and marginalize them.

The issue for those who stigmatize others is not other people, it is themselves or more precisely their embodied condition as free human beings. Jean Paul Sartre gives a remarkable analysis of this in his essay on anti-Semitism:

We are now in a position to understand the anti-Semite. He is a man who is afraid. Not of the Jews, to be sure, but of himself, of his own consciousness, of his liberty, of his instincts, of his responsibilities...of everything except the Jews....In espousing anti-Semitism, he does not simply adopt an opinion, he chooses himself as a person....The Jew only serves him as a pretext, elsewhere his counterpart will make use of the Negro, or the man of yellow skin. The existence of the Jew merely permits the anti-Semite to stifle his anxieties at their inception...Anti-Semitism, in short is fear of the human condition. The anti-Semite is a man who wishes to be a pitiless stone, a furious torment, a devastating thunderbolt - anything except a man.[25]

Let me return to St. Gregory's oration since he, indirectly at least, provides a clue to what is at issue in confronting leprosy. First (sec. 10), there is his graphic description of the plight of lepers and the manner in which people flee from them:

There lies before our eyes a dreadful and pathetic sight; one that no one would believe who has not seen it: human beings alive yet dead, disfigured in almost every part of their bodies, barely recognizable for who they once were or where they came from...mutilated, stripped of their possessions, their families, their friends, their very bodies...even the most kind and considerate person shows no feeling for them. And on this account alone we have lost sight of the fact that we are flesh and compassed in a lowly body, and we are so derelict in our obligation to look after our fellow man that we actually believe that avoiding these people assures the safety of our own bodies.[26]

Prior to this, however, St. Gregory had detoured into an apparent digression about his own ambivalence toward his own body. The entire text in context is quite long, but I want to present the salient parts. In sec. 4, St. Gregory completes his enumeration of various virtues in this way:

beautiful is contemplation (theoria), as likewise beautiful is activity (praxis); the one... conducts our mind upward to what is akin to it, the other because it welcomes Christ and serves (therapeuousa) him, and confirms the power of love through good works.

After noting the primacy of charity and of love for the poor among the virtues and also that "Of all things, nothing so serves (therapeuetai) God as mercy because no other thing is more proper to God" (sec. 5), he then continues (sec. 6):

We must, then, open our hearts to all the poor and to all those who are in distress from whatever cause, for the commandment enjoins us "to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep" (Rom 12:15)...particularly to those wasted with the sacred disease[27] that devours their flesh and bones and marrow clear through - as threatened to some[28] - and betrayed by this wretched, vile, and faithless body.

He immediately follows this with a digression, which continues through sec. 7, about his relation to his body:

How I came to be joined to it, I do not know; nor how I am the image of God and concocted of clay at the same time, this body...that I both cherish as a fellow-servant and evade as my enemy...If I struggle to suppress it, I lose the helper I need to achieve my noble aims, knowing as I do why I was created and that it is through my actions (praxen) that I am to ascend to God...(sec. 7) I show it consideration as a co-worker but I do not know how to suppress its insurgency nor how I can help falling away from God when [it] drags me down.

He then concludes (sec. 8):

But now, though confronted with the suffering of others, I have been dwelling on the infirmity of my own flesh. We must, my brothers, as I started to say, care for (therapeuteon) it as being our kinsman and fellow-servant. For, even if I have denounced it as my enemy for the distress it causes, still, I also embrace it as a friend because of him who joined us together.

Why does St. Gregory exhort himself and others to care for (therapeuteon) the body? If it is 'suppressed' or 'wasted away,' we each lose the co-worker we need to perform acts of mercy by which we "serve (therapeuousa) God," "confirm the power of love through good works," and "ascend to God." But more generally, if the body 'wastes away,' we are cutoff from activity (praxis) in the world. The assaults on the body in leprosy, poverty and other like 'afflictions' thereby threatens our very freedom to engage in the world in meaningful ways. So, "we actually believe that avoiding these people assures the safety of our own bodies" - but not just our bodies, rather, our very existence in the world.

