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According to the Desert Fathers, there are some preliminary steps that one has to take before his quest for chastity. Here is what they say:


It is very unlikely for someone who is overcome by gluttony to be able to achieve chastity. That is the consensus of opinion of the Fathers. A full stomach, ignites the passions of the flesh. It makes sense that if one is not able to control his passion for food, he will not be able to control the more difficult sexual passion.


Oversleeping, say the Fathers, also contributes to increase in the sexual drive. One has to fight against oversleeping in order to avoid falling into sexual sins. The Bible actually advises us against oversleeping. Proverbs 6:9 exhorts us, “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?” And again Proverbs 20:13 advises us, “Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty.”


The Fathers insist that if we cannot control anger, we will not be able to control our carnal desires. The Fathers classify sins and they tell us that anger and fornication belong to the same category of “excitable sins”. One of the Fathers even tells us that the demon of anger and the demon of fornication are one and the same. One who is easily excitable to anger will be easily excitable to the dictates of the flesh.
Here is what the Fathers tell us about this:
As a person progresses in mildness and patience of heart, so also does he in the purity of body. And the further he has driven away the passion of anger, the more tightly will he hold on to chastity. There are two more factors that I would like to add from my experience with young people, and these are:


Alcohol is a very potent stimulus of the passions of the flesh. Resistance to sexual sins dissipates when one allows himself to drink even moderately. The great Shakespear realized this and wrote in one of his plays describing the effect of wine on sexual behaviour, “It creates the desire but takes away the performance!” Through the many years I have served as a priest, I have heard many horror stories about drinking and fornication, but this one stands in my mind. It concerns a 16 years old girl of German descent, who was very religious. She used to come and baby sit my children when they were little. We were very pleased with her, since she read the Bible to our children, a rare find even in the seventies. One day her mother told her, “You don’t have a life!Why don’t you attend the neighbourhood New Year’s party?” She agreed. Someone gave her this funny tasting orange juice and she drank it. Not only did she lose her virginity on New Year’s Eve, but she realized later that she became pregnant. The perpetrator was a married man with kids. The mother refused to allow her an abortion. She was a retired nurse, she went back to work to allow her daughter to keep the baby. Six month later, she died of a heart attack.


Dances are the most common way for “relationships” to start. Again, it suffices here to tell one of the many horror stories that sticks up in my memory. It was the eighties, and I had to go to the U.S.A. to serve instead of another priest on vacation. After communion, I was approached by a 13 years old girl who wanted to confess. I took her to the office of the priest I was covering for, and she went on crying and sobbing. I tried to calm her down, asking about the reason for her tears. Finally she started talking, “I had sexual intercourse”. It turned out she went to a dance (her parents were “enlightened”), danced with a 15year old boy, and before the night was over she had lost her virginity. “Did he rape you?” I asked, “No Abouna, I wanted it as much as he did. With the music and the lights and our bodies close to each other, I had no desire to resist.” That was her answer.
Let us return now to the Fathers. They tell us that even if we control overeating, oversleeping and anger, we still need another virtue before we can attain to chastity. They tell us,“You covet chastity, then covet humility, because without humility you cannot obtain chastity.” The most common problem in the fight against desires of the flesh is selfreliance. “I am going to do this and this, and I will have victory!” Let me give you a dictum about spiritual strife, anything that starts with “I” is doomed to fail!Unless we abandon relying on ourselves, we will fail and fail and fail. No one was ever able to control carnal desires by selfcontrol! Here is what one of the Fathers tells us in this regard:
We are unable to acquire chastity through our efforts, unless, while exerting ourselves constantly, we are taught in the school of experience that it is granted to us by the bounty of divine grace. For this reason, one should persevere tirelessly in his efforts, so that he will deserve to be freed from the assaults of the flesh, thanks to the divine gift. He must not believe that he will attain by himself the bodily chastity that he seeks.
In trying to explain this concept to young people, I use this analogy: Imagine a little child trying to reach a toy placed on a table. The table is too high for him to reach, so he tries to stand on his tiptoes but it doesn’t work. He stars jumping up and down but he cannot reach. He even tries to climb on some object or another, only to fall and hurt himself. Totally frustrated, he starts to cry. His father, who has been watching him, then reaches for the toy and gives it to him. The little child did not get the toy by his own efforts, but the efforts inclined the heart of his father to help him.
The problem is that we do the same, we try and try and fail and then in our frustration we cry, and God will give us a respite from the fight. But sooner or later, the devil will suggest to us that we did that by our own effort. Once you admit this thought, you lose everything and you are back to square one. The most amazing thing is that this keeps repeating itself, and we keep on repeating the same mistake without ever learning why we keep falling back. Abbot Chaermon has this to say about this state of affairs:
For each one of us who contends against the spirit of fornication, it is a notable victory not to expect relief through our own efforts. That is not easy even for the experienced. For when purity smiles on them ever so slightly, they immediately flatter themselves in the depths of their conscience by a pride that subtly slips in. They think that they achieved this by their own diligent zeal. Thus, it is necessary for them to be deprived of heavenly protection and to be oppressed by these passions which the divine power had extinguished, until they realize by experience that they are unable to attain the good of purity by their own strength and toil.
Again and again the mercy of God will give us a glimpse of purity, and again and again we will fall into the trap, stealing the work of the grace of God and ascribing it to our own effort. This goes on and on until we finally realize that only God’s grace can give us purity.
What can I do when I fall into this trap? First of all you have to realize that God allows these falls for your own good. Second, acknowledge that your pride is the reason for your fall and ask God to give you back His grace. Here is what Abbot Chaermon says:
When someone has begun to rejoice over an extended period of purity believing that he can no longer fall away from his virtue, he will start boasting within himself. But, when having been abandoned by the Lord for his own good, he realizes that the state of purity in which he placed his confidence is abandoning him, let him return at once to the Author of his integrity. One has to be trained by God through these oscillations until he is confirmed by the grace of God in the purity he is seeking. These “oscillations” may take years and years before reaching true chastity. But these oscillations are useful because they give us experience not only in fighting against fornication but also against pride and self-righteousness.
Do not be dismayed if you have been falling again and again in this trap, for it is difficult even for the experienced as Abbot Chaermon tells us. Amma Sarah, one of the great women ascetics of the desert, fought against fornication for fourteen years until God granted her freedom from this passion, and so did Saint Moses the Black.
Finally, when we are humbled by the many times we thought that we have prevailed only to discover that we did not, we fall into the state of the “littleness of heart” and we admit defeat and our total inability to win this war. It is then that God intervenes and grants us a reprieve out of pity. Now that we have been exceedingly humbled by our dismal performance, grace surprises us, the war ceases and the temptations do not bother us anymore. Then we feel a wonderful warmth in our heart, because now we know with great certainty that this “sudden death” of the sinful movements of the flesh is a gift of grace totally unrelated to our efforts.



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