• Menu
Orthodox Social Teaching

Labor and its Fruits

VI. 1. Labour is an organic element of human life. The Book of Genesis says that in the beginning “there was not a man to till the ground” (Gen. 2:5). Having created the Garden of Eden, God put man in it “to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Labour is the creative fulfilment of man who was called to be the co-creator and co-worker of the Lord by virtue of his original likeness of God. However, after man fell away from the Creator, the nature of his labour changed: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return into the ground” (Gen. 3:19). The creative component of labour weakened to become mostly a means of sustenance for the fallen man.

VI. 2. The word of God does not only draw people’s attention to the need of daily labour, but also sets a special rhythm for it. The fourth commandment reads: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord the God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, not thy maidservant, not thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Ex. 20:8-10). By this commandment of the Creator the human labour is compared to the divine creative work that made the beginning of the universe. Indeed, the commandment to observe the sabbath is substantiated by the fact that in the creation “God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:3). This day should be dedicated to the Lord so that everyday chores may not divert man from the Creator. At the same time, the active manifestations of charity and selfless aid to one’s labours are not violations of the commandment: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). In Christian tradition, the first day of the week, the day of the Resurrection of Christ, has been a day of rest since the apostolic times.

VI. 3. The improvement of the tools and methods of labour, its division into professions and move to more complex forms contributes to better material living standards. However, people’s enticement with the achievements of the civilisation moves them away from the Creator and leads to an imaginary triumph of reason seeking to arrange earthly life without God. The realisation of these aspirations in human history has always ended in tragedy.

Holy Scriptures relates that the first builders of the earthly civilisation were Cain’s successors: Lamech and his children invented and made the first copper and iron tools, movable tents and various musical instruments; they were also the founders of many skills and arts (Gen. 4:22). However, they and many other people with them failed to avoid temptations: “all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (Gen. 6:12). Therefore, the Creator willed that the Cainite civilisation be ended with a flood. Among the most vivid biblical images of the failure of the fallen humanity to “to make a name for itself” is the construction of the Tower of Babel “whose top may reach unto heaven”. The Babel is presented as a symbol of people’s joining efforts to achieve an ungodly goal. The Lord punishes the arrogant men: by confusing their tongues He makes understanding among them impossible and scattered them throughout the earth.

VI. 4. From a Christian perspective, labour in itself is not an absolute value. It is blessed when it represents co-working with the Lord and contribution to the realisation of His design for the world and man. However, labour is not something pleasing to God if it is intended to serve the egoistic interests of individual or human communities and to meet the sinful needs of the spirit and flesh.

Holy Scriptures points to the two moral motives of labour: work to sustain oneself without being a burden for others and work to give to the needy. The apostle writes: “Let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). Such labour cultivates the soul and strengthens the body and enables the Christian to express his faith in God-pleasing works of charity and love of his neighbours (Mt. 5:16; James 2:17). Everyone remembers the words of St. Paul: “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10).

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church continuously stressed the moral meaning of labour. Thus, St. Clement of Alexandria described it as “a school of social justice”. St. Basil the Great argued that “a pious intention should not be a pretext for idleness and evasion from work, but rather an incentive for even more work”. St. John Chrysostom insisted that “not labour but idleness should be regarded as “dishonour”. Monks in many monasteries gave an example of laborious asceticism. Their economic activity was in many ways an example for emulation, while the founders of major monasteries were renowned not only as high spiritual authorities but also great toilers. Well known are such models of zealous work as the Venerable Theodoius of Pechery, Sergius of Radonezh, Cyril of White Lake, Joseph of Volotsk, Nil of Sora and other Russian ascetics.

VI. 5. The Church blesses every work aimed to benefit people. At the same time, she does not give preference to any form of human work if it conforms to Christian moral standards. In His parables, our Lord Jesus Christ keeps referring to various professions, without singling out any of them. He speaks of the work of a sower (Mk. 4:3-9), servants and the ruler of a household (Lk. 12:42-48), a merchant and fishermen (Mt. 13:45-48), the householder and labourers of a vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16). Modern times, however, have seen the emergence of a whole industry intended to propagate vice and sin and satisfy such baneful passions and addictions as drinking, drug-addiction, fornication and adultery. The Church testifies to the sin of being involved in such activities as they corrupt not only workers, but also society as a whole.

VI. 6. A worker has the right to use the fruits of his labour: “Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? He that ploweth should plow in hope; and he that threshesth in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Cor. 9:7, 10). The Church teaches that refusal to pay for honest work is not only a crime against man, but also a sin before God.

Holy Scriptures says: “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant At his day thou shalt give him his hire lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee” (Deut. 24:14-15); “Woe unto him that useth his neighbour’s services without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (Jer. 22:13); “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth” (James 5:4).

At the same time, by God’s commandment workers are ordered to take care of those who for various reasons cannot earn their living, such as the weak, the sick, strangers (refugees), orphans and widows. The worker should share the fruits of his work with them, “that the Lord may bless thee in all the work of thine hands” (Deut. 24:19-22).

Continuing on earth the service of Christ Who identified Himself with the destitute, the Church always comes out in defence of the voiceless and powerless. Therefore, she calls upon society to ensure the equitable distribution of the fruits of labour, in which the rich support the poor, the healthy the sick, the able-bodied the elderly. The spiritual welfare and survival of society are possible only if the effort to ensure life, health and minimal welfare for all citizens becomes an indisputable priority in distributing the material resources.

Leave a reply