Confronted by the suffering, disfigurement, impotence, and rejection suffered by lepers and the poorest of the poor (ptchoi) generally - real threats and assaults on human beings to be sure - and overwhelmed by these conditions, those who stigmatize these people are overwhelmed in anxiety by their own vulnerability to this condition as something death-dealing that will radically strip life of its meaning - a 'living death.'[29] To deflect their anxiety and to assure their own safety, they interpret those actually subjected to these conditions as deserving their fate through some fundamental defect as humans, that is, they are taken to be accursed and abandoned by God. What drives this sort of stigmatization, theologically expressed, is at bottom an anxiety about one's own possible abandonment by God.

What lurks unthematized in the hearts of those who are 'engulfed' by the conditions, and thus the people, they stigmatize is a truncated version of Ps. 21 (LXX):

subjected to these conditions, one will be abandoned by God - "My God, my God" (v.1) you shall indeed forsake me;

in the face of exhausting suffering - since "I [will be] poured out like water, and scattered [will be] all my bones; my heart [will] become like wax, melting in the midst of my bowels" (v. 16);

denigration and rejection - "As for me, I [will become] a worm, and not a man: a reproach of men, and the outcast of the people" (v. 6);

yet bereft of the possibility of transfiguration and resurrection. For it is promised that "the Lord will not set as naught nor abhor the supplication of the poor ...but the poor shall eat and be satisfied" (vv. 24, 26).

Certainly, those who stigmatize the poor fail to see them in the image and likeness, and more concretely, as an icon of Christ. As icons of Christ, we cannot find Christ in others or ourselves apart from or in spite of our embodiment, but only as embodied and, thus, in the midst of suffering, pain and denigration. But since, to follow Sartre, those who stigmatize the poor or anyone else are not fundamentally afraid of them, but anxiety ridden about themselves, such people do not just fail to see others as icons of Christ, they fail to see themselves as icons of Christ. After all, Christ became poor for our sakes: that is, took on all of our weaknesses, infirmities and suffering - actual and possible - in order to sanctify, heal and restore us to life. Yet insofar as stigmatization is grounded in an anxiety over abandonment by God, then in stigmatizing others we effectively repudiate Christ's promise that he will be with us always (Matt. 28:30) both in respect to ourselves as vulnerable to the conditions we stigmatize and, thus, in respect to those who are actually subjected to those conditions. In stigmatizing others, then, we effectively circumscribe God's healing power both for ourselves - since we would rather be dead than subjected to these conditions - and for those who are stigmatized, since they are imputed to be more like animals than humans and to be accursed of God.

Note also that individuals can stigmatize themselves particularly in response to stigmatization imposed by others. Howard Bahr offered this poignant description of the effects of denigration on those who lived in and were acculturated to Skid Row:

The defectiveness of the skid row man stems from his occupying several stigmatized statuses at once....To begin with there is a physical, visible basis for antipathy toward the skid row man. He is defective physically: the scarred face, the toothless mouth, the missing limbs, the strange actions of the psychotic or mental incompetent....Then there are the stigmatizing aspects of his character: the past of drunkenness, arrests and prison and the long periods of institutional living. Over everything else is the imputed alcoholism, the addiction which makes him a man out of control, perhaps not a man at all.

His defectiveness and powerlessness combine with his other negative characteristics real or imagined and predefine him to involvement in a vicious cycle of negative encounters which serve to bind him to skid row, lower his self-esteem and make a social fact out of what was at first social definition...that he is hopeless and unsalvageable.[30]

