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Christian Labour
St. Basil the Great, Bishop and Doctor
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.
(PG 31, Regulae (Monasticae) Fusius Tractatae (The Long Rules), 
Responsiones XXXVII et XLII; col. 1010 and col. 1023.)
I. Work and Prayer

1. Since Our Lord Jesus Christ says that, the workman, not simply anyone or everyone, is worthy of his food (Mt. x. 10); and since the Apostle commands us to labour, working with our hands the thing which is good, that we may have something to give to him who is in need (Eph. iv. 28), it is very evident that we should all work earnestly and well. Nor is it fitting to presume that our desire of serving God gives us an excuse for being idle, or for avoiding labour, rather it is a greater reason for effort, for greater labours, and for patience in afflictions, so that we also may say: In labour and painfulness, in much watchings, in hunger and thirst (II Cor. xi. 27).

For this way of living is profitable to us, not only for the mortification of our bodies, but also because of charity towards our neighbour; that through us God may provide what is needed for our weaker brethren; in accord with the example handed down to us in the Acts by the Apostle, where he says: I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring you ought to support the weak (Acts xx. 35). And again: That you may have something to give to him that suffereth need; through which we shall be judged worthy to hear the words: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink (Mt. xxv. 34).

2. What need have we to dwell on the great evil of idleness, since the Apostle has laid it down clearly: that if any man will not work, neither let him eat (II Thess. iii. 10)? Just as food is needed for the daily nourishment of the body, so also does the body need work, according to its powers. Not without reason did Solomon write in praise of her, that hath not eaten her bread idle (Prov. xxxi. 27). And again, of himself the Apostle says: Neither did we eat any manís bread for nothing; but in labour and toil we worked night and day (II Thess. iii. 8); though as a preacher of the Gospel he had the right to live by the Gospel. And the Lord has also linked idleness with wickedness, saying: Wicked and slothful servant (Mt. xxv. 26). And the wise Solomon not only praises the labourer in the words already cited, but also rebukes the sluggard by a comparison with the tiniest creatures saying: Go to the ant, O sluggard; and consider her ways (Prov. vi. 6).

We have reason therefore to be fearful, lest in the day of judgement He Who gave us the power to work shall also require of us works worthy of the power He has given us. For He says: Unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required (Lk. xii. 48). And since there are those who use prayer and the recitation of the psalms as a means to escape work, we must know that in certain things each work has its due time; All things have their season, as Ecclesiastes tells us (iii. 1). But for prayer and psalmody, as for many other things, there is no time that is not fitting; so that while our hands are engaged in their various tasks, with our tongue (if this be possible and edifying, and, if not, then with our hearts), let us give praise to God, in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, as it is written (Col. iii. 16). And so let us perfect our work with prayer, giving thanks to Him Who has given our hands the power to work, and our minds the power to gather knowledge; and Who has given us the material of our work, that in the tools we use, and that on which we use our skill; praying that the work of our hands may be directed to the end of pleasing God.

3. In this way we create within the soul a fitting disposition; for in every act of ours we are both asking God that He may bless our work, and giving thanks to Him Who has given us the power to work; and, as I said, keeping ever before our minds the end of pleasing Him. If this is not true, who can reconcile the two different sayings of the Apostle; namely: Pray without ceasing, and: In labour and toil we worked night and day? And since we are to give thanks at all times, and since this is seen to be necessary to our life both reason and nature have shown, we ought therefore never neglect the times of prayer that have been established in our brotherhoods, and which we have so arranged that each rime in turn may serve to recall to mind, in a particular way, the blessings we receive from God.

The matutinal prayer (on rising), so that we may consecrate to God the first movements of the soul and of the mind, and take no other care upon us until we have been gladdened by the thought of God, as it is written: I remembered God, and was delighted; and was exercised, and my spirit swooned away (Ps. lxxvi. 4); nor apply our body to labour until we have done what is written: To thee will I pray: O Lord, in the morning Thou shalt hear my voice. In the morning I will stand before thee, and will see (Ps. v. 4, 5).

