|THE SINGLE LIFE|
Today’s tolerance which
changed the moral climate of the West in the 60’s has yielded a bumper
crop of sexual lifestyles. A man or woman living in a modern city can
choose to live with one or more partners of the same or opposite sex in
degrees of commitment ranging from the carelessness of “swinging” to
the conditional caring of the “trial marriage”, to the long self
donation of traditional marriage. He or she may also choose to remain
without a partner, making instead a commitment to a career as a member
of the new “chic celibacy.” Little social stigma is attached to any
of these options and, conversely, there is no longer a high common
regard for the traditional paths. It is true that the growing AIDS
epidemic is forcing a new restraint in sexual activity, but this
restraint is based more on the survival instinct than on the ultimate
needs of the soul. Let us not confuse, therefore, the current recoil
from promiscuity with a genuine spiritual awakening. Sexual mores,
insofar as they exist, are still confined within the walls of one’s
own preferences. Our sophisticated public amorality permits all things.
But are all things
expedient? Witness the generation now in its 40’s and 50’s. It has
grown up in the marketplace of alternatives and has sampled them at
will. Have the new options lived up to their promises? Many people are
disappointed, many left alone with children, many are empty and lonely
(both in and out of relationships) and some feel robbed. Spiritual
impoverishment and hunger have followed in the wake of the experimental
lifestyles. The stage is now set for a new legion of “spiritual
counselors” who can escort the lonely person into the
“spiritualities” of divorce, of the single life filled with
self-gratification and of homosexuality. One thing is certain: the
alternative lifestyles have not yielded the freedom and satisfaction
they originally promised.
Traditional marriage and
monasticism prove out, even after our libertine experiments: they
fulfill their promises. The soul can still be purified through either of
them. They restore the soul’s appetitive drive to its divine
orientation. Unlike the lifestyles which lead to self centered ends and
to the spiritual abyss, marriage and monasticism lead to the most
intimate communion with the Creator and fellow creature. The roads are
narrow, their gates straight, but they lead to the deification of the
There is also a third way.
Jesus Christ teaches that certain people are called by God to the
I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality,
and marries another, commits adultery. The disciples said to Him: “If
such is the case of a man with his wife, it is expedient not to
marry.” But He said to them: “Not all people can receive this
saying, but only to those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who
have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made so by
men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake
of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him
receive it.” (Mt 19:9-12)
apostle Paul elaborates on Jesus’ teaching.
is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to
immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own
husband… I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that
all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one
of one kind and one of another.
the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain
single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should
marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion… Only
let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in
which God has called him.
(See 1 Cor. 7)
single life is a calling. It is a way of life which is given by God.
A person, certainly a Christian person, does not choose
to be single or to be married. He or she rather discovers the way of
life which the Lord provides within the conditions of his or her
existence. People really only chose to receive, or to reject, what has
been given them. They do not determine it.
There are any number of reasons why a person may be single. They range from the sense of having a positive calling to the celibate life for religious purposes, to the plain fact of being unmarried without one’s own conscious choice, and perhaps even against it, just because this is the way that things have happened to work out. Whatever the reason for one’s being single and however mysterious or ambiguous, willed or unwilled the causes for one’s being in this state, at some point in our adult life each of us must accept the form of life which is ours and consciously offer it to the Lord, freely and voluntarily, for the sake of the love of God and neighbor.
the single life
single life is sanctified the way every life is sanctified: by
perfecting it according to God’s will. The first task of the single
person according to God’s teaching as revealed by Jesus Christ and the
apostles, martyrs and saints of the Christian Church, is that of
maintaining and developing one’s sexual chastity.
single person who says “yes” to God and to his or her calling to the
single life automatically says “no” to all forms of physical, sexual
activity with the opposite sex, with one’s own sex and with oneself.
this is so because sexual actions other than the conjugal act of married
love destroy the wholeness and integrity of one’s being through the
dissipation of one’s spiritual and physical energies. No matter how
loving, fulfilling and pleasurable they may at first appear to be,
sexual commitments without the totally faithful commitment of unending
love in marriage – with all of the responsibilities and obligations
for inter-personal communion and the pro-creation and protection of
human life which this involves – cannot but result in dissatisfaction,
disappointment, despondency and despair. this is so because human
persons are made in the image and likeness of God who is Love, and as
such can find fulfillment and happiness only in ways of living and
acting which express and image His own.
teaching about sexual purity in the single life is a difficult one. When
many people hear it they are moved to say what Christ’s disciples said
when they heard other of His teachings: Lord, this is a hard word. Who
can hear it? Who then can be saved? And the Lord’s answer is always
the same. He said that His teaching has to be hard because “the gate
is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it
are few”, adding as well the fundamental point
that as far as His teaching is concerned, “with human being it
is impossible, but with God all things are possible”, particularly to
those who believe. (See Jn 6:60; Mt 7:13-14; 17-21; Lk 18:27; 35)
all forms of Godly life and behavior, the single life of celibate
chastity is a way of the Cross. It is a way of sacrifice and suffering
which alone brings joy and happiness to a human being.
the single life to be perfected according to God’s will, with the
preservation of sexual purity as its heart and foundation certain
conditions must be fulfilled. First of all there must be firm spiritual
discipline for the sake of a lively interior life. The single person
must have a rule of prayer which is diligently kept, with the reading
and pondering of wholesome and edifying words and images. Great
attention must be given to keep oneself free of all thoughts and images
which lead to spiritual and physical defilement and disintegration. the
“spouse” and “life partner” for the single person in the most
direct and specific way must be the Lord himself.
single person must also have a firm rule of external life and behavior.
Capricious and willful actions, things done without order or form, but
just as they happen to come up, must be avoided at all costs. Forms of
responsibility and accountability to others must be found and fulfilled
with conscious obedience. This is especially true for those who do not
have such natural obligations as, or example, the care of elderly or
infirm parents or relatives, or duties within a religious community.
single person must also be committed in a formal way to a spiritual
father or mother, which can be a member of the clergy, a monastic, or
even a lay person mature in the faith. If, due to specific circumstances
this should prove impossible, then the single person must, as everyone
else, draw his strength and knowledge from the Holy fathers, the lives
of the Saints and, of course, the Scriptures.
might say that such conditions are necessary for all who are living a
human life according to God’s will, whether or not they happen to be
single. This is true. But these conditions are particularly necessary
for the single person precisely because of their single state in a world
which renders them particularly vulnerable to self –centeredness and
loneliness on the one hand, and lack of commitment and accountability on
the other, with the additional cross of often being misunderstood and
taken advantage of by those around them because of their single status.
and the Saints
is common in the modern world to think that one cannot be fulfilled as a
human being in the single state, especially if living a sexually
continent and chaste life. The claim is that without sexual activity and
intimacy, a human person is diminished and even distorted in his basic
humanity. If this is true, then the Christian faith as understood and
practiced by the Orthodox, and by millions of other Christians, is
The Lord Jesus Christ was single and celibate, yet He was the most perfect human being who ever lived, the Son of God and God Himself in human form. Jesus’ mother Mary, though legally married, remained a virgin her entire life. John the Baptist, whom Jesus called the greatest man ever born of woman, was clearly a chaste celibate according to the Gospels. So was the apostle and evangelist John. So was the apostle Paul who, as we have seen by his own report was single at the time of his conversion and ministry. Indeed, the calendar of Orthodox Church saints is filled with single people who are praised and honored for their chastity and devotion to God and their neighbors. In this perspective it is clearly the Christian conviction that being single is conductive to the highest and most perfect for of fulfillment possible to human beings: the life of sanctity.