celibacy

Celibacy in Marriage: The Ignored Option

Without a doubt, the sex drive is one of the strongest desires of the flesh. In particular for men, it is very rare to go through the day without some lustful fantasy or thought occupy our minds for a few minutes.  Overcoming what some ancient fathers called fornication is so difficult that many of us modern Christians find it easier to give in to the temptations.  “Boys will be boys.”  “I can’t help it.”  “I was born this way.”  Sexual sins have now been excused into inevidiblity

The spirituality of ancient Christianity does not accept such normalization of immorality. In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Eucharistus was not a monk; but a secular man with a wife and a herd of sheep.  Two monks that thought highly of thier spiritual achievements were directed by God to see this seemingly ordinary couple.  When pressed for an answer to his way of life, Eucharistus admitted: … Since I married my wife, we have not had intercourse with one another, for she is a virgin; we live alone (1).

For a husband to have sexual relations with his wife is expected and that she is a virgin is an honor that she maintained her purity up to her wedding night. Jesus Christ held nothing against marriage as did Paul and the other Apostles.  Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and other patriarchs fondled and knew their wives in their blessed and lawful unions.  Why would Eucharistus and his wife, Mary, not be fruitful and multiply?

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Even before this was the story of Chrysanthus and Daria from the third century. The young man, Chrysanthus, became a Christian despite the objections of his father.  He resisted the advances of an immoral woman his father tried to set him up with.  Although giving into a marriage he didn’t wish for, he led his pagan bride, Daria, to accept the faith and that they would live as sibblings with no sex between each other.  They were cruelly tortured and martyred for their faith.  But the grace in which they bore their sufferings led others to believe in Christ as well (2).

Chrysanthus would have been in the wrong to have sex as an unmarried Christian. But, after converting Daria to the faith, he would have still been a pure man having intercourse with his spouse.  He was not a bishop, priest, or deacon.  There was no mandate from his priest not to have a Christian wife and start a family.  Daria, like any other virgin, may have expected to give her body to her husband on their wedding night.  Why would they resist the normal desires of the flesh even within religiously and socially acceptable boundaries?

What ancient Christian couples understood is that there is a great blessing to put aside something good for something better. In Orthodox Christianity, we married couples refrain from sex during our days and seasons of fasting as we do from meat and dairy products.  The early Church Fathers knew the necesity of developing faithful families and the beauty of sexual expression within a marriage.  But, they also understood that periodic self-control even between a husband and wife was beneficial for their spiritual growth.  Enjoying intimacy in prayer to the true Bridegroom brings a greater joy than the bride and groom can have with each other.  Striving to live as pure children of the heavenly kingdom is more important than producing offspring in this world.

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Modern Christianity and the nominal standard has failed to teach these lessons. It is bad enough that life-long celibacy and monasticism has been cast aside as too much as unnecessary (like anything else “Popish”) and impossible to maintain.  A husband and wife “denying each other” is out of the question if they are both in good health and youthful prime.  Even the not so young and elderly can take pills or go to therapist. For a husband or wife to have intimate relations with a sex therapist is not unheard of.  “Sex aids” can be ordered from online and print catalogues that sell orthopedic socks as if not having sensual pleasure is an illness.

What is truly ill is that our Christian society denies believers the idea of celibacy within marriage, even the practice of self-denial for periods of time for the sake of prayer and fasting. A fresh water trout seeks to live in cold streams of the purest water available.  With warmer water and pollutants, the fish become less healthy and may die out of the stream.  There is no reason to wonder why the divorce rate among Christians is as high as it is for everyone else.  We have removed the aim and practice of purity from the married life.  This opens the door for even more adultery, pornography and other sins.  We should not expect the secular world to live better morally when we are content to narrow our spiritual horizons.

 

  1. Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pg. 60
  2. Prologue of Ohrid Vol I, pgs. 323, 324
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Over-sexuality: How Orthodoxy Can Better Address the Real Problem

I think the Orthodox Church is making an awful mistake in its approach to abortion and same-sex marriages.  Of course, the ancient faith correctly stands against these sins based on the holy scriptures and the writings of the early fathers.  But, I have heard and seen several clerics and podcasters overlook the root cause of these evils and not promote the church’s best tools to fight against it. 

America is an over-sexual nation.  Boys start looking at porn as young as 8 years old.  In some cities, eleven year old girls have their first sexual encounters.  Even in our prime-time TV shows and other non-pornographic media, we are fed a diet of pursuing erotic gratification by any means necessary and legal.  We are taught that making love is the pinnacle of the human experience.  With such propaganda being such a part of our lives, unwanted pregnancies are going to happen.  Those attracted to the same-sex will seek social acceptability and flaunt their activity. 

The way to kill a weed is to kill the root.  Not the leaves nor flowers which can regenerate.  But, when the root is killed, the weed is killed.  When the root is weakened, the weed loses its vigor.  Thus to weaken and eliminate abortion and the gay marriage push,  Christianity must promote the fact that the pinnacle of human experience is union with God.  All other achievements and experiences are secondary and temporal.  In order for us to be eternal, we must seek the experience that is eternal.  When Americans understand and accept this truth, couples will reconsider how frequently they have intercourse.  Hetero as well as homosexuals will rethink their activity and better strive to put their will in God’s.

Anyone who fast according to Orthodox tradition gives up sexual activity as well as meat and dairy.  Thus, a married Orthodox couple permits themselves to make love only half a year.  Combine this with a woman’s regular cycle and time and energy spent in prayer disciplines and  other pursuits, married sex (as pleasurable as it is) does not mean quite as much as popular media promotes it.  Also, Orthodoxy offers the option of giving up one’s self to the monastic lifestyle.  People are free to devote themselves to celibacy and prayer.  This is a truly rebellious existance against the world of Sports Illustrated models and “pride” parades.  Orthodoxy has the tools of fasting and monasticism to attack the very root of abortion, gay marriage, and nearly every other toxic leaf and flower of our over sexed society.

But, too often, Orthodoxy clergy and laity settle for attacking leaves and flowers rather than the root.  There is nothing wrong with bishops marching for life.  But, why not have a march for celibacy as well?  There are atheist and secular voices who feel that too many people are thoughtlessly entering into sexual relationships and would like to see an option.  With over 2,000 years worth of holy men and women, I am certain that the clergy can find some common ground with these people as well as Catholics and Protestants.  Of course we should speak out against gay marriage.  But, the protection of our children from unnecessary sexual imagery and contact ought to be of greater concern.  I would dare say that most homosexual organizations are against the exploitation of children and would rather have gay teens pursuing academics, arts, and athletics rather than sexual activity.  Why not talk with the more sober-minded among this community?  As long as Orthodox leaders speak the same language as Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, the ancient faith will be seen as just another denomination of “hateful Christians.”   But if the Church has dialogue with the “pro-life” and “pro-equality” movements and offers God’s alternative, some of them may be led to Orthodoxy.  They will, at least, have more respect for your perspective. 

So to you bishops, priest,  scholars, and other Orthodox personalities (hello Ancient Faith Radio and OCN podcasters); use the tools of the great church you belong to.  It is because of your deep resources that some Protestants became attracted to Orthodoxy.