THE LAYMAN’S HOLY ALTAR
by Rev. Fr. Theodore E. Ziton
In the overall plan of Divine Providence, it is the lot of most men to spend their lives working for others. This is due partly to the sentence imposed by God after the first sin: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” (Gen. 3:19) But it is also a situation resulting from the very nature of things. Not all men can be in positions of authority, for there would be no one for them to govern; nor can all men be employers, for there would be no one to do their work. Human life would be at a standstill.
When one’s place of employment is regarded as a temple: when a man’s workbench or machine is for him an altar on which he daily offers the sacrifice of works: when the tools of his work are transformed into instruments of sacrifice to the most high God, then the humdrum existence of the workingman becomes a rich source of joyous inspiration.
There is a great deal of idealism dealt out in every plan proposed for “Social Security.” I have never liked the name, however. I like “Self Security” better. That is what has made every successful man or woman, and every nation great. Self-Reliance is a twin brother to it.
If every human being is assured, as soon as he reaches understanding, that he is to be cared for from the cradle to the grave, and that he has nothing to worry about, imagine what a race of dependents this world would have! Those who first came to the Western world, discovering, inventing, and sacrificing, had no other capital than Self Security in mind — Self-Security for themselves, and because of this individual independence, to pass on the example to their children.
The weak, ill, and those who have unavoidably been misfortunate, surely deserve all the security possible to comfort and care for them throughout life — but not the able-bodied and the healthy. They have the opportunity to gain Self-Security which should be their pride, and the pride of every human being given his chance in this world. It’s that chance that should be assured him under a free form of government.
Food and comforts that are earned, through work, enter into the very muscles, the brain, the heart, and every stream of blood that courses through one’s veins. And the will to live and to be useful inspires such a being with the love of life itself and all its opportunities.
Take incentive away from a human being and you rob him of his greatest asset. You dismantle his dreams. You cheat him out of the fun of achievement. You feed him the substance of which idleness is composed. You take the rudder of life from his sailing-craft.
It is so much easier to succeed than it is to fail — if a man has pride in himself. But if you hand the tools of success to one, without his having earned them, he is most apt to dull them into uselessness long before he has learned to make them serve him and his fellowman.
There is no heritage quite so precious as that of one who feels in his heart that he has been born, not only to enjoy this beautiful world, but so to work and live that he may bring happiness and pride to everyone about him.
When the Church calls upon Christian workingmen to lift their eyes and their hearts above the difficulties of their lot, her aim is not to lull them into the sleep of indifference, nor to develop in them a spirit of cold and dull patience. The stand of the Church is solidly in favor of bettering the living and working conditions of the laboring man. Thus, the Church insists on spiritualizing man’s outlook on these problems. But this is because her only purpose is to prevent him from defeating himself by recourse to means that would assuredly defeat his purpose. Meekness and humility of heart are fundamental requirements of the genuinely Christian spirit. Acceptance of one’s station in life, and conformity to the Will of God, are, so to speak, common currency in the life of the Church. Acceptance of one’s humble lot and earnest striving to better it are not incompatible. The man who first accepts his state of life instead of fighting it in sullen bitterness is the only man who can ever hope to better himself on his “human-Altar.”
Again, to repeat, when a place of employment is regarded as a temple where wholehearted and faithful devotion to duty can give honor to God: when a man’s workbench or machine is for him an altar on which daily and cheerfully he offers a sacrifice of work and humility: when the tools of his work are transformed into instruments of sacrifice to the Most High God, then the humdrum existence of the workingman becomes a rich source of joyous inspiration. In this spirit many saints of the Church wielded their tools in their given trades and workshops. In the light and strength of this same spirit, the laborer of today can live and work for God just as truly as those early saints did when God stood at their sides, and, so to speak, handed them their tools.
Such is the transforming influence of religion. Communism derisively calls religion “the opium of the people.” It forgets that opium stupefies and has an effect like death. But religion is certainly activity, it is life; it is spiritual vitality. Workingmen without religion are hardly more than the tools and machines with which they work: workingmen with religion bring a tremendous spiritual energy to bear on ordinary existence, and give it and the world around them new value.
The Son of God was a carpenter; St. Peter and his brethren were fishermen; the Apostle of the Gentiles, St. Paul, was a tentmaker. Hammers and saws, boats and nets, canvas and needles — all these are little enough in themselves, but they were the tools wherewith the Son of God and His followers supported themselves while carrying out their divine mission. Every laboring man has a divine mission. It is a mistake to regard humble employment only as a means of livelihood. But when it is considered as a means of livelihood “for the accomplishment of a higher purpose,” then labor and toil are transformed. They become means of making man more like the Son of God “Who bore all things for the sake of the elect.” When man sees his own daily occupations placed side by side with the great work of our Divine Saviour, he feels a close companionship with the God-man. He grasps the great truth that the tools of his own lowly employment upon his own “human-altar” could be for him what the cross was for Christ: instruments of redemption and sanctification for the entire world.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America