Self-stigmatization is essentially masochistic in character: viewing themselves as worthless and hopeless, people who stigmatize themselves affirm their worthlessness by seeking out punishment - abuse, humiliation and situations of self-defeat - that confirms their worthlessness. The patient suffering of evil for Christ's sake as well as the recognition of our own wretchedness before God in prayer and confession are, of course, a central part of Orthodox spirituality. But both, grounded in the springtime of Great Lent, must take place in light of our faith and hope in the Resurrection: that is, our capacity to be deified and to participate in a whole and complete manner in the life of the Trinity. Neither patient suffering for Christ nor the recognition of our own wretchedness in repentance serve to legitimate self-stigmatization or its patient endurance but, as grounded in faith and hope, essentially protest against it. Surely, the protests that SS. Gregory and Gregory of Nyssa repeatedly lodge against the denigration of the poor[31] extends to those, who in stigmatizing themselves, view themselves as unsalvageable by God.[32] As Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy wrote about Job:

The merciless friends of Job consoled him with this logic: "You suffer; you are punished because you have sinned against God; repent before God." With all his being, Job refused to surrender to such exhortations and did not admit his guilt. He appealed to God, in the certainty of seeing the Redeemer with the eyes of his flesh. God sided with him...Job's refusal of unjust suffering still resonates in all human sufferings.[33]

It must be noted that charitable actions towards the poor do not necessarily counter, and may even mask, stigmatization. For, apart from the lived recognition of the other as an icon of Christ, what is given in aid to the poor is negated if we continue to exclude the poor from our world. As St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:

Let no one say that some place far away from our life is perfectly sufficient and send them off to some frontier, supplying them with food. For a plan of this sort displays neither mercy nor sympathy but is designed, in the guise of goodwill, to banish these people utterly from our life. Are we not willing to shelter pigs and dogs under our roof?... Will we disparage our own kind and race as baser than the animals? Let these things not be - no, my brothers! Resolve that this inhumanity will not triumph.[34]

This inhumanity is not simply a matter of some individuals stigmatizing others. Patterns of stigmatization are often socially sanctioned; stigmas form the 'ideological' basis for the oppressive and marginalizing social structures that are instituted to exclude stigmatized groups from full social life. St. Gregory gives a powerful description of this marginalization in sec. 12 of "On the Love of the Poor."

They are driven away from cities, they are driven away from homes, from the market place, from public gatherings, from the streets, from festivities, from drinking parties, even...from water itself. They wander about night and day, helpless, naked, homeless, exposing their sores for all to see...To them a kind benefactor is not someone who has supplied their need but anyone who has not cruelly sent them away.[35]

The marginalization, here, is obviously not due just to the 'inhuman' actions that some individuals perpetrate on others; it indicates the failure of a community to establish structures and policies that provide even minimal recognition, mercy and justice to people. So too, as noted earlier, various scholars have argued that the American welfare system arises out of and often seeks to maintain the invidious distinction between the reputable (or deserving) poor and the disreputable (or undeserving poor). That is not too surprising since the denigration of the poor has been a feature of our economy since the origins of capitalism: when society became construed as "a collection of independent, atomized individuals all pursuing their private interests and ordering their relations with each other by means of formal, explicit contracts," paupers became viewed as "useless, shameless drones in the context of the new values of individualism and self-reliance."[36]

An Christian, an Orthodox Christian, response to denigration and stigmatization remains fundamentally incomplete if it fails to identify, to protest against, and to seek to root out the forms of denigration and stigmatization that lurk inside and drive social policies. As Fr. Boris Bobrinksoy wrote,

There is, in the ultimate reality of things, no nonspiritual life that is closed off to the Holy Spirit...The world that is called profane is in reality a profaned world and man is responsible for that. We have expelled God from this world: we do it every day. We chase him from public life by a Machiavellian form of separation between our private lives - pious and good - and the domains of politics, commerce, science, technology, love, culture and work, where everything is allowed. All these domains of human work depend upon the creative work of man, seized, modeled, and inspired by the Spirit of God."[37]

Susan Holman notes that litourgiai in the ancient pre-Christian world referred to "public service performed by private citizens at their own expense."[38] The poor, whether intentionally or not, were excluded from these liturgies. St. John Chrysostom, and the Cappadocian fathers, brought the poor and marginalized into these liturgies and 'extended' the sacred liturgy into the alleys and market places. In this way, they engaged the Divine Liturgy with the civic liturgies of public life.[39] It is in this context that St. John Chrysostom identifies the poor as an Altar - the Body and Blood of Christ. It is particularly important to note that while he makes this identification for the sake of encouraging charitable action toward the poor, the identification also has a powerful 'legitimating function.' "The poor become the liturgical image for these most holy elements in all of Christian worship: the altar and body of Christ."[40] As Christ's Altar, the poor are not to be despised but honored; conversely, if implicitly, those who despise the poor, thereby despise Christ.

Because the source of the anxiety that underlies stigmatization often remains unthematized and, thus, likely denied by those who engage in it, it is a particularly difficult 'hardness of heart' to expose and challenge. Indeed, some of the responses designed to motivate charity toward the poor are likely to misfire in their practical efficacy. First, one might appeal to the dignity of the poor: that we all share a common humanity.[41] But so far as this appeal is made simply to reason, it misfires since, even though true, what drives stigmatization is not mistaken reasoning but profound anxiety. One need simply consider the many racists in our society who were unmoved by appeals to the "self-evident truth" "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" because they cheerfully subscribed to this truth and yet held tenaciously to their racism.[42]

Second, one can appeal to Christ's command that we are to give to the "least of our brethren." Yet as St. Gregory of Nyssa observed, providing assistance to people in a way that banishes them from our presence still allows the inhumanity of the denigration to persist. Third, one can strengthen the appeal to charity through the analysis and condemnation of greed and miserliness. But it is not clear, e.g., that the gas station attendants in the Grapes of Wrath are either greedy or miserly. Certainly, the denigration of the poor and lepers has not been confined to those who are either greedy or misers.

In the end, the most powerful negation of stigmatization is our direct engagement with those who are stigmatized[43] in which we discover and respond to life - Christ in the person of the poor - rather than death. Indeed, St. John Chrysostom's identification of the poor as the Altar of Christ urges and, for him, requires us to enter into that engagement. For we do not partake of the mysteries of the Eucharist at a distance; we must come forward and make physical contact with them.[44] So, too often in the profaned world in which we live, it is there in the "alleys" - marginalized social worlds - that we find the Altar of Christ in the poor and are bid to render hospitality.

Thus ought we ever to exercise hospitality by our own personal exertions, that we may be sanctified, and our hands be blessed. And if you give to the poor, disdain not yourself to give it, for it is not to the poor that it is given, but to Christ; and who is so wretched, as to disdain to stretch out his own hand to Christ? This is hospitality, this is truly to do it for God's sake.[45]

Dr. John D. Jones

Professor, Department of Philosophy

Marquette University

P.O Box 1881

Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881

(414) 288-5938

(414) 288-3010 (FAX)

Web page:


1 A version of this paper was read at the Society for Orthodox Philosophy in America, Holy Archangels Monastery, Kendalia, Texas, February 24-26, 2006. This is the first part of a more comprehensive treatment of an Orthodox response to Poverty. The notes, designed for the conference presentation, are still a bit more sparse than if they were composed for publication.

2 St. John Chrysostom, "Homily 20,3 on 2 Corinthians 10:15."

3 From Henry Mayhew, London Labor and the London Poor, about vagrants in 19th c. England. Quoted in Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty:, England in the Early Industrial Age (New York: Vintage Books, 1983): 340.

4 Joel F.Handler and Yeheskel Hasenfeld, The Moral Construction of Poverty: Welfare Reform in America (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1991): 17-18.

5 One could suggest that in fact the starting point for Orthodox Christians would be the teachings of the Church. But even if we begin here, we have to have some idea of what is meant by poverty and, in the case, of everyday poverty, that takes us outside the realm of religious discourse per se into other types of discourse.

