Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
There is one other area of purity and that is our bodies—remember, our bodies are composed of our physical bodies, our minds and our souls. The purity of each is a concept that is fast disappearing in our society.
I’m reminded of the story of the frogs in the boiling water. (Adapted from “The Story of B” by Daniel Quinn) If you have a pot of boiling water and drop a frog into it, the frog will instantly jump out. However, if you put the frog into a pot of tepid water, the frog will relax. As the water heats up, the frog will continue to relax, the way we do when we take a hot bath, and eventually, without resistance, the frog will be boiled to death.
Another telling of this story has the frogs more active. A group of frogs jump into a pot of tepid water on a stove. Many of the frogs begin to relax in the warm water. A couple of the frogs decide to jump out, warning the others that the water will eventually boil and they will die. The frogs in the water ridicule the ones who have jumped out, saying “you don’t know the fun you are missing out on, it is so nice in here.” The frogs on the outside say “we may be missing out on some fun, but we are saving ourselves in order to have a life. You are on the fast track to certain death.” Eventually the water gets warmer. The frogs in the water still relax. The ones outside of the pot continue to implore them to jump out. Eventually the water boils and all the frogs in it die. The ones who are outside now mourn the loss of the friends, while rejoicing that they chose to leave and live.
The moral downgrading of purity matches the story of the frogs. The allure of instant and inappropriate sexual gratification has almost put to death the concept of sexual purity. Like the frogs in the pot of tepid water, almost everyone will begin the association with sexuality in a tepid way. Perhaps it is a scene in a movie, or an accidental stumble on pornography, a racy article in a magazine or a raunchy conversation with friends. This is going to happen to every young person probably as a pre-teen and certainly as a teen. A few teens will make the smart jump immediately out of the water. They will realize that hanging around scenes, articles, websites and conversations like this will not end well if purity is the goal.
The problem is we become like the frogs in the tepid water. We become easily attracted to impure thoughts, sights and actions. Because it seems like “everyone” is doing it, we become desensitized to how this is taking our society down. Pornography is everywhere. We can’t take a ride around town without seeing it on a billboard ad. It is in college dormitories, behind the closed doors or our teenagers, on many screens in the workplace, and many other secret places. And besides secret places, it is in plenty of public places, the aforementioned ads, in many movies, on magazine covers at the check-out in the grocery store. It’s everywhere.
Practically no one seems to care about sexual purity. The concept of waiting until marriage to have sexual relations has all but disappeared. Practically no one marries as a virgin. Most couples live together for a long time before getting married. I stopped saying “you may kiss the bride” at weddings, after a brother priest pointed out to me how stupid that sounds when people have been living together before marriage. The biggest problem with sexual impropriety before marriage is that it leads to sexual impropriety after marriage. Because we haven’t learned how to wait before getting married, once a dry spell hits marriage (either because we are fighting, or someone is sick, or we’ve just had kids, or whatever the reason), it doesn’t take much for sex outside of marriage to occur.
Most people don’t understand what sex is. Yes, sex is the way by which we create children, and as a bishop in our church told me after we had our son, we become co-creators with God. Many people think that the church demonizes sex, it makes it something that is dirty and shameful. To the contrary, sexual purity, restricting sex to within the confines of marriage but celebrating it within those confines, makes sex an expression of holiness. And to take it to an ever deeper level, sex is what allows the human being to feel what it was like in paradise before the fall, for as we read in Genesis 2:25, “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Yes, one of the reasons God made sex is for us to feel like Adam and Eve did in Paradise before the fall. It is the only place where we can be naked and unashamed. (As a funny aside, someone once challenged me on this and said “what about when we are at the doctor, we can be naked and unashamed.” To which I replied, “when I’m at the doctor, I’m naked and afraid!”)
Because we do not understand either sex or purity, it is no wonder that both are slipping out of our society. There are a few, however, who are committed to purity before marriage, and thankfully there are still many who are “pure” in the context of marriage. They have discovered, like the frogs who jumped out of the pot, that impurity is like boiling water that can kill our minds and souls, and is killing the moral fabric of our society. Much of society sits in the ever-heating-up water of immorality, either enjoying it, or reasoning that it is not that bad. The collapse of families and the pervasiveness of sexual immorality and temptation are strong indicators that we are reaching the boiling point.
To young friends I have met who have said they would stay pure until marriage, I applaud you and I pray for you. And I implore you not to give in to temptation. Set boundaries and stick with them. If you are not sure what appropriate boundaries are, find a trusted adult, pastor or counselor and talk about it. If your partner says “I only want you to do what you feel comfortable with,” that actually means “I’ll do whatever you let me get away with.” And when you’ve found someone who respects your desire for purity, that one might be a keeper.
To those who have fallen and have regret, there is no such thing as “secondary virginity,” but you can start living right at any time. And to those who relish in sexual immorality, please don’t tempt the ones who are trying to stay on course. To those who are planning a bachelor or bachelorette party that has a male stripper, does that seem like an appropriate way to celebrate with someone who is about to get married? To the college fraternity which is planning a porn night, is that really necessary to prove yourselves to be real men? To the guys and girls out there who think sex is the cornerstone of a relationship, it isn’t. Christ is the cornerstone. For those who are trying to pressure their mate into further sexual foray, that is not love. Love is patient and kind, not forceful and manipulative. For those who are dating in their 30s and think purity is just for teenagers, it isn’t, it is for everyone. And for everyone who is doing it wrong and has guilt, read Genesis 2:25. When sex is done right, not only does it bring a sense of pleasure and deepen love, it brings a sense of holiness.
It is critically important for teens and young adults to understand that promiscuity not only leads to disease and unwanted pregnancy, it also confuses us emotionally. To have your heart built up, then broken and go through this cycle many times will cause you to bring emotional baggage into marriage. Changing sexual partners freely also does not set up one to have one partner for life. This isn’t a religious statement, it’s actually common sense.
As for pornography, there is several problems with that. First, it degrades and devalues all of us, especially women. Second, it is fake. Third, our minds are like computer hard drives that register all images that we see. Those who have gone to summer camp will forever have the images of the lake and the trees embedded in their minds. Same with those who have been to the Grand Canyon, or the beach. I can still see my dad in my mind even though he passed many years ago. Filling our minds with images of crap is going to confuse our brains, so that when there is an opportunity to intimacy, sexual or not, our minds will be confused based on the crap that fills them. Pornography is everywhere, from billboards to movies to ads in the mall. It used to be one had to go to the store and sneak to buy a magazine. Not it’s at the touch of a button. This is a big problem and only becoming bigger.
Many confuse sex with intimacy. Sex is an intimate act. But there can be intimacy without sexual activity. Intimacy is the ability to accept others as they are, to share vulnerability, respect, honesty, without judgment or pretense. We crave intimate relationships. The concept of intimacy should not be restricted to marriage. Sex should be restricted to marriage—it is the physically intimate expression that makes a marriage different from other “intimate” relationships. But intimate, non-sexual relationships are important and necessary and they are being lost in our world, precisely because we’ve lost the ability to have intimacy without sex, and continue to confuse the two.
I’d like to end this reflection with the story of a real person named Elizabeth, who I met many years ago at summer camp. She was probably 14 when we met. She said to me with great conviction, “I’m saving myself for marriage.” To which I replied, somewhat insincerely, “Good luck to you with that.” Having heard this promise many times, and later having seen just about everyone break it, I had become jaded in my responses to promises like this. She looked me in the eye and said, “no really, I’m going to do it.” And I said, “Good luck with that.” Again, she looked at me and said with conviction, “I’m going to do it, and I want you to promise me right here and now that you’ll be at the altar at my wedding and say to me, ‘congratulations, you made it.’” I said, “Okay.” Unconvinced of my sincerity, she said, “say ‘I promise.’” So I said, “I promise, if you make it pure until you are married I will be at the altar to congratulate you.” Over the years, we kept in touch, and she would reiterate to me her promise to stay pure. One day she met a man who shared the same desire as her. And a couple of years later, they married. She kept her promise. And I kept mine. I flew to her wedding, greeted them at the altar, and said “Congratulations, you made it.” I’ve told that story to many teenagers that I have encountered, to let them know that purity isn’t dead. And I’ve even offered to them, “I’ll come to every wedding of anyone who makes it to the altar still pure. And the reason I can offer that and not worry about going broke, is that probably only about 2% of people will make it.” I’d gladly go broke if it meant seeing more purity in our society.
Lord, help me to honor You in my sexuality. (for single people, Lord please help me to remain pure in body.) (For married people, Lord, please help us to remain pure in our marriage). Lord, if the goal is to walk with You in this life and for eternal life, help me come before You in a way that is pure and without shame. Help me to find the intimacy that Adam and Eve enjoyed with you before the Fall. Amen.
It is a struggle to be sexually pure, when sexual immorality is all around us. Keep your eyes on Christ and on things of purity.