Christian celibacy (chastity, virginity) is a term difficult to define with a word or two. Celibacy by avoidance of sexual desires, abstaining from sexual acts, and virtuously from procreation, is decidedly a gift from God, a state of ultimate love within worship, and attempting to attain the earthly life of touching the supernatural.First, voluntary celibacy appears in Holy Scripture to be a gift. The life of celibacy is not something all earthly faithful can follow. Neither is it a rigid commandment that one must follow to only fail at. “But he said to them, ‘All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given; for there are eunuchs who were born thus…and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matthew 19:11-12).
The term eunuch as is celibacy is also multi-faceted and requires some explanation. The English form of the Greek word “Eunuch” means “bed-keeper” which can often be misleading to those assuming the strictest form of the word’s implication. Originally the eunuch was in charge of the bed—chambers in palaces and large affluent homes. But as the jealous and inhumane temperament of the East required this charge to be in the hands of persons who had been deprived of their virility, the word “eunuch” came naturally to denote persons in that condition (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, 1999).
In the Lord Jesus Christ’s teachings He praised those who had made themselves “eunuchs” by free choice and according to God’s will for their lives. The Lord did not encourage bodily mutilation obviously but the putting away of wicked thoughts and deeds. In AD 325, to ensure the Lord’s meaning of celibacy, the First Ecumenical Council forbade the willful mutilation of the body and thus eunuchs were considered chaste by choice and not by mutilation of virility.
To further support the desire for chastity as a gift, Origen writes in c. 245, “The Savior teaches us that absolute chastity is a gift given by God. It is not merely the fruit of training. Rather, it is given by God with prayer. ‘All men cannot receive the saying, but only those to whom it is given.’…But, ‘Ask and it shall be given to you.’…Therefore, God will give the good gift—perfect purity in celibacy and chastity—to those who ask Him with the whole soul, with faith, and in prayers without ceasing.”
Second, celibacy is a physical state in which one can worship God with greater purity. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself as was His mother of earthly birth, the Virgin Mary, celibate.
“But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn” (I Corinthians 7:8-9).
Chastity is a virtue not capable of attaining by everyone. It must be said that no one can be forced into a state of chastity. It is better to marry than to succumb to sexual desires and face condemnation.
“While the world was still rough and void, we were propagated by the fruitful begetting of numbers. We increased, to the enlargement of the human race. However, now that the world is filled and the earth is cultivated, those who can receive celibacy-living after the manner of eunuchs-are made eunuchs unto the Kingdom. The Lord does not command this, but He exhorts this…When He says that in His Fathers’ house there are many mansions, He indicates there are dwellings of better habitation. You (virgins) are seeking those better habitations” (Cyprian c. 250).
Third, celibacy is a manner of the most faithfulness way of life, half earthly and half heavenly supernatural. In the Old Testament era prostitution and adultery were symbolic of idolatry. Virginity was symbolic of faithfulness to God which was only evident in a small portion of the Old Testament Israel. The 144,000 kept themselves faithful and pure from the idolatrous worship of the beast as described in the Holy New Testament Book of Revelations. They follow the Lord (similar to the sheep and the shepherd) and are the first fruits of sacrifice unto Him (as in Temple worship of the Old Testament).
Methodius (c. 290) confirms this point by writing, “Virginity is something supernaturally great, wonderful, and glorious. To speak plainly and in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, this best and noblest manner of life is alone the root of immortality—as well as its flower and first fruits. And for this reason, the Lord promises that those who have made themselves eunuchs shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven…Celibacy among humans is a very rare thing and difficult to attain…For we must think of virginity as walking upon the earth—yet also reaching up to Heaven.”
The New Testament teaches us that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was born to a virgin, and had a virgin birth. St. Matthew specifically states, “Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (1:18). Therefore the gift, the purity, and the heavenly nature of virginity cannot be denied.
For one contemplating monastic life, purity through chastity is a gift from God, a virtue worth attaining, and opens a window to the mansions in our Father’s Home.
It is my prayer that we all will open up our hearts to our many gifts from God and seek virtue and glimpses of Heaven within them all.
Abbot, St. Mary and St. Moses Abbey