April 6, 2022

An Interpretation of the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian: On Chastity (6)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

"Lord and Master of my life, bestow on Your servant a spirit of chastity."*

Have you paid attention to the fact that even such a great ascetic and desert-dweller, such a great saint as Ephraim the Syrian, prayed that the Lord would give him the spirit of chastity. Did he, the holy elder, really need this prayer? It is not for us to judge, but he himself judged that it is necessary to pray about this, and all the saints prayed about this.

Why did they pray about this? Because they knew that the Lord required from them, as well as from all Christians, complete, unconditional chastity, chastity not only of the flesh, but also of the spirit. Even in our thoughts, we do not dare and should not violate chastity, for the Lord Himself said, “Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). No one can avoid unclean thoughts, and the saints struggled painfully with these thoughts for many years.

I have already told you about how the Monk Martinian, a young man, fought desperately against this passion, how, when he was seduced by a depraved woman who managed to enter into his monastic cell, he stood on the burning coals in order to overcome the carnal passion in himself.

In this way the saints fought for decades, and the main means in their struggle was fasting, humility and prayer, for all the holy fathers say that there is no greater protection from carnal lusts than humility.

A person, if he acquires humility, is freed from them, and proud people, alien to humility, are completely overwhelmed by this base passion. Remember this: humility is the first and most important way to free us from lust.

Do you know how many among us are easily, extremely easily related to the violation of the seventh commandment, how many such Christians who do not consider this sin a serious sin, who say: “After all, I am pious, I try my best to fulfill the commandments of Christ, I try to do acts of mercy, won't the Lord forgive this little weakness?"

Those who speak so are deeply mistaken, for what they call a small weakness, the apostle Paul calls it quite differently. He is so strict in this regard that in the epistle to the Ephesians he says: “But fornication and all uncleanness and covetousness should not even be named among you, as befits saints” (Eph. 5:3).

You can’t even think about them, you can’t even talk about them, as befits saints. He says that adulterers and fornicators and drunkards will not enter the Kingdom of God. The apostle directly says that those who violate this commandment - fornicators and adulterers - will not enter the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9).

And where will they be? Of course, in a place of darkness, in a place of eternal torment. Think about it. Do not any of you say that nature itself is so arranged that this passion is natural. This is completely wrong, human nature is designed so that people give birth to children, and not to defile themselves. For the Apostle Paul says that every sin is outside the body: pride, vanity, ambition, envy, anger, since these are all passions of the soul, but fornication and adultery is in the body itself, defiles not only the spirit, but also our body.

Didn't the Apostle Paul say that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and if the temple must be clean, then our bodies must be clean, not defiled by anything. We are not to destroy the temple of the Holy Spirit, to make the members of our body members of a harlot. The apostle says with horror: “Let it not be so!” (1 Corinthians 6:15)

How many among people are those who turn carnal passion into a constant pleasure, the most impure, the basest pleasure, which makes them equal to those animals that are distinguished by special lust: roosters and baboons.

It is shameful, shameful for a man in general, and even more so for a Christian man, to equal himself with a baboon. It is a shame, a shame to forget that his body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. For the apostle Paul says in his epistle: “The will of God is your sanctification, that you abstain from fornication; so that each of you knows how to keep his vessel in holiness and honor, and not in the passion of lust, like the pagans who do not know God. For God has not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5:7).

The holy apostle said: "Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts" (Gal. 5:24).

Do you want to be Christ's, do you want to be friends of Christ, sons of God? If you want this, then remember: you must crucify your flesh with its passions and lusts, mortify it. You need a huge, daily struggle with your flesh.

This struggle is given differently to different people, for there are blessed people who do not have great sensuality, and there are others who by nature, inherited from their parents, suffer from an unusually high sensuality and lust.

