The ABC of traditional values: creative work

Konstantin Malofeev: Another part of the 'ABC of traditional values' is dedicated to the letter 'T': creative work [Editor's note: in Russian, the adjective 'creative' is tvorcheskiy, in Cyrillic творческий].

Protopriest Andrew Tkachev: If Christ had a workbook, he would be referred to as a carpenter. If Adam had a workbook, he would be listed as a gardener. The shepherds who heard 'glory to God in the highest' were shepherds. That is, they would have 'shepherd' in their workbook. So would the future King David. In general, we do not find slackers in the Bible who receive revelations. Instead, we find great workers. In fact, the Lord seeks disciples even among fishermen.

In the Bible we find an attitude towards work, not as a servile human activity, a kind of meaningless donkey's burden from morning to night, without respite. We see work as a blessing, as a creative human activity, as a source of special joy. Work has many unknown sides. Some of them were discovered in the Soviet Union. In the classic books of its founders it was written that without work there is no morality, and we see this perfectly in the process of educating our children.

If a child, for example, has never washed anything himself, it is easy for him to get his clothes dirty, but if he has washed them himself, and even more if he has sewn them himself, he will be careful. If he cleans his room, he will not allow litter and rubbish in it. If he washes the windows with his mother one day, he will be sad to see how dirty they are after a month.

In general, nothing is spared only by those who have done nothing. This is the devil. He feels no pity for anything, although a man should feel pity for someone else's work, based on what he himself has worked for. This is a great idea: without work there is no morality. It exists, in fact, not only among religious people, but also among completely atheist thinkers. Who also had to talk about morality.
Christ worked and earned his bread with his own hands: if we saw his hands, we would understand that they were the hands of a carpenter, of a worker; if we looked at the hands of today's carpenter, they would be the same hands of Christ, because the carpenter's trade has not changed much since then.

Moreover, as we have said, work gives birth to morality. Work gives birth to compassion for others, magnifies the value of almsgiving. For what is earned is worth much more than what is not earned. Work is a source of joy. As St Nicholas of Srpska used to say, a carpenter who caresses the smooth, warm surface of a chair he has just made with his own hands feels a joy that an angel can never experience.

Even the mother who baked a cake for her child's birthday and received in return a joyful flutter of the tongue, enthusiastic applause and kisses because the cake was delicious, feels joy that an angel can never experience. Angelic joys are available to us, but human joys are not available to angels, and in this sense man is unique.

In general, revealing this theme in terms of joyful evangelism would make people unspeakably happy. Indeed, many have purposely studied the carpenter's trade to become like Christ. Like Elder Paisius, for example. He purposely wanted to master a chisel, a planer, a saw, a chisel, in order to feel at least a little bit in the place of the little Christ. The theology of work in Orthodoxy is a delight and this is very close to the heart of a simple worker, a simple Russian man.

Alexander Dugin: Nikolai Klyuyev had this phrase: 'An angel of simple human actions'. Are you saying that human joys are not accessible to angels? But they are accessible - through people, through their simple human actions. In Russian Tradition, and we are talking about traditional Russian values, work is exactly as Father Andrei described it. It is joy, and the word 'work' in French is 'le travail', and it comes from the name of torture.

You see, how different is the attitude towards work in our country and in the West. For the West, it is le travail, i.e. 'torture'. In Western culture, only a negative and hard part of work is presented as its main meaning. For this reason, there is an attempt to reduce working time, to entrust it to machines and to maximise free time. In the Russian tradition, on the other hand, it is not about torture at all, but precisely about creativity.

The Greek language can be recalled in this regard. The Greeks had the verb 'to make' transmitted by the interesting word poiéō (poio). Hence poetry, that is, work is poetry, in all work there is a deep poetic sense of free creation. It turns out that the Holy Trinity works, God works. God himself, who is both Creator and Maker.

A.T.: "My Father works and I work" (John 5:17).

A.D.: Yes. It is the concept that God owes nothing to anyone. He does everything freely, creatively. So creative work is a very Russian value. If you tell a European that work, i.e. le travail (= labour) is a value, he will answer: "How can that be?". And for us it is quite natural when labour is creative, free, creative and joyful.

It is no coincidence that our great philosopher, Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov, wrote The Philosophy of Economics, considered one of the most important works on economics. So, about 90 per cent of this book is a hymn to the Holy Trinity. It is the idea of how wonderful it is when a person takes responsibility for the world and creates together with God, contributes to this creation together with Him, ennobling, ordering and harmonising the world. So, work itself is the reward.

When you work, it is good, when you bring order and harmony to the world, it is your reward. A normal person would say: let me work another day, let me plough another field. Otherwise it must be difficult for you. Therefore, when we value work, we do so in a completely Russian, Christian way, and act largely in opposition to the view of work that dominates in the West.

K.M.: Creative work, in other words, means creating through work and creativity through work is creativity. Again, it is clear why labour is used by legislators. There is justice in that. We have many references to the good things of the Soviet era. In those days, work was almost deified, glorified, and sometimes rightly so, sometimes not. When it was said that work made a man out of a monkey, it was of course excessive, but the fact that everyone had to work, 'Mir-Trud-May' was a very kind and correct glorification of the working man.

It is understandable that the word 'work' was used among traditional values. However, when the adjective 'creative' was added, it immediately became equal to creativity because creativity is the most important thing man lives for. He was God's creator in Paradise when Adam named the animals. He was and still is a creator - if he creates, if he is a poet, if he is a scientist, if he creates something that will be after him. A teacher creates from human souls, from the souls of his pupils.

Creativity is what surrounds us in ordinary life. Few people can feel holy. We know that saints do not feel holy. The dying saint Amos the Great, when he was already about to be taken to heaven, said: 'Do not tempt me with words about going to heaven', but creators feel like creators. This is the greatest feeling a person has in life, and the Russian people in their code, which we will now analyse, contain this creative work.

Only when we return to being a people of creators, a people of creators, only then will the Russia we have lost return, the Russia we want to see, because it will only come from the people with clear eyes, who want to make, to create. Then everything will come back to us: the right economy, the right management of the state. Everything will be real and can happen through creative work.

A.D.: I would like to make a comment. In his philosophy, Aristotle distinguishes two notions: 'practice' and 'technique'. Practice is when we decide to build a house and build it, whether we do it ourselves, invite our friends, or hire someone. Practice is thinking, deciding and doing, then there is the notion of technique. It is the moment when you have been called upon and have skilfully realised what you had in mind. So, practice is creative work, creativity.

The role of technique should not be exaggerated. What is its curse, how do Western thinkers, the best, the most critical of Western European civilisation, understand technology? Technology is the liberation of the intermediate. It is the dehumanisation of creative work, where technology becomes only a tool, and here it is not the tool, but the hands, which you, Father Andrei, spoke about. In the hands of the man-God, in the hands of the Master. In the will, in the desire, in the desire to transform the disordered world into an ordered world, into a beautiful and harmonious world.

This is the difference between practice and technique. Practice must be said yes, because it is our traditional value, but with technique we must be very careful. It must not be overrated. It must always be subordinate to the human being and not vice versa.

A.T.: Work in general has to do with morality. Do you remember the rough language of Soviet posters? For example, 'Whoever does not work, do not eat', but this is practically a direct quotation from the Apostle Paul: 'Whoever does not want to work, do not eat either. Indeed, it is a sin to eat unearned bread. And here is the concept of 'shame'."

K.M.: The apostles did everything with their hands, they earned their own bread.

A.T.: Yes. "For my needs and for the needs of those who were with me, these hands served me" (Acts 20:34). In the Life of the spiritual father of all Russia, the Venerable Abba Sergius of Radonezh, it is recounted how he annexed a bedroom to the cell of one of his fellow monks. In exchange for compensation: a basket of mouldy breadcrumbs. He worked all day and did not eat, he only ate these mouldy crumbs, but only after he had finished his work.

This is the ethical side of work: you can leave after you finish your work, not before. People used to sing when they worked. It is a sign of happiness and health of the soul when a man sings while doing his task, but a programmer writing a programme does not sing. In practice, people have stopped singing altogether, all the more so when they work. Only drivers still do, sometimes, and before, even limpers used to sing, even if their work was very hard.

That is, one has to work with a song. One has to sing while working. The worker who sings is a person wanted by God. He is very close to the Russian person.

K.M.: Yes, the Russian people are close to the likeness of God. We started from the fact that Christ was a carpenter. So we strive to reach this ideal and to reach this ideal we have to work, of course.

A.T.: People with simple professions should "rejoice and be happy". That is why one should not honour top managers as their main demiurge, but those who have a plane in their hands. Those who sow bread, those who heal, those who build and tune, those who drive heavy machinery. People with simple work, who have simple tools in their hands, are the heroes of orthodox civilisation.

K.M.: Because they have time for prayer.

A.T.: It is about the righteous Joseph the Bearer. The old man who taught the little Christ to work. Generally, the feast of the worker is the feast of Joseph.

K.M.: That was the letter "T": creative work.

Translation by Lorenzo Maria Pacini