6 See, St. Gregory the Theologian, "On the Love of the Poor," sec. 6 (Oratio 14 (=De pauperum amore) PG 35:857-909) for multiples sense of ptchoi. See, Susan Holman, The Hungry are Dying (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001): 5 for the distinction between ptchos and pens. The former connotes more extreme poverty and social disaffiliation; the latter, less extreme poverty with greater social affiliation.

7 While this ambivalence is ultimately central to understanding this matter, dealing with it is well beyond the scope of the present paper. However, Verna Harrison, "Poverty, Social Involvement, and the Life in Christ according to Saint Gregory the Theologian," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 39.2(1994): 162 makes the following observation that should be borne in mind in connection with our reading below of the Oration "On the Love the Poor": "For the Theologian, there is an inner spiritual connection between asceticism and charity. Philoptchia [love of the poor] can mean compassion for the needy, but it can also mean a love for poverty which leads one to renounce one's own possessions. In both cases, one is drawn toward the condition of poverty because Christ is present and manifest in it." (See sec. 19 of this Oration.).

8 And of the Trinity? One finds Orthodox thinkers such as Archbishop Kallistos (Ware), Sr. Nonna (Harrison) and Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) who seek to understanding human community in light of the communion (koinonia) of the Trinity. On the other hand, there are others, who resist this sort of interpretation., e.g., Fr. John Behr and Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos). This matter is exceptionally complex in part because it is very difficult to relate modern concepts of the person to the patristic use of 'person' with reference to the hypostases of the Trinity. An inquiry into this matter is well beyond the scope of the paper. For some literature see, John Zizioulas, Being as Communion (Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1985); "The Church as Communion," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 38.1(1994):3-16; John Behr, "The Trinitarian Being of the Church," SVTQ 48.1(2003):67-88; Nonna Harrison, "Human Community as an Image of the Holy Trinity," SVTQ 46.4(2002):347-64 (qv. ftns. 17-18 for relevant articles by Archbishop Kallistos), and Hierotheos Vlachos, The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, selections on-line at (see, Chapter IV.7).

9 Verna Harrison, "Poverty in the Orthodox Tradition," SVTQ 34.1(1990):15.

10 See ftn. 3 above. For two excellent histories of social welfare policy in America see Michael B. Katz, The Undeserving Poor :From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989) and In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (New York: Basic Books, 1986).

11 Deepa Naraya, Raj Patel, et. al., Can Anyone Hear Us? Voices from 47 Countries (Poverty Group, PREM, World Bank, 1999): 54-56, 76-78. This volume is part of a three part series, Voices of the Poor. All of the material from these volumes can be viewed on-line at:

12 There is an immense literature on stigmatization. Perhaps the best and most comprehensive treatment, in my view, is Edward. Jones, Amerigo Farinia, et. al., Social Stigma: The Psychology of Marked Relationships (San Francisco: WW Freeman and Co., 1984). This book has an extensive bibliography.

13 I am using the translation, slightly modified, by Martha Vinson in St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Select Orations (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2003): 39-71. I shall refer simply to the sections of the Oration in referencing it. All references to St. Gregory in this paper are to this oration. For the purposes of this paper, I will simply refer to St. Gregory the Theologian as St. Gregory in contrast to St. Gregory of Nyssa.

14 In illud: Quatenus uni ex his fecistis mihi fecistis (or, De pauperibus amandis 2) in Gregorii Nysseni Opera (Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1967-): 9,1:111-27 (PG 46.471-90). I will follow the translation by Holman in The Hungry are Dying (pp. 199-206). I will cite this sermon by column number in PG 46 and page number in Holman, e.g., PG 472(HD p. 199). All references to St. Gregory of Nyssa in this paper are to this sermon.

15 Verna Harrison, "Poverty, Social Involvement, and the Life in Christ according to Saint Gregory the Theologian," Greek Orthodox Theological Review 39.2(1994): 151-164 , esp, 155ff., gives a fine discussion of this Oration in light of the theme of philoptchia as well as its connection with Oration 19.

