22 February 2008

Grant Me a Spirit of Chastity

This is a rather lengthy post, but well worth reading. As mentioned previously I found much edification in praying the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. Well, from Google Books I downloaded Meditations for every Wednesday and Friday in Lent on a Prayer of St. Ephraim. It was translated from the Russian in 1859 by Rev. S.C. Malan (Anglican). This is some powerful stuff and well worth the read. What follows are excerpts from Meditation #6 for the Third Friday in Lent.

If any spirit is to be obtained from above by prayer, it is assuredly that of chastity: for in order to cherish this virtue we have to fight with our own individual nature; and, in the words of a great good man, "where our nature is overcome, there must be present the virtue which has overcome it. In vain you will strive to drive from your own heart the spirit of carnal lust by the arguments and the contradictions of philosophers: because that spirit can present itself with equal reason on its side, and will contend with us with arguments ad hominem. The man, therefore, who wishes to overcome his flesh in his own strength, exerts himself in vain. But rather, let him lay before Him his utter weakness, and then that man will insensibly recieve from the Lord the gift of chastity."

He who wishes to be chaste, must, after the advice of holy men, not only attend as often as he can public prayer, but also have always ready at hand a short prayer for purity, against every temptation to sin. But namely, when, say they, you feel in your heart the rising of some carnal desire, through either your eyes, your ears, or even your own nature, then turn at once your thoughts toward Christ in prayer for help, and continue therein, until you have recieved support from Him. Having thus withdrawn your attention from that spark of sin, which had fallen into your heart, you will yourself take from it the breath that would have fanned it into flame; and it will go out. And then a dew of blessing will fall on you, for the temptation that is overcome.
Next to prayer, nothing tends to preserve chastity so much as fasting and labor. in fact, take away the fuel from under the pot, and the fire will go out itself: take way from a body given to luxury, food, and satiety, and the love of sensuality will go. The body when wearied with labor and not with the working of passions, seeks quiet and repose. On the contrary, however, idleness and self-indulgence are the never-failing source of sensuality. The man, therefore, who imagines that he can preserve his chastity in the midst of the indulgence and luxury to which he is disposed, might as well lie down in the mire, and expect to rise from it without a spot. He may, it is true, succeed in daily life in preserving the purity of his body; but, as to that of his soul, he loses it without a doubt.

For the same reason, he who wishes to preserve the cleanliness of his body and he who strives to keep his soul pure, both embrace the same opportunities to flee from whatever would evidently soil either: therefore, after the example of the holy man Job, we must make a covenant with our eyes, our ears and all our senses. For, it is not in vain that the Prophet calls our seses inlets, through which sorrow enters into the soul. All sins love to enter at those inlets; but no sin does it so readily as the lust of the flesh: therefore ought those openings to be well guarded; and not opened at random. And since it cannot be, but that we must both see and hear what offends us, it behoves us to have ready by us a spiritual antidote, to be used on such occasions. By these means at the time when anything happens that is an offence to us, let us at once, not only pray from the heart, but also think devotedly of the cross of Christ and of His wounds made on Him there for the cleansing of our souls from sin; or else let us think of His actual death and burial. Thus the presence of that scandal is left surely and quickly without power in us.

The very thing which kindles the lust of the flesh, may be used with advantage, like a remedy against passions. "Does the flesh allure you in the grave," asks St. Demetri of Rostov, "by wounding you with the beauty of the bodily form? No. Then, when that beautiful living form begins to smite your heart, think of it lying in the grave, hideous, a prey to worms and corruption, and it loses all attraction to you."

What then, do you ask, is the man to do, who has the misfortune of being given to the lusts of the flesh, and is held captive by sinful habits? That, beloved brethren, which we do when fallen into some deep and rugged chasm; we look about to see where we are; then placing ourselves under the protection of the Cross of Christ, and calling for the help of God and our guardian angel, we begin to come forth from thence; we climb, as best we may, with hands and feet, it is true; but still we are coming out; we get covered with crumbling earth and gravel; but still we are coming out: we feel sore and weary in all our members; but still we are coming out: we slip and at times we fall, but at last we are out of danger. When we act in this manner, and make use on our part of every means in our power; then, be sure, a stregth and a power against which nothing will avail, will comeforth in us; a hand we do not see upholds us, and a help which we can see often comes to our aid, sent by Him Who leaves the ninety and nine sheep and seeks in the wilderness the one that was lost.

Heavenly Father, and God of truth, Who sent Your beloved Son to seek the sheep that was lost, I have sinned against heaven and in Your sight, recieve me back like the prodigal son, and put on me the first robe of innocence which I lost by sin. And have mercy on me a great sinner. Amen.

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