05 September 2016

Worthy of his hire

A photograph of early Pennsylvanian Carpatho-Rusin immigrants,
many of whom were heavily involved in 19th-century labour disputes
From a Christian perspective, labour in itself is not an absolute value. It is blessed when it represents co-working with the Lord and contribution to the realisation of His design for the world and man. However, labour is not something pleasing to God if it is intended to serve the egoistic interests of individual or human communities and to meet the sinful needs of the spirit and flesh.

Holy Scriptures points to the two moral motives of labour: work to sustain oneself without being a burden for others and work to give to the needy. The apostle writes: ‘Let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth’ (Eph. 4:28). Such labour cultivates the soul and strengthens the body and enables the Christian to express his faith in God-pleasing works of charity and love of his neighbours (Mt. 5:16; James 2:17). Everyone remembers the words of St. Paul: ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat’ (2 Thes. 3:10).

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church continuously stressed the moral meaning of labour. Thus, St. Clement of Alexandria described it as ‘a school of social justice’…

A worker has the right to use the fruits of his labour: ‘Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?… He that ploweth should plow in hope; and he that threshesth in hope should be partaker of his hope’ (1 Cor. 9:7, 10). The Church teaches that refusal to pay for honest work is not only a crime against man, but also a sin before God.

Holy Scriptures says: ‘Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant… At his day thou shalt give him his hire… lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee’ (Deut. 24:14-15); ‘Woe unto him… that useth his neighbour’s services without wages, and giveth him not for his work’ (Jer. 22:13); ‘Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth’ (James 5:4).

At the same time, by God’s commandment workers are ordered to take care of those who for various reasons cannot earn their living, such as the weak, the sick, strangers (refugees), orphans and widows. The worker should share the fruits of his work with them, ‘that the Lord may bless thee in all the work of thine hands’ (Deut. 24:19-22).

Continuing on earth the service of Christ Who identified Himself with the destitute, the Church always comes out in defence of the voiceless and powerless. Therefore, she calls upon society to ensure the equitable distribution of the fruits of labour, in which the rich support the poor, the healthy the sick, the able-bodied the elderly. The spiritual welfare and survival of society are possible only if the effort to ensure life, health and minimal welfare for all citizens becomes an indisputable priority in distributing the material resources.

VI. 4 and 6, Basis of the Social Concept
of the Russian Orthodox Church
The rights of labour to the fruits of their own work, to this day, have still not been recognised or fully honoured by modern societies, and the struggle for ‘life, health and minimal welfare’ still rages for many of us. It is worthy of note that the first Labour Day celebrations in the United States and Canada came swiftly on the heels of the Pullman Strike, which ended as so many labour struggles on this continent have, with the blood of at least 30 workers being spilled brutally and callously by American federal marshals in concert with the corporations which bribed them; and the Democratic president who signed the holiday into law did so partially to quell the threat of further strikes and protests in the future, similar to what happened at Haymarket eight years before that. Even so, this holiday is one where we stand and recognise the workers who sought – not even necessarily revolution, but to satisfy the basic needs commensurate with what Holy Mother Church considers to be a dignified existence.

It is also a holiday when we must remember that the Orthodox clergy in North America were already deeply involved with the labour movement. Patriarch Saint Tikhon (Bellavin) of Moscow, then Bishop of the Russian Church in America, actively gave money to unionised workers to be used when they went on strike, and encouraged Orthodox Christians in San Francisco to do the same. And of course, Father Saint Alexis (Tovt) of Wilkes-Barre, during his life, was also an active and ardent supporter of the labour movement, particularly among the Carpathian Rusin miners who made up so much of his flock. These Orthodox immigrant miners themselves were often members of the Industrial Workers of the World, and the United Mine Workers of America – the two labour organisations of the turn of the century which would allow immigrants to join their ranks.

For all those who lost their lives in the struggle for their families and for dignified treatment from the government and from their employers – may God make their memories to be eternal!


  1. It is now the labor unions who resort to violence and intimidation to get what they want (recent actions in Wisconsin and here in Michigan amply illustrate as much).

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Hey, while you're being heavily Anglo - Orthodox, how about spelling St. Alexis'name the way he did rather than fake Slavonic. He was a Hungarian Carpie with an extremely common last name, Toth.

  4. Welcome to the blog, Dave. I cannot comment on that further without some sourcing, though I should probably warn you in good faith that I’m inclined by default to be sceptical of claims of union violence. It is a canard of long standing.

    And welcome to you, Werner! I am afraid, though, that Rusyn Wikipedia (and the vast majority of Rusyn speakers) would disagree with you:


    In the Carpatho-Rusyn tongue - which is not fake Slavonic, however much Hungarian and Austrian nationalists might claim otherwise - the name of Father Saint Alexis would actually appropriately be Romanised as Aleksíy Tovt. And if you look at the letters he originally wrote (I have some scans of them on Kindle), he also signed his surname as Товт.