16 As to the universality of the stigmatization of leprosy see Liora Navon, "Beggars, Metaphors, and Stigma: A Missing Link in the Social History of Leprosy," Social History of Medicine 11(1998): 89-105. Based upon a study of leprosy in Thailand, she noted that there was an ambivalent reaction toward leprosy among the Thai people. The most hostile reaction was directed towards beggars who had the disease (pp. 96-7), but evidently there were lepers that were cared for by family members, largely out of public view, as well as individuals with milder forms of the disease that were not denigrated or excluded from society (p. 84). She argues that the extremely negative portraits of lepers and the concomitant accounts of hostility towards them were focused on beggars with the disease and, thus, led to exaggerated accounts of leprosy as universally stigmatized in Thailand. She also notes (p. 89) that only about 30% of the untreated cases of leprosy develop the sorts of severe effects like those portrayed, e.g., by SS. Gregory or Gregory of Nyssa. The article raises some interesting questions about the empirical legitimacy of using leprosy per se as a universal metaphor for denigration. Whether her investigations in Thailand have cross-cultural validity is an open question but it does, as she notes, highlight "the need to better understand the sources, severity, and persistency of leprosy stigma" (p. 92). Cf. Holman, p. 158. Of course, the condemnations of the treatment of lepers by both Gregories does not depend whether all lepers in their society were universally denigrated although, it should be noted, they never cite examples of lepers with relatively mild forms of the disease who were viewed less harshly.

17 Grapes of Wrath (New York: Penguin Books, 1977): 301.

18 For the distinction between stigmatization and marking and an excellent general discussion of stigmatization as a response to 'impression engulfment' see E. Jones, Social Stigma, pp. :4-8.

19 E. Jones, Social Stigma, p.4-6.

20 It should be clear, I hope, that 'those who stigmatize others' represents an social-existential 'type' and that I am providing a phenomenological description of that type. No inference is made, or should be drawn, about whether this type applies to specific individuals or groups. Such application is obviously an empirical matter.

21 See especially, E. Jones, pp, 82-89 for this and for the 'symbolic' nature of the peril.

22 See, e.g., Frantz Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967):109-117 as well as Stig Hornshj-Mller, "On Der Ewige Jude" at Der Ewige Jude was an infamous Nazi propaganda file that "depicts the Jews of Poland as corrupt, filthy, lazy, ugly, and perverse: they are an alien people which have taken over the world through their control of banking and commerce, yet which still live like animals." The film generated "shouts of disgust and loathing" by Hitler and the Nazis who first viewed it.

23 So, the stigmatized historically have included those who are blind, physically disabled, severe stammerers, members of ethic out-groups (Jones, Social Stigma, p. 5). Of course, the bases for stigmatizations vary from culture to culture; so too, people may not be stigmatized by everyone in a particular social group.

24 See St. Gregory's remark, quoted above, that 'being hated for their misfortune' is what is hardest to bear for lepers.

25 Anti-Semite and Jew, Trans. George Becker (New York: Schocken Books, 1948):53-54.

26 See, St. Gregory of Nyssa, PG 477-476(HD pp. 201-202) for even a more horrific portrait of lepers which, it must be acknowledged, comes very close to the kind of language that might be used by those who stigmatize them: e.g., they 'have none of the appearances of a man, nor those of a beast" and "rather than men, theirs is a lamentable wreckage." It is only St. Gregory of Nyssa's constant stress on the full humanity of lepers as images of God that prevents these portraits from legitimating denigration of them. In addition to a 'natural loathing' for such conditions, which St. Gregory of Nyssa acknowledges (PG 488(HD p. 205), one might expect the avoidance of lepers to be justified because of fear of contagion. There is scholarly debate about whether leprosy is contagious and, if so, to what degree. But both St. Gregory (sec. 27) and St. Gregory of Nyssa (PG 484-488(HD p. 205) thought the fear of contagion misplaced; neither thought it justified the denigration and avoidance of lepers. See also, Holman, pp. 156-60.

