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For it is a shame even to speak of the things they do in secret.
We live in a society that is far more interested in promoting vice than virtue. Perhaps all cultures have found sin to be more entertaining than purity, but we seem to be obsessed with sexual impurity to a degree that surpasses that of previous generations this century. Of course, this state of affairs has been much lamented in this journal and in many others.
The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians that it was not appropriate even to speak of the things done by those who lived according to their passions. We, however, not only speak of them, but also record them on film and transmit them into millions of homes throughout the land. Ironically, it is not of sinful things that we dare not speak, but of spiritual things, especially the word that describes a person who adopts a lifestyle of sexual purity: virgin. The word itself is almost embarrassing to utter in our topsy-turvy world. I see college students every day, and I have heard young people described by their sexual orientation, but I do not recall ever hearing someone described as a virgin except in a derogatory way. Even devout Christians do not think of using virgin to describe one another, even when applicable. We seem to miss the fact that what is an embarrassment in our culture was a title of honor throughout most of the history of Christianity.
From the earliest days of our faith virgins have been held in the highest regard. For example, Jesus told the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom foolishly let their lamps run out of oil. John Chrysostom discussed their plight and, in doing so, presented the mind of the early Church on the virtue of virginity:
They achieved the great wealth of virginity purposelessly and vainly. Just imagine how they were banished after so many struggles. After they had bridled the intemperance, competed with the heavenly powers, despised matters pertaining to this life, after they had brought the great burning heat under their own power, conquered in the trenches, flown from earth to heaven; after they had preserved the seal of the body, acquired the great state of virginity, competed with the angels; after they had trampled upon the needs of the body, forgotten about human nature, achieved with a body those things accomplished by the bodiless; after they had obtained the vast and unassailable wealth of virginity, then they heard: “Depart from me. I do not know you.”
Elsewhere he compares virgins to soldiers. “Moreover, virginity engages in an endless war every day, one worse than that against the barbarians,” he argued. For the wars against the barbarians reach periodic treaties and have times of respite, but the battle to maintain virginity is a struggle day and night.
There is nothing new about the difficulty required to keep oneself pure. But, for the Christian, there is something downright cowardly about not even wanting to enter the fight and simply surrendering to the Enemy. “Revive the state of virginity in your thought, and learn well the magnitude of this virtue,” wrote Chrysostom. And although the reward is in a currency that is greatly undervalued in our land, there is a great wealth to be obtained for those who are victorious.