THE VARIATION IN PROFESSIONS
In the expressive wisdom of the Greeks, the word for "profession" (epaggelia) actually means a "promise" for the fulfillment of a permanently binding special mission. The verb "profess" (epaggelomai) originally meant "I promise", from where the term for the promises of God to His people — which He gave and guaranteed with an eternal covenant — is derived.
While epaggelia generally means any kind of promise for the benefit of a friend, relative or mere acquaintance, epaggelma means a promise for permanent and specialised service to particular human needs, regardless of who the person in question may be.
In other words, epaggelia has favour as its presupposition, while epaggelma is not influenced by any emotional relationship. It serves the needs not only of those who are known and unknown for a material reward, but in extreme circumstances, even the enemy.
Thus, there are sciences and crafts (professions) of more spiritual cultural standing, and others again of a more material or manual kind. At any rate, we should not forget that even experimental efforts of scientists and researchers in their laboratories were always forms of manual labour. Indeed, these efforts were often associated with highly unhealthy or unpleasant, if not deadly, elements. It was precisely this manual character of experimentation which made many ancient philosophers confine their work to the realm of theory and hypothesis, as they believed that manual labour — even a scientific experiment — was the duty of slaves, beneath that of the free person.
Laboratory experiments undoubtedly show promise of some glory, given the hope that they may one-day lead to a discovery. In spite of this exception, the perception has unjustly prevailed in public opinion that the manual professions should be considered lower. We shall see below why this perception is unjust and mistaken, after recalling the following interesting incident. Very often our distinguished Professor of Theology in Germany, E. Rothacker, would tell us the true story of a student of chemistry who came to him complaining that in German universities the Schools in Humanities are generally called "Cultural Sciences" (Geistewissenschaften), while the Technical Schools were called "Natural Sciences" (Naturwissenschaften). In addition, the student, he said, would ask with indignation: "Don't we work with the spirit? Do we work with our feet?" At this apparently totally just reaction of the young student, that splendid and unforgettable man of wisdom replied, without losing his humour, "You see, my friend, if you take a book into your hands you will say it has this or that colour, such and such weight, breadth and length, with a certain quality of paper etc. Yet, if I take the same book in my hands, the only thing I will tell you quite plainly is this: is it a work of Homer, or is it nonsense!"
If we look carefully, this characteristic story does not primarily make a value judgement between the sciences and professions.
It does not distinguish between important and unimportant, noble and menial, aristocratic and proletariat. It simply aims to state and underline the difference between the professions.
Within the context of the given differences — which exist by virtue of the very nature of this subject — we must observe some fundamental conditions which oblige us to discern more clearly between one group and the other.
Firstly, we must admit that there are certain professions which, as forms of service in the fallen world, surpass human power and potential. They are literally beyond what is human. During our high school graduation, a teacher who has since passed away described the professions of Priest, Teacher and Judge as belonging to that category. It is certain that no one can sufficiently fulfil the almost supernatural demands of professions, no matter what that person's natural inclination or predisposition may be, and regardless of the education or preparation which may have been pursued. In essence, bodiless angels should conduct these supernatural professions. Yet, because angels are not a regular and self-evident presence in our lives, common sinful people must serve them out of "economy". Perhaps their own sense of unworthiness is the most positive presupposition for them to respond to such enormous responsibilities towards God and their fellow human being.
Another category of professions which is by definition likeable to the broader population, because it is constantly exposed to the possibility of accidents or sudden death, includes the pilot, the acrobat, the police officer, the miner, etc. It is possible that they can have a sudden death, even during routine actions, and it is perhaps this heavy price of making a living that contributes to this.
The so-called "applied" sciences and the related professions of course require lengthy, costly and continuous studies, yet they have the great privilege of not relying upon the individual's temperament. This means that no matter what the daily inner condition and disappointments of such a professional may be, the professional output is not in danger of being affected by it. By contrast, artists and creative people in general do not know which unforeseen internal or external factor will cloud their good disposition and automatically cripple their every effort. And it is even more tragic that they not only become incapable of producing new creations; they cannot even do routine work. In other words, while a chemist, doctor, astronomer or mathematician can continue without any trouble to meet the requirements of their demanding work, regardless of their psychological or emotional condition, the philosopher, the poet, the theologian and all kinds of artists become totally unproductive if they do not have the inspiration, for which the temperament requires absolute peace and calm. Of course, there are cases when human pain and hardship are turned into opportunities for the creation of true masterpieces. However, this occurs only with great souls. The average creative artist, when feeling dejected, is not usually in a position to maintain consistency and appropriate output.
Other professions we could call "mixed" since, as they are immediately directed towards vast multitudes of people, they have the potential as well as the temptation of becoming either great benefactors or great executioners of their time. These people control or simply use the media with the relentless intention of dehumanising people. Those who work in government also belong to this group, with corresponding attempts to impose their own will from above. We must unfortunately admit that one can lose one's soul more easily in the "circuit" of dismal power than in the area even of narcotics or professional prostitution. For, it is clear that, in both cases, the danger is dependent not only upon the moral quality of the work, but also upon the scale on which it is carried out. Furthermore, there is the factor of compulsion and blackmail which are infinitely greater and lawfully binding on the one hand, while on the other it cannot be used without severe legal consequences.
We have left the laborious manual professions until now, in order to say that they are treated in the most unjust way. Not of course in terms of material rewards — because today a fork-lift driver, street cleaner or any unspecialised worker is often paid better than a technician or scientist — but in terms of the bias in our language against them which boarders on defamation. Although these professions are unhygienic, strenuous and looked down upon socially, we often use these as terms of insult, instead of having sympathy and appreciation for the fact that there are still fellow human beings who accept to serve us through such humble tasks. Who has not heard of the name "butcher', for example, being used on someone whom they wish to describe as a person of the underworld? How can we believe that those jobs, full of deprivation and disdain, can cause the formation of a distorted character? Why have we never insulted someone by calling them a "forger", or "slanderer" or a "fraud" or "hypocrite"?
We have left what is perhaps the most tragic profession last: that of the clown and generally all people involved in show business. Like butterflies, these poor people are charmed by the dazzling light of the screen and stage, and thoughtlessly rush to achieve an ephemeral spot on the "front-stage" and so-called "publicity". Many times, they do not realise the extent to which they are alienated. That is why they cannot find the centre of cohesion and the salvific stability of their own conscience. It is not unusual for some of them to even commit suicide in a moment of an intense emotional outbreak, thereby losing not only this life, but also the next.
We shall conclude this brief summary of the fundamental differences between the professions by recalling the tragic case of a famous comedian in Sydney just a few years ago. The enormous venue where he appeared would fill every evening, with people from all over NSW and beyond. They came to break their boredom, loneliness or sorrows with his witty acts and antics on stage. Yet, that amazing protagonist of laughter was found dead one morning in the hotel where he was staying. A note next to him explained very simply: I could not bear the loneliness any longer".
Bearing all of this in mind, we should have more understanding for our fellow human being involved in another — at times perhaps even strange — profession. For it is not only the syndicalistic interests which should unite people, but also the deeper human solidarity dictated by the perplexity of us all in the face of need, temptation, sickness and death.
from Voice of Orthodoxy, vol 19/3, March 1998
the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia