Chaplain's Corner: The Fruit and Responsibility of Labor
Chaplain's Corner, September 2009
The Vesper, or Evening Service Prayer in the Eastern Church always includes Psalm 103, which contains this important verse: “Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until the evening.” (23) It should not go unnoticed that the author of Genesis described God’s creation of the world as work: “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.” (2:2).
In the United States the first Monday in September is Labor Day. Many will spend the day with family and friends. Some will have BBQ’s or go to the beach, lakes, parks, mountains or just plain stay home. I pray some time be spent by all reflecting on the spiritual meaning of the day. In this regard it might be beneficial to meditate on the words of St. Paul: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men…” (Col 3: 23). A spiritual Father of the Eastern Church, St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662 AD), calls work “a virtue of the body.” (Philokalia II). How can this be? How can one work and serve the Lord at the same time? Another spiritual father of the Eastern Church St. Theoliptos (1283-1322 AD), Metropolitan-Archbishop of Philadelphia (in present day Western Turkey), tells us how to do this: “When you work… let your intellect be mindful of God.” (Philokalia IV).
One’s own work can be an example to others to lead productive lives. Once again quoting St. Paul: “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.” (2 Thes 3: 7-9).
We can thank God that we have the ability to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. A Godly fruit of being able to work is that it leads to responsibility. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (4:28) points this out: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.” This is to say, the fruits of our labor can be a means of sharing with others less fortunate than ourselves. Helping others in need what is required to consider work as being Godly. Helping to care for others is an act of love-charity of our fellow men. King Solomon, the writer of the Book of Proverbs, notes that failure to work (and by implication helping others) is akin to siding with the evil one, the destroyer: “He who is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” (Pv 18: 9).
Also not to be forgotten is the personal benefit of meaningful work, whether salaried or volunteer. Psychologists such as Warr (1999) have shown that satisfaction in one’s work has a substantial connection with general happiness. This could be a wakeup call for those currently unemployed, disabled or retired and living an idle lifestyle. At the very least, all can make the work of caring for others, even in small ways, as being both Godly and a sign of being responsible. Inactivity is the mother of psycho-spiritual listlessness. (Morelli, 2006). Thus, during this Labor Day period we can pray that all may: “…lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col 1: 10).
Morelli, G. (2006, October 05). Overcoming Depression: Cognitive Scientific Psychology and the Church Fathers. http://www.orthodoxytoday...
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.) (1981). The Philokalia: The Complete Text; compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth (Vol. 2). London: Faber and Faber.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (1995). The Philokalia: The Complete Text compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth (Vol.4). London: Faber & Faber.
Warr, P. (1999), Well-being in the workplace. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonistic psychology. NY: Russell Sage Foundation.