This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!
The third virtue listed in “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” is chastity. Chastity is the virtue which we must pursue in contrast to the sin of lust, which is the impure and unworthy desire for something evil. But how exactly do we define chastity? So often we think of chastity only in terms of sexual purity. That is an important part of it, but chastity is much more than that! Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the quality or state of being chaste” (with sub-definitions which include abstention from sexual intercourse, purity in conduct, and even simplicity in design) as well as “personal integrity.”
St. Cyprian offered an even simpler definition: “For what is chastity but a virtuous mind added to watchfulness over the body?” In other words, to live a chaste lifestyle, we must have pure thoughts and carefully watch over what our body does. He understood that it is a constant process, offering the solution of how we can manage to live in that constant state of mindful purity: “chastity is ever to be cultivated by men and women; it is to be kept with all watchfulness within its bounds. The bodily nature is quickly endangered in the body, when the flesh, which is always falling, carries it away with itself… But in the midst of these things, nay, before these things, in opposition to disturbances and all vices, help must be sought for from the divine camp; for God alone, who has condescended to make men, is powerful also to afford sufficient help to men.” So we need to ask for help, and only God is able to help us to live in chastity!
St. John the Ascetic suggested that chastity, or purity of heart, should be the underlying goal for everything we do. “Everything we do, our every objective, must be undertaken for the sake of purity of heart…” He also offered practical advice for how we can go about living in that way: “…we must practice the reading of the Scripture, together with all the other virtuous activities… to hold our hearts free of the harm of every dangerous passion and in order to rise step by step to the high point of love.” Some of those practices are easier than others to carry out! But God will help us to do so, if we ask Him for help.
Fr. Justin Popovich suggested the following ways to measure whether or not we are attaining purity: “The sign of purity is: to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep; to be in pain with the sick and in anguish with the sinners; to rejoice with the repentant and to participate in the agony of those who suffer; to criticize no man and, in the purity of one’s own mind, to see all men as good and holy.” That’s a tall order, and helps to explain our earlier statement that God alone can help us live a chaste life. But it will be worth it: the person who lives a chaste life will be blessed. How blessed, you may ask? Well, St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote, “Every man who loves purity and chastity becomes the temple of God.” There is no greater blessing than to have God Himself dwelling within you!
So, dear brothers and sisters, let us pursue chastity with all of our hearts! It will not be an easy task. But with God’s help, we can grow in purity and slowly become a temple where He will dwell!
“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)
Here are additional quotes and resources that can help us as we pursue chastity:
“Chastity is the dignity of the body, the ornament of morality, the sacredness of the sexes, the bond of modesty, the source of purity, the peacefulness of home, the crown of concord. Chastity is not careful whom it pleases but itself. Chastity is always modest, being the mother of innocency; chastity is ever adorned with modesty alone, then rightly conscious of its own beauty if it is displeasing to the wicked. Chastity seeks nothing in the way of adornments: it is its own glory. It is this which commends us to the Lord, unites us with Christ; it is this which drives out from our members all the illicit conflicts of desire, instills peace into our bodies: blessed itself, and making those blessed, whoever they are, in whom it condescends to dwell.” ~ St. Cyprian, “Of the Discipline and Advantage of Chastity” This epistle by St. Cyprian on chastity is a challenging but necessary read: http://orthodoxchurchfathers.com/fathers/anf05/anf05129.htm#P9762_3046993
“Let us begin with an explanation of the word chastity. In Russian, the word is ‘tselomudrie,’ which means literally, “integrity of thought,” and consists not only in physical preservation (one can remain a virgin in body, but commit terrible acts of depravity in the mind; and to the contrary—one can live in a pious marriage and preserve his or her soul from sin), but also in a proper, wholesome, undisturbed view of the opposite sex, with purity of soul.” Read more about the role of chastity in relationships between men and women in this article by Priest Pavel (Gumerov): http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/46284.htm
“Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and corruptible body is rivaling the celestial spirits in a truly marvellous way.” ~ St. John Climacus
“Indeed, who was ever able to grasp Christ or His Spirit perfectly without first purifying himself? Chastity is the exercise which from childhood prepares the soul for glory by making it attractive and lovable, and with ease brings this adornment for her to the next world untried. It holds up great expectations as the reward for small toil and renders our bodies immortal. It is only fitting then that all should gladly praise and esteem chastity above all other things; some, because by practicing virginity they have been espoused to the Word: others, because by chastity they have been emancipated from that condemnation, `Earth thou art, and unto earth thou shalt return.’” ~St. Methodius, “The Symposium: A treatise on Chastity”
“Offer to the Lord the weakness of your nature, fully acknowledging your own powerlessness, and imperceptibly you will receive the gift of chastity.” ~ St. John Climacus
A person can be raised up above the earth by two wings, one is simplicity and the other is purity of heart. You must be simple in your actions and pure in your thoughts and feelings. With a pure heart you’ll seek God and with simplicity you’ll find Him and be glad. A pure heart passes through Heaven’s gate with ease. Elder Amphilochios Makris – http://agrino.org/cyberdesert/makris.htm
“In an age where sexual expression is seen as one’s right, and where the view that one can not be fulfilled if they are not sexually active, keeping oneself chaste can be a daunting task, indeed.” Read Abbot Tryphon’s blog post on the need to submit to a spiritual father when pursuing chastity, here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2016/12/lust-6/
“Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Read this statement about chastity and purity from this SOYO document on Purity, Virginity, and Chastity: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf
Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose success in this area we can emulate: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/
Confession is an excellent beginning in our struggle toward chastity. Prayer is the reinforcement that we need to uphold that confession. Here are a collection of prayers that will help us: http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html