And again at the third hour let us rise to pray, and let the brethren be called together, even if they are dispersed each at his different task, and let them lift up their souls in prayer, recalling to mind that it was about the third hour that the gift of the Spirit was given to the Apostles, and let all with one mind adore Him, that they also may become worthy, so that the gift of holiness may be given to them, at the same time praying Him, that as the Guide of our Way He may teach us what is profitable to us; as he prayed who said: Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels. Cast me not away from thy face: and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation: and strengthen me with a perfect Spirit (Ps. i. 12-14). And in another place: Thy good Spirit shall lead me into the right land (Ps. cxlii. 10). And so let us resume our work.

4. Should any of you because of work or circumstance of place find themselves at a distance, let them without hesitation observe what has been laid down for all; for, says the Lord, where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Mt. xviii. 20). We decided that prayer is necessary at the sixth hour also, following the example of the saints, who say: Evening and morning, and at noon, I will speak and declare: and he shall hear my voice (Ps. liv. 18). And that we may be delivered from attack, and from the noonday devil (Ps. xc. 6), let us also at this time recite the ninetieth psalm. It was the Apostles who made known to us the need for prayer at the ninth hour, in the Acts, in which we are told that Peter and John went up into the temple at the ninth hour of prayer (iii. 1).

When day is done, let us give thanks both for what we have received throughout the day, and for what we have done rightly; and let us make confession of what we have not done, and of every sin, voluntary, or involuntary or even hidden from us, in word or in deed and even in our heart, that we may bring upon us Godís mercy for all of them. For to examine ourselves upon what we have done is a great help against falling into the same sins again. Because of this Scripture says: The things you say in your hearts, be sorry for them upon your beds (Ps. iv. 5.).

5. Again, as the night begins, let us ask that our rest be preserved from sin, and free from evil imaginings. And at this hour also we have need to say the ninetieth psalm. Paul and Silas have handed down to us the middle of the night as a time when we need to pray; as we read in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, in these words: And at midnight, Paul and Silas, praying, praised God (Acts xvi. 25). And the Psalmist likewise, where he says: I rose at midnight to give praise to thee: for the judgements of thy justification (Ps. cxviii. 62). And again before the dawn we must rise to pray, so that day may not find us upon our beds in sleep; in accord with the words:
My eyes to thee have anticipated the morning: that I might meditate on thy words (v. 148).

None of these times must be neglected by those who have given themselves to live for the praise and glory of God and of His Christ. But I consider that it is useful to have diversity and variety in the prayers and psalms that are recited at fixed hours; for with sameness, the soul may become inattentive, and be distracted; but when the psalms and canticles vary at each hour, its love is refreshed and its attention renewed.

 

II. The Purpose of Work

And this also must be kept in mind, that he who labours ought to do so, not that he may serve his own needs but that he may be able to fulfil the command of the Lord Who said: I was hungry, and you gave me to eat. For to be solicitous for oneís self was wholly forbidden by the Lord, when He said: Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on; and again a second time, when He added: For after all these things do the heathens seek. Each one therefore, in undertaking any task, should have this purpose in mind: to serve the need of others, not his own ends. In this way he will escape the charge of self love, and will receive a blessing for his fraternal love from the Lord Who said: As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me (Mt. xxv. 40).

And let no one think that our words are contrary to those of the Apostle, who said: We charge them that working they would eat their own bread (II Thess. iii. 12). These words were meant for the lazy and disorderly; telling them that it was better for each one to earn his own bread, and not be a burthen to others, than to lead a life of idleness. For, he says, we have heard there are some among you who walk disorderly; working not at all, but curiously meddling. Now, he says, we charge them that are such and beseech them by the Lord Jesus Christ that, working with silence, they would eat their own bread. And this a little before also: Neither did we eat any manís bread for nothing, but in labour and toil we worked night and day, lest we should be chargeable to any of you (II Thess. iii. 11, 12, 8), relates to the same intention; since the Apostle out of fraternal charity had subjected himself to labour beyond what was required of him, to rebuke the disorderly. But he who strives after perfection, let him work day and night, that he may have something to give to him that suffereth need. And let us in all things have before our mind the desire to please God, to profit our soul, and to fulfil the command of the Apostle, who said: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God. Amen.