O Lord and Master of my life, a spirit of idleness, despondency, lust for power and idle talk give not unto me.
This is how St. Ephrem the Syrian begins his great prayer. Why does he start it with a petition to be delivered from idleness, as if there are not more serious vices than idleness?
St. Ephrem speaks about idleness; and to him it is more visible than us, what is more important, what is more fatal, which vice is stronger, more dangerous, and if he speaks about idleness and starts his prayer with the supplication not to give a spirit of idleness, it means that idleness if an extremely dangerous vice.
Examining idleness from a normal, earthly point of view, we see that idleness is despised and deserves general condemnation. Look at how base, idle people, not wanting to work, spend their lives in complete idleness and end up in many, many vices. Idleness is the mother of a huge quantity of vices. Idle people lounge, not doing anything, and sit dreaming. What do they dream about? About nothing; their thoughts often wander completely without a purpose: they remember the past, the happiness and joy through which they lived, and dream that it would once again repeat itself. They think only about this, not about anything serious, not focusing their thoughts on the profound seriousness of life, on the huge responsibility that is on everyone-not only to people but to God Himself.
An idle man is a harmful member of society and a harmful member of the country. Idleness leads to significant and serious vices. Idle people are not capable of working and descend into poverty and destitution. Money does not come all by itself, nor does richness; they don’t want to work, and nothing comes by itself, they are wanting in everything that is necessary for life, and, besides, in that which exceeds the limits of the necessary: they need pleasures, luxury in life.
In order to make money such a person devises various, often sinful, means and becomes capable of any baseness, of dark deeds, thievery, lying, deception, and bribes. This is how contemptible idleness is just from the purely earthly point of view.
What will we say if we speak about idleness in our spiritual life? Does it really deserve any less condemnation that in the realm of our material life? It is much more deadly in our spiritual life. All of our capabilities, without exercise, are lost. If a musician, having reached perfection at playing, stops practicing and for many years completely abandons music, then he loses his perfection.
Every organ of our body, without exercise, comes into a state of flabbiness, being unable to work. A man who is always lying down loses his ability to walk. One who does not work with their hands leads the muscles of their hand into flaccidity. Under the lack of physical movement the body’s strength dies out.
It is the same with the abilities of the soul: every spiritual capability, left without exercise, is lost. If a person doesn’t pray, then the capability to pray is lost. A person who always rejects the fast will not make himself pray. One who doesn’t watch after his soul and heart will become dissolute in the spiritual sense and won’t ever watch after anything. The soul, left without exercise, will become similar to a field, not tilled for several years, where weeds and useless grass with thorns grow, which will be difficult to make fruit-bearing. Idleness of the soul and lack of practicing good deeds leads to the death of the soul, to the obliteration of the soul by all kinds of weeds of sin. As if that’s not severe, it’s not all of the trouble.
The greater misfortune is that we lose days for spiritual deeds, the short days of our life which are given by God in order to reach great and holy objectives, to prepare ourselves for the dread judgment and our reckoning. These days are given so that we would become worthy in the eyes of God so that He would not place us on His left side and wouldn’t say, “Depart…you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
Our life is given to us so that we would hurry, hurry to do perform the great deed of cleansing our hearts, while following after the Lord Jesus Christ. And this following after Christ is an intense labor, often hard work and not idleness. It is the enduring of suffering for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, while idleness doesn’t suffer and flees suffering.
Do you know that all of the saints who, it may seem, didn’t need to work, who devoted the whole time of their life to spiritual struggles, divided the hours of the day into three parts: one part for prayer, another part for the reading of the words of God, and one part for labor, work. They lived in the desert, in the Libyan desert, they lived in the forests of the far north in impassible wilderness, and dedicated one part of their time to work. They selected various work: weaved baskets and mats; kept gardens; cut down forests; and built cells, churches, and monasteries. That which they made with their hands they sold in the nearest city to feed themselves and the poor. They considered work to be an important and indispensable act.
St. Paul preached of God the whole day long and made tents at night. By the light of the moon or a lamp he diligently worked and considered it as necessary labor for him. His main labor, his principal striving was to run, to rush as fast as possible towards a goal, to run into the Kingdom of God.
Do you know his wonderful words? “Brothers, I do not count myself to have laid hold; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)
He, in no way considering himself to have laid hold, strove ever forward; forgetting those things already attained, he strove towards a higher goal, towards the obtaining of the highest Divine calling in Christ Jesus.
This is an example of a life opposite the life of idle people. No trace of idleness would you find in the life of the Apostle Paul, in the life of hermits and fasters, in the life of monastics, or in the life of the great saints. All of them occupied themselves from morning to night. They shunned idleness and considered it a great and deadly evil.
Hearing the prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian that is to often repeated, we must very attentively listen to every word of it, remember them, look deeply into the meaning of the words, and impress them forever in our hearts. I will help you to impress them there; today I impressed the petition of St. Ephrem about deliverance from the spirit of idleness.
Remember that life is short; we must rush, rush as the Apostle Paul rushed, rush into labors for God. Amen.
St. Luke (Voino-Yasenetskii) of Simferopol