Chastity, a Lovely Virtue

by Edna King

HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT OF CHASTITY AS A VIRTUE THAT GIVES US GREATER FREEDOM TO LOVE OTHERS?

Isn’t chastity for repressed, unattractive, joyless old people? The current secular view is that chastity is only about not having sex – which is viewed as unhealthy, and simply too much to ask of anyone. Why even discuss dusty old chastity?

Maybe we’d benefit from looking more closely at the definition of chastity.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, chastity is the quality or state of being chaste such as abstention from unlawful sexual intercourse, abstention from all sexual intercourse, purity in conduct and intention, and /or restraint and simplicity in design or expression.

It seems that chastity has a more nuanced meaning than we might have thought and maybe some shades of chastity are applicable to all of us, while other parts are for seasons or stations of life. Abstaining from unlawful sexual intercourse, or abstention from all sexual intercourse are the meanings of chastity with which we are most familiar,  but the others are also aspects of this lovely virtue. Having purity in conduct and intention seems like a good goal for anyone, while restraint and simplicity in design is a hallmark of elegance.

What is an Orthodox view on chastity? Russian Bishops, in a recent document, define chastity as an inner harmony of body mind and soul.  What images come to mind when you think of an inner state of harmony? Might chastity actually be a virtue that is lovely, peaceful, sane, and balanced?

“For what is chastity but a virtuous mind added to watchfulness over the body?” wrote St. Cyprian. He continued, “Chastity promotes the freedom in relationships that comes with innocence, and the beauty of modesty.”  Innocence, modesty, virtue-these are attractive qualities that a chaste life promotes.

What can chastity look like in your life, in your circumstances, especially during Lent?

Lent gives us opportunities to practice chastity by developing greater self-restraint, intentional prayer, and relying on God’s grace to help us.   During Lent,  we’re encouraged to restrict entertainment and other distractions but it’s a lovely time for building our friendships in person with one another and for deepening our prayer life. In place of expensive, rich, or too many fast food items, we can adorn our tables with fresh fruits, vegetables,  and simple but delicious meals. We experience the peace and beauty of somber penitential services- which are purposefully repetitive so we can be quiet inside ourselves and listen to God. Lent is an opportunity to practice some of these nuances of chastity and to bring greater harmony- physical, spiritual and emotional harmony- into our lives. All of these behaviors promote fidelity in marriage and wise restraint in singlehood– of heart, mind, and body.

Chastity is not a negative word, it’s not just about sex, it’s a positive state of beauty which results from freedom from passions which enslave us while paradoxically tempting us with false forms of the very freedoms they steal.  

For Further Reading:

  • Prayer Preserves Chastity – two words on prayer from    St. Ephraim the Syrian

  • A  document  by Russian Bishops about many social concepts including chastity: 

  •  Woven, Family Life Ministry’s book for teen girls includes the topic of chastity

Chastity-woven.png

Whither do Our Thoughts Wander

by Edna King

 What are you thinking about right now? What were you mulling over five minutes ago? Before that it was something different, right? So are you thinking about what is actually happening right now or in the back of your mind are you pondering something that has already happened or perhaps stressing about something that may or may not happen in the future?

We spend much of our time thinking about painful things in the past or fears for the future and that is a root cause of anxiety and stress. Worry about what came before and what may be looming ahead keep us stuck in painful cycles where we search for solutions for problems that we can’t solve while neglecting what is right before us at this present moment.

A study called “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind” done in 2010 by Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert at Harvard University concluded that most people spend more than half of their time thinking about things that are in the past or may happen in the future instead of what’s happening right now. Their study showed that happiness is found by being present in the actual moment- even if that moment is spent washing dishes!

In his book, Truly Human, author Kevin Sherer explains that we do this as a coping mechanism- a way to attempt to soothe our anxieties and fears because our minds are natural problem solvers. We rehearse painful events from our past, looking for ways it could have gone better. We stress about events in the future, worrying about days that haven’t happened yet and trauma that only exists in our imaginations.  Worry doesn’t make our future easier to handle- it increases the magnitude of stress by taking away the joy of this moment. We might also put off happiness because tomorrow is going to be so much better. Maybe it will be better, but today is the moment that your life touches eternity.

Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica’s book, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, supports the idea that a wandering mind is a stressed mind. He describes a wandering mind as a whirlpool of thoughts. Taking every thought captive, as Saint Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5,  and centering those thoughts on the present, brings order and peace back to our minds. By focusing on right now, we open our minds up to Christ’s presence with us in each moment.

Whither do our thoughts wander-woven .png

Woven, FLM’s book for teen girls, lists practical steps that anyone can take to deal with stress. Here are a few that may be helpful:

  • Remember- it’s what’s going on with you, not what’s wrong with you

  • Calm yourself by breathing deeply and slowly.

  • Drop anchor mentally by praying a simple prayer and letting yourself focus on the present moment.

  • Transcend your emotional brain and tune into your logical brain by asking yourself simple questions like “ Why am I really upset? Is this thing that’s stressing me going to happen right now? Will I remember this in two years?”

  • Take care of your body. Is it anger or ‘hanger’?

  • Do something for someone else to take your mind off yourself.

  • Take care of your present responsibilities. Walk the dog, do the dishes, do what needs to be done and be present while you do it.

These strategies help us to be watchful. Stressful, wandering thoughts will come to us anyway, but over time we can develop increasing control, or watchfulness, over which thoughts nest in our heads. Be watchful and guard your heart and mind against those painful scenarios of the past which magnify the original pain as we relive them, and the agonizing fears of a future that probably won’t ever happen anyway but still leave us traumatized. The present moment is enough, and Christ meets us here, in this moment.

“We carry about with us impassioned images of the things we have experienced. If we can overcome those images we shall be indifferent to the things they represent. For fighting against the thoughts of things is much harder than fighting against the things themselves, just as to sin in the mind is easier than to sin through actual action.”

— St. Maximos the Confessor

Our memories can magnify and distort our painful memories, causing us to suffer over and over again as we recall past events that were harmful to us. These memories make it harder for us to hold on to hope for the future. Call your mind back to this moment, to the real things in this moment, because that is enough for you to deal with. Pray for God’s help in your true daily struggles and let the whirlwind of past and feared stresses become a calm sweet breeze.

Being a Christ-like Friend

In John 15:15, Christ calls us all His friends. It’s a beautiful thought- we are Christ’s friends! In the Louvre in Paris, there is an 8th Century Coptic Icon of Abba Menas and Christ. The French call it “Christ and His friend”. This icon reminds us that Christ is our friend and He models for us what true friendship looks like.

In the icon, Christ has His arm around Abba Menas. Friends encourage each other. We encourage each other to do good things, to be better, to draw closer to Christ. Christ is holding scripture in the icon, and encouraging each other with scripture and prayer is what Christian friends do. Most of us are aware of our faults, and we don’t hear about them well from other people anyway, so focus on the good. Build your friend up in honest ways. Cheer your friend, complement your friend, and encourage your friend!

Have you ever had someone forgive you for something you forgot or messed up, but then put restrictions on the forgiveness?  They might say,“I forgive you, but you need to do this favor or let me have my way for the next week” or something like that. That kind of string attached forgiveness is not forgiveness. Be kind and forgive your friends kindly, the way you want to be forgiven, the way Christ has forgiven us.

Christ is ready to listen to us at any time, not on His schedule, but whenever we approach Him. Contrast the friends you have who listen to you with the friends you have who are busily composing their own response while you’re talking. We all think we’re so smooth we can look like we’re listening when we’re really only half-way listening, but everyone can tell the difference. Be a listener and hear what your friend is saying– this is a way of valuing and loving your friend above yourself.

Christ doesn’t deceive us with pretty lies. He is truthful, as we should be. Sometimes we need to tell our friend unpleasant truths. It’ll be a lot easier for us to say a hard truth, and for them to hear us, if we have a pattern of encouraging them, cheering them, forgiving them, and truly listening to them before we have a tough conversation with them. Be honest, but soften the honesty with kindness. Having the focus on our friend, instead of being stuck on ourselves will grow our friendships.

Be a friend to others, the way Christ is a friend to you, and your friendships will grow and be inspiring. Welcome Christ into your friendships and love will abound.

What are some other ways Christ has modeled friendship for us? There are many. 

In FLM’s book, Woven, we have a whole chapter on friendship and this article has been adapted from that chapter.