A Spirit of Chastity Grant Unto Me Thy Servant
(From the Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria)

In the second part of the prayer of St. Ephraim of Syria, we read the words “...A spirit of chastity... grant unto me Thy servant!”... To Orthodox Christians, this concept of целомудрие [lit. whole-mindedness], rendered in English as “chastity,” is an extremely important one 1) in Theology, 2) in the social realm of ecclesiology, i.e. in teachings on the Church, 3) in the realm of their Weltanschauung, the way in which we perceive the world, and finally, 4) in teachings on man.

1. The Church teaches that God is Three in Person but One in Essence. Each Person of the Most-Holy Trinity has its distinct quality: The Father gives birth to the Son and sends out the Holy Spirit. The Son is born of the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. However, despite the distinctions among the several Hypostases, the Persons of the Trinity are united in a real, profound, internal unity, comprising one indissoluble, indivisible, live-giving WHOLE. We chastely refer to the Most-Holy Trinity in the singular, and not the plural.

2. The next area in which we must be chaste is that of teachings about the Church, i.e. the Orthodox teaching on Sobornost’, or Conciliarity.

3. The Church’s conciliarity stems from the “conciliarity” of the Persons of the Holy Trinity: As the Father loves the Son and with Him forms a Tri-hypostatic Unity, so the unity of the Church is conceivable only as the love of all for one and one for all. Although the Church is hierarchical in nature, it is not a [hierarchical authority] based on “power” or “authority” endowed by various gifts, on the particular quality of the [Church’s] various vocations. Christ told His disciples: “...the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant...” (Matthew 20: 25-27). The authority in the Church rests in holiness, spiritual power, love, mercy, sacrifice, compassion, truth, creative work, and freedom...

Orthodox chastity in no way admits the Roman Catholic teaching as to Peter’s authority over the other Apostles or the Pope’s authority over the Church. Each of the Apostles is endowed by Christ with individual authority, apostolic meaning, not individually, but with all of the other Apostles, in the ENTIRE Apostolic COUNCIL. According to Orthodox teaching, the Church’s hierarchy, its priesthood, and its teaching office, all proceed from the UNITY of all in Christ. Before the priesthood as organization comes the priesthood of all Christians. The royal priesthood of the people of God (Peter 2: 9) pertains to the entire Church as the body of Christ. The entire Church is the “fullness,” and from out of that fullness comes the specific vocation, and specific function (and not authority) of hierarchical service. But the Church in its ENTIRETY comes before the hierarchy, and not vice versa. This is the целомудрие, the chastity of Orthodox teaching with respect to the Church. One should add that the Church is not only one in its Sobornost’, it also is only ONE.

There is but one mystical Body of Christ, but one Bride of the Lamb. In our era of ecumenical movements, when there is talk of unification of the Christian world, discussion can proceed only from the fact that Christ founded the ONE Church. Various Christian confessions can be united only if that unity stems from their faith in the unity of the already-existent Church of Christ.

The third point I would like to discuss is the chastity of the Christian view of the world. That chastity rests in seeing the world, the cosmos, as God’s complete Creation, in all its fullness. God is in all and all is in God. Therefore, the study of the world and its history, the study of science and its laws, its structure, the study of biological sciences, the study of the people that inhabit the earth, of the stars and the atoms... all is encompassed in the chastity of the Christian Weltanschauung, the Christian way of seeing the world.

It would be unchaste to forget what St. Paul tells us - that God “...will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth...” (Timothy 2: 4). That is to say, God wishes that all mankind, all of humanity, be saved. It would be unchaste to either ignore or reinterpret the Apostle’s words to the Romans, to the effect that if everything is of God and all things are through God, then everything will come unto God (see Romans 11: 36) and God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15: 28). The Apostle Paul chastely taught of the ultimate restoration of all by God.

Finally, fourth, Christian chastity rests in a faith-filled, integrated opinion of man. Man consists of soul, spirit, and body, and has the task of making common cause in a harmonious development and transfiguration of all three parts in harmony and in common. A pagan materialistic one-sided fascination with the flesh and its satisfaction is unacceptable to Christian chastity, and a super-ascetic Buddhist disdain for the flesh is alien to Christianity as well. The body is the temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. And in [Slavonic] тело-мудрие or chastity, share a common root.

Achievement of balance, calm and collectiveness in all of a human being’s function is the goal of wisdom, the goal of what is known as “chastity.” The ideal norm for human existence - the family, the “little church” - is a complete organism, an indivisible social atom living by the law of love, by the law of unity of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Accordingly, an unchaste attitude towards the little church, toward the family, results in the destruction of its unity, of its wholeness.

“O Lord and Master of my life... a spirit of chastity grant Unto me Thy servant” ...

Archpriest Victor Potapov



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