As the rest of the world celebrated Easter this weekend, Eastern Orthodox Christians held Palm Sunday services. In the Eastern Christian tradition, the first three evenings of Holy Week we celebrate a service that calls us to deeper spiritual attentiveness. Bridegroom Matins, which is based on Jesus’ Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (St. Matthew 25:1-13), drives home the message of watchfulness by repeating the hymn:
Behold the Bridegroom cometh at midnight
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
And again unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,
Lest you be given up to death and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, are You, O our God!
Through the intercessions of the Theotokos have mercy on us!
Ironically, for modern Christians midnight would be the time we would be most prepared – after we have said our prayers, repented of our sins, and long since tucked ourselves into our cozy beds.
But suppose Jesus’ did not come at midnight. Imagine Christ came back in the middle of a weekday afternoon.
For most of us, that would mean that Jesus Christ would return while we are at work – and that could be a most fearful thing, indeed. Multiple studies show that, if Christ wanted to return when we are paying no attention, virtually asleep on our feet, the workday would be the ideal time.
The average American wastes 21.8 hours a week at work – more than half of the work week. Researchers found the top five ways employees waste time at work are personal e-mail use, social networks, sports sites, mobile games, and online shopping. Employees spend a full 56 minutes each day using their mobile devices for non-work activities, according to a survey from OfficeTeam – and the amount of time wasted rises as the worker’s age decreases.
This is a transatlantic – or more likely universal – phenomenon. A third of workers in the UK say they are distracted from work three hours every day thanks to socializing, social media, even how nice the weather is. The Telegraph reports employees blame their lack of productivity on “gazing out of the window, the temperature, and sitting in an uncomfortable chair.” A tenth of workers say they manage only 30 minutes of productive work a day.
Of course, wasting time is a two-way street. The average British worker spends 13 full days a year in pointless meetings. Unsurprisingly, the number is higher on the continent. “A European survey of 2,000 employees in the UK, France, and Germany found the typical staff member spends a total of 187 hours – or the equivalent of 23 days a year – in meetings,” The Independent reports. “The poll claims 56 per cent of those meetings are generally ‘unproductive.’”
Traditional Christian teaching holds that wasting time is more than a universal pastime: It’s a sin.
St. Philaret of Moscow wrote in his catechism that the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Steal” applies to “eating the bread of idleness.” (Emphasis in original.) He said this specifically includes times “when men receive salary for duty, or pay for work, which they neglect, and so in fact steal both their pay and that profit which society, or he whom they served, should have had of their labor.”
This means the way we conduct our business life affects our eternal life. Whether we are honest, industrious, conscientious or slothful at work cannot be separated from our souls in a perfectly compartmentalized life.
To be caught by the Bridegroom while plugging along half-heartedly at work may mean being taken to our final judgment in sin. God intends our diligent labor to prove fruitful, for trade to scatter the gifts He has given to each region, and for honest relationships in the marketplace to forge bonds of peace between neighbors and nations. May the Lord find us watching and heeding His commandments (St. John 14:15) whenever He comes … even if it blindsides us at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.
One version of the Bridegroom Matins hymn begins at approximately 1:29 in this video: