NOTE: This article is taken from The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 24. This is one of the few catechisms that are blessed for spiritual children under Geronda Ephraim—and by extension the Father Confessors under him—to read. Catechisms and authors to be avoided due to frequent errors: Metropolitan Kallistios Ware, Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, Archbishop Paul of Finland, Archbishop Lazarus Puhalo, Metropolitan Sotirios of Canada, Fr. Stanley Harakas, Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris, etc. the list is endless. Suspect publishing houses include Light & Life, Conciliar Press, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Synaxis Press, etc.
Men who are carnal and given to pleasure belittle virginity and offer by way of testimony the saying, ‘Cursed be every man who raiseth not up seed in Israel.’1 But we, made confident by the fact that God the Word took flesh of a virgin, declare that virginity is from above and was implanted in men’s nature from the beginning. Thus, man was formed from the virgin earth. Eve was created from Adam alone. Virginity was practiced in paradise. Indeed, sacred Scripture says that ‘they were naked, to wit, Adam and Eve: and were not ashamed.’2 However, once they had fallen, they knew that they were naked and being ashamed they sewed together aprons for themselves.3 After the fall, when Adam heard ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust return,’ and death entered into the world through transgression, then ‘Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth.’ 4 And so to keep the race from dwindling and being destroyed by death marriage was devised, so that by the begetting of children the race of men might be preserved.5
But they may ask: What, then, does ‘male and female’ mean, and ‘increase and multiply’?6 To which we shall reply that the ‘increase and multiply’ does not mean increasing by the marriage union exclusively, because, if they had kept the commandment unbroken forever, God could have increased the race by some other means. But, since God, who knows all things before they come to be, saw by His foreknowledge how they were to fall and be condemned to death, He made provision beforehand by creating them male and female and commanding them to increase and multiply. So let us continue along the road and see what the increments from virginity are, which is nothing else than to talk about chastity.
When Noe was ordered to enter the ark and was entrusted with the safeguarding of the seed of the earth, he was given this command, which reads: ‘Go in thou and thy sons, and thy wife, and the wives of thy sons.’7 He separated them from their wives, so that with the help of chastity they might escape the deep and that world-wide destruction. However, after the cessation of the flood, the command was: Go out thou and thy wife, thy sons, and the wives of thy sons.’ 8 Here, see how marriage was again permitted for the sake of increase. And, then, did not Elias, who rode up to heaven in a fiery chariot,9 embrace celibacy and was not approval of this shown by his being endowed with a superiority over men? Who closed the heavens? Who raised the dead? Who divided the Jordan?10 Was it not Elias the virgin? And did not Eliseus, his disciple, ask for the grace of his spirit in double, and receive it, when he displayed equal virtue?11 And what about the three children? Was it not by practicing virginity that they became stronger than the fire, because by virginity their bodies had become impregnable to fire? Was there not a Daniel, whose body the teeth of wild beasts could not penetrate, because it had been hardened by virginity?12 When God was about to appear to the Israelites, did He not enjoin them to keep their bodies pure?13 Did not priests purify themselves and thus enter the sanctuary and offer sacrifices? 14 Did not the Law proclaim chastity to be a great vow?
Thus, the prescription of the Law must be taken in the more spiritual sense. For there is a spiritual seed which through charity and the fear of God is conceived in the womb of the soul, which in turn travails and brings forth the spirit of salvation. It is in this sense that the passage is to be taken which reads: ‘Blessed is he who has seed in Sion and kindred in Jerusalem.’15 What, indeed! Even though one be a fornicator, a drunkard, or an idolater, will he be blessed, provided only that he has seed in Sion and kindred in Jerusalem? No one in his right mind would say that.
Virginity is the habitual state of the angels, the peculiar characteristic of every incorporeal nature. We are not saying all this to decry marriage, God forbid, because we know that the Lord blessed marriage by His presence,16 and we know the passage which says: ‘marriage honorable and the bed undefiled.’ 17 We do, however, know that virginity is better than good. For with the virtues, as well as with the vices, there are greater and lesser degrees. We do know that, with the exception of the first parents of the race, all mortals are offspring from marriage, for our first parents were the work of virginity and not of marriage. Celibacy, however, is an imitation of the angels, as we have said. So, virginity is as much more honorable than marriage as the angel is superior to man. But what am I saying an angel? Christ Himself is the glory of virginity, not only because He was begotten of the Father without beginning, without change, and without coition, but also because, when He became man like us, He for our sake took flesh of a virgin without any carnal union and exhibited in Himself the true and perfect virginity. But He did not make this a law for us, because ‘all men take not this word,’18 as He Himself said. He did, however, instruct us by His example and give us the strength to keep virginity, for to whom is it not clear that virginity is being observed among men now?
The begetting of children which results from marriage is certainly good. Marriage, too, is good, because it does away with fornication and by licit intercourse prevents the frenzy of concupiscence from being excited to illicit actions.19 Marriage is good for those for whom continence is impossible, but virginity is better, because it increases the fecundity of the soul and offers prayer to God as a seasonable fruit. ‘Marriage honourable, and the bed undefiled. For fornicators and adulterers God will judge.’20
- Deut. 25.5-10.
- Gen. 3.7.
- 3.19; cf. Rom. 5.12; Gen. 4.1.
- Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man 17 (PG 44.188-189).
- 7.1; 6.18.
- 4 Kings 2.11.
- 3 Kings 17.1; 17.22; 4 Kings 2.8.
- 4 Kings 2.9,14.
- Dan. 3.50; 6.22.
- Exod. 19.15.
- Lev. 21.
- 31.9 (Septuagint).
- John 2.2.
- 1 Cor. 7.2.