Day Nine – The Sabbath

40DAYSBLOGWe were made to work
One of the great virtues of this nation is its commitment to work hard and to work well.  This virtue does not allow us to see work in purely economic terms; it isn’t just about paying the bills, providing for the family, or having enough to give freely to those in need.  The virtuous worker recognizes and celebrates the sanctifying quality of work done well.  He recognizes that there is something inherently good in applying himself completely – mind, body, and soul – to the application of his craft.  
Why is this?  Why is hard work so satisfying?  I think Genesis 3: 17-19 provides a clue.  That is where God is describing how difficult life will be in the fallen world outside of Eden; the ground is “cursed”, it takes “painful toil” and  lots of “sweat of the brow” to get anything useful out of it, and it produces “thorns” and “thistles” along with the harvest vegetables.
The world that was created to cooperate with us for our mutual benefit became a source of difficulty and a temptation for despondency.  King Solomon captures this attitude  in Ecclesiastes (2:22-23); “For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?  For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity].  It is also to common to see work in this manner; it doesn’t just break our backs, but our spirits as well.
But here is the point: when we apply ourselves in a certain way, we can reclaim through virtue what was lost through our sin.  When we do this, Creation responds to the image of God within us and brings it [Creation] and us closer to the perfection we were meant to enjoy.  But it’s not just about working harder or working smarter – in order for us to really turn the patch of thorns and thistles we are called to till into a sanctified garden; in order for our work to make us nobler rather than simply tired; in order for it to be something other than the vexation and vanity Solomon spoke of, it must be  offered up to the Lord.
If you do the work for yourself, you may keep yourself alive; if you do the work for your family, you may manage to pay your bills; but if you do the work out of Love and dedication to our Lord; if you offer it up – along with every part of your life – to God, then it may still do these things, but it will also bring you joy.  It will bring you the temporary joy of work done well, – after all, we only offer the best of what we have to Glory of Our God – but it will also bring you the lasting joy of one who is being restored to perfection through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:31; St. John 6:27; Ephesians 6: 5-9).  This is what we were designed for, and when we follow that design, things naturally move toward the glory of God.
We were made to rest
But just as we were made to work hard, we were also made for rest.  This is such an important part of nature of things, that it is included in the first creation story in Genesis.  After applying Himself for six days to His craft, God rested; “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.  And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”  
Genesis was not given to us to provide a mechanistic and materialist description of creation, but rather to teach us the most important things about that creation.  Foremost is that God made the universe – and especially mankind – as an outpouring of His love and perfection.  But the point about God resting is also important.  This is also why God made the rule to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” one of the Ten Commandments.  Nor are these historical artifacts.  As our prayer book says (p. 387), “The Orthodox Christian is obligated to follow [these commandments] because they are the foundation of the Old Testament, which was fully realized and fulfilled in Christ”.  Because of the Resurrection, we observe the Sabbath on the 8th Day (Sunday) rather than the 7th (Saturday). 
It occasionally becomes trendy for scientists and journalists to point out the secular [and thus “real”] benefits of taking a day off.  In recent articles on the subject, they tip their hats to the conservative Jews who completely eschew any sort of work on the Sabbath, congratulating them in the half mocking sense of “even religion occasionally gets something right.”  This secular recognition of the utility of regular rest dates at least back to the ancient Greeks who recognized the need for rest and recreation in order to live “the good life.”      
We should not be surprised that scientists, journalists, and philosophers appreciate the value of rest to our minds and bodies.  But just as work is not sanctifying unless it is done to the glory of God and His Love; neither is our rest sanctifying unless it is similarly offered up to Him.  And here we must be very specific.  Our Church does not simply instruct us to avoid work on Sunday, but tells us that the proper place for every Christian for at least part of every Sunday is in Church, celebrating the Divine Liturgy.  You can get a certain joy and temporary relief from your burdens just by taking a day off, but if you want to truly redeem the time and enjoy the blessings of life, you need to take that day off and dedicate the best portion of it to Orthodox worship.  This is what we were  designed for, and when we follow that design, things naturally move toward the glory of God.

Comments

  1. Deb Silviano says:

    This has long been a question of mine, to many priests, pastors, theologians and laypeople…..I understand that we have our “Sabbath” on Sunday in honor of the Resurrection, but how can we change one of the Commandments of God and make the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday. Where in Scripture is this done? I would appreciate your point of view! Thank you so much for this blog and for your podcasts!!

    In Christ, Deb

  2. Thank you for your question and your kind words, Deb.

    The Apostolic Church (which led by those who had learned how to worship from Christ both before and after His Resurrection) had their central Eucharistic service on the 8th Day from the beginning (e.g. http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.com/2012/04/do-christians-still-honor-sabbath.html). As far as scripture goes, this is referenced most clearly in Acts (e.g. 20:7). It was a natural move, done to celebrate the Resurrection (and anticipate in Christ’s second coming). The real key is not found in Scripture, but in the apostolic worship tradition that we still follow. We need not be archeologists in order to do what is good and meet.

    I do understand the confusion; not only are there heterodox “Christian” groups advocating on this issue (with large propaganda machines), we often still call Saturday “the Sabbath” ourselves (well, not in English, but at least in Greek, Ukrainian, and Russian). But there is a certain gravity to the Resurrection: it changes and influences everything.

    Note that there are many things in the Old Covenant that have been transformed by the New. For instance, we no longer sacrifice animals the way the Lord commanded. Keeping the Sabbath holy is more important than things like this, but note that it has not been destroyed, but rather given its full significance (Sunday is the beginning of the new creation in Christ).

    Sunday was blessed by our Lord’s resurrection. We honor that blessing by making our Eucharistic worship that day the pinnacle of the week; and by keeping that day holy.

    Despite the Apostles example and guidance, this is one of the many issues that had to be worked out by the early Church (how “Jewish” was this New Covenant and Body?). The consensus of the Church is unambiguous: Sunday is our preeminent day of rest and worship. It’s sad that it has become as overscheduled as the rest of our lives!

    I hope this helps. Again, thank you for your kindness and interest.

    In Christ,

    Fr Anthony

  3. Deb Silviano says:

    Thank you Father for this kind and informative answer. It just flittered across my mind a couple of days ago that “we”, meaning the church, did not change the Sabbath, but rather Jesus, as God, changed it when he began a new creation, a new covenant on that Blessed Resurrection Day! So, thank you, and thank God, for finally clearing up that long sought after answer. It strengthens my faith to know that when we have questions that don’t get answered right away, if we keep searching, God always answers our heart’s desire and keeps us on the right road, through His servants, and most wonderfully through the Holy Spirit Who speaks to our hearts when we have ears to hear. I guess I finally put on my listening ears and heard Him! May God be praised forever!!