Then comes carnality. Of course, in monasticism this is fought by virginity and chastity—complete abstinence in relation to the flesh. This must be fought against in marriage as well—a married man must not be lustful, because lust destroys a marriage. Why? Because a lustful man looks at someone else as an object and not as a person. Indeed, there is a blessing for a certain fleshly connection with another, and it has a certain goal—the birth of children—but not only that. That is, this relationship has God’s blessing and the blessing of the Church, given in the Sacrament of Marriage.
But love of pleasure can’t be the purpose of marriage. Why? Because this pleasure-seeking impulse can’t be satisfied to the extent that someone imagines it. Because the other person is, of course, also a person, and they won’t always have the same disposition as the first: They could be sick, tired, or just have a different mood at the moment. There are different periods in marriage—the period of pregnancy or the absence of one of the spouses; when someone is sick or experiencing mental problems; when one’s not in the mood; and age itself is also a factor. That’s all true, isn’t it? As a man gets older much changes. And if he doesn’t learn how to conquer his passion of carnality, to respect the other person and see her as a person, as the image of God, as a Divine vessel, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, then he will debase his companion, consider her unnecessary, and the marriage bond will fall apart.
Our tradition testifies to how much it was revered before. We see how careful people were about entering into the Sacrament of Marriage pure and unblemished. They had, so to say, a known philosophy of purity before marriage. Their bond was sacred. Today people have sunk to the point where they watch films with depraved scenes, the vilest scenes, and they copy them, thereby debasing both themselves and others. This abolishes the sacred bond that God blessed in marriage; it destroys the foundation upon which true communication between two people should have developed.
Those of you who have experience in marriage know that in this union, people essentially seek to preserve themselves as persons, and can’t agree to be turned into objects; they can’t stand it. A union should be the result of love between two people. The union isn’t an end in itself. Fornication is a sin because there is no personal connection with the other in it—they’re just an object for quenching a passion, and nothing more. This is nothing but the debasement of the image of God, because although the other does it and receives a “reward,” although they do it because they want to, they don’t stop being the image of God. You shouldn’t insult and debase the image of God, even if the other person doesn’t understand.
I told some educated young people, who unfortunately would go around to all sorts of nighttime hangouts where there were girls dancing and who knows what else:
“How can you stand this? Going to watch these girls, how they dance naked, walking around the tables, doing a lot of things—don’t you feel bad for them? Are you really such an animal that you don’t even feel sorry for this person you see in front of you?”
This girl could be anything—it doesn’t matter how she’s acting. How are you acting here? Do you really not see this person as an icon of God, as a person whose life has turned into hell, given that they’ve gotten to a point where they do such things, working in this cabaret? Can’t you even think for at least a moment about what’s happening with them, what state their soul is in if they’ve fallen to this point?
The Fathers of the Church saw such people and wept, understanding what a hardship these girls were experiencing. There are numerous examples and stories about how ascetics and monastic saints went to such dens to lead these girls out of there, because they couldn’t bear to see how an icon of God turns into trash in the hands of the devil.
There are amazing stories. St. John the Dwarf went to one such place, paid to be let in, sat down on the harlot’s bed and wept. She asked him:
“Why are you crying, Abba?”
“What bad thing did Christ do to you, my child, that you came here? What are you blaming Christ for, that you came here? I see satan in your face,” he said. “Your face is the image of God, and you’ve become an instrument of satan.”
So, if you get to the point where you don’t see the image of God in the other and you see them as an object of desire, then you’ve suffered a defeat. Marriages are ruined by this. Why? Because we get married, having been taught to look at the other not as a person, but as a sex: “man,” “woman,” “a handsome man,” “a beautiful woman,” and a lot of other things. But how many years will this man and this woman be together? Perhaps ten or fifteen years, and then? The neighbor starts to look good, or an employee or co-worker. Because your goal was originally pleasure, lust—that was the goal of your marriage. Now you’ve already gotten used to a different face—it no longer has the charm and beauty it used to have for you. If so, then you’ve already fallen. You haven’t learned to perceive the other as a person. That’s why many married people today get to the point where they fight, kick each other out, and hate one another.
From the experience I have as a spiritual guide I can tell you that I’ve seen married couples, and especially wives, who literally hate their husbands because they consider them rapists, animals; because they look at their wives this way. Of course, the wives are also to blame, because they first allowed themselves to be looked at this way. They should have immediately put those men in their place and taught them to treat them right. But when someone is young he has a superficial attitude to everything; it’s not easy for him to act mature. But you can’t remain a vessel and a thing for someone else your entire life. There will come a time when your “I” will rise up and push the other away.
This is how many problems arise in relationships. But, on the contrary, if a man is chaste and looks at his wife, his companion, as an icon of God, as a co-worker of God, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, then he understands that this relationship, this marital union, this sexual relationship is a blessing, and a joy, a haven that God gave him to have a certain comfort in difficult moments on the familial path. But if you stay in the haven and turn the sexual relationship into an idol, then you’ve killed your marriage.
There are people who make a good start and are truly in love with each other in the right sense into deep old age. They respect each other. And they never mocked one another from any point of view—neither spiritually nor bodily, because whoever mocks someone bodily also mocks them spiritually, and they break down and turn away from the person who mocked them. Man isn’t just a body, but also a soul. It’s very hard to look at spouses who are completely disgusted with one another, because they’re on the wrong path. One wants some ludicrous things because his sole goal is pleasure, and the other rejects him, whether she had the right to or not, because “he doesn’t ask me whether I’m alive, whether I’ve died, whether I’m comfortable, whether I’m offended! The only thing he’s interested in is sex. Nothing else. So I don’t want him. I can’t accept it; I can’t be just an object for this person anymore!”
This proves that you can’t limit your relationship and love to pleasure seeking. Therefore, you have to learn chastity and restraint even in marriage. Of course, there are periods when people should abstain: A woman can’t have spousal relations when she’s pregnant; there can’t be such relations when one of them is sick, or has some other reason why he or she can’t have intimate relations. And here the Church educates us: There is a period of fasting, abstinence, when there’s a prohibition on all of this—the period preceding marriage, with the purpose of accepting the other as a person, not as flesh. And all this teaches you to live and perceive the other chastely.
When we begin our path with chastity and abstinence, we move forward, because our relationship with another will be proper. Then the love of God supports our life, and our relations and other matters acquire a sacred character.