Sunday, August 12, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar) on Chastity and Love

Arabic original here.

Chastity and Love

Why chastity? The fathers say that there is no virtue without it. It is the mother of virtues! This is the experience of the Church. But first, before we go on to discuss it, what is chastity? Is it that someone is not married? Or that he doesn't have sex? Not at all. Even Saint Basil the Great said that although he had never known a woman, he was not chaste. It is possible for a man to know his wife and remain chaste, just as it is possible for someone not to have sex and not be chaste. So chastity does not exclusively mean refraining from sex. The scope of one is not the scope of the other. It is possible for both to be practiced and for neither to be practiced. The role of chastity in the life of the believer is not the role of sex. Sex, in Christ, is for reproduction within the framework of blessed marriage and love. I say "love" after marriage or in marriage because what is known as "love" before marriage might be nothing but illusions, sentiments and feelings. What I mean by "love", particularly in marriage, is existential love, love as a communion of life, putting into action God's saying, "and the two become one flesh."

This is with regard to sex. But with regard to chastity, the purpose of chastity is virtue-- every virtue. If we speak of a virtue, we speak of love. Every virtue's purpose is love, otherwise it is not a virtue and it has no Christian value. For this reason, the Apostle Paul defined the purpose of the divine commandment for his disciple Timothy when he said, "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5). Thus chastity is for love and there is no love without chastity!

If one wants to take a closer look at the profound relationship between chastity and love, he finds himself from the first moment confronted with a dilemma. Why? Because as we encounter love as a positive gift, we encounter chastity as a negative gift. So how can something positive emerge from something negative? To be chaste means to refrain from something, while to love is to draw near to an existential encounter on the level of the heart, seeking visceral unity between man and God and between man and his neighbor as a result of that, then finally between the individual man and all humanity. In love there is initiative, effort, giving and persistence in that orientation, no matter how much one wavers between success and failure. You have an expression like this about love coming spontaneously from the Apostle Paul to the Philippians in his epistle to them, "I have you in my heart... you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection [the Arabic a7sha' here mirrors the Greek ἐν σπλάγχνοις, literally meaning 'in the inner parts' or 'the viscera'] of Jesus Christ..." (Philippians 1:7-8).

This definition of love, especially pertaining to the visceral affection of Jesus Christ, makes love spring forth from the innermost parts of the incarnate Son of God! So it is God's very own love that He pours out upon us. The innermost parts are at once the home of God's love and His life. So in Jesus Christ God gives us His love so that we may love with it and live in Him. Only His love within us makes our love for Him possible. Otherwise, there is no possibility of us having a relationship with Him. There can fundamentally be no relationship unless it is a relationship of love. The relationship cannot be a reaction. Reaction, in practice, does not constitute a relationship. In the relationship, there is consciousness, initiative, interaction, positivity and existential encounter-- and thus love! And God alone is love. So God alone is aware, takes the initiative and reaches out in the motion of love. If He created us to be in a relationship with Him, this is only possible once love abides in us. He gives us what is His. God is love, so He is a Trinity. The Trinity is perfect, unique love, beyond perfection and uniqueness. The love that exists in the Trinity is itself God's gift, so that we may have not only a relationship with Him, but a relationship according to the model of the Trinity among us. This gift is free. It is not from us, but from Him! Thus, the love of which we speak is not from chastity, but from God, while chastity eliminates what impedes the activity of God's love within us and prepares us for Him. What impedes this activity of love? Our love for ourselves. Our self-worship. This is the world's sin. And so to acquire love, one must die to himself, cause himself to perish, according to the biblical expression. That is, he must escape from the self or, one might say, from self-love, in order to be prepared for God's gift to him-- that is, God's love-- to be active in him, in order for one to be able to love. Otherwise, he cannot love, no matter what he does. This death to the self while seeking love, is precisely chastity and that which is realized by chastity. This is why we said that chastity is for love and there is no love without chastity.

Every person is, in his estrangement from God, full of himself. That's his state. He wants everything for himself. Automatically. Individually and collectively. This is what we call "the fall" and this is what the Book of Genesis expresses when it says, "The Lord said in His heart...'the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth'" (Genesis 8:21). This is a statement of reality. It not only indicates that there was a time when man was not like that, but it also indicates an inherited inclination toward evil with him that precedes consciousness. Otherwise, the world would not have been held captive by sin, evil and death. As soon as a person comes to awareness as a child, you find him becoming self-centered. This appears at first glance to be something natural and expected. We have often heard that a person starts out not distinguishing himself from his surroundings. Then when he becomes conscious of himself, distinguishing himself from his world, he starts to discover himself and then to discover his world and to interact with it. The popular conception is that consciousness implies the child's seeking everything for himself, as though this is the way of nature and as though by this he discovers himself. There is in fact an ambiguity in this conception. There is a need for distinguishing between the ego, the identity of the self, the "I, I, I" and the egotism that is a person's seeking everything for himself, the "mine, mine, mine." At this point of consciousness, I mean the child's first consciousness, egotism is hidden in the ego. If it is left to its own devices and those caring for the child, especially the mother, do not reign it in consciously and wisely within the framework of an early Christian upbringing, then this egotism will find for itself a nurturing environment that will cause it to grow and become by extension not only identical to the person's ego, but also it's driving force!