I know such an unfortunate person - one unfortunate woman, extremely pious, who inherited such exceptional lustfulness from her parents. I know how she struggles with this lust. She fights with all her might, comes to self-torture: she collects thorns, prickly thorns, and crushes them with her hands so that the thorns stick into her hands. She suffers, and yet she falls. But not only such unfortunate ones fall, but also many of us, who find it much easier to abstain.

What can we say about such a fall? Let us say that just as with every fall, so it is possible and we must rise from this fall. We fall often, we fall in many respects, and if we fall in this respect, then we must climb out of that abyss, from that abyss into which we fell, climb out with all our might, calling for the help of the Holy Spirit, like a person who has fallen into an abyss, to climb out from it.

And what do people who fall into the abyss do? They get out of it with all their might, not sparing their hands, stained with blood, scratched on sharp stones, their nails torn off, their legs wounded - trying with all their might to get out.

So those who have fallen into sin against the seventh commandment must climb out of the abyss of falling, calling for help from the One Who gave the commandment of chastity, they must pray, pray fervently. We must remember, constantly remember what the apostle says: "Do not get drunk with wine, in which there is fornication" (Eph. 5:18).

There is fornication in wine, for nothing excites our lust so much as precisely drunkenness: having drunk wine, a person becomes a plaything in the hands of a prodigal demon.

A person who eats excessively, who is always idle, who does not want to work, who lives riotously and is only busy with entertainment, dancing, going to theaters and cinema, a person who sleeps like pampered women until 11 o'clock in the morning, will certainly and inevitably be a fornicator, for he does everything so that the lust of the flesh will bind him in his fetters.

And if a person is busy with constant work, physical or mental, if there is no time to be distracted from this work, having finished his work, in the evening he will strive only for rest. He will soon be satisfied with the necessary food and go to bed; he needs nothing so much as rest, he has no time for lust, no lewdness.

So, therefore, humility, fasting, strenuous work, constant fasting, constant prayers are the means by which we can free ourselves from the power of the prodigal demon. And how infinitely many unfortunate people are there, especially among young people, who read passionate novels and stories with great interest and insatiability, which describe dirty images of depravity and lust. What a poison! If a person relishes them in a dirty novel or story, then he kindles his lust.

And we must act differently: not only not to incite lust with pornographic writings and pictures, but we must strive to dispel lust, and as soon as we notice that such images appear in our thoughts, catch it and try to grab the snake by the neck, near its head, and smash its head, for if we do not do this, then the serpent will imperceptibly crawl into your heart and poison you with fornication. And the seductive, impure images that the ancient serpent instills in your heart will easily and quickly pass into admiring these thoughts, and by admiring them it then passes into the deed itself.

We must remember what we heard recently in Psalm 136: you need to grab these Babylonian babies by their feet and smash their heads against a stone, while they are babies, before they mature, before they take possession of your heart (Ps. 136:9).

This is the task before you: the task of complete chastity, chastity not only of the flesh, but also of the spirit. But, as I said, very many take the sin of fornication lightly, do not consider it serious, and our job is to stop you, to make you think again.

What can help you with this? Those who correct themselves and receive remission of this sin at confession will be admitted to the Holy Chalice. And if any of you receives such an excommunication from Communion for a while, let him not complain, do not be upset. We must think deeply and say to ourselves: "If so, then the situation is serious; it seemed to me a small sin, but the Holy Church excommunicates me from Communion." Do not be upset, do not think that you can die without receiving Communion of the Holy Mysteries. Any prohibition of Communion is lifted in case of mortal danger.

Now you understand why Ephraim the Syrian prays to God to give him the spirit of chastity. May we, all sinners, all guilty of this sin, pray to God for salvation and turn to Saint Ephraim the Syrian for help: “Help us in this struggle: we are weak, but you are strong!” Amen.


* The Greek version of the prayer would have the word here be translated more along the lines of "moderation" or "temperance", and not just limited to "chastity". "Chastity" replaced "moderation" in the Slavonic translation of the prayer, but the implied meaning is still there.