God sanctifies our labor. The Apostle Paul enjoined us to work with our hands (1 Thes 4.11) and provided the example, stitching tents as a common tradesman (Acts 18.3). Though we might mistake it as part of the Curse, work is a holy undertaking.
Sometimes the church makes this point in explicit terms, other times in subtler language.
Not long ago I looked at an icon of Archbishop Luke of Simferopol and Crimea, a recent Orthodox saint who lived from 1877 to 1961. Following the fashion, the image was timeless. It could have been painted a thousand years ago. But there in the icon — to my surprise — were surgical implements!
The archbishop worked as a surgeon and scientist. He was well known for his prowess with a scalpel and the quality of his research work, captured in his many articles and papers.
“I help people as a physician,” he once said, “and I help them as a servant of the Church. . . .”
It’s common in icons to see holy objects: scrolls, books, crosses, prayer ropes. But here were tools of a trade. Of course, in the rights hands, for the right service, those tools are seen by the church as holy objects too.The very same day I noticed something similar in an icon of Olga of Alaska. Another modern saint, Olga was a native Yupik. Her husband was a priest. Though her veneration is mostly local at this point, icons have been made and circulated — many of which show her holding a bowl of water with a towel. Olga was a famous midwife where she lived, and the icon honors her work.
Do you see what the church is saying? Work can be righteous, and our tools can help fashion our souls. Just wait: Someday a saint’s icon will feature a laptop — because in the right hands and for the right service that can be salvific too.
Here are some further thoughts about work from the Serbian monk Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica.
And here’s a short documentary on the remarkable life of Luke of Crimea. Definitely worth twenty minutes of your time, it’s one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen in a long while.