Awed by the beauty of thy virginity
and the exceeding radiance of thy purity,
Gabriel stood amazed and cried to thee, O Mother of God:
What praise may I offer unto thee that is worthy of thy beauty?
– Sunday Matins, Tone 3
This essay, Orthodoxy and the Beauty of Chastity by David Bradshaw, made me think about our difficulty in presenting sexual purity in a positive way, despite the rich stock of teaching – and especially of hymns such as the Akathist Hymn and the popular O Pure Virgin – we have at our fingertips in the Orthodox Church. How many contemporary Orthodox parishioners honestly think of chastity as more than an unattainable ideal?
If we’re Orthodox in any meaningful sense, we can’t help but honor purity, since such honor saturates all our services through our veneration of the Theotokos. But I think we’re tempted to see chastity as something like fasting: a discipline of self-denial. What’s missing is a positive proclamation of the power and beauty of chastity. Can this be forcefully reclaimed in our preaching and practice?