Forbidden Fruit

An explanation of the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, Part 5

Part 1, Part 2
Parts 3 and 4

Photo: tabascohoy.com Photo: tabascohoy.com
    

“O Lord and Master of My Life! Give me the spirit of chastity!” This great ascetic and desert dweller, St. Ephraim the Syrian, prayed that the Lord give him the spirit of chastity. Could it really be that he had need of that prayer? He considered that he needed to pray for this, and all the saints prayed for this. Why? They knew that the Lord requires of them, as from all Christians, total, unconditional chastity not only of the flesh, but also of the spirit.

We do not and should not dare to violate chastity even in our thoughts, for the Lord Himself said, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matt 5:28). And no one can escape unclean thoughts; even the saints painstakingly struggled for many years with these thoughts.

St. Martinian, a young man, struggled desperately with this passion. When a profligate woman managed to get into his cell and tempt him, he stood on hot coals in order to overcome fleshly passion in himself.

So the saints struggled; they struggled stubbornly, for decades, and the main means for their struggle were fasting, humility, and prayer; for all the holy fathers say that there is no greater defense from fleshly desires than humility. If a person acquires humility he is freed of those desires, while those who are proud and foreign to humility are wholly overcome by this low passion.

How many Christians there are among us who do not consider this sin to be serious. “After all, I am pious,” they say, “I try with all my strength to fulfill the commandments of Christ and do works of mercy. Won’t the Lord forgive me this slight weakness?” Those who talk like that are deeply mistaken, for what they call a “slight weakness” the apostle Paul calls something entirely different. He is so strict in this regard that in his Epistle to the Ephesians he says, But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints (Eph. 5:3). We mustn’t even think about them or talk about them, as becometh saints.

He says that neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind … will enter the kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 6:9, 10). Isn’t the apostle pointing out that a sin against the seventh commandment is not just a weakness that God will forgive?

And where will the adulterers and fornicators be? Of course, in a place of darkness and eternal torments. Do not think that this passion is natural. Man’s nature is structured so that that people would give birth to children, and not so that they would defile their own selves. For, as the apostle Paul says, Every sin … is without the body (1 Cor. 6:18): pride, ambition, love of honor, envy, or anger, because these are passions of the soul; but fornication and adultery are in the body itself and defile not only the soul but also the body.

Didn’t he say that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19)? And if it is a temple, then it should be pure. To destroy the temple of the Holy Spirit, to make our bodies the members of a harlot, as the apostle exclaims, God forbid! (cf. 1 Cor. 6:15).

How many people there are among those who turn their fleshly passion into continual gratification, which makes them equal to the animals, who are distinguished by particular lustfulness. It is shameful for a Christian to be the same as a peacock.

For, says the apostle Paul in his Epistle, this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God (1 Thess. 4:3–5). For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness (1 Thess. 4:7).

He said, And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). If you want, remember this: You should crucify, mortify your flesh along with the passions and lusts. Needed is an enormous, daily struggle with all the flesh.

Those who have fallen into sin against the seventh commandment have to climb out of the abyss of that fall, calling for help from the One Who gave the commandment of chastity (cf. Ex. 20:14; Matt. 5:27–28); fervently pray and constantly remember what the apostle himself says: And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess (Eph. 5:18). In wine is fornication, for nothing so arouses our lusts as drunkenness—after getting drunk, a person becomes a plaything in the hands of the demon of fornication.

Whoever eats a lot, is always idle, does not want to work, is occupied only with entertainments, dancing, going to theatres and movies, and sleeps like a pampered woman till eleven in the morning will of course become a fornicator, for he is doing everything to make fleshly lust take him down its own path.

But if a person is busy constantly with physical or intellectual labor, he has no time to be distracted from his work. Having finished his work, in the evening he will only long for rest; he has no interest in lusts or debauchery. Therefore, the means for being freed from the rule of the demon of fornication are humility, fasting, intense labor, and constant prayer.

How infinitely many wretched people there are, especially among the young, who read with great relish passionate novels and stories or watch films in which there are dirty scenes of debauchery. What a poison and igniting of lust this is!

We should do otherwise—we should not ignite lust with pornographic descriptions and scenes, but strive to check it. As soon as we notice that lustful images have appeared in our thoughts we have to try to grab the snake by the neck and smash its head, for if we do not do it immediately it will imperceptibly creep into our hearts and turn them to the passion of fornication. We have to remember what the prophet David said in Psalm 136: Blessed is he who takes the infants and dashes them against the rock (cf. Ps. 136:9). The infants are our lusts and passions, and we have to war with them right away, before they have grown strong, before they have taken over our hearts.

Only when you have corrected yourself and received forgiveness of this sin in the Sacrament of confession will you be able to have access to the Holy Chalice.

This is a serious matter. Now you can understand why St. Ephraim the Syrian prays to God that the Lord would give him the spirit of chastity. Let all of us who are guilty of this sin also pray to God for salvation and call out like St. Ephraim: Help us, help us in this struggle. We are weak, and You are strong!

To be continued.

St. Luke, Archbishop of Crimea
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

3/6/2018

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