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?
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.
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.
- Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pg. 60
- Prologue of Ohrid Vol I, pgs. 323, 324