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:
- On Pursuing Virtue: Chastity
- Prayer Preserves Chastity – two words on prayer from St. Ephraim the Syrian
- A document by Russian Bishops about many social concepts including chastity: https://mospat.ru/en/documents/social-concepts/
- FLM’s book for teen girls includes the topic of chastity: www.woveninhislove.org