Southerners have pointed to the benefits of an agrarian way of life for generations, that it is the mode of life best suited to caring for the creation and for inculcating virtues in man: humility, dependence on God, patience, generosity, hospitality, supplying the needs of one’s household, patriotism, and so on.
But there is something more in agrarianism that seems to be overlooked here in the South at the moment, something key to ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12): The hard work of tilling the earth (and the contemplation of the creation that is closely bound up with it) is both a spur to repentance and right living and a safeguard against sin. In exploring these intertwined ideas, we will delve into the writings of the Holy Fathers of the Church, those most helpful guides to the Christian life, who are also a part of the Southerner’s Christian inheritance but whose writings often go unread by them.
St John Chrysostom (+407), the ‘Golden-tongued’, one of the greatest preachers to arise in the Church, with his commentary on Genesis 3:17-19, is a good place to begin. In it one will hear emphasized, amongst other things, the familiar theme of human limits often found in Southern agrarian literature:
3:17-19 And unto Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat of the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken. For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (KJV).
. . . Behold the reminders of the curse! Thorns it will bring forth, He [God] says, and thistles. I will do this so you will endure severe labor and cares and spend your whole life in sorrow, that this might be a restraint for you, that you might not dream that you are higher than your station; but that you might constantly remember your nature and might henceforth not allow yourself to come to a similar state of deception.
“Thou shalt eat of the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” See how after his [Adam’s] disobedience everything was not as it had been before in his life! I, He says, bringing you into this world, wanted you to live without afflictions, without labors, without cares, without sorrows; to be in contentment and prosperity and not be subject to bodily needs, but to be a stranger to all this and enjoy perfect freedom. But since such freedom was not of benefit to you, I will curse the earth so that henceforth it will not be as it was formerly, giving forth fruit without sowing and cultivation, but will do so only with great labor, exertion and cares. I will subject you to constant afflictions and sorrows, and force you to do everything with exhausting efforts, that these tormenting labors might be for you a constant lesson to behave modestly and know your own nature (Genesis, Creation, and Early Man, p. 269-70).
Another remarkable Father, St Symeon the New Theologian (+1022), speaks in a similar way:
And so it is that these are our sins, that is, that we do not patiently bear the temporal chastisements of God and do not give thanks for them but becoming presumptuous as if we were enemies of God we go in a certain sense against that Divine decree that states in the sweat of thy face thou shall eat thy bread (Gen. 3:19), and we exert all our strength so as to find repose and we do not find it because there is no opportunity for us to escape from labors and sweats, and from this being yoked to needs, no matter what we might do.
Therefore, fortunate is he who endures all these temporal chastisements with gratitude, confessing that he has been justly condemned to them for the ancestral sin. Yea, he will find repose from his labors; for by reason of these chastisements the All-good God has given death to men, so that those who bear them with gratitude might rest from them for a time, and then might be resurrected and glorified in the day of judgment through the new Adam, the sinless Jesus Christ and God Who was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25) (The First-Created Man, p. 61).
This is a warning to us not to live a life of ease (which has become the goal of modern man) that dulls the soul. Without hard work to humble us, our pride will swell, and another disastrous fall into evil with all its terrible consequences will follow. Too much mechanization, labor-saving devices, and the like - that is, attempts to undo the Fall and to conjure up Eden here in the world apart from God’s ways - are a threat not just to human dignity, sound economics, and the like, but to our spiritual health, our very salvation. But here our memory can be put to good use - in particular, the memory of the Paradise we have lost:
. . . let us note the spiritual benefit of being close to Paradise, of still seeing the place and state from which man had fallen and to which he is called to return. St. John Chrysostom writes:
The view (of Paradise), even if it aroused in Adam an unbearable grief, at the same time afforded him much profit: the constant beholding (of Paradise) served for the grieving one as a warning for the future, so that he would not fall again into the same (transgression) (Genesis, pgs. 285, 288).
But can we see Paradise at all today? In a sense we can. Blessed Fr Seraphim Rose (+1982) says,
Even in our fallen state, can we not be reminded of Paradise and our fall from it in the nature that surrounds us? In the animals it is not difficult to see the passions over which we should be masters, but which have largely taken possession of us; and in the peaceful murmur of the forests (where so many ascetic strugglers have taken refuge) can we not see a reminder of the Paradise of vegetation originally intended for our dwelling and food, and still existing for those able to ascend, with St. Paul, to behold it (p. 252)?
Here we find a great encouragement not to transgress, lest we mar what few traces of Eden remain in this world. Toward such remnants the South has been keenly attuned from her beginning, and this may partly explain her slowness to embrace ugly, urbanized Modernity.
Abba Dorotheus of Gaza (+565), another highly gifted spiritual teacher, also enjoins us to remember Paradise, this time, however, as a goad to advancement in the spiritual life:
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The rest is at .
Please note: Since the intrepid, neo-Puritan guardians of morality, from Silicon Valley to Washington City, have gotten their underbritches tied into a knot over an alternative news and opinion site like USA Really, you may have trouble viewing it on some web browsers. If so, try an indie browser like Brave, . But like all good hypocrites, these neo-Puritans are busily doing the very things they are accusing others of doing: They have no trouble cramming their own nihilistic vision of freedom, etc. down the throats of unwilling people. Case in point, the pushing of sexual perversion onto the traditional peoples of the Ukraine, Serbia, Uganda, Georgia, etc. by various federal agencies of Washington City and/or NGOs. On the Ukraine in particular:
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!