The Spiritual Benefits of Physical Labor
Physical labor can have a powerful influence on the soul. Anyone who reads even a little of the writing of the Holy Fathers quickly comes across the phrase "love of labor". The effort involved in physical labor can be a great help in developing the strength and inclination to labor spiritually. In fact, a child who is not expected to exert himself physically will hardly be inclined to exert himself spiritually. Some sort of physical labor should therefore be a part of an Orthodox curriculum if the curriculum is to revolve around the effort to form the soul of the child, not just inform the brain.
Most of us have a sense of what the phrase “inform the brain” means, but what does “form the soul” mean? How is our soul formed? Did not God make it whole and complete? We know that prayer and good deeds are beneficial for our soul, and sin is bad for our soul, but our idea of the soul may not go beyond that.
The early Church Fathers had a much clearer concept of the soul and we can gain much by studying their writings. Fortunately, God has provided us with a few saints of modern times who have immersed themselves in the writings of the early Church and can pass on this knowledge to us. St. Theophan the Recluse, in his book, The Path to Salvation, gives us an excellent primer on the soul. St. John of Kronstadt’s My Life in Christ echoes the same understanding and insights.
The Church teaches that man's soul is trinitarian, in the image of the Divine Trinity Who created it. This trinity is seen in three aspects or capabilities, usually referred to as “mind, heart and will”, or “thinking, feeling, and acting”. A Christian education must be designed to engage all three capabilities of the soul, not just the thinking or intellectual part. Thus the whole soul - heart, mind and will - is given opportunities to come to the knowledge of God.