Vol. 2 No. 3 - Dormition 2007
Working for the Weekend
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy," - Exodus 20:8
With thanks to our Judeo-Christian roots, Canadians enjoy a two-day weekend. The observance of Saturday - the seventh day, on which God rested after the creation of the world - dates back to the Lord's first covenant with the Jews. With the Resurrection of Christ on what the Church Fathers call the "eighth day" - Sunday, the day that exists outside time, in the eternal joys of Heaven - the new day of Christian worship was established.
Each Sunday represents a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, a miniature Paschal celebration, with Saturday evening as the time of preparation for it. For the eternal salvation of our souls, and the salvation of the world, one would think that this would be more than enough.
Alas, the fallen human heart yearns for more, and more. With the advent of Sunday shopping in the 1980s, the three-day weekend has been perfected in Canada. For Canadians, the three day weekend is deeply rooted in the Canadian psyche, much more than British bank holidays (which can be any day of the week), or American civil holidays (which can fall any time, and which do not necessarily provide a day off work). Canadian three-day weekends have become thoroughly institutionalized, and we enjoy a wide variety of them - Good Friday, Easter Monday, Canada Day, Victoria Day, Labour Day, Civic Holiday - whether we recognize their meaning or not.
These secular feast days even establish the passing of the seasons on the civil calendar, in a near religious fashion. For example, ask yourself, if the date is June 28th, has summer arrived? Even if it is blistering hot outside, most Canadians would say no - summer arrives July 1st, on Canada Day. (Presumably, Canadians get three more days of summer than Americans, whose summer does not begin until July 4th). Similarly, the day before Labour Day is still summer; the day after Labour Day is most assuredly fall. If one does not believe this system of dating is taken with a religious level of seriousness, ask someone who works in tourism or the cottage rental market, or - better still - a public school teacher.
This delineation of the civil calendar in Canada - from three day weekends to the establishment of a two-month summer vacation - reflects the false god of the Canadian dream: the hunger for recreation. It is a false god joined inextricably to the false god of materialism.
The quest for a recreational life - working, in order that we may enjoy the weekend (or better still, the three or four-day Long Weekend), has led us to the point where stores are opened in most Canadian cities seven days a week, and where many folks - Orthodox included - work at least six days.
What is the fruit of this secular calendar? Primarily, it is a nation of souls who are tired, tired of the rat race of the work week, unsatisfied with the small pleasures awarded them on holidays, and physically tired from the never-ending quest for technological and recreational satisfaction, whether in their boats or on the golf course, at the cottage, or before their computer or television screen. It is all just empty - hopelessly empty.
Of course, this should not surprise us. We are told in the scriptures that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27); we have days set aside for rest and worship because God sanctifies time. The seasons of the year and the Feasts of the Church reflect this: if we do not have them, as human beings created in the Image of God, we try hopelessly to create them, in the form of secular holidays. We reconstruct the calendar in our own clever image, just as the French Revolutionaries tried to remake the cycle of the months and weeks - a change which left the French revolutionaries exhausted (they tried a ten-day week), and soon brought pressure for a return to the Christian calendar. Secular holidays in the name of recreation or for the veiled excuse simply to enjoy recreation for its own sake (such as the now-emptied tradition of "May two-four", presumably a day to honour the matriarch of European Royalty and Orthodox sovereigns by consuming vast amounts of beer, purchased in cases of - you guessed it - twenty four bottles) leave us empty, looking for something more. And so begins the quest for the next long weekend.
When someone takes time away to go to the cottage for a "holiday", we often forget that the word itself means "holy day"; the fact that we forget suggests just how much we have accepted the secular substitutes for the Feasts of the Church. Trips to the cottage provide a secular parallel for pilgrimage to monasteries, with the same ostensible goals (physical and spiritual refreshment, etc.), but with an important difference: the latter is all about Christ, while the former is all about me.
So what is the poor Orthodox Christian to do, other than to sit Grinch-like in his cave, avoiding all the joys of the world? Of course, this is the picture the secularist would paint, to somehow bring meaning to the secular approach to time. The truth is, as anyone who has tasted the joy of the Paschal celebration knows, the true and lasting joys of our lives come not from passing recreation (which is harmless, and often even helpful, albeit temporary), but from plugging into eternity. This is the point of the Feasts: to share in the joy of the saints, who dwell with Christ. This is also the joy of the Fasts: to live like the angels, not like carnal man, and to prepare ourselves in some small way to taste the Kingdom. Each week provides us with a little of each of these: a taste of Great Lent and Holy Week each Wednesday and Friday, and a taste of Pascha, the Risen Christ, and Holy Communion every Sunday.
I remember a conversation I had years ago with a woman, who bragged about her son's business success, who had to be on call at all times, and work essentially seven days a week. She could not understand why Orthodox Christians would stop working on Saturday night to prepare for Sunday with Vespers, and then swear off all work throughout the Lord's Day. She put it down to some sort of cultural psychosis on our part. When I asked her if her son was happy, she looked at me with absolute confusion, and replied, "He's rich!". "I know he's rich," I replied, "But is he happy?". There was no answer.
Father Geoffrey Korz, (Dormition, 2007)
© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2007.