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The sexual character of human persons has a positive role to play in human spirituality. Like all things human, sexuality must be sanctioned by God and inspired with the Holy Spirit, used for the purposes God has intended. And like all things human, through its misuse and abuse, sexuality can be perverted and corrupted, becoming an instrument of sin rather than the means for glorifying God and fulfilling oneself as made in His image, and according to His likeness.
…The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one.” But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:13–20)
The teaching of St. Paul about sexuality is analogous to his teaching about eating and drinking and all bodily functions. They are given by God for spiritual reasons to be used for His glory. In themselves they are holy and pure. When misused or adored as an end in themselves, they become the instruments of sin and death. The apostle specifically says that all sexual perversions have as their direct cause man’s rebellion against God.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct…Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them. (Romans 1:24–32)
That those who “do such things deserve to die” was taken literally in the law of Moses; thus adulterers, homosexuals, incestuous people and those committing sexual acts with beasts were ordered to be “put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10–16)
In following this teaching, while hoping on the mercy of God and the forgiveness of Christ for all sinners, the New Testament scriptures are even more strict in their demands regarding sexual purity. Jesus, who forgave the woman taken in adultery (John 8:7–11) and the repentant harlot who washed His feet with her hair (Luke 7:36–50) gave the following teaching in His sermon on the mount:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:27–32, also 19–3-9, Romans 7:3)
The Apostle Paul says simply that unrepentant adulterers, fornicators, and homosexuals will not enter the Kingdom of God. (cf. I Corinthians 6:9–10, Galatians 5:19)
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and the adulterous. (Hebrews 13:4)
Thus, according to the revelation of God, sexual relations are holy and pure only within the community of marriage, with the ideal relationship being that between one man and one woman forever. Those who are not married and those who choose by the will of God not to marry must abstain from all sexual relations since such relations cannot possibly fulfill the function given to the sexual act by God in creation. This does not mean that there will be no sexual character to the unmarried person’s spiritual life for the unmarried man and the unmarried woman will still express their humanity in masculine and feminine spiritual forms. The virtues and fruits of the Spirit in each, as in those who are married, are identical, but the manner of their incarnation and expression will be proper to the particular sexual form of their common humanity, as well as the individual uniqueness of each person.
The single person who lives his or her whole life without husband or wife is called to virginity as a witness in this world of the Kingdom of God where “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Matthew 22–30) It is for this reason that those following the monastic life are said to have taken the “angelic habit.” This does not mean that they become disincarnate or unsexual. It means rather that they perpetually serve and praise God as His children, comprising, as it were, the universal family of God without being themselves the leaders of families on this earth. In this way they express themselves as the fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of all mankind in Christ.
“Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” And stretching out His hands toward His disciples, He said, “Here are my mother and my brethren! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34–35)
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as you would a father; treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity. (I Timothy 5:1–2)
These words, of course, are intended for all, married and unmarried, but they also most obviously have special significance for those who, for Christ’s sake, are living the unmarried life. For as those who are married have the task of living their spiritual lives with the cares of the family, and within the context of its needs and demands, the Christian who is single lives his or her life in Christ without these conditions.
I wish that all were as I myself am (i.e. unmarried, says Paul). But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. (…) The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord, but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (I Corinthians 7:34–35)
So he that marries… does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better. (cf I Corinthians 7:7–40)
The teaching here is clear. People can serve God and live the spiritual life both in marriage and in the single life. And people can sin in both as well. “Each has his own special gift from God.” (I Corinthians 7:7) Saint Paul thinks, however, that among those who want to do as perfectly as they can, they who do not marry “will do better.” (I Corinthians 7:38–40)
The spiritual tradition of the Church clearly agrees with the apostle. This does not mean that marriage is in any way disparaged or disdained. It is given by God and is a sacrament of the Church, and those who abhor it for “spiritual reasons” are to be excommunicated from the Church. (Canon Laws of the Council of Gangra) It means only that, most practically, one can be a greater servant of God and more perfectly a witness to His unending Kingdom if he gives up everything in this world, sells all that he has, and follows Christ in total detachment and poverty.
The idea, however, that a single person can indulge oneself in the things of this world, including sexuality, and still be the servant of God in Christ is totally rejected and condemned. One can forsake marriage in the body only for greater freedom from “anxiety about worldly affairs” in order to be concerned with “the affairs of the Lord…how to be holy in body and spirit.” The single person who is “holy in body and spirit” has sexual relations with no one.