At that point, one's identity becomes equivalent to what he has, what he acquires. At that point, a person is compared to what he acquires. He is turned into an object! Then free reign is given to the passions hidden within him. He is transformed into an outburst of passions and he loses his identity, as though he were an instrument of passions. In this way one is proven to be not only a sinner, but evil from his conception. When sin is not accidental-- that is, unintentional-- there is no longer any distinction between it and evil. Sin explodes into evil and wickedness according to the circumstances. It is not, then, that a child is born evil, but rather that feeding his selfishness without any supervision or control, as though those around him were expressing their love for him by doing this, not realizing the severity of the harm they are causing him--- I say that feeding the child's selfishness in this manner raises him for brutishness-- that is, for persistence in self-love that, when the occasion arises, produces a brutality towards others, since it diminishes sensitivity to the other and what he suffers, which prepares him to commit every sort of evil.

In Christian terms, upbringing-- let's call it from the start "upbringing in chastity"-- actually starts from the womb [7asha- the same word that translates σπλάγχνον]. And so it does not first of all concern the fetus, but rather the father and the mother-- and especially the mother! The womb was, of old, polluted. Thus the repentance of David. He realized that "in sin did my mother conceive me." He longed from afar for the innermost parts of Christ the Lord. After Christ the Lord came from the virginal womb, we stand before a different horizon. We have come to talk about longing for others with the innermost affection of Christ (cf. Philippians 1:8), the innermost affection of the saints (cf. Philippians 8), and of brothers as innermost parts (cf. Philemon 12). And so, if we realize that Christ came to save sinners of whom I am first, then we also realize that our fundamental task is to acquire the innermost affection of Jesus Christ and that sin, after knowing Christ, can only appropriately be accidental, inadvertent or unintentional.

A woman guards her womb-- that is, her chastity-- first of all for the love of God and then for the future child, as though he is her womb. For his sake, not for her own sake. Only, at that time, what she does she does for God. Here the man is included in the woman. She is the womb par excellence. The way she is supposed to be is the way he is also supposed to be. This principled position is drawn from a new reality, that after being baptized for Christ, we no longer belong to ourselves, but rather have become a temple for God and God's Spirit dwells within us, according to the words of the Apostle Paul in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (3:16). Thus the warning: "If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." How does a person defile the temple of God which is himself? Through fornication! Do I take members of God and make them members of an adulteress? Fornication is precisely, deep down, for me to act contrary to God in denying His commandment, in straying from His love, in immersing myself in love for myself. In fornication, there is worship of the self instead of God. This is the source of every idol and therefore of every evil. For this reason, God destroys the person. That is, He gives him over to darkness, degradation, perdition and death... And so, it is chastity for one to preserve himself from fornication, in the broadest meaning of the word. Every member within us, we purify through chastity, through the divine commandment, through refraining from what is reprehensible, to prepare it as a temple to God, to sanctify it. That is, we set it apart as a dwelling-place for God through the outpouring of God's love within us, in every member in us, in every one of our cells, so that we may become in our entirety God's inner parts.

An upbringing in chastity can only be, as a rule, by way of osmosis, example, imitation. Chaste behavior by adults, and thence the indwelling of God's love within them and the resting of God's spirit with them, is only transmitted to the young by spiritual seeking. The chastity within us involves a wisdom all of its own and this wisdom is what educates in chastity. In this way chaste adults bring up chaste children. This spreads on the level of the spirit. This is the language of the spirit. It is first of all a question of deep, existential osmosis. In love, one gives his spirit. Thus there was Pentecost. God transmitted His Spirit to us in His perfect love, so that we might extend Pentecost among ourselves, into our souls and our bodies. Caring for one another, bringing up one another, in chastity, for a love that is Pentecostal, or else it falls into the abyss of individual and collective selfishness. The Spirit of God is to be exchanged among ourselves! Christ is with us and among us-- He is and was and shall be! What I have I give to you and what I do not have is impossible for me to give you, no matter how much I talk about it. Scripture speaks of that which exists and does not take the place of that which exists. In the Spirit, each gives the other the spirit that is in him, like the lit candle with the extinguished candle, without diminishing. Otherwise, he has nothing to give apart from futility and non-existence, even if he is adorned with every flourish of knowledge, science and philosophy.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
Sunday, August 5, 2018

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