Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Saint Basil speaks on Work vs. Prayer


There is no tradeoff between work and prayer. Both are essential to a healthy physical and spiritual life according to Saint Basil. It is wrong to deny prayer because of work and it is wrong to deny work because of prayer. We can learn to make our work a prayer. The Jesus Prayer and other remembrances of God during the day are a great help in this task. At the foundation a God centered work life is attentiveness based on a quiet mind as Basil explained in earlier posts..


Here is what Basil has to say to us:

As daily sustenance is necessary for everyone, so labor in proportion to one's strength is also essential. Not vainly has Solomon written in praise: “she watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Prov 31:27). And again, the Apostle says of himself: “nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day” (2 Thess 3:8); yet, since he was preaching the Gospel, he was entitled to receive his livelihood from the Gospel. The Lord couples sloth with wickedness, saying: '‘You wicked and lazy servant" (Matt 25:26). Wise Solomon, also, praises the laborer not only in the words already quoted, but also, in rebuking the sluggard, associating him by contrast with the tiniest of insects: “Go to the ant, you sluggard!" (Prov 6:6). We have reason to fear, therefore, lest, perchance, on the day of judgment this fault also may be alleged against us, since He who has endowed us with the ability to work demands that our labor be proportioned to our capacity; for He says: “to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48). Moreover, because some use prayer and psalmody as an excuse for neglecting their work, it is necessary to bear in mind that for certain other tasks a particular time is allotted, according to the words of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season" (Eccl 3:1). For prayer and psalmody, however, as also, indeed, for some other duties, every hour is suitable, that, while our hands are busy at their tasks, we may praise God sometimes with the tongue (when this is possible or, rather, when it is conducive to edification); or, if not, with the heart, at least, in psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles, as it is written (Col 3:16). Thus, in the midst of our work can we fulfill the duty of prayer, giving thanks to Him who has granted strength to our hands for performing our tasks and cleverness to our minds for acquiring knowledge, and for having provided the materials, both that which is in the instruments we use and that which forms the matter of the arts in which we may be engaged, praying that the work of our hands may be directed toward its goal, the good pleasure of God.


Thus we acquire a recollected spirit-when in every action we beg from God the success of our labors and satisfy our debt of gratitude to Him who gave us the power to do the work, and when, as has been said, we keep before our minds the aim of pleasing Him.

From Church Fathers: The Long Rule pp 306-311


From a letter

Prayer is to be commended, for it engenders in the soul a distinct conception of God. And the indwelling of God is this – to have God set firm within oneself through the process of memory. We thus become a temple of God whenever earthly cares cease to interrupt the continuity of our memory of him.

The Heart of Basilian Spirituality p 120 Letter 2


2 comments:

  1. I suspect that more people have a problem with too much work these days rather than too much prayer.

    My wife and I used to consider ourselves lazy and morally corrupt because of it. But we sat down one evening to think of all the work we do and while it's true we protrastinate on an odd unpleasant job here or there we are not lazy.

    However, we definitely don't pray enough.

    Thanks for your great posts recently (I came a across your blog not too long ago).

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  2. Thanks for you comment.
    It's so true what you say. The key issue for most of us is that we do not set aside time for prayer and give it a priority OR we do not remember God while we are doing our work throughout the day OR both. I guess we may think if we do take time for prayer we are being lazy? That this time is "unproductive?" I too have struggled with this throughout my life. It takes strong discipline as the forces are strong to discourage us from prayer.

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