27 "Sacred disease" was usually reserved for epilepsy. Holman, p. 161, notes that St. Gregory applied it to leprosy in order to "evoke the biblical image of the sacred beggar, Lazarus."

28 See Ps. 38.3 (LXX 37.4) and 102.3-5 (LXX 104.4-6) as well as Numb. 12.10 where God afflicts Miriam with leprosy. St. Gregory, it should be noted, explicitly distances himself from the idea that every affliction is from God as a form of punishment (secs. 30-31).

29 It should be noted, though, that the threat can also take the form of an imputed daemonic presence which an embodied condition is imputed to convey. White racists are not likely threatened by blacks because they fear becoming black. They are threatened by an imputed daemonic, irrational presence that the bodies of blacks is taken to represent and which racists can avoid only by a marginalization of blacks that is justified by dehumanizing them. A similar analysis would apply to misogynists.

30 Howard M. Bahr, Skid Row: An Introduction to Disaffiliation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973): 120-21 and 15 respectively.

31 See St. Gregory, secs. 10, 14, and 15 and St. Gregory of Nyssa, PG 473-476 (HD p. 201), 476(HD p. 203), 480(HD p. 203).

32 Rollo May relates an account of his therapeutic work with a young woman who had been prostituted by her parents, but who was unable to feel any anger toward them. The woman's response was essentially masochistic in character. Seeing herself as nothing but a servant in which she had no rights against others, she became "indentured a priori." May was unable to lodge her from this self-degradation until he expressed, in a spontaneous and uncalculated manner, his own anger about what had been done to her (Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence (New York: Norton Publishing Co., 1972): 85-6.

33 Compassion of the Father, Trans. Anthony Gythiel (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2003): 53.

34 St. Gregory of Nyssa, PG 480(HD p. 203).

35 To be sure, St. Gregory of Nyssa points to a minimal level of community among the lepers (PG 477(HD 202)) but this hardly constitutes what would be regarded as a 'social world' or an ensemble of institutional and other structures that allows for meaningful engagement in the world. Indeed, the "existential death" imputed by stigmatization carries with it a "social death" - a loss of social world - imposed by marginalizing social actions and structures. See the reference to Bahr above.

36 F. Allan Hanson, "How Poverty Lost Its Meaning," The Cato Journal 17(1997)2 on-line at This sort of view persists in the welfare-state in more modern notions of the 'culture of poverty' and the 'underclass.'

37 Bobrinskoy, p. 28.

38 Holman, The Hungry are Dying, p. 21

39 Ibid., pp. 60-62.

40 Ibid., p. 62.

41 See, e.g., "On the Love of the Poor" sec. 14. See also Harrison, "Poverty, Social Involvement..." p, 158 for a discussion of the various senses of the "unity of human nature" in this section. See also, St. Gregory of Nyssa, PG 480(HD p. 203).

42 See, Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks, p. 119-20 for a variation on this theme.

43 As to how efficacious direct contact may be for reducing stigma see, e.g., Gregory M. Herek and John P. Capitanio, "AIDS Stigma and Contact With Persons With AIDS: Effects of Direct and Vicarious Contact," Journal of Applied Social Psychology 27.1(1997): 1-36 for a nuanced discussion of this matter in relation to AIDS patients. The authors also note that "A large body of empirical research has shown that contact can indeed reduce prejudice when it is sustained and intimate between individuals of equal status who share important goals and are supported by the institution within which it occurs" (p. 2).

44 So, Holman, pp. 161-62, notes that for SS. John Chrysostom, Gregory, and Gregory of Nyssa "lepers once set apart for their pollution, become a symbol of all that is 'set apart' for God... the ill beggars lying on the ground are holy coins that 'bear the countenance of our Saviour'...They ought to be touched physically without repulsion."

45 St. John Chrysostom, "Homily 14 on 1 Timothy 5:9." The context makes clear that alms are given to Christ as found in the poor, not Christ instead of the poor. (PG 62, 573).

Copyright 2006 by the author; all rights reserved

Placed on the web site of